anghara: (Default)
On the newsgroup that I call home, the usual discussions turned up some interesting statements. People who if not stated outright then certainly implied that they were writers or wished to be writers are now on record that they enjoy the planning part of the game, and the editing part of the game, but they "choke on the middle".

The middle.

Which is where, you know, the WRITING takes place.

One of them "explained" that the thing (s)he REALLY hated, you see, is not the "Writing", it was just the bit where you "sit and stare at the blank screen".

To paraphrasethe words of an old song - I beg your pardon, who ever offered you a rose garden?

Writing isn't easy. It was never easy. It was never SUPPOSED to be easy. For some it comes just like turning on a tap, and gushes out like a stream of water; others must apply a little basic plumbing to the system before the words will flow smoothly. Neither kind of writer is any less than the other, but they do share a certain something and that is, dammit, that they love what they do. Gushing or dripping, coaxing words out of that faucet is their love and their joy. And if occasionally it comes a little harder than other times, that's part of the deal. That's part of the price. That's part of the bargain.

Here I sit, privileged beyond dreams, and I am grateful for every moment of it. For every perfect phrase that has ever been granted to me, yes - AND ALSO for that other thing, for the blank screen days, for the frustrations and the fears and the sudden taste of terror at the back of my throat when something new hits the shelves and it's time for a verdict from people who don't know me other than through my words. I am grateful, and I am proud - because the fallow fields have not stopped me from gathering in my harvest. I tend the land of my imagination with devotion, and carefully nourish the soil where I grow my stories, and yes, occasionally those fields have been watered with blood, sweat and tears - but look at what grew.

And I love it. Every moment of it. I take joy in it.

Writing is a strange beast, to be sure. It's a gift and a talent, on the one hand, and that's something that is in the hands of the gods to bestow or withhold; it is a painstaking application of patience and craft, on the other hand, and this is something that is in all of us to cultivate... *if we so choose*. Writing, as a profession, is perhaps above all else a profession of choice. And there are plenty of things that the publishing industry can throw at a writer - the rejections, the long waits for approval or for money owing, the multiple editing passes where the writer has to make tough decisions to stand up for some cherished thing or meekly bow to an editor's fiat for something to be excised forthwith and abandoned like a discarded appendix in a hospital operating theatre (and you have to know what exactly is your book's appendix and what is some more vital part like a heart - and which parts are worth taking on the battle over). None of this is glamour, or pure sweetness and light. Writing is a long and lonely task, a tough slog, something you roll up your sleeves and set to doing, something that gives you headaches and sometimes ulcers, and something that, when you are done with it, is a child of your mind and your heart and your spirit and something that you can be fiercely proud of. And if you don't love it, the passion of it, the crafting of it, the sheer hard work and long hours and the stubbornness and the exhilaration and the glory and the catastrophes and the dust of its battles and the heat of its days and the frost of its nights - well, let me say it again. This is *a profession of choice*. You do not have to choose it - nobody is making you do it. But if you choose to do it, and then put youirself on record as saying that you don't like doing it, I have only one piece of advice for you. Life is too short for this. DOn't put yourself through it. If you do not find your life's joy in writing, choose another career.

One which will give you a steady job, a monthly cheque, a guaranteed rent - and I promise you that everything you DO do will have its own set of kvetches and if you're a kvetcher you'll find something to kvetch about. It's purely okay to hate going to the office every day - but that's a job, and one you're paid to do, and nobody is in the business of paying you to be happy. But writing as a profession is such an uneasy living - everything is in flux, everything is subjective, your life and your livelihood are subject to so many unforeseeable disasters, that to put yourself through this without a pressing need is pure damned lunacy. If you write without the love... quit now.

(And should anyone counter this with, but I don't want to make it a profession, writing is a hobby - I have to ask a different question - why, with so many hobbies and free time activities available for us to choose from in the world that we live in, would you choose to pursue one which didn't make you happy? Id jumping out of airplanes made you feel sick to the stomach, would you keep skydiving?)
anghara: (Default)
Writing can be such an Alice-in-wonderland world - and I don't mean because writers are allowed to make things up as they go along, particularly in the genre which I have wound up writing in.

No, I mean the foothold it has in the workaday side of ALice's mirror, OUR world, the one that we live and work and love and squabble and grub around in every day of our lives. The same world where you would take it as read that you would go and ask advice from an expert if you wanted to build a house, fix a car or a leaky faucet, figure out whether you needed an undercoat to paint your bedroom or what kind of glue works best for the ceramic tiles you just bought for your bathroom, invest your money or figure out your taxes, or do any of a myriad of other things which some members of our species have made their own area of expertise.

