Nostalgia For What Never Was

I’ve heard, and been told, that there was a time when all a writer had to do was write the next book. Sure, an occasional book-signing or convention appearance was a good thing, but otherwise marketing was handled by the publisher and we didn’t worry our pretty little heads about it.

I don’t think that was ever true, or at least not the extent of legend, except perhaps in one category. That is, if you were exclusively a short story writer, then all that mattered was getting the next story as good as you could make it and getting it out. You hoped, certainly, that enough readers would like your work to create a level of demand, maybe even for a collection every ten to twenty years. Marketing, on any real level, was out of your sphere. My first fifteen years or so as a writer  I spent solely on shorter works and in that mindset, which served well enough at the time.

These days, writing is only part of what you do. And if you self-publish in addition to whatever else you’re doing, it may not even be the biggest part. Mainline publishers either don’t do any marketing at all outside pitches to the distribution channels, or do it perfunctorily at best, so whichever route you’re taking, marketing and promotion is pretty much your responsibility.

My problem is that I suck at it. I’m trying to learn, don’t get me wrong, but it’s an uphill climb. It doesn’t come naturally to me and no matter how much my head knows the necessity, my heart is elsewhere. I don’t want to look at spreadsheets and numbers, and writing ad copy is not like writing a book or story, and even though one serves the other they are definitely not the same thing. A separate skill that has to be learned, along with SEO and things like “keyword relevancy.”

That “ivory tower” idea is looking better and better, even though it’s pretty much a legend too.

Muse & Writer Dialogue #14, aka Fool Me Once

Muse: You’re not trying to pull that stunt again, are you?

Writer (looking affronted): Whatever do you mean?

Muse: I mean you have a piece of flash fiction due Wednesday. Your attention is elsewhere, and so you play off me to get your word count.

Writer: No, that would be clever. We both know I’m not clever.

Muse: No, but you are sneaky. It often passes for the same thing.

Writer: Let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that I was attempting to do so. You’re my Muse. Shouldn’t you help me?

Muse: That isn’t helping. It’s encouraging bad habits, and you already have enough.

Writer: Aren’t you even curious?

Muse (sighing): Fine. What’s the word?

Writer: Barefoot

Muse: And you need me for that?

Writer: I would appreciate your help, yes.

Muse: You’re a lower middle-class kid from Mississippi. You spent half of  your early summers barefoot. The bottom of your feet were so tough, you could run barefoot over a stubble patch and not even notice. And  you need my help for this?

Writer: Well, I admit the word works pretty well as an image, such as the one you supplied above. But you have to admit, as a theme it’s somewhat lacking.

Muse: You’re talking 500 words. You barely have time for a decent scene, never mind a theme.

Writer: But all stories have a theme, and I don’t do vignettes.

Muse: So fine, you were a kid from the Bible belt who avoids anything to do with Bibles. I’ve met vampires more in touch with their spiritual side. Tie that in with barefoot.

Writer: Nonsense. I’m very spiritual. I’m just not religious. And you’ve never met a vampire. They aren’t real.

Muse: Also nonsense.  You write fiction, remember? And by the way, neither are muses. Real, that is.

Writer: You show up here a lot for someone who isn’t real. And the idea of a muse has been around for centuries. That makes it real, in a sense.

Muse: By that logic vampires deserve the same courtesy. By the way, have you ever heard of the Leanan-sidhe?

Writer: Sounds vaguely familiar.

Muse: It should. You wrote a story about one, years ago. It’s a type of fairy muse who inspires writers and poets with inspiration so fierce they burn out and die young. Count yourself lucky you got me instead. Not real? At this point I’m as real as you are.

Writer: That’s not saying much.  I’m something of an artificial construction myself, or at least I feel like one.

Muse: Of course you are. You tell stories about yourself in order to understand yourself. And so does everyone else with more self-awareness than an amoeba. You’re all artificial constructions. The only difference is sometimes you get paid for it. And you think muses and vampires aren’t real? Talk about a mythological creature….

Writer: We’re digressing here; I’ll edit it out later. Let’s get back to barefoot.

Muse: You get back to barefoot. I’m done now.

Writer: Funny, so am I.

Muse: You made 500 words, didn’t you?

Writer: Nope. WE did.

Muse (string of expletives deleted): You….

 

 

 

 

Yamada Redux

First a quick couple of notes. The new Yamada story is finished, submitted and sold to Beneath Ceaseless Skies.  The title is “Uzumaki of the Lake” and it might come out this year, maybe autumn or winter. I’ll post it here when I get a solid date. Not counting the last two novels, it’ll be the first new Yamada story in seven years. I guess we both needed a break.

