MaxBarry.com
legionnaires' disease-free since 1990

Max Barry wrote the novels Syrup, Jennifer Government, Company, Machine Man, and Lexicon. He also created the game NationStates and once found a sock full of pennies.

Blog

Fri 02
Apr
2004

Café satire

Writing I’m working up a new draft of Company, so the last few days I’ve walked down to my local café and scribbled away there. I’ve always hated writers who do this, because I reckon they’re concerned not so much with writing as with being seen to be writing, and those people are even more pretentious than actual writers. Whenever I see someone sipping a coffee over their laptop, I want to say to them, “Oh, you’re so important with your fancy computer, thank you so much for sharing this mystical act of creation with the world.” Of course, that’s a personal problem and I should probably see someone about it.

When I’m writing I like to be home by myself and play really loud music. But with edits, I’ve found it useful to get away from the study, the phone, and the urge to see if I have any new e-mail. So it’s off to the café.

After I turned up three days in a row with 200 pages under my arm, the waitress got curious enough to ask what I was doing. “Editing,” I said. “I’m working on a novel.”

“Oh,” she said, not very enthusiastically. Some people get very excited when they hear you write novels; others react like you said you work in the tax office. “What kind?”

“Satire.”

“What’s that?”

“Um… a comedy with social comment.”

“Oh, okay,” she said. “So do you want another coffee?”

I did, but mainly I was impressed with myself for coming up with such a good definition. It’s not often that I come up with clever things like that. I usually need to go away and do a few drafts first. That’s why I’m a writer and not a stand-up comedian. But dammit, that’s a great definition. That’s what satire should be.

Satire has a bad rep. When Syrup was published, my agent warned me, “Don’t call it satire. Say it’s a comedy. Nobody likes satire.” My editor advised me against writing any more of it. And for good reason: most satire is boring as all fuck. It tries to sell you a moral first and tell you a story second; then, if you’re lucky, it might get around to being funny. I don’t want to read novels like that. I sure don’t want to write novels like that. I want to write the good kind of satire, the kind that has engrossing stories and characters you care about and are scary and piss-funny both at once. These are out there, too, but there aren’t piles of them.

So I often describe my novels as something other than satire. But because authors are terrible at describing their own books, I end up saying things like, “Well, Syrup is a kind of comedy-romance-corporate-thriller… and Jennifer Government’s more of a science-fiction-comedy-action-thriller… or… something.” It’d be a lot easier if I could say I write satire and know that people weren’t thinking, “Oh, dull, unfunny, pretentious crap.”

Maybe if I use my new definition a lot, that’ll help. Maybe I can change people’s minds one waitress at a time.

Comments

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Airborne (#1471)

Location: Anchorage, Alaska
Quote: "C 1/501 Artic Airborne Infantry "Geronimo!""
Posted: 5058 days ago

I can't sleep. Hey, Seinfeld would qualify as satire, correct? A commedy with social comment, like in Seinfeld.

Galen (#1516)

Location: In a land far, far away, sometimes referred to as college.
Quote: ""It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious. " - Oscar Wilde"
Posted: 5029 days ago

Would Buffy count as satire, then, as it is really comedy with social commentary disguised as horror?


(Yes, I did actually comment with the sole purpose of saying commentary rather than comment. What of it?)

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