Not so, apparently, with writing. )
anghara: (Default)
From a message board I frequent, from a poster who sounds new (at least I haven't seen the name before) and whom I will leave anonymous for obvious reasons:

Cut for length )
anghara: (Default)
I've been having an argument over on rasfc about the merits and the morality of wandering into your lcoal bookstore and, if you find your book shelved spine-out, turning it face-out for a potential buyer to see. As I pointed out somewhere in the thread, in my specific case it was my books shelved spine out next to a veritable avalanche of "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" series - all five books in the trilogy - most of them in two or three different editions, facing out. I felt no compunction about facing some of those (much thinner) books spine out and turning my own face out as occupying the same space that the original arrangement did. I have nothing against Douglas Adams - I met the man, ferchrissakes, and I like both him and his work - but as evidenced by the books in this one bookstore his books are available in many many places and in many many copies and incarnations, and this particular store had THREE COPIES of my own novel.

A particular character in rasfc tells me that I am an immoral cheat for doing that.

With names removed to protect the <i>innocent</i>, as it were, here's the latest exchange )

So. Am I abominable? Do other authors really never do this? Am I alone out there? Am I utterly despicable?

Am I really going around "plastering signs on someone else's lawn"?...

Promotion budgets are notoriously low, unless you happen to be a really big name which publishers KNOW will pull in the moolah - or you happen to be really really lucky and hit the jacpot, for instance Susannah CLarke, who wasn't hurt by the fact that she happened to be endorsed by Neil Gaiman.I'm sure that book 1 of Harry Potter was surreptitiously turned face out a few times... until such time as that became unnecessary because you had a couple of hundred people waiting in line outside the bookstore at midnight in order to grab a copy before it even hit the shelf at all, spine-out of face-out. If you recognise the NAME on the spine, your reaction is, "oh, a new Rowling... a new Gaiman... a new King... a new Bujold... a new Nora ROberts... I better get it". Let's be honest, if you saw your own name on a book spine (and you didn't recognise it as being yours) how likely are you to pull the book out to look at it? WOuldn't you just skim right past it, looking for the next Name you found Familiar?...

So what's wrong with giving yourself a little help, while that Name is still not Familiar Enough, in the hope that by selling another copy or two you're giving yourself the chance to start a word-of-mouth thing happening, that perhaps someone else might return to the bookstore, where your books are back to having their spines facing out, and seeking you out BY NAME?

I fully realise that not all books can be shelved facing out. But I completely subscribe to the idea that it is the books by less-than-familiar names that SHOULD be faced out, because books are, indeed, judged by their covers and if it isn't the familiarity with the author that would make you choose to buy a particular book an interesting cover might. The really big household names simply don't need that particular crutch any more. They could put the front cover of a telephone directory on a new novel by Steven King *and it would still be bought anyway*, whether it faced out or not.

Okay, rant over.

Back to my chapter. By this time next year I'll have at least one other book I might be looking for, face out, on bookstore shelves.

anghara: (Default)
Okay, time for a good old-fashioned genre rant.

Over in the Purple Zone, as the message board for Harper Collins Australia Voyager imprint is called, a young writer who is currently attending a writing course writes:

"[I agree that] my teacher may be a literary snob. When she interviewed me for the subject and I told her I liked writing fantasy, she replied with, 'well there'll be people writing serious stuff and they may not want to read your work. But don't worry, there's always a couple of people writing genre stuff in each class who stick together in the corner!'. Happily enough, so far no one has had a problem with reading my 'genre' stuff (and I'm not stuck by myself in the corner!)"

Excuse me while I go off into a corner and scream. Loudly.

Fantasy is the step-child in the literature family. Those of us who love it and, God forbid, WRITE it are "writing for kids", or are "making things up as we go along - how hard can that be?" or we're just writing "escapism". I keep on harking back to that comment by Tolkien that the only people who object to escapism are jailors. And it would seem that there are a lot of jailors around these days.

As far as I am concerned, all fiction is reality breathed through a layer of lies - and it depends entirely on how good the layer of lies is, and not on their "genre", as to how good, or believable, any given piece of fiction is. I've definitely read fantasy novels which were an order of magnitude better than their "literary" peers, which only won out because of the snob value. A spoonful of sugar DOES help the medicine go down, and I've seen works of "fantasy" which make bitterly pertinent points to the world we eke out our everyday existence in, and which keep those lessons alive in memory far longer - and far more vividly - than any preachy contemporary novel with an obvious axe to grind and an agenda you cannot help seeing and the author's obvious (because this is the real world and the parameters are the same) and fairly easily perceived slant on things. YES, there are *really* bad fantasies out there, derivative drivel which really ought not to ever have seen the light of day. But there aren't nearly as many as you'd think there ought to be, given the "ease" with which fantasy is supposed to be written. And anyway, let's look at that claim.

