Sunday, December 14, 2008

In the Valley of the Shadow of Doubt

Sometimes I wonder what the heck I think I'm doing with this novel.

Lots of people, of course, dream of being professional writers.  I've wanted to be one pretty much since childhood, when I discovered that people could write stories for a living.  My parents, avid readers themselves, encouraged me on this path, but suggested I have some useful talent in the back pocket to support myself whilst establishing myself as a fiction writer.

Unfortunately, I didn't really put that advice to much use.  I graduated with my shiny Creative Writing degree into the 1992 recession and jounced madly from a vague attempt at a journalism degree to an even vaguer attempt at an MFA with a number of odd jobs in between.

Since I spent a lot of time in science fiction geekdom, I moved in the circles of science fiction/fantasy/horror writers of varying levels of success.  The general expectation in that particular genre is that one starts with short stories and then gets published in enough places to have something to put in the cover letter when submitting a novel. While this is not an absolute path, of course, it's certainly an easier one than writing an entire novel and casting it to the mercy of the slush pile.  I did manage to write some things, but the usual hard knocks of rejection and criticism made me increasingly reluctant to put myself out there.  (Poetry was a nice refuge for a while, since all you have to do is be halfway decent to impress people at an open mike.)

Over time, I've gotten increasingly disenchanted with the tropes, the expectations and the outright badness of a lot of the genre.  No, I'm not saying that sci-fi/fantasy is automatically crap.  But because of its huge and fanatical built-in audience, it doesn't have to try very hard.

I want to be better than that.  I want to write something that people remember and think about.  I want it to be more a few hours of disposable entertainment.  And there are times, like now, when I seriously wonder if I'm up to the task.

1 comment:

Collin Kelley said...

The sci-fi I've most appreciated lately is by two sort of unlikely sources -- Margaret Atwood and Michael Cunningham. Atwood has dabbled in the future ever since The Handmaid's Tale, but Oryx and Crake is full on sci-fi, and beautifully done. Cunningham's last novel, Specimen Days, follows three characters who are reincarnated over and over again until they are robots and aliens in the future. It sounds crazy, but he does it so well, I fell in love with it.