Will Science Fiction and Fantasy make me less of a person? Probably.

12 01 2010

I wasn’t always a science fiction/horror writer. It’s true, I wrote other things once. As a teenager I wrote nothing but political and philosophical axioms. In college I moved over to poetry and that is all I wanted to do. Let me tell you, good poetry is hard and bad poetry is real easy, but if feels just as hard. I was a bad poet, but I persisted… for years. Then, one day in May, at the end my third year poetry workshop I decided to spend the summer writing short stories. Two great things  happened: I realized that without the constraints of poetry I could really prattle on and, having learned to operate within the constraints of poetry I had really good economy in my sentences. My problem was content. My early forays into fiction in freshmen workshop were… really bad, quasi romance, and amateur rips on Hemingway. My new found fiction was just different. In fiction 500 workshop my senior year I presented my first short story to a group of writers I had been working with for six semesters (fiction 500 was poetry and fiction as not many students stayed in that long). They were looking for poetry, they got a story about a woman who runs over a homeless man and is then convinced that she could predict the future by watching patterns in traffic lights. Houston, we have a problem. My teacher was happy about my fiction (whether that was from any quality in it or because it freed him from my poems I don’t know). My classmates were disturbed. It got worse.  Yes, I wrote a story about a stairwell that had a door at the top that magically shut knocking people to their deaths. Then there was the one about a man that finds his muse, but her ancient Greek ethics turn him into a xenophobic fascist (I am totally rewriting that!).  I was trying really hard, but somehow I just wasn’t clicking with my readers and I really never did. It was later that year that my roommate Jeff told me something that changed everything. He said, “There’s no money in writing, unless you write genre fiction. There’s some money out there for that. You should write some genre fiction, Sleeve.”   I loved  science fiction. I loved fantasy. I loved horror.  I didn’t have to play at “real fiction,” or “straight fiction.” I could write what I had always loved. It is sort of a coming out of the closet as a S.F./F dork. I never looked back. Something has happened in the years since then. First, we took over the world. Second, the internet got us all back together.  So DG in PA, I will tell you, in all honesty, writing sci fi will most certainly make you a hack, but when Tolstoy wrote during cold nights of guard duty he was just as much a hack as the rest of us. Literature changes from the bottom up. It changes with the slow, transformative percolations of influence that come from the struggling writers of any given time. We are influenced by our successful peers and we process that influence through our own unique lens of experience. When we turn from hacks to “authors” our hack style will be called literature. It’s Harold Bloom theory, it’s Nietzsche’s aesthetics, it just happens to be true. I know, I spent my youth writing axioms.

Hack away DG, Hack away.

That is the science of fiction

Next up: RL in GA asks “what can I do to make my writing sound better?”

Short answer RL: Get new strings.




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