Sunday, September 29, 2013

Where do I see myself as a fantasy writer?

One might argue a writer cannot determine his or her own legacy, not unless that writer becomes quite popular and lives to a ripe old age. Speculative genre figures such as Heinlein and Asimov and Tolkien had some control over how they were portrayed, but the images they had of themselves change and evolve the further we get from the end of their writing careers and often their deaths.

I am in no position to even think about my own writing legacy. Or at least I shouldn't be. I'm not that popular an author, in fantasy or any other genre.

But I don't set out to be.

Fame isn't a goal of mine. More money is always appreciated, but that's not really my goal, either.

Telling stories? A good number of writers will suggest they live to tell stories, that they long to reach readers with their tales. This is closer to the truth for me, but it's still not hitting the nail on the head.

I don't write for readers, at least not initially with each novel or short story. I occasionally will write with an anthology editor in mind, but that's usually because they have provided me a challenge in some way by giving me a new world to play in or a twist on a genre which I find interesting.

So who do I write for?

I write for myself.

I don't write because I enjoy it. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't.

I write because, when I'm truly honest with myself, there are people living in my head and they are yearning to get out. They live there, slurking around within my skull, having their adventures, slaying the monsters, falling in love, falling out of love, betraying one another, honoring one another, doing all kinds of things to themselves and to each other.

No. No, that's not quite accurate either.

These people do not live in my brain. They live outside of me in another universe, or perhaps several other universes. If you're up on your quantum physics, this is theoretically possible.

So, they live in these other worlds, and my brain is somehow a conduit to wherever they are located. My mind is filled with images and emotions, and I must get these down onto paper or onto a computer screen. I must. I have to.

It's like breathing, or eating, or drinking water. If I do not do this, I will cease to exist, at least in any meaningful, conscious way. Without writing, I could physically go on, but I would be a shell of my former self.

Also, writing is sort of a spiritual thing for me, not quite metaphysical, but more philosophical. I like to explore my own mental landscape through my writing, and sometimes that is exciting, other times not so much.

If I don't tap into the stories in my head from time to time, my head will fill up and eventually explode. And we can't have that, brain matter and bloody gore all over the place with a bunch of sword-swinging freaks and ghoulish beasties wandering about outside my corpse.

That would be bad form.

So I write. I let a little steam out of the boiler from time to time.

That's why I write.

Now back to the image of myself as a writer.

I don't really set out to have an image, to be honest, though I suppose I do have one or something like one.

For example, a fan recently called me "humble," and I had to think about that. Am I humble? I don't consider myself especially humble, but when I look around at the world in which we live today, yeah, I have to say I'm a pretty humble guy. But only comparatively. I'm not as humble as a saint, not by any means, but compared to the celebrities and politicians and other familiar names in the headlines, yep, I'd say I come off as pretty humble compared to them.

If I get remembered as the "humble" fantasy writer, there are worse things.

If I'm remembered at all.

Not overly worried about being remembered or not remembered, honestly.

But if I am to be recalled by future generations as a fantasy author, how would I want myself to be remembered?

As an esteemed professor, such as Tolkien?

As the hard party boy, like Karl Edward Wagner?

As a hard working writer, such as Glen Cook?

I suppose that last is closer to the truth.

See, I never set out to become some world-known fantasy author. I've never had any plans to go down in history as some literary genius, either. Back in my youth I had plans to become a horror author, but I eventually found that limiting, though I still work some in that genre.

If I had to pick and choose, I suppose I would want my fantasy writing career to be more akin to that of many of the '60s to early '80s fantasy authors, most of whom are not remembered today outside of true fandom. Zelazny, Norton, Saberhagen, these are just a few of the names. These writers weren't necessarily the greatest writers who ever lived, at least in a literary sense, but they could type out adventure tales not unlike the pulps of an earlier era. Michael Moorcock came out of that group, and today is probably the best known of the lot.

I'd like to add that I don't mean any of these authors are completely forgotten, but that they aren't generally recalled or even known by the world's mass consumer audience.

Much like the pulp writers of the '20s through the '50s.

I suppose that means I would be satisfied being thought of as a modern pulp author, for being remembered as such. I'd like to be remembered for bringing the thrill of adventure or the creeps of horror to a few readers, to bring a smile or smirk or gasp to their lips from time to time.

All while keeping my brain from exploding.

I can live with that.

For now.


Charles Gramlich said...

I sometimes think about why I write, and what I say about that question when it is asked. I think there are different reasons, one or two of which may come to the forefront at different times. I write to learn, but that is typically just for nonfiction. I do enjoy it at times. I also am pretty stubborn and have set my mind on it so I will keep going. Stories occur to me and I have to tell them in some way or another. I think there are still other reasons.

As for a legacy, I'd love to looked back upon as someone who provided readers with great fun stories that they could talk about with others, and maybe with some nice prose thrown in

The Wasp said...

Thank you for the interesting insights. To be like Saberhagen or Zelazny isn't a bad ambition at all. When I was a kid, everybody I knew read them, loved them and passed their books around. Today, they're half remembered or get poor reviews (like the guys about the Amber Chronicles). Doesn't change the fact that their books not only hold up well, but they're still among some of the best sf/f writing.
I guess each generation gets its own new crop of writers. Tastes, cultural assumptions and attitudes change and new books are desired. I think Stephen King once wrote about no one remembering Frank Yerby anymore. Interesting character who sold tons of books and now pretty much forgotten. I guess it's always been the case and always will be. We just think because we grew up with something or read it at an impressionable age that it will never go out of fashion.