Wednesday, June 9, 2010

When The Music Stops

(With footnotes, which is how you know Mad Genius Club is CULTURE.)

Years ago, when – I thought – I lay dying in a hospital bed at 33, I realized I could no longer afford to play at writing. Instead I had to go into it fully, no holds barred. Because other than the obvious regrets – my younger son was only one a couple of months. My older son was five and a very little – what loomed largest in my mind was the fact that all my unpublished worlds would die with me. The feeling that I had been given something precious that I failed to pass on.

What does this mean? Don’t worry. There’s no dire announcement coming. Though we’re all mortal, and I’m starting to hit the age where I hear of friends’ deaths more often than we attend weddings. *

However, since that moment of clarity, on that hospital bed, I’ve been driven to write and submit, and try to infect others with these worlds in my head before I die. I am humbly aware that at the rate ideas rise up, I’ll probably die with three or four – or more – books unfinished. But I view it as my duty to write as many of them as possible. Or at least my need.

This week I had a minor reminder of this – very minor – as I came down with a serious case of stomach flu. Possibly the most severe I’ve ever had. Now some of you know it takes a lot to bring me to a complete stand still, but this did it. All of yesterday, I slept and woke and slept again, until... the evening. Then the evening and today, I was in true torment – I was well enough to want to write, but not well enough to write.

I know they say that when time comes to die no one regrets spending too little time at the office. This might be true for most people. It’s not for me. Yes, I love and enjoy the time with my family, but I feel the same need towards my writing. Balancing the two is a never ending act.

What do you feel compelled to write? If you faced the end, with no buffer, what do you think you’d regret? Is there a story you’d particularly regret leaving unpublished? A world that calls out for other minds to make it live? A character you’d mourn no one else having known?

Carpe Diem*1and tempus fugit *2 Oh, yeah, and Ars Longa, Vita Brevis.

* This is because few people have the foresight of the Portuguese king Pedro (O Cru -- i.e. the Raw) who is said to have married his five year dead mistress Ines de Castro, in a high ceremony the whole court was required to attend. Oh, yeah, and kiss the queen's hand. This is denied by a lot of Portuguese historians but embraced by others. No reports on whether the wedding breakfast included brains.
*1-The monkey is wrong – this means “the days are crxp”)
*2 (which means “if I put you in a temporary fugue state, can I write a novel before you realize it?” Trust me. Very compact language, Latin. Admirable, really.)
*3 (which means “my xrse is getting large, but I’ll write a brief biographical novel.”)


Anonymous said...

I thought tempus fugit was what a writing Mom said as she realized she'd be late picking the kid up after band practice for the fourth day in a row?

My regrets don't run to fiction. Hmm, thinking about it, I think I see them as so close to real that no doubt someone will just take them down to the No-Kill Fiction Shelter, where some innocent person will adopt one or more of the Characters, or possibly an entire Universe.

Jonathan D. Beer said...

Latin is a remarkable language, isn't it...

Hope you are feeling writing fit again Sarah. I guess, since I am still at the start (possibly pre-start - on the training pitch rather than on the subs bench, perhaps, to use a sporting metaphor) of my writing career, then I'd rather regret all of it if I was struck down for my many blasphemies right now.

But particularly I'd regret not getting a chance to get the series which has been in my head for about three years into the light of day. Its one of those ideas which will be sat on my shoulder for many years to come, waiting for the day when all the research is done and the plotting is wrapped up, and my main character can leap from the page with a (characteristic) swagger and strike me soundly about the noggin for keeping him penned up within my brain for so long.

But it will stay there for a good long while, until I think I am ready to do it justice. So I guess the biggest regret I would have if my sins caught up with me right now would be thus: not getting the chance to reach the level of confidence in my writing that I think I can.

Ellyll said...

First of all, the footnotes: you crack me up.

And sadly, I completely get the if I died today idea. I haven't had the actual near-death experience, but I would feel a lot the same way.

Oh, dear. I have to go write now. Good-bye. ;)

Anonymous said...

I have to say that while I might be wistful regarding certain issues, I have no actual regrets regarding my life. Sure, there are things I haven't accomplished or done in my life, and I could have done some things better, but, overall, it's been a good life.

Erica just graduated last week, and that was my main goal, to live long enough to get her raised. What's to come is gravy. So what next regarding writing?

