Nov 12

Recognition

Posted: under Craft, the writing life.
Tags: ,  November 12th, 2017

When I was in that stage of adolescence when you may (if not in angsty despair) daydream longingly about being famous someday so people will admire you and you’ll have tons of friends and all the people who think are being nasty to you now will be stricken with either remorse or envy (or maybe both)….yeah, I did that.   Never mind that I wasn’t about to DO anything to prepare for such a situation (like, maybe, consider how to deal with it if it happened, or pick some likely scenario for achieving said “fame”) but I was sure that *someday* my light would shine and all those people (like her, and her, and him, and them…) would realize they’d missed their chance to get in on the ground floor.

Another thing is that when you are in that stage of adolescence, filled with awareness of your own pain and looking for a place to dump it, you don’t realize that the people you’re daydreaming about playing “if they could see me now” with are also playing the same set of fantasy games using you as one of the people they want to impress someday.   “She thinks she’s so smart, well, *I* will have my doctorate!”  or “He thinks he’s so great because his daddy has a car agency–I will have a whole corporation and sit at the top of the tower with windows bigger than anybody’s.”   In a few years you realize that everyone is the protagonist of their own story, and you’re not as wildly different as you thought (and maybe they thought too) and the intensity of the desire for fame as fame erodes (or doesn’t) as you reach adulthood and Real Life (tm.)

By the time I had written some books and gotten published, I was over that.  I thought.  It had been years–decades–since I expected any recognition for anything I did.  I was a middling alto in a good alto section–strong, reliable, but not exceptional in any way.  I was a decent graduate student but not a standout.  Then we moved here, and I joined the local EMS and became, by stages, an EMT-paramedic, and I was good at it, but again, not the best.  I knew the odds in publishing long before I had publishing credits; I looked at my skills and thought I was good enough to get published, but no longer expected the daydream of world acclaim, great reviews, major prizes like the writers we studied in English class,  that I’d clung to in junior high and part of high school.   I was a plodder, a workhorse, someone who could get the job done, but without the glam and glitter that takes someone from “Oh, yeah, I remember her/him…they wrote books or something didn’t they?  Or was it they invented something?”

Like most writers, I passed some other writers who had less success, as measured by reviews, the advances on contracts, and so on, and was passed by other writers who had more.   Like most writers, I faced the green-eyed monster of WriterEnvy, who points out that so-and-so who just got a seven figure contract or a movie deal or whatever is really no better at the *craft* of writing than you are, and wants to make you dislike/hate/waste time muttering about that person instead of just doing your own work and making it better as you can.

But then I discovered the thing that no one told me about, but that’s shriveled that green-eyed monster all the way to dust.  The recognition that’s not fame, not glitzy or glamorous or involved with headlines or interviews on TV or movie deals…a different kind, that feeds the writer’s soul and instead of inflating the ego, inflates gratitude.   And that’s the recognition that comes from someone who has no intent to flatter, but just wants to tell you how your work affected them, how it made a bad day, or experience, or situation better…how they held onto that story or book, coming to it again and again for refreshment, for courage, for inspiration.  And there is nothing–no amount of money, no prize–that will both build up and bring down a writer like that.  It’s the ultimate proof that you got it right that time.  It makes the days in front of the keyboard (or however you write), the aching back, the sore butt, the stiff neck, the burning eyes, all worth it because someone, somewhere found a hand that pulled them out of a sucking mudhole of despair.

Some books pulled me through hard times.  Some passages in those books still echo inside.  They weren’t all great books.  They weren’t all good all the way through.  But from them I got nourishment, strength, that I needed right then and wasn’t getting anywhere else.  And no, I didn’t write those authors because I was too timid.  I didn’t want to bother them.  (I’m sorry, I think to their memories…I’d been taught not to bother people. and figured I’d be a bother to you, too.)

