Call It What You Like

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The Professionals Fanfiction
Title: Call it What You Like
Author(s): Meg Lewtan
Date(s): 1984
Length:
Genre: slash
Fandom: The Professionals
External Links: on the ProsLib CD

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Call it What You Like is a slash circuit story by Meg Lewtan. It was first published in The Hatstand Express #2 and is one of Meg's earliest works. It is a 11 page story that focuses on Bodie's relationship with Murphy.

Reactions and Reviews

1984

I absolutely loved Call it What You Like. You are obviously a woman of taste and discrimination and wrote a great story for the delectable Murphy. Perhaps just a few less tears next time? Have you noticed the oddity, in the few hatstanders who use Murphy, he has always ended up as Doyle's lover. Seems strange in view of the very special relationship between Bodie and Murphy.[1]
Meg Lewtan is fixing to get hanged for Call It What You Like. That ending was a class A cop out if I ever saw one. Oh well, the woman can write so that forgives. She's a really fine writer. The B/D/M picture is (sigh) evil.[2]

1997

I remember one story (as usual, name and author escape me) where Bodie had to choose between

Doyle and Murphy. The ending was left open with the reader having to decide who the chosen one was. I had a nasty feeling it was Doyle but was rooting for Murphy because Doyle was such a bastard.[3]
I was rooting for Doyle! Though I had the sinking feeling Meg Lewtan herself thought he would have chosen Murphy)...[4]

2001

This story presents the Meg Lewtan formula of a love triangle comprising Bodie, Doyle, and Murphy. This triangle features in several of her stories. Most of her texts that use it, however, clothe it in more of a story. I'd point to Dog in the Manger for a prime example of a text that uses this formula, but places it within a larger context of plot and action in which the relationship issue intertwines with the action. In Call It What You Like, however, the formula is laid bare. The triangle is the story. Bodie is in love with Doyle; Doyle rejects him; Bodie turns to Murphy, who turns out to be in love with Bodie. Ultimately, Bodie must choose between them. This story reads almost like the primer in which she established her triangle and worked out its nuances at the most basic level, uncluttered by any external action. And, in fact, this story is among her earlier ones, first appearing in The Hatstand Express #2 in 1984 (though she was, notably, prolific, and produced a lot of stories in those early years). Many of the best slash stories are wholly relationship-based. This story, though, is not great in any technical sense. More crucially, it fails - for me - to achieve the emotional intensity that would effectively exploit the relationship focus. In the end, most negatively, this story appears to have only one purpose: to tease the reader. What appears initially to be a story exploring the triangle ends with resolution for the characters but none for the reader. In other words, it's a trick and a cheat. That's my take, at any rate, on this set-up and veiled climax. What do others think? Does the author's refusal to reveal Bodie's decision work for anyone? Not work? Irritate, aggravate? Seem like fun? For me, the ending is a cheat because the author didn't include even a subtle clue as to the identity of the person Bodie chooses. By "subtle," I don't mean anything as obvious as a reference to a curl or blue eyes. I mean some small indication of identity that the perspicacious reader might have a chance of noticing. A way of speaking, perhaps, or a stance or walk that had been previously associated in the main body of the text with either Doyle or Murphy. For this kind of ending not to be an outright cheat, I believe it needs some small, embedded clue that would reveal the identity of Bodie's visitor. Otherwise, the author is essentially saying, "I'm going to tell you this story, but I'm not going to tell you the ending. You get to make up your own ending." I could have done that without reading through the body of her text in the first place.

What I've been pondering about this story is whether the ending is vague only because Meg Lewtan thought it would be fun to write this trick ending, or whether it's partially because she lacked the skill to embed a subtle due. That is, it's apparent that she deliberately intended to write the ending as it is. What I wonder is whether it even occurred to her that it would be an empty cheat without a clue embedded, with the addendum that, even if it had occurred to her to do so, I'm not sure if she would have had the ability to achieve that level of subtlety. If that's the case, I feel that she would have done better to avoid attempting the empty ending in the first place. But that's just me, of course! I fed that it's an experiment that she didn't have the skill to bring off. I'd be interested to hear what others think of this story, and/or of the approach to writing this kind of ending. Is it cheating to leave the reader hanging deliberately? I've done a bit of "tricking (Summer 2001) the reader" myself, so I know the appeal in doing this kind of writing. How do readers respond to a ploy like the end of this story?[5]
I even enjoyed the final scene when we see Bodie alone, having made his decision - the decision we are not party to - and then the lucky person turns up. Great, fine, keep us in suspense, keep us guessing, in many ways that scene could even have been longer. However, we needed and I think had a right to know whom Bodie finally ended up with. I'd disagree (sorry) with [name redacted] comment that it should have been something subtle. My reason for disagreeing is that what is subtle for one person is blatant to another and vice versa. Also, I don't think that subtlety was necessarily called for here. I'm sure that Meg was trying to appease both Bodie/Doyle and Bodie/Murphy fans - and probably trying to be true to her love: Bodie/Murphy- but I don't think she ended up satisfying either.[6]

> it's that old 'show not tell' issue! We got guys talking (and even worse, 70's hard men talking. Blink), but we didn't get to actually see anything we were being asked to accept.