Break may be over though. I’m already mulling another one. We’ll see if it comes together. I hope so. I’ve missed those guys.

I hit a problem in the new novel which was slowing me down considerably, but I think I’ve got a handle on at least the next part, so that goes on.

I used to be a chess player, in that I played in HS and even played on the college team. The highlight of my career was getting a draw in a ten-board exhibition match with an A rated player. The lowest point was a HS tournament where a lighting fixture fell on my head. It was enough to make me wonder if I should consider another hobby. Regardless, I hadn’t even looked at a chess board in years when I stumbled across a couple of chess problems recently and solved them easily. I was never that good at chess problems (for those who don’t know, it’s a board set up so that one side or another can easily win or gain advantage,  if only they can figure out the right move).  It’s got me thinking about playing again.

Time just looks at me and laughs.

 

Spring? Maybe. A Little.

Another day of sunshine, and another new Yamada story. This one’s a true flash, so I likely won’t be expanding it, unless I reconsider some of the backstory I had to gloss over to make my word limit. Actually, there’s quite a lot there, now that I think about it. And a new character whose presence is ripe for making trouble.

Okay, maybe I will, the more I think about it. Yamada’s new situation does present some story possibilities I hadn’t considered before. Or maybe I just missed the guys, I don’t know.

I also need to get back to Marta…and Jing and Mei Li and that exorcist guy. I have been remiss. I have been up to my eyeballs, actually, but I’ve finally realized that’s not going to change…ever. I just need to find ways to work with it.

The short stories I can fit around the novel project, but not another novel. One at a time is my limit, I’ve discovered. I’m making progress, it just doesn’t seem like it most of the time.

Lately, it sort of does.

The Unexpected, and a Confession

Apropos of last week, I finished the rough draft of the new Lord Yamada story yesterday. I am honestly surprised. I have to blame the Flash Fiction group, since I was looking at the trigger word for that week’s assignment and thought to myself…that’s a Yamada story.

No way.

Yes, way.

So first I wrote the flash, then went on to expand it to (to me) proper story length. It’s still short for a Yamada piece. Most of those were in the 5-7k range and many went to novelette, even excluding the actual novels. This one’s only about 3000 words. May get a little longer (or shorter) in the rewrite. We’ll see. If and when it’s published, I’ll be sure to let everyone who’s interested know. And even those who aren’t. Blogging is like that.

Now the confession, triggered by a twitter exchange I saw a few days ago. A writer I know was confessing to writing fan-fic when she was starting out. Several others chimed in to, sharing their confessions. Some were still writing it, long after they turned pro.

I found this all a bit fascinating, so herein is my confession: I have never written fan-fic.

For the one or two of you out there who don’t know what fan-fic is, it’s simply writing your own stories using someone else’s characters and set in their universe. Just for fun. Or because you think you could handle certain things better than they did.

But wait, Straw Man says. I know for a fact you’ve written stories featuring Beowulf, and Oedipus, Hera, and Eris, Goddess of Discord.  You didn’t invent them! Very true. And I will concede that, legendary or not, someone made them up at some point. Unless Eris or Hera takes offense at that categorization and I therefore humbly withdraw it. I don’t want either one mad at me. Regardless, in my mind there’s a very fine but definite distinction between writing a story based on legend and writing, say, a Harry Potter story. That distinction is the author.

That, to me, is the difference. Writing a story based on a legend and supplying my own slant on the story is being part of a conversation that we, as human beings, have been having with ourselves for a long time, and one that deserves to continue. Writing in a known author’s universe, otoh, is me playing in their sandbox, and I do not belong there. It’s not even about copyright, for the most part, since most fan-fic writers only publish in closed groups and aren’t trying to usurp the original author’s prerogative. Even in cases where the copyright has expired, I still can’t do it.

It’s not a moral position. I know other people don’t have this problem, and if you can do something interesting with a public domain work, go for it.

There have been times when I’ve wanted to, mind you. A few years ago someone was putting together a Fritz Leiber tribute anthology. At that point, Fafhrd and the Mouser were fair game, and  since Leiber was one of my favorite writers ever, I wanted in.

I couldn’t do it. I tried, but every word I put down on paper echoed in my head as the same word: wrong. And no matter what I told myself, or what I wrote, that word never changed.

I’ll always regret not having my work in that book. But I’ll never regret why.