I’m often asked one question: “Why haven’t you written that novel yet?”
There are several answers, all of them invalid, but answers nonetheless. They all boil down to one thing: A fear of failure.
Now, look, I’m realistic. I know a lot of people never start a novel, so even the pure act of writing and completing one would be an accomplishment, even if it goes nowhere. A lot of people don’t even get properly noticed until they’ve got a couple of books under their belt. And a lot of people’s dreams end up on the dreaded “bargain book” table.
There are probably a dozen dozen equivalents of books we consider to be “great” or “classics” published every year that don’t get the recognition they deserve because of marketing, genre, or plain bad timing.
A lot of people don’t get that until they’re dead, even. So you can’t second-guess.
But I feel a lot of pressure, not so much externally but internally. What if it’s not good? What if it’s some laughable exercise no one in their right brain (or even left brain) would want to read?
I keep telling myself that if I’m going to do it, I have to do it *so* well that it’s undeniable. That I have to produce a Tolkien or Bradbury or a Stoker (both as in the award and the success of “that one particular novel,” which wasn’t really all that successful while the author was *alive*) right out. That I’ve probably only got one or two in me, so I have to go full on Harper Lee — or perhaps, J.D. Sallinger — with this thing, or I may as well not even do it.
And that’s where the vanity comes in, I guess. I don’t want to just “write a book.” I want to write something that gets translated into a bazillion languages and gets to travel with humanity to our eventual space colonies.
I guess that’s hubris, I don’t know. I do know it’s a great excuse to do nothing, and I probably need to get over it and myself.
But I do know that if I’m going to do it, I feel like I should give the people who are going to read it something not just good enough for now, but extraordinary.
It’s also colored a lot of my perceptions about what it can and can’t be. Anything set in the modern world eventually gets dated. I remember reading a novel a few years ago that referenced both an an Apple iPod and a particular single by Coldplay. Perfectly OK, I guess. But how’s that going to read a decade out? Twenty years out? Fifty years out? After about twenty years, you get the “ha, nostalgia!” moment, I guess. But that’s still a pretty limited range.
I don’t want some future reader thinking the equivalent of, “Well, they could have just solved all their problems if they’d only had a cell phone.”
Science fiction is great. I love it. But it, too, always becomes eventually dated. Sometimes lovably dated. Read some science fiction from the 1930s to the early 1960s. It’s great. A lot if it is now fully in that “classic” category. But it’s because, usually, there’s a great central idea at work, or some innovation that a writer intuits.
Sometimes someone gets to be the “inventor” or at least the codifier of a particular concept. Robert Heinlein and his power-armored “Rico’s Raiders” is the Final Form of earlier ideas from “Lensmen,” etc. that became the modern idea of the “space marine,” for example.
Generally, though, it’s hazardous. Our understanding of technology is especially a constantly-evolving thing, which means that something that sounds great now ends up clunking on the future. So that leaves something written in the past, or something written on a place explicitly not earth.
I’m not going to kid myself and give me the ability to write anything other than bog-standard fantasy. I’ve tried to play with ideas, but there’s just *so much* of it out there now, I don’t know yet how to craft something so distinctive that it stands out from the crowd.
I love horror. So it’ll probably have some of those elements. But I know that horror is an immediately limiting genre. Some people love it. Some people don’t. And as much as I enjoy it, I’m going to try to stay away from anything that can be read as “Lovecraftian.” Again, much to my dismay, I think it’s over-used now.
The problem with a novel set explicitly in the past, another option, is that there *are* people out there who will know every detail of a particular setting and will know, for example, that the type of fabric a character is wearing wasn’t introduced until 10 years later or that a particular brand of cigarette wasn’t available until 19xx on the West Coast or … whatever. Not to mention if you get any aspect of day-to-day life wrong. A historical novel requires research, and I know that I can get pretty obsessive over details.
So we have then perhaps something set in something that resembles a particular period, but not in our own world so that I can just tweak whatever I want. Maybe.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t look down on contemporary “literary” fiction. I’ve actually toyed with the idea of something with no genre connections at all. But I’m sure there’d still be some sort of light magical realism.
All of this is basically me saying I’m overthinking, probably. I should just write what feels good and not worry so much about “legacy.”
But I do. Because I feel like I have to get it “right.
“I’m probably going to repost this on the blog, so if you’ve read it one place or the other first, sorry. It’s more me thinking aloud than anything else.