Friday, May 24, 2013

Fear. Rarities. Ratites.

I have a confession to make.

Sometimes - a lot of times, actually - I worry that I won't make it as a writer.

Okay, I know - boring, profoundly unoriginal confession.  But feel me here: this fear is a Protean beast if there ever was one, and everyone who's ever set pen to paper knows it.

First it's a giant cyclopean "can't write."

Then you suck it up and crank out some words, and the fear shapeshifts into a three-horned "can't write worth a damn."

Then you work some more and start getting some spit in your polish and it coalesces into "won't ever finish the novel."  When you finally do type 'The End', the fear morphs into "isn't good enough to publish."  (From there I hear it's "going to get mangled in editing / terrible cover / no marketing," followed by "will get terrible reviews" and "will sell worse than New Coke," and ultimately, "the next book is going to be a huge letdown.")

Anyway, right now my fear is a giant sasquatch called "unsaleable concepts."   You know, when you can't easily point to five bestselling series and say, "like that, but with zombies, and more cowbell," you start to wonder if that oh-so-shiny genre-bending/breaking/fusing idea you had was really such a good idea after all.  You may, in unguarded moments, feel like the biggest ostrich-riding cowboy on the whole Island of Misfit Toys.

Yippie-ki-yay, motherplucker.

This fear is, of course, insurmountable.  It's the reason why we don't have YA sci-fi novels where clever heroines dual-wield Christianity and quantum physics to save their dads from alien groupthink.  Or why nobody has ever successfully published an intricate literary/historical English fantasy novel... as an 800-page debut.  Or why you can't build a career on redneck vampires, hard-boiled robo-cabbies, and couch-surfing raccoon gods.

Actually, let me stand on that last part for a sec.

The older I get, the thirstier I am for novelty - for one-of-a-kind stories that make me sit back and think, "Damn.  I am really sad that's over, because I know I'm not going to find that anywhere else."

This is part of what amazes me about A. Lee Martinez.  Every one of his books is its own independent fictional planetoid, circling no larger cohesive star.  I loved Emperor Mollusk versus the Sinister Brain, because it's exactly what it promises - complete with Venusian lizard-warrioresses, irradiated dinosaurs, and the most sinister of disembodied brains - and with real thought and heart under all the pulptacular spectacle.  But I dreaded turning the last page, because I already knew that Amazon couldn't sell me anything remotely comparable - not even from Martinez's own catalogue.

(But no longer!  He's Kickstarted a short story anthology, Robots vs. Slime Monsters, featuring a new story from each of his novels - and it is within a truck-driving werewolf's whisker of being funded.  If you've enjoyed his stuff in the past or want to support the barn-raising community approach to getting great stories out into the world, stop by and kick in!)

This stokes my fires something fierce.  I want to write like these people here.  I want my books to be rarities, limited and exceptional works that are an extra pain in the ass to market and publish precisely because they don't lend themselves to glib comparisons and easy replacement.  That is a tough honor to earn, and worth wrestling the fearbeast every step of the way.

Anyway.  Coming laboriously around to the point, I think we've got ample evidence here to prove that:

1.  You really, truly can write anything.  There's nothing stopping you from being more daring and unconventional than everyone else - just as long as you're also more persistent and pound-for-pound skillful than they are, too.  (This is the part I'm still working on.)

2.  If your fear is evolving, you're probably doing something right.

3.  Win or lose, you gotta love your ostrich.

"There's a yeti in the freezer," he observed.


  1. Those fears sound an awful lot like mine. It happens with each story too. Oh well, it drives me to ensure the stories are the best they can be.

    1. That's the one saving grace, isn't it? Fear is annoying as hell, but it's the one thing that keeps you sweating hard at it. (I'm kind of depressed to know that it doesn't get better with subsequent books, though... dang it!)

  2. I tend to beleive there's an audience for almost everything...someone will want to read it.

    1. Yup, I say you've hit the nail there. For any odd idea I have that I don't think will be placed well, I just put aside and continue with my conventional-more-likely-to-be-picked-up stories. At least then, if it does happen, I can whip out my old babies, lol

    2. Right on! It just needs to be the right someone (and then the right number of someones!) I am always intimidated and amazed by how many of the Best Books Ever were rejected eleventeen million times and only ever saw the light of day because some random person (see "A Wrinkle In Time" or "Harry Potter") happened to recommend it to some OTHER person, who said "what the hell, why not" and took a chance on it. Kind of makes you wonder how many masterpieces we're missing because the authors gave up or died without ever having made that magical connection.

      (Shay, I think I will take a page from one of your books-in-progress, and work on diversifying my portfolio. It makes this all less depressing to contemplate!)

  3. Nice post. I want to write genre-bending stuff too. All I ever do is come up with plots that are slightly or sometimes quite different from normal conventions. The "slightly" ones are my compromise between the industry conventions and my desire to do something different. So I can say, "It's a dark urban fantasy similar to Magic Bites, but the heroine is kind of mousy rather than strong." But everyone seems to want those darn gun-toting, sword-wielding mercs!

    Interesting titles Martinez has: Gil's All Fright Diner, The Automatic Detective, Emperor Mollusk versus the Sinister Brain. They're kind of fun to read by themselves!

    1. The books are pretty great too! He's got a new one coming out next month, "Helen and Troy's Epic Road Quest," that I'm pretty jazzed about. (It's that familiar old story - y'know, he's a regular guy, she's a minotaur, etc. etc.)

      I hear you on how hard it is to break out of the tropes, though. Sometimes I listen to little kids playing and marvel at how many story beats they've already metabolized (like, even at the age of five!) Given our constant exposure to tropes and formulas, it's amazing we are as successful as we are at doing something different. Keep up the good fight, though - the world needs more than cigar-chomping mercenary death-machines!

  4. I know this fear all to well. Unfortunately I rarely am fueled to make it "the best it can be". <-- (grammar mistake? I hate putting the period inside the quotations. Gah! I best go back through your A to Z posts lol) Instead I lock up and just write nothing. I'm a bit better about it now, but it's been months since touching my fiction.

    I'm sure every writer goes through this same manifestation each time the begin a new project. I'd like to believe over time (of hopefully some success) that dreaded cycle dissipates.

    Congrats on Martinez's Kick Starter. Kick Starter is great! Definitely allows things that may never reach the masses possible. Those definitely sound like some unique stories (if the titles are any indication).

    I think that uniqueness truly acts as a double-edged sword. It's great and original, but in terms of marketing it seems like there are some strict outlines. Like marketing specifically what is "in" at the moment. Sometimes even then, by the time it's released (that time factor you mentioned before) that genre may no longer "in". <-- (MuahahahahaHAHAHAHahahahaHAHA!) I don't know how much I believe what's "in" affects a books ability to sell. Good writing is good writing, but publishing houses/agents definitely believe otherwise. I'd say they know a billion-zillion times more than myself, but think it all comes down to the almighty buckage.

    I can't lie, it's a process I really don't want to deal with when it comes to writing and publishing.

    As someone mentioned, though, there is always bound to be people(s) interested. Hence the self-publishing/Kick Starter route.

    Jak at The Cryton Chronicles & Dreams in the Shade of Ink