I could have written that: a writer’s guide to Schadenfreude

5 12 2012

At some point I think every writer encounters this situation; you read a book published by a major press that is just a total toss off. You think back to the stack of 300+ typed pages in your closet and you think, “it’s better than this hear crap.” It is always “this hear crap.” Don’t ask me why, them’s the rules. For me that novel was 1996’s Beggars and Choosers by Nancy Krauss. It was a meandering task of a novel whose most challenging aspect was the bizarre speech patterns of the underclass where they tag every sentence with a strange referencing pronoun. Krauss basically creates a linguistic idiom for the poor that makes no sense and is tedious to read. There are some novel social-science fiction notions in the book- representative government was never so capitalist, but really, this award winning book just plain sucks. I read this book years ago and said, “I can do better than this.” That was the day I started seriously writing and submitting my work. I think I’ve published five stories in the intervening 14 years so I don’t have much room to talk, but really my point is sometimes publishing a story is not about quality alone. Because this novel got a pretty good dose of positive criticism and because I hate it in the same way I dislike randomly placed turds I must draw the conclusion that people are people and people is fickle. Yep, they sure is fickle. Taste matters and you might not find the editor that is into what your pushing. They might love Beggars and Choosers, they might love a turd lovingly nestled in the thong of their flip-flop, or in the arugula beet salad that is even now being delivered to their table.

You have to keep trying. You have to workshop when you can. You have to learn how to listen to what those with opinions say and you have to learn how to ignore some of it. Six months before the “Arab Spring” I wrote a story about the collapse of the Egyptian regime to a popular student democracy movement and in the story a man tells a visiting American not to worry, that Egypt will always have its Pharaoh.  I shopped that story hard and one editor told me he liked the writing but that the notion of a democratic revolt in Egypt was for her, “…an idea harder to accept than faster than life travel.” I’m not saying the story was great, but it was good. But every editor is an audience and you absolutely MUST MAKE YOUR AUDIENCE HAPPY. Beggars and Choosers, aren’t we all.


The Science of Fiction

Andrew C. Porter




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