Saturday, June 04, 2005

Memories

My first year doing this gig, I received a lot of criticism for some of the content in my first and second SF novels. More than one concerned SF writer tried to save my career by explaining to me how SF was supposed to be written.

Here's the killer: the sex was fine with them, as long as I cleaned it up and used more of a softer, more distant focus with the presentation. The problem was the romance subplots that they predicted would ruin me as a SF writer.

Romance -- the love story between two characters -- had no business being in a SF novel.

Looking back now, some of what was said and done to me seems unforgivable. I cannot believe these people did this to a rookie; you never, never mess with a newly-published writer that way. But even in my first pro year, I was contrary. I believe that love, sex, and romance are an important part of life. As a writer, I'm not going to hide them under the story carpet. Also (important tip) it's a mistake to tell me what I can and cannot write.

Six years and eight SF novels later, I'm still here. Still writing my SF novels with plenty of icky romance subplots in them. And yeah, I'm still hitting the SF mass market bestseller list every year.

This did not come without a price tag. Go against the flow, and you will get blackballed, ridiculed, sneered over, pointed at and otherwise censored -- and not just by other writers. Although my sales are terrific, you won't ever read about my books in most of the industry trades. The minute a SF writer gets on a national BSL list it's reported, but try to find a mention of me doing it. My books, which rack up pretty decent numbers, are not listed with the other new releases in SF. They're also not reviewed (but hey, I like that part.)

I am not a role model. Please make note of this.

The point is, if you're going to stand up for what you believe is right, and act on it, be prepared for the long-term cost to you. The herd does not thank you for leaving them. Even if you bond with other loners, there are always more of herd than there are of you. It is in the herd's best interests to ignore you, and/or to do what they can to assure that you are not a success.

20 comments:

  1. By the time I quit playing in someone else's sandbox, I already knew I'd never be a professional SF writer. I didn't have the chops to do cyberpunk, or I'd be a cross between Gibson and Palahuik (sic).

    The reason is that I focused more on the characters than gee-whiz technology, geopolitical struggles cloaked in alien conflicts, or spend several overwritten paragraphs describing some astronomical of biological phenom that didn't exactly enthrall the average reader. In short, I'd be dragging the hardcore out of their dark basements and forcing them to play in the sunlight.

    So I went to crime fiction, whose readers WANT to be dragged kicking and screaming out of their comfort zones. And you're allowed to mess up the formula in this, to do what's not expected (unless it's noir. And there are markets for noir.) Somehow, it's become a way for us to vent our collective rage. I mean, don't you feel pretty good that Roger Akroyd bought it and Mike Hammer told his girlfriend it was easy when he shot her? If you're a man (or even a woman), don't you wish sometimes you had your own Tyler Durden in your head, getting even with the world in ways you never could? (Oh, wait. I'm not supposed to talk about that.)

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  2. "Also (important tip) it's a mistake to tell me what I can and cannot write."

    This sentence made me smile, and, almost raise my fist in the air in a power salute.

    I do not write SF, but I am a writer. However, I've just completed a novel and am in the hells of query land. Meanwhile, I'm writing another novel, and I'll write another, and I'll keep writing.

    Anyway, nice blog, glad I saw it on "updates" on dashboard.

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  3. I think it's a writer's duty to push limits and explore new territory. We already know what the same old same old looks like.

    I'm with you on the don't "tell me what I can and cannot write". I will exercise my right to write what I want and need to write in the way that tells the story best. I simply will not do mediocrity and pablum.

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  4. zornhau10:08 AM

    "Duty" and artistic musiness be damned.

    You made a commercial decision based on your capabilities as a writer and pushed on with it, ignoring the old farts and genre pedants.

    Result:

    >...my sales are terrific

    The only audience that matters is the one which can put its money where its mouth is.

    There's not nearly enough sex and romance in SF. Look at the way stuff which does cover sexuallity gets hyped: Kushiel's Dart, Wizard's First Rule, Anita Blake...

    Anybody remember War of the Powers?

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  5. I don't play well in groups. Never did.

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  6. See, this is why small bookstores are so important. We get our new release lists directly from the publisher, read everything to make our own decisions, and when we find a good book we think people will like, we stick a little index card in front of it saying something along the lines of "hey, people who like Author X, here's a really good book we think you would like."

    There's some really great, character-based, non-formula SF and Fantasy out there. We take great glee in pointing people to it. :o)

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  7. You gotta laugh when writers try to push groupthink on the act of writing fiction. Sorry it happened. Very, very strange, but it always seems to be a sign that you're on the right track.

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  8. Honestly, that's what I loved about your books when I first read them. I like SF settings, I really do. I just can't stand the style in which so many people write them. I think the only other SF authors I've read that I've liked are Marion Zimmer Bradley (and she's more science fantasy than straight SF) and Lisanne Norman ... both of which are more romantic or social SF than hard SF.

