Wednesday, August 18, 2010
The Blessing Of The Vile Metal
Hello, my name is Sarah A. Hoyt and I’m a writer. I suspect I was born a writer and I hope some time in the future they find gene therapy to prevent such disastrous birth defects.
I’m always either writing or thinking about writing. Characters drop into my head, at times, to make my life miserable by simultaneously demanding I write them and not telling me things I need to know.
I am also a vile capitalist – card carrying – and I write for money. Despite all the various schemes that various enlightened people have come with to ensure a society where no one would need to ever work, I think I’m a better writer because I write for money.
I can see a bunch of you quirking your eyebrows. I wish you wouldn’t do it. What would your mother say if your forehead froze like that?
Toni Weisskopf told me once to never tell anyone I would write for free. I hope she forgives me, because I must tell you that I would. In that utopian world (just remember utopia means nowhere) where every tear shall be wiped away and everyone gets everything they need for free from the machines or the humunculus or whatever, I’d probably keep a schedule pretty similar to now. Only if I could get the machines or the magic or whatever to cook, clean, iron and do litter boxes, I could write MORE. Everyone else would be lazing about, and I’d be in front of the computer, having the time of my life. (Yes, even when this is expressed by hitting my head on the desk and groaning. It’s part of the er... process.) I realized how bad I wanted it when I was daydreaming about winning the lottery and I thought "wow. I'd have so much more time to write, then."
However, what I wrote would likely come out very... odd. Look, I’m as apt as the next fellow to get lost in my own head, captive of my own fantasy. And the next fellow in this case is probably John Norman. (Note I wouldn’t get captive of his fantasy because EW.)
These musings are the direct result of my reading Robert A. Heinlein’s biography – the first volume, Learning Curve. I noted that he wrote For Us The Living out of love and conviction. But then market realities intervened, and he started writing to sell and that shaped his stories and them... well, first readable and eventually and in the beginning with Campbell's help (THIS IS JUST MY OPINION AND I’M NOT GOING TO ARGUE IT. NOT THAT I’M TOUCHY OR ANYTHING) brilliant.
Why is this important? Because we’re living in a world where you can become published and even “sell enough to fit your ambition” without ever getting an editor who reminds you of market realities. This combined with the fact that say, short stories no longer pay enough to support anyone and that breaking into novels requires both , might create the conditions in which any future Heinlein would get stuck in the For Us The Living phase. This prospect keeps me awake at night.
Left to my own devices, I would still be writing books so profoundly unpublishable that even I don’t want to re-read them.
Instead, I wrote eight books. The first... six... were in a fantasy world people exclusively by an hermaphrodite humanoid species and run on high magic but really science fiction principles. It took me six books and a sharp rejection from – if I never say this again, everyone remember this – Ginjer Buchanan, for which I will forever be grateful to her, for me to snap into focus and realize that I’d gone so far out on a limb with this world building (Well – she says sulkily – it was supposed to say something about the equality of the sexes) that not only was it unlikely and vaguely repulsive but also – to anyone not as immersed as I was – insane. Not in a good way. The last book in this world had forty eight chapters each one by a completely different person. It had a cast of thousands. It... was unreadable. To make things worse – well better, really imagine otherwise – my treatment of sex in this “series” was at my most Victorian. To me the sex didn’t matter, it was the CONCEPT. But of course, the only thing that MIGHT have sold it was if I’d put sex in.
So I pulled back and wrote Big Bright Shiny Machines. It’s a space opera, set roughly in Athena’s world – it will eventually get rewritten. Then I wrote Mirrorplay, a fantasy set in a pre-Cretan world. This was a trilogy crammed into 100k words. This too will eventually get rewritten. The story is good, the crafter, however, was an idiot.
And then I wrote Ill Met By Moonlight. (Well, technically I wrote Darkship Thieves before it, but it wasn’t published till this year. Also, I heavily edited it, before it WAS published.)
The point is, if I had direct access to “publishing” and had gathered even a couple hundred fans – and there are fans for everything, which is kind of a corolary for rule 34, that if you name a form of exoteric porn, fifteen sites spring into being. In the same way if you wrote stories about elves who roam the Earth looking for one-eyed goats, or murder mysteries in which everyone is killed with a paper clip, a fandom for these would immediately spring into being – I would still be writing the early stuff and probably convinced only the worst of bad luck hadn’t allowed me to make it to the big time.
Instead, I spent ten years in the desert, writing novel after novel and emerged, I think, if not with the commandments, at least better for it.
Writing for money forced a certain discipline on me – beyond “I have to stop fooling with this now, deadline was three months ago.” It forces me to try to figure out when I’ve gone too far out on a limb.
Do you ever feel that sort of market pressure? If not, why not? And how do you think it affects your writing? For better or for worse? And what mechanism do you think – and please tell me one because I want to believe there IS one – will keep young writers striving for more, when they can get a couple hundred fans for any drivel they produce?