A question I’ve been hearing a lot of recently is “So what do you normally write? What is your passion?” My auto response has been that I write science fiction with an eye to fantasy, but the more I think about it, the more that isn’t true.
The truth is I write a lot and I’ve always discounted my horror writing as being my slack off pieces. But that’s not what horror is to me at all, it’s just a different sort of release, a different style of imagining. Most of my short stories are horror and many novels have a bent towards that. But these aren’t slack off pieces or throw away bits. They just come from a different part of my psyche and refuse to conform to rules. In trying to make them fit for traditional publishing, I do feel like I’d have to sacrifice the integrity of the story, but that doesn’t mean are any less worthwhile to me… just that I won’t be querying them. So I feed them to the ravenous beast that is Wattpad, where they meet a few appreciative eyes.
Horror Novel Cover
The reason I think I see my sci-fi/fantasy as being “what I really write” is that those are the works I am willing to go through a gazillion drafts. They are the babies whose basic nature does not seem averse to traditional publishing. I recently tried to put a fantasy novel up on Wattpad, or the beginning to one, and there is this horror in me that I’ve now killed this novel’s chances for publication. But it’s a tight spot. Having only horror and horror sci-fi visible means that any agent considering my sci-fi/fantasy works is going to say “Wow, she doesn’t really write what she’s pitching.”
In conclusion, this is one big vent. I write prolifically. I write because I must. I write because I’m inspired whether that inspiration be a shiver that crawled up my spine while darting across a dark parking lot, a fascination with gothic heroine’s and their kidnappability, a desire to build a world to suit a spiffy MMO character (Yes…this is how several of my characters have come to me…don’t judge.)
I write how I read. My bookshelves became acquainted with Christopher Pike when I was twelve. They met their first fantasy heroine when I was eight. Science fiction came later but in a rush as I drank in old classics and newer gems. Telling someone which of these genres I read would be impossible because the truth is I read them all. I’ve even been known to sneak in a steamy romance when no one was looking…saved some of those too…they are all missing covers. I read and write fantasy because the world we live in can feel like a trap. A release has an exotic beauty to it. I write sci-fi because I like to play god, toy with worlds, universes, cultures. I read sci-fi because I like to be part of other authors playing the same god games I do. And I read and write horror because the dark undercurrent of fear makes me feel alive.
Step inside my office and you might know I’m a writer. You might know I dabble in painting and charcoal. But you’d definitely know I’m a reader. Besides my six foot bookcase double stacked with things ranging from Madame Bovary to Neverwhere to the complete works of Shakespeare, my desk is littered with well-worn tomes, odd books stick out from behind knick-knacks. In fact, there is a volume of Greek Tragedies sticking out from under my desk.
I’ve noticed that recently I’ve been reading a lot less. Unless you count critiquing on critiquecircle or following the odd story here and there on Wattpad. Which for the purposes of absorbing good writing through good reading, I can’t really count. Some of those stories are wonderful of course, some of those writers may be the next Steven King, or Neil Gaiman…who knows. But what I’m reading is their works in progress not their polished masterpieces.
Having made this observation I decided I was going to pick up some of those books that make the genres I write in what they are. First I plucked an old copy of Ursula K LeGuin’s Left Hand of Darkness.
Now this novel won awards and sold some gratuitous number of copies that make wanna-bes like me salivate. I remember reading it years ago but picking it up couldn’t recollect a thing about it. I remember finding it interesting.
I’ve read very little by Ms. LeGuin, and I wondered to myself looking at the book if I wouldn’t have enjoyed it more if I’d ever gotten past the fact that alphabetically her books always sat next to Tannith Lee’s. And there is nothing more heartbreaking to a young reader in a used book store then knowing you’ve found the right spot on the shelf (see there is Ursula K LeGuin) and not seeing the books you really want. So I’ve always had an unfair distaste for Ms. LeGuin.
I thought for sure if I went back and reread I would love Left Hand of Darkness. Not so much. It has a wonderful idea, beautifully rendered characters and a control of the language I envy. But I found myself skimming over paragraphs that almost exclusively covered at least half a page each. I spent the first three chapters believing Estravan and Agravan were the same person because their names were so similar. Finally I through the book down about a fourth of the way through, frustrated because I didn’t see how I could learn a thing from this (other than how to have a wonderful idea but since I can’t rip hers off…)
Don’t get me wrong, I would recommend this book to most sci-fi readers I know…but if you are a writer trying to master the craft this probably isn’t the direction for you.
Next, I picked up Carrie by Steven King. This choice was made because I have seen the movie (the old one not the new one) more than twice and I feel like an awful reader that I never actually read the book.
I finished at midnight last night having read the entire book in twelve hours. I probably can’t say anything about that book that hasn’t been said what I will say is, I was brought back into the days I read for fun and fun alone. Did Carrie break the rules…hell yes… but in a way I could follow and felt intentional. And it worked.
Then I lay in bed thinking, both of these master writers break the rules (selectively of course) and found great success. It makes me question my own ability to judge, leaving me in a no-man’s land right when I thought I was beginning to get it. But maybe I don’t have to…maybe what I need to be learning is that not everything is about a lesson. Some things are about looking at the clock at 11:10, seeing you have 20% left on your book and forging ahead anyhow.
If you haven’t read Carrie…do.
Another week gone past. The sun is out, the grass is mowed and I spent hours staring up at our pine trees. Staring, thinking and writing but also reading.
Does anyone else have those books they just read over and over… and over. Well I do, I think I’ve read some as many as a dozen times. One of those books is this completely unknown treasure titled Kiki. Ostensibly about a very fancy sex doll but really the doll is little more than a catalyst. I’d say the book is about a grieving father, the breaking points that hide within all of us and survival.
I went on Goodreads a while back to discover the book was on there with no reviews. I gave a review and moved on.
Well I read it again this week as I lay out on the lawn and realized how very personal my attachment to that story is.
But rereading with a more critical writer’s eye, I began to wonder what caught me about this book. That its cover had a sex-doll and I found it at a point in adolescence where sex was both completely taboo and amazing? But then why as a thirty year old woman would it still have any appeal? And anyhow other than a brief moment there isn’t any sex or reference to sexuality.
So why do I read it? The answer— a single scene at the beginning where the protagonist is choosing option for the doll and his acute discomfort dealing with the sales person. That’s it, a moment that reached out to me and said ‘you are not alone.’ I who can’t even talk about sex in the privacy of my bedroom, who finds attention from store personnel slightly terrifying, instantly felt a kinship with this person.
Sometimes that’s all I need. A little snapshot that reaches out and connects for one reason or another. Something that makes me feel.
So this week I have an image, one of my own creation, one that has haunted me fore years lurking at the foot of my bed (and if you’re interested a link to a story I wrote in conjunction with the picture.)