And you know, I didn't even think of it that way, but I do think that may be part of the problem, too. Though I don't mind so much the showing parts of stories (and know it's a flaw in my own writing that I need to work on). Still, I think we were to some extent shown Murphy's feelings and devotion -- we were only told about Doyle's.

I just realised that part of this no doubt occurs because the story, up until the last scene, is basically in Murphy's POV. I mean, it's apparently written from Bodie's, except that we don't really get any more of his feelings and thoughts than can be gleaned by someone who knows him well looking at him; we only get his "eyes". And we never get a scene without Murphy in it, do we? (Which may be a clue as to who it is in the last scene, I suppose.) I think, if the story were written from a tight Bodie POV, so we could see his interactions with both of his lovers and his feelings about them, it would work much better.

And if, as Snow points out, the whole thing may be a game... I still think it doesn't work. <shrug> In order for a game to be any fun, everybody involved needs to know the rules and play by them. If we're not even sure that it is a game, then I don't think it works as such. But FWIW, I didn't "get" the joke in Murder on the Moors, either; I just liked parts, winced at entire chapters, and moved on. If it was meant as parody, I never got that. I am, however, occasionally extremely dense. <g> [7]

I liked the story and did not find it to be "clueless" as to the ending. I believe Doyle showed up at the end because a) Doyle was aggressive and possessive enough to do so; b) Murphy was too passive and too aware that Bodie loved Doyle. His every action seemed to speak of his knowledge of future rejection; and c) Bodie loved Doyle. Being loved by Murphy would be nice for Bodie, but love is not like a hot water tap. Can't see Bodie tossing over years of love when he had the chance with Doyle.

I would rather have seen Bodie end up with Murphy.[8]

>Meg Lewtan is a lovely Australian woman with an absolutely wicked sense of humor. <snip> I tend to read ML well aware that someone's tongue is firmly planted in their cheek. <snip> The very title of the story should have been a tipoff. I think she was >playing with us and has spent long hours chuckling over the many discussions fans have held about who Bodie actually chose.

Very interesting. And yet, despite my desire to stick up for a fellow Aussie, I still can't say I like the way the story ends. I realised from my first reading of it that the author did it deliberately (and yes, the title did give it away). It's not the ambiguity of the ending that bothers me so much (I've read stories I've liked that were just as ambiguous) but the *way* she did it. It felt unfinished and I felt like I was being deliberately played with and manipulated and that always gets my back up. <Shrug>. Just a personal idiosyncrasy - I understand a lot of people find things like this amusing and fun and thats great. I don't much like parodies, either, even though I *get* that they are parodies. Maybe I take my fanfic too seriously!

I think the main problem I had with this story was that it wasn't fleshed out enough to hold my interest and to get me emotionally involved with the characters. If it had been longer, with more interaction with Doyle and more explication of the whole emotional situation for all three, the ending might not have felt so much like a manipulated 'joke' to me and more like an actual story. Which is a pity, because I love a lot of Meg Lewtan's stories and had high hopes for this one when I saw it come through on the list.

As usual, YMMV. [9]
I was smitten by the story I have to say. Not great, but unusual, and with some food for reflection and the writing process. This is a great story to discuss because there is some good and some not-so-good and a lot of space for "what-ifs" and "why is the text written this way". I find this type of story (and the discussion that follows, both in my head and with others) a real incentive to write, because I get focused on the writing -- I suspect I am not the only one. Anyway, on with the analysis.

I agree with Pen's view of Meg Lewtan's texts, so when I opened the file I didn't really have great expectations except for a good energetic narrative (the narrative energy or zest, the quality that makes a story a pageturner). However, the story was more interesting than I had expected for a couple of reasons: characterization, and of course the ending.

First, the characterization was "switched" from the usual one for this type of stories. Many circuit stories, especially early ones, have the "one lad loves and the other doesn't (yet), so some jealousy gets them together" formula. However, usually it's Bodie who does his grunting gorilla impression, and Doyle is cast as the shrinking violet. Many Jane of Australia stories have this structure, for example. (What's the one that she recently put up on her web site? Bodie is brutal and abusive so Doyle has to go off with someone else, this way Bodie goes after him and learns to treat him properly).