A book. I've decided to go forward now. She's no longer twirling which opens up about 20 hours a week for me. I have no excuses. Unless we want to count me being a babbling idiot at times (must we, really?) because I can't settle on a story long enough to do anything booklike with it.

We're in early June which means I should have made significant headway by the end of summer. That's assuming I can adopt an idea long enough to feed it. Forward!

Thanks, Sarah, for allowing me to make myself accountable here on a relevant subject. Hope you're feeling better.


Rowena Cory Daniells said...

LOL, Sarah.

I've always taken the cup of life in both hands and drained it.

No regrets. 6 kids when everyone said, 'Why had a child?'

I've put myself and my work out there.

Sure some won't be published by the time I die because there are so many written and partially written books on my hard drive. But that means my children (some of whom are very good writers) will be able to do a 'son of Dune author' on them. ROFL!

Sarah A. Hoyt said...


I'd laugh at you, except that Kate, with no prior knowledge of this has not just come up with a novel I very sketchilly started fifteen years ago, but with the same very -- and I mean very -- odd world setup.

So maybe Pratchett is right and inspiration rays rains on all our heads all the time.

But then I'll make a tinfoil helmet and my agent has ORDERED me never to wear one. (And as we all know I ALWAYS do as told -- natch >:) )

Sarah A. Hoyt said...


Very remarkable, aprticularly in creative hands.

I'm almost myself today, which is good considering whoever I was before kept drooping and languishing. :)

And yes, Jonathan, you always regret one more than the others. One is always more alive to you. But in my case, honestly, they were legion.

If I may delicately tell you you're speaking nonsense. You don't get good enough "to do it justice" by sitting on it. Sometimes you have to rewrite it over and over (DST was written 6 times over ... eleven? Twelve? years) And sometimes you write it, then write other things, then return to it. But just keeping it in your mind will not make you able to handle it.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Footnotes are my greatest talent (complacently.)

And yes, yes, Carpe Diem.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...


Don't beat yourself up, hon. I have started so many novels I don't remember most of them. (As I was woefully reminded while looking thorugh my drive. "I wrote a novel called never been? When? What was I thinking? Oh, thank heavens, it's ten pages of outline.") You'll finish one eventually.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...


If I'm allowed -- I'm very jealous of the six kids. We wanted eleven. Nature, alas, had other ideas. Fortuntely Robert is at least ten kids, being larger than life in every direction.

Brendan said...

And there I was thinking Carpe Diem meant "timely nagging"(something mothers become very good at;) ).

As to what I would want published after I die? All the nasty, vitriolic(but erudite) letters I never got round to sending to enemies. Nothing like getting a final dig in from the grave.

Anonymous said...

On the other hand, Sarah, the weird directions of the Story Round (Everyone please join in, see last Saturday's blog) is going some people are getting hit by very _different_ inspiration rays.

Synova said...

The story round is making me realize just how compelled I seem to be to impose order. Even trying to force wild abandon what I come up with is pretty mild wild abandon. ;-P

Anonymous said...

The number of different ways a story can go is amazing. I throw in a nerd turned hunk for a potential boyfriend, you see a madman bent on revenge.

C Kelsey said...

I figure that when we all die we wind up in our best fictional world to play with our characters (which for me would probably mean running in terror from them as they seak out revenge for all the mean things I do to them). But it's okay, because all our imagined worlds will be connected. I can have breakfast with my werelions, lunch with Kyrie and Tom, and dinner with Meb. All very pleasant... until the shooting starts at least (Hey, one of 'ems my world. There's *going* to be shooting. :P )

Sarah A. Hoyt said...


Nagging from above! -- my kids will tell you I excell at THAT too.


Sarah A. Hoyt said...


I just want to know HOW the kitten got in the car after I left her carefully locked in the little patio. Would one of you care to explain that?

Sarah A. Hoyt said...


I haven't read your fiction so I can't comment, but you might want to consider the fact that you might be doing this to your fiction, too.

I was raised not to make a fuss. Stiff uppper lip and all that. If you get hurt you don't cry, that's low. You politely seek help. If you bleed you stanch it. If you are angry you become very polite.