    The people that try to insist you should write your book the way they think is right just ... annoy me. It's one thing to suggest; it's quite another to be pushy about it. (I just had a good friend have similar happen, so I'm rather touchy about it at the moment.) *grumbles*

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  9. "I am not a role model. Please make note of this."

    Oops. Too late. I suppose I should rethink the two universes (one SF, on Fantasy) I've built that have very strong romance subplots and sexuality themes. Damn, back to the drawing board I go.

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  10. Thank you for marching to your own drummer...and for sharing so openly that march with us.

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  11. zornhau12:55 PM

    Oh, for what it's worth, we discovered your books in the hippest, most cutting edge etc etc SF bookstore in Scotland: http://www.transreal.co.uk/

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  12. I must disagree with you. After all, you ARE a role model.

    I hate to be the one to break it to you, but I'm not the only writer that looks up to you and eagerly sucks up all the information you put out here about the industry. When I'm published, I want to be just as open and just as honest.

    I know some people won't like it. That's not my problem.

    Cheers,

    F. O'Brien Andrew

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  13. Ahah! Mystery solved. I first picked up StarDoc cause I'd met you and thought it would be interesting to see how you write. Honestly, you write in a subgenre of SF that isn't where I normally go for my SF fix, but at the same time, I was enjoying myself and ended up racing through the whole series...and eagerly awaiting the next one :). So there's the answer. The romance elements brought in a new aspect to the mad race, along with your depth of characters, that opened a whole new part of SF to my picky eye. As far as I'm concerned, I hope more people set out to break the rules. If I had to read the same book each time no matter who wrote it, gosh darn it, I'd give up reading...umm, did I say picky? Guess you have to add in stubborn ;).

    And I agree with F. O'Brien Andrew. You are a role model, though I've given up on trying to get to your level of productivity :).

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  14. I ended up self-publishing a series of humourous SF novels after a couple of major publishers told me the market for the genre was too small. One told me I wrote well and hinted that a fantasy trilogy would be the way to go. The other advised me to get an agent and suggested another couple of publishers ... one of them the first one I tried :-)
    I plugged my ears and kept writing, and a year ago I got a call from a publisher. Their sales rep spotted my books in a local store and carted one back to the evil fortress, where it was examined with much interest.
    Now I have a three book contract, the first one is coming out in September and I'm currently revising book two for them - when I'm not hanging around blogs, that is.
    I stuck to my guns, kept writing what I loved and had them come after me for it.
    In hindsight I should have continued to tweak and submit book one to more publishers, but then I would never have finished off books two and three. It was the self-imposed deadline (release each book at the local con) which kept me on target.

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  15. Someone else's blog discussed bellwethers -- the lead sheep in the flock that all the others follow. I'm not suggesting that any of us are sheep or easily led, but I think it's a fine thing to be the trailblazer. Barring that, go for lead dog. The lead dog sets the path and it's up to the others to catch up.

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  16. Briana6:12 PM

    You are very much a role model and I have been looking up to you since I read StarDoc so long ago. Although you don't write in the conventional sci fi style, your books have the power to grab me and make me hold on for the whole ride. It's good to go against the flow and write the way your heart tells you to, because if we all wrote the same, the genre would be a very boring place.

    You're awesome, just remember that.

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  17. Fuck ‘em. Fuck ‘em in the ear with a stick.

    If everyone writing SF obeyed the rules then it’d be nothing but wall to wall navel-gazing garbage. 200,000 words conveying 300 words’ worth of meaning. When I did SF it was basically thrillers set in the near future. And yes, there was even romance, because that’s what real people are like. Setting something in the future doesn’t mean having to use words like ‘susurrus’ and ‘coruscating’, or taking a thousand words to describe a bloody landscape.

    SF isn't a genre: it’s a setting.

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  18. marty6:19 AM

    Can I ask if these "concerned" SF Writers were "Hard" SF writers? "Hard SF" Male writers?

    Let me see.. Romance in SF.. umm.. Bujold, McCaffery, LeGuin. Cherryh. Sometimes understated, but the lovelife of characters (Killishandra, Miles, etc) does become part of the story. Miles Vorkosigan (Lois McMaster Bujold, for those unfortunate not to have read her books) is a great example, especially "A Civil Campaign" - The bit when Ekaterin reads his letter of apology brings tears to my eyes, both of laughter and sheer joy. Miles' romantical difficulties occur across a political background, on a planet coming to terms still with being a few generations from being "recontacted", where new technology is being felt (full sexual body transforms) and historical issues (one character turns out to be descended from hated "alien" invaders, affecting his standing as a Count).

    Romance not a part of SF. Bah.

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  19. Whether you like it or not, I agree w/everyone who has said you are a role model.

    Cece
    ~who prefers being a wolf to a sheep =)

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  20. "The point is, if you're going to stand up for what you believe is right, and act on it, be prepared for the long-term cost to you."

    True in publishing, true in life. It takes courage to step away from the flock to do what's right and necessary.

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