So here’s the thing, if you’re an early -career writer, or someone who hasn’t started submitting yet and wonders if it’s worthwhile to write if you don’t find recognition from reviewers, critics, juries for the big prizes, and your publishers in the form of very large checks with many zeros.  That’s not all the reward there is.  That’s not even the best, not even the BIG checks and the fame that means total strangers recognize your face as you walk through an airport.   There’s still recognition you may treasure when someone tells you (in person, or email, or snail-mail) that something you wrote pulled them through a hard time.  It may be a minor part of your book–one incident, one phrase even–or it may be a character, or a setting.  You cannot know when you’re writing what will be the handhold someone needs.   It’s scary to start off on the long journey of writing not knowing if you’re going to save a life (as we did not know, opening the door for the ambulance to come out, if we would save a life that time or not.)   It seems, I’m sure, such a tiny little hope to balance the amount of work you’ve come to realize is needed.

But it’s there.  And it’s a treasure that doesn’t fade like the review, or the critic’s assessment, or vanish into bread and electricity and taxes like the amount on a check.   It’s the true gold, imperishable, and once you’ve had one…you know it’s worth it.   Oh, you may still be seduced by other measures of success, if you can get them, but if you get another…and another…of those golden nuggets, you’ll begin to realize how valuable they are, compared to the rest.   Years later, when your income drops again (and writers’ incomes go up and down like badly played yo-yos)  and your editor and your agent are sighing when they talk to you and far less interested than they used to be (if that happens)…that golden recognition will still be there.  Your work helped someone you didn’t know. That’s on your celestial resume.

(crossposted to Universes)

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Jul 09

When Is Food a Feast?

Posted: under Background, Craft.
Tags: ,  July 9th, 2017

Recently, in another venue,  a writer posted a link to her blog post on feasts in epic fantasy, considered in a sociological way–her point being the feasts were always expressions of power, and that fantasy (and actually any genre) often/always failed to consider the power differentials, the role of a feast in showing off the giver’s wealth and power, and so on.  Some feasts certainly are exactly that–overt demonstrations to the attendees that the giver is richer, more powerful, than the guests, deserving of adulation and (even more) obedience, submission.   Feasts can be competitive in that way: “Prince A gave us as much beef as we could choke down, and distributed the rest to the castle servants…”  “Well, Prince B gave us beef AND venison AND ham AND stuffed peacocks!  And the leftovers fed the whole castle and village for a week!!!”  But–always the c0ntrarian in the details–I didn’t agree that feasts in epic fantasy were always like that, or that epic fantasy always ignored the kitchen workers, the woodcutters, the shepherds, etc.   In fact, I don’t think all feasts (as experienced) are like that.

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Jul 11

Nose to the Grindstone (Mirrored from Universes blog)

Posted: under Craft, the writing life.
Tags: ,  July 11th, 2016

In the “where are we now?” category, the book is, as of today, at 16,000 words (still short fiction of the novelette  or novella type)  and 83 manuscript pages.   The good news is that story is flowing.  It’s going nonlinear in the “threaded plot” sense, as Aunt Grace, Rector of Defense, has just gotten home to find her place booby-trapped, while Ky, at dinner in another location, is about to be unpleasantly interrupted by the persons who rang the doorbell there, and a character from Cold Welcome has taken on a new identity. Read the rest of this entry »

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Nov 15

Closing In

Posted: under Craft, Life beyond writing, Revisions, the writing life.
Tags: , , ,  November 15th, 2015

At this stage of revision, I always wish I had another two weeks.  Or a month.    There’s always one…more…problem bit to untangle, that I think would benefit from more time to analyze and think about.  And then another, in the next section.  However, things are progressing appropriately.  The holes are filling in,  the once-blurry places are sharpening into focus, and though I’m dealing with some decisions made earlier that I might make differently now, they’re working out with some fierce hammering and welding.   (Clever ideas.  Clever ideas are the ones that seem so shiny! and smart!  at the time, and that flow easily in first draft and then…toward the end…reveal themselves to be more clever than good.  For instance, the…mumble-mumph.  How do you mumble-mumble and mumph-mumph so as to have a crisis *here* that requires characters to appear to have a random emergency giving you-the-writer the opportunity to lay the hook for the string that will later be pulled, so when something (errummph?) is revealed, the reader will feel a connection–yes, there was a foreshadowing but things were so hectic I missed it–and thus the revelation is not a deus ex machina.   Though of course all this backstage work IS the writer being the deus ex machina.)   Read the rest of this entry »

