I’ve had some fiction shocks in the last few days. The first came with the discovery of my current story of the week, White Swan by author Jason Stoddard. The second came as a story emailed to me by a friend, and the last came in an email from an old friend teaching English in Beirut.
White Swan is a special story. It is an unfolding flower, to borrow one of its internal metaphors. It also kind of kicked my ass into realizing that I have become the science fiction writer equivalent of the Vichy French, that is to say, I’m a collaborator with mediocrity. Though I think I’ve been working in solid ideas, as my time between sales gets longer a sort of desperation has seized control of my prose. Instead of maintaining what I have always considered an edgy and artistic voice, I have slowly devolved into a really unadventurous A/B A/B form of writing. I look back a few months at what I was working on and wonder, “what the hell happened to me?”
So the story sent to me by a writer friend (after much cajoling and begging) put me face to face with a character that was uncomfortably alive. It is a short story, less than 5K words, but in that span a man comes alive full of pathos and without preordained marching orders drawn from archetype or cliche. I remember loving characters. I remember people. Granted, I’ve stopped writing stories from the point of view of a Slinky™, or a mirror on the bathroom wall of a school for pale boys, but people are compelling. You know I don’t even like photography has no people in it. I love Rembrandt. Why does my writing not like people anymore?
Finally, I received a message from a friend I have known for years. As I said she is living in Beirut, which for some reason makes me feel cooler for knowing her. She was talking about her submersion into Battlestar and fantasy reading. You don’t know this girl. This was a bit of a shock. She represents ‘normal’ fiction to me, high art and academically accepted fiction. I’m not saying that’s a bad body of work. Great, cutting edge things get into the MFA programs of America, it’s just seems like a dead letter office. I always enjoyed our conversations, they made me feel like I needed to stay sharp on my literary chops, topical and expansive. But BSG? She mentioned that she regretted telling one of her D&D loving creative writing students to try straight fiction, and wished that she could apologize to him. This touched me to no end. I tried to console. I told her that “D&D Kids” already have had a lifetime of being told to conform and that her comments likely did no damage (note: AD&D kids never get told what to do, coz they kick ass. Just sayin’). I told her that the genres are rarely represented in the humanities pantheon. I mentioned Virginia Wolff as representative of what is safe at school. Well, here is a Virginia Wolff quote delivered by Garrison Keeler today:
“So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say. But to sacrifice a hair of the head of your vision, a shade of its colour, in deference to some Headmaster with a silver pot in his hand or to some professor with a measuring-rod up his sleeve, is the most abject treachery.” Write on Virginia.
Okay, that is your daily affirmation. By your I mean my.
Now, about writing what you want. You can be as mercenary as you like about what topics you cover, how experimental your syntax is, what markets you pursue. There is nothing wrong with this mode of thinking, but it does have some unfortunate consequences. Look at science fiction in film. If we are lucky one science fiction/fantasy film out of three is anything more than focus group generated garbage (Horror I think follows a one in twenty ratio). On television you get the anti-innovation of (barf) sY–fY, who without Battlestar and its incumbent franchises is a wasteland populated by underemployed CGI engineers. Without bravery you will get brevity. What the world needs now is less science fiction-lite, and more real explorations into the expanded universe.
So write. Write what you want, but remember, if you forgo courage for digestibility someone is going to take the i’s out of your name and replace them with Why’s.
That ys the scyence of fyction and your network ys operated by ydyots.
Next Up: Y’m askyng my readers to tell me how to pytch shows to sy-fy
later, ten shows Y want to pytch to sy-fy. (or maybe talking about story writing. We’ll see if I like the next installation of Griffin II, Deathbird)