In Meg's story, however, we have the opposite, which I thought was curious. (I also agree with the other people said that this story does not have an in-depth characterization -- they are all sketchy and Doyle is outright cardboardish. You know the characters that have upper case initials? The Insensitive Macho Lover. The Passive Lachrimose Heroine. The Silent Strong Support Figure, Also in Love with Heroine...). The other interesting characterization feature is that I had a very strong ghost-image while reading the text (you know when you read something and it irresitstibly reminds you of a different text?) I looked at the initial dialogue between Bodie and Murphy and I could see the ghost image of both a Harlequin romance and of a conversation between women. I simply can't picture two men having that conversation. If you stick two women there it makes so much more sense! And if you think of Doyle as the Byronic hero and Bodie and Murphy as two women friends (Murphette should then suggest a suitable - male - fake lover for Bodiette, of course) you get a Harlequin. Anyway, this was my first spark of interest -- infantilization/feminization is nothing new in slash -- but why has she cast Bodie in the stereotypical female role? I am still not sure, but I'd like to talk about it more, if you are also interested. What do you think?

The ending I thought was clever: I like the idea of an open-ended story a lot. I totally agree with [A] -- there is just not enough open-endedness in fannish stories. The fact that we are using a well-known and shared universe tends to reduce the amount of open-endedness anyway -- plus many (middling) writers are not very skilled at withdrawing information so as to fuel suspence and to make the reader also partecipate by adding their take. (Beth H. explains the suspence-by-withdrawal very well with her S&H example). Ideally, the reader should always be left some space, which is not because the author left the details unfinished, but because there is such a richness of possible options and interpretations that more than one can do, and the author is not determining absolutely everything. The reader has to give her emotional contribution to the story (will they? What happens next?) which makes the bond between the reader and the story intense and unforgettable. This is what I call open-endedness, a classic case of less-is-more. Has anyone read The Handmaid's Tale by the way? That's another case of GOOD open-endedness (with some clues and even the critical debate that we are having here included in the book itself!) To me the payoff is not resolution but good exploration in the execution and also openendedness that I equate to a richer and fuller text.

HOWEVER -- the idea was interesting and potentially very powerful -- but the execution was simply not good enough. With this story you can see the hand of the magician perform the trick, which ruins it. You are not mesmerized enough, so you notice what the author is trying to do and you are jolted off the story to concentrate on the author's possible intentions. (is this writer trying the trick as experiment? Was she trying to give clues or not? What is going on?) This is where the story becomes good as starting point for reflections on writing. I am now all chuffed thinking of possible ways of having some open-ended story that works properly. (Watch these screens...)

In terms of Bodie's choice, I think that Med does give clues in the text as to the identity of the chosen lover, and not even very subtle ones. I think Murphy is the choice because he is much more fleshed and focused as a character -- Doyle is just there to start the conflict that the story arc has to solve. Doyle is the catalyst that has Murphy act on his love, and Bodie decide by comparison of the two behaviours. I personally think that the rest of the story is build around the final scene, not the opposite -- the way sex between Bodie and Murphy is depicted, with the classic (heterosexist) device of equating positions (=penetration) with degree of commitment, and the way she repeats "this would just make Bodie's choice more difficult". So, I think she started with the final scene, built a story around it; the story formula is a very interesting and poignant one for this particular author so she dealt with it more than once -- variations on a theme.

So the pointers are there - not particularly good or effective, since they don't really tie properly with the final scene, but most likely put in there with the ending in mind. I like how [J] puts it: where is the emotional process that leads Bodie to choose? I don't mind not being sure, I don't mind whom Bodie chooses, but I would like an in-depth and emotionally/psychologically believable portrait. All I have is this little crybaby (how can either D or M find him so attractive I am not sure) that goes away to mope and then, lo and behold, he has grown strong and decided. How? What happened in his head (and it is possible to do a great job of exploring motivations without losing indeterminacy: you show the contradictory impulses and ideas and conflicts, how they build in Bodie's head, either directly if you are writing internal dialogue or in his actions if you aren't. And since I see nothing of this I am not convinced that Bodie has really grown up and changed, (and also that Doyle has changed -- we also see nothing of that).[10]

References

  1. from The Hatstand Express #3
  2. from The Hatstand Express #3
  3. from DIAL #2
  4. from DIAL #2
  5. from DIAL #18
  6. from DIAL #19 (Autumn 2001)
  7. comment by Llwyden ferch Gyfrinach on Virgule-L, quoted with permission (March 16, 2001)
  8. comment on Virgule-L, quoted anonymously (March 16, 2001)
  9. comment on Virgule-L, quoted anonymously (March 16, 2001)
  10. comment by [MS] on Virgule-L, quoted with permission (March 16, 2001)