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Feb 10

Update & Heads-Up

Posted: under Craft, Interview, Life beyond writing, the writing life.
Tags: , ,  February 10th, 2015

We’ll start with the heads-up.   A few weeks from now there’ll be a podcast up on Gamer’s Tavern, in which we have a discussion of the Deed of Paksenarrion and its connections to RPGs, and other stuff.   I don’t know the date yet, but will post it on Twitter when they tell me.

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Dec 15

Craft of Writing: “But Nobody Will Buy It”

Posted: under Craft, the writing life.
Tags: ,  December 15th, 2014

This post is the promised one about living with another kind of failure.  You wrote the story; you think it’s a good enough story to submit for publication; you give it one or several final polishes.   And all you get for the submission is a rejection.   Now what?

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Dec 06

Craft of Writing: Failure to Thrive

Posted: under Craft, the writing life.
Tags: ,  December 6th, 2014

Sometimes a story of any size starts…and then crumbles to dust, or lies down and refuses to move, or otherwise reveals itself as a failure.   I’m not talking about stories completed that never find a market (that’s another kind of failure, which I’ll talk about another time) but stories that you want to write–at least when you start.  Stories that are happy, gurgling, grinning infant stories, that may even get far enough to start crawling on their own–but develop what doctors call “failure to thrive” in spite of your best efforts.

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Oct 13

Bad Guys III: Psychology and Anthropology

Posted: under Craft.
Tags:  October 13th, 2014

Psychology offers a lot of ways to complicate bad guys (when you want to) and handy shortcuts for when you don’t. Its sources concentrate on the individual and the family (though not all writers about psychology ignore culture, what’s published under that name is rarely broad and deep enough to serve the fiction writer, especially in fantasy and science fiction.) Anthropology covers the “outside” nurture, the broader context of why people become who they become and do what they do. Both are excellent areas for fiction writers to study, though with the warning that your characters should not read like case histories, and readers should not be able to recognize which book that character came out of. Moreover, fiction should not read like the writer’s own therapy sessions. Even when the story requires that a character be in therapy for something, and the writer has had the same therapy. Read the rest of this entry »

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Oct 09

Bad Guys II: How Do They Think?

Posted: under Craft.
Tags:  October 9th, 2014

“The line between good and evil,” Solzhenitsyn wrote, “runs right down the middle of every human heart.” That’s a starting point, but some people have that line apparently stuck closer to one side than the other. In a society where honesty is prized, how does a dishonest bad guy justify dishonesty to himself or herself? In a society where kindness is prized, how does someone justify cruelty? Or, conversely, in a society where cruelty is prized, how does someone justify kindness? From the point of view of a storyteller, a bad guy character is a character and that means the bad guy has agency–acts for reasons that make bad-guy sense. Saving the mentally ill bad guy, bad guys use the same internal thinking processes (but not outcomes) as good guys. That’s what this post is about: how do bad guys come to the decisions and behaviors they exhibit in a story–the ones that define them as bad guys? Read the rest of this entry »

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Oct 09

Bad Guys: Thoughts on Writing Them

Posted: under Craft.
Tags:  October 9th, 2014

Many stories–especially in fantasy–include one or more bad guys–defined for the moment as someone in opposition to the protagonist.   I’ve written before about characterization, ways to approach creating characters that work as fiction but appeal to readers as real people.   But I haven’t specifically dealt with writing bad guys (villains, traitors, tyrants, etc.) , and there are differences in writing them because of the different roles they play in the story being written.   It would take a book (or more) to deal with all aspects of writing bad guys–and then it wouldn’t be complete because someone would invent another, and besides no two writers are likely to agree on what the difficulties are–but this is one way–just one way–to consider what goes into making a bad guy who is not too weak, too strong, too boring, too fascinating, too…much of anything, for the story in hand.

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