Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Authority

Many moons ago, I was interested in writing historical novels. When I asked a very qualified authority on the genre about it, and showed some of my prelim historical work, I was told that it was a waste of my time and that I should never try to write historicals.

"It's not your voice," Authority said. "Stick to SF and contemporary fiction."

I figured Authority knew more than me and abandoned the idea of writing historicals.

Last year, I was asked to pitch some historical novels. "It's not my voice" I told my agent, "but I'd like to try pitching anyway. That way, when they do have something that's more suitable for me, they'll ask me again." I had fun putting together the proposal, but I honestly thought the publisher would tell me no thanks.

I sold three novels off the first pitch.

I wrote the first book, still thinking, This is not my voice. Everyone is going to hate it. The manuscript went straight to copy-edit, no revisions requested. The copy-edit was so light the editor and I did it over the phone. My agent and I are now discussing a big single title historical and a series I'd like to pitch. A series I never thought I would write, because I have it on excellent Authority that it's not my voice.

I don't know precisely why Authority told me I couldn't write historicals. I have some ideas, but I don't want to know I'm right about them. I'd rather preserve the last few good thoughts I have about Authority. Authority was also my friend, once upon a time, or I'd like to keep deluding myself that Authority was.

You may do the same thing someday, and your red flags should pop up when an authority says "Never" or "You can't." Unless laws are going to be broken, following that kind of advice is giving someone else blanket permission to censor and control your work. It's like going to the doctor. Get a second and third opinion. Ask questions. Don't blindly follow authority. Challenge it.

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