A fantasy, by definition, is about things that are not and probably could never (in the world that we know) be real. Fantasies are those books with dragons of the cover, after all - whether or not the actual story has dragons in it (that's another can of worms altogether, though. Suffice it to say that no other genre can be so blatantly hamstrung by its own covers). But think on that one for a moment - you are reading this book, and therefore you are willing to indulge in what we know as suspension of disbelief. This, in a mainstream or a contemporary novel, is fairly easy for a writer to achieve as far as milieu is concerned - write a scene in a city and say that the protagonist is waiting for the light to change so that they can cross an intersection, and very little other desicription is necessary - your readers might all see a different intersection in their mind's eye but it will be a recognisable city intersection with cars and people and traffic lights and buildings and painted road markings and noise and stench and circling city pigeons. It's a given, it's a known, and you as the author are free to use the opporunity to concentrate on your protag's motivation instead (otherwise known as Why DId The Protagonist Cross The ROad). Many are so free to use it in such wise that they freely squander it, and crumple the whole book up into a wad of mismanaged plot and circumstance. But my point is that they have to do less than 50% of the work required of a fantasy novelist in the same quandary.

In a fantasy setting, the crossroads can be *ANYTHING*, that is true... but the other side of that coin is taht if you (a) want those crossroads to be different, and to stick in the memory; (b)want the vision to be internally consistent and believable to the extent that a generic city crossroads is believable to any given non-fantasy reader; (c) imbue the crossign of such crossroads with any kind of plot significance and character development - well - you need to work your butt off describing your scene, creating your world, making sure that your readers feel as though they are part of that world (perhaps more so, if you are good enough, than their own). You can get away with murder in a fantasy, that is true, but getting away with creating circumstances which justify said murder in your readers' eyes is considerably less simple. ANd it is that background that is always conveniently dismissed by those who diss fantasy as a genre. I mean, there's nothing to it, right? You need to stick nine people on a silly quest into a generic thatch-roofed inn drinking ale and eating stew served by a wench whose bosoms are conveniently near-falling out of a peasant blouse (which, in SOME people's heads, is held together by shirring elastic - and screw the anachronisms...) - and there you have it. Fantasy. Stick that in your bookshelf. Easy, eh...?

Actually, the discipline of writing fantasy can be gargantuan, and at least those fantasy writers whom I know on a personal level are consummate professionals in their art. I would bet money on THEIR being able to produce a "lterary" novel, if they chose to, rather than on the "literary" snobs being able to produce any kind of passable fantasy. Is this reverse snobbery? You bet - WE aren't the ghetto, THEY are. COnsider the sales figures of the really high-faluting "literary" novels with high snob value and, well, people like RObin Hobb and Robert Jordan and Geroge R R Martin, or even the (relative) newcomers into the field such as Trudi Canavan and Naomi Novik (go read the latter's blog and see her description of how she WATCHED Amazon run out of her books, and then try and find me an equivalent "literary" moment...) Or maybe we're both in ghettos, of a sort, except that THEIRS are called Gated COmmunities and have those pesky lawns that need mowing five times a week and aren't allowed any variation on their house colour or plant placement and are being guarded jealously by uniformed personnel at the gates - while we have streetparties on every second block, and taverns with secret doors that lead to other worlds, and, well, when was the last time you saw one of those buxom wenches or a tall, dark and handsome hero with a sword on his hip in the manicured acres? (they'd probably be termed undesirables and escorted out by squint-eyed security guards whose hands rested threateningly on holstered guns...)

I read both, you know. Not MUCH of modern literary, but enough. And more than enough fantasy to know my duds from my awesomes.

I honestly think that it is by and large the fantasy that makes this world a better place. Perhaps it's because it calls itself by its true name, and doesn't pretend, like "literary" fiction does, that it is somehow superior by using, I don't know, a better class of lie - because ALL fiction is lies. By definition. Why should those of us who write the fantasy aspect of the craft, in the words of that Australian writing "teacher", go and huddle by ourselves in a corner? WHile it is incontrovertibly true that not every kind of fiction is everyone's cup of tea, I resent the implication that it isn't just this difference in taste that matters here, that it's a question of "you lower caste writers, you go over there so that you don't contaminate us". That just BURNS.

Well, I think I"ll go and do me some ghetto-bustin'. As Mal Reynolds said in "Serenity" - I aim to misbehave.

May 2009

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