Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Family That Writes Together





Today some friends called my attention to a blog review for my husband’s anthology, which mistakenly assumed Robert was my husband and wasn’t quite sure what Dan’s relationship to both of us was. An understandable mistake, of course.
(The review is here http://otter.covblogs.com/archives/2008/11/book-review-better-off-undead-edited-by-martin-h-greenberg-and-daniel-m-hoyt.html and it’s really a very good one, not because it’s complimentary but because it is very perceptive.)
This combined with something we’ve gone through recently in semi-social circumstances, where someone expressed surprise at the fact that we don’t have much of a local social life; and with a recent ill-healed remark by someone who used to be a member of our long-dissolved local writers’ group, who said I didn’t have much time for anyone who didn’t help my career.
The later is ill-healed because it hurt. Not because it’s true, but because I still care enough for that person’s opinion to feel bad I gave her that impression. The very unfortunate truth is that I also don’t have a lot of time for people who CAN help my career and have probably alienated any number of friends who are ahead of me on the road by seeming to snub them.
At any rate the three comments taken together did cause me think. The first thing was to wonder if we are really that unusual – or at least unusual for writers in this day and age. After all, we are a dual-career couple with teenage children. That each of us has – at least – dual careers all by ourselves – Dan having a day job and writing and me, I think, living at least three writing lives at once – is another, unexpected complication. It seems to me that those other writers I know – unless they are very secure bestsellers – have about as much time as I have. Even those whose children have moved out.
And our life has been unusually busy as far as the "teen sons" too. For one, homeschooling a kid for a year not only ate my life for that time, but set me back on a bunch of routine tasks which are now, slowly, getting caught up and, in turn, affecting writing. (Though for those of you who know what the last school year was like for me, I’m nowhere near at that level of tiredness. I’ve got ill this year, too, granted, but not those complete "flattening" illnesses. And there have been periods of health between illnesses.) But that, as I said, is slowly returning to "normal hassled" not "insane running around." I can see eventually, maybe, if we’re lucky having time for a social life again.
The other side of this, of course, is that I have a rich social life, just not in town. In some ways – and my friend Kevin J. Anderson, whom we see about twice a year when both of us can make time tells me it is exactly so – I feel that writers gravitate to other writers because, to quote Kevin, "Only other writers understand our crazy obsessions and the way this insane business works."
This is not so much a matter of who "can help of my career" – some of my writer friends are unpublished. Some, in fact, are just starting out. Others are far more successful than I am, but that doesn’t mean they can "help" or at least not materially, but only to the extent of advice – but who understands what I’m going through.
Like people in other arcane and difficult professions, ruled by gods of uncertain chance, we tend to cling to one another. In the age of the internet, this is very easy. My best writing friends are strewn across the US and across the globe. Being writers we keep weird hours, anyway. We meet on Skype at the middle of the night for one or the other of us. We groan about covers, contracts and whatever the newest marketing fad is. We exchange heartfelt condolences over the behavior of certain characters who refuse to shut up and follow the plot at all. And we’re not so alone anymore.
The thing is, I don’t think that’s all that unusual for writers, even historically. I’ve read enough bios of our people to find out that they tended to have world-girding friendships even when they had to depend on the good offices of international mails.
How is this related to my family having three – or to be honest, once the youngest one stops denying it – four writers in it?
Well, the truth is that we probably make less time for our local writing friends than we would if we had no writers in the family. Online friendships are wonderful and have kept me sane for years, but sometimes you just need to watch someone’s face as you tell them your brand spanking new idea for a novel.
It’s just that in this house, that means wandering downstairs, with a vaguely glazed look, getting a cup of coffee, then turning to your son and your husband who are sitting at the kitchen table and saying, "You know, I had this idea for an apocalyptic-feeling novel that..."
Dan and I have plotted entire novels while driving to Denver (actually, long-distance driving is very good for this.) We have written anthology proposals on airplane trips. We have shocked waitresses by discussing where one could hide a body so that only fragments would ever surface, if that. We have gone out for a romantic dinner and forgotten all about romance when one of us leans across the table and goes, "You know the Samson story? It’s very powerful. I wonder how to do that in space. And how he could survive to make it a series."
Robert plotted his novel aloud, while talking to me, all the way from concept to chapter-by-chapter while we built a porch together. The other day over dinner, with no warning, Eric started day dreaming about the Odyssey as a space opera with a female "Ulysses" including whether Circe should still be female.
In many ways it is like having your very own writers workshop right at home. And it makes it easy not to reach beyond home for that writer face-to-face socialization.
Should it be different? Perhaps. But then our time is short and the kids – such is life – will be leaving the house soon enough. We have maybe two, three years more of a resident writers’ workshop. After that, I suppose we’ll start attending more cons or organize a critique group again or something. But until then, we’ll enjoy our good fortune.
And if people think we're strange... well, we're writers. I guess we can live with that.

3 comments:

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Know exactly what you mean, Sarah.

I'm a private person. Writing requires great devotion and since I'm obsessed with it this is no sacrifice, add 6 children and a husband who deserves some attention, and this brings my list of friends down to fellow writers, because only they will understand.

Must be lovely to discover a writer in one of your children. So far we have a jazz singer, an accountant(very useful if I write a best seller), an artist, a games designer, an I-don't-know and a would-be vet.

Cheers, R

John Lambshead said...

Dear Sarah
Well, you have spent time on me and I doubt I can help your career.
John

Dave Freer said...

Actually, I felt very guilty at my story in that collection. It's an in-joke for writers and only a story peripherally. That said - writers tend to be readers (not inevitably) and it's nice when we hit stories aimed at us. But your family are exceptionally talented, Sarah. You're lucky to have them, and them, you.