The problem was I was doing this in my fiction too. Throttling back without even realizing it. I've been trying to let go of this -- think of it, it's a cheat. The reader wants the full ride. That's why they buy the book -- since Draw One In The Dark. I was convinced Darkship Thieves was over the top. Apparently not. This latest book -- now sitting on agent's desk -- takes it a little further. Maybe IT is too much? (At least I think matapam has to agree despite her opinion at the beginning, it is NOT a Baen book, Alas.) And now, I am biting my nails for fear I let go too much, but wouldn't be surprised if told I'm still holding back and not "singing full voice."

Synova said...

Marrying a dead mistress isn't that strange. Certainly no more so than digging up a fellows bones in order to burn him to death.

It could easily have been done in order to lend her (or her children?) retroactive legitimacy.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...


we used to have a writing prompt a week in our writers' group, and one of the methods we used was "same first line". You'd be amazed how different the stories were. Even if you started with what you were sure was a horror prompt, say: My heart sank when I realized the zombies had eaten all the cheese -- you still ended up with mystery, science fiction, fantasy and even YA stories.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...


Considering all my worlds, except maybe the diner, are different forms of dystopia, this is NOT reassuring.

Personally, I'm going to Heinlein's Tertius.

Synova said...

Sarah, I absolutely do it to my fiction and I'm fully aware that I do it to my fiction... or if not fully aware, at least I'm catching on. Probably about a year ago I realized that I know pretty well how to write but I needed to work on raising the stakes.

"I was raised not to make a fuss. Stiff upper lip and all that. If you get hurt you don't cry, that's low. You politely seek help. If you bleed you stanch it. If you are angry you become very polite."


Along with a bunch of other habits bound to prevent unnecessary drama... which is a good thing in real life but not so good in fiction where you've got the additional element of actual control over events.

I am working on it, though.

When I was reading DST I was thinking, "Yes, this is what I'm shooting for."
Even just the energy pod thing growing in vacuum seemed a refreshing extravagance and a whole lot of fun.

I should probably put a note on my monitor that says, "Yes, but does it have a green jelly volcano spewing penguins?"

In that case when I throttle back I might be close to on target.

Synova said...

( I really do like the volcano and the penguins and it all turning out to be a spaceship. Good thing Poindexter created all those monsters, eh? )

Anonymous said...

Imposing order. Oh yes. It all needs to make sense and fit together, and we don't do trauma. The main reasons my attempts to do Urban Fantasy fall flat.

Synova said...

Ack and did you notice? That was throttling back, right there. Imposing order. Bleh.

Anonymous said...

Well, there's a point in which one must stop the random injections of weirdness and start seeking a solution to the problem. Unless one is writing the next Hitchhiker's Guide. But that's a one-off, not a whole style of writing that permeates all of fiction. I hope.

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Sarah. I know exactly where you are comming from. Passion does not always run hot, but it always drives you. I know what you mean when you said you were well enough to want to write, but not well enough to write. That is a tough place to be! I find myself often there, exhausted by my other responsibilities.

Regrets? Hard to pick just one. But having launched the first of the Jakirian series in Australia - The Calvanni - I would really regret not being able to reward the faith of readers and deliver the other five planned novels in this series (and the three prequals:)). What a great story. One that refused to die no matter what.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Synova and Pam,

It's not just a matter of zany ideas. It's going THERE. And I don't mean the sex, which with one notable exception I still DO NOT write -- eh, only if I find it essential to the plot or character development, hence the exception. So, what do I mean by "going there"?
Well, take how much Kit bleeds in DST. My temptation was just to say he was wounded then skip forward to where he's well. I suspect he'd prefer that too. But it's cheating the reader. Or the part where Athena is cooked to a turn. Again, in previous books I'd have skipped ahead. BUT this time I went in, full force, and forced myself to stay through the squirmy, uncomfortable moments.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...


Zany ideas don't carry the book. You need to make the zany idea relevant. I always said A E Van Vogt put enough zany ideas in a page to write whole novels on. BUT in the end you didn't remember them. He made them into throwaways

Synova said...

I think that there are times when a suggestion of the bad thing that happened is effective but I've gotten dinged in a writing group for skipping the unpleasant parts and the criticism was right on. (Which goes back to the wallow-in-it nature of writing vs. reading, I think. As a reader I felt no impulse to look away from Kit's injury, for example.)

"Going there" is a good reminder.

Mike said...

Kittens never stay where you expect them to, Sarah. Don't you know that? Besides, when Daiquiri roared up in her mustang, the kitten just jumped in... and no one noticed that the door to the patio must have fallen open when no one was watching.

No one knows what goes on offstage?