The process of writing science fiction and fantasy seems to fascinate many people, including a few writers. They wonder where ideas come from and how one makes up names for things that don’t exist. They are simply baffled and amazed by the way those of us who practice the art of imagination can create entire histories and civilizations to serve the stories we tell. I feel much the same about sculpture, by the way. How anyone can look at a slab of rock and know where the arms and legs and eyes are hiding is a mystery to me.
Because we can do it at all, many people assume that we are in complete control of the process. Regrettably, that isn’t so, for my part at least. I’ve spent time in the company of enough writers over the years to get the sense that my experience is anything but unique. Oh, you usually have a pretty good idea of how to start it all out, and most of us have at least a sense for where we mean to end up. Somehow it doesn’t ever turn into a straightforward progression from Point A to Point B. As plot ideas begin to gel, and you develop the story and people living in it, an evolutionary process takes off and it’s not uncommon for it to take on something like a life of its own. A stray thought occurs, perhaps a thing a character might say or do, and the story line veers from the predicted path. You can back up and rewrite it all, of course, and try to stay on track, but all too often that idea (especially if it involves a character in the tale) simply will not go gently into that good night. “Nuthin’ doin’, bucko,” you seem to hear as you consider what to do about it. “Listen up. We are the story. We know what we’re talking about!” A smart writer takes heed, and generally concedes. The story begins to unfold in a different way, sometimes only a little bit altered, and sometimes transformed into something the writer didn’t really see coming. Masterpieces of genre fiction are created this way. So are nervous breakdowns.
I made a comment a while back on Facebook about having such an experience with my current work-in-progress. A friend responded with the reminder that I could play God and make the characters do whatever I wanted them to do. I’m sure he meant well by it. But the truth is that while the writer is sort of like a god in that universe he or she decides to bring into the light, the status is much more like a god of Greek mythology than the absolute ruler of the universe. We are gods with a small “g” who can’t really expect complete obedience from troublesome mortals. If you’re a lower-case god or goddess and insist on creating Heroes, you’re just asking for trouble. There’s no sense in complaining about it.
Today marks the 236th time the United States has celebrated the grand decision to take control of its own fate. As I write these words I hear firecrackers exploding like faint echoes of the shots fired in the war our ancestors fought for independence. I can smell the aroma of backyard barbeques firing up – and I wish those people luck, because it’s been a rainy day Tucson. Some of the houses on the street display flags, taken in and then put back out as the weather changed. Typical activities for the 4th of July.
This has not been a typical 4th of July for me. I spent much of this cool, muggy day in the desert involved in something I’ve never done before. I worked to make people aware of the two books I self published this year. They call what I’m doing Independent Publishing, “Indie” publishing ‘for short.’ Many people see this as little different from vanity publishing, a cop-out of sorts for failed writers in denial. I’d point out that this isn’t so, but if you’re inclined to believe otherwise you probably aren’t going to take my word for it. I’ve embraced this publishing option, born of the digital age, and done so with a will all the same. Those who are doing as I do often see indie publishing as freedom from a troubled publishing industry, which certainly seems to be having its problems adjusting to the new age. Some express a strange delight when discussing the problems faced by the publishing industry; as if this is a case of what goes around comes around. I don’t see indie publishing that way, either. For me, this form of independence is neither a wannabe’s cop-out nor an act of revenge against a system that couldn’t find room for me. I’ve never been one to see denial as a viable ‘out,’ and for years I thought the word schadenfreude was a German insult. (And maybe it is, come to think of it.)
In putting those books out there I’ve made my own declaration of independence, one I will celebrate next year on March 21st, an easy date to remember since it happens to be my wedding anniversary as well. (And yes, that was deliberate, but be careful what you read into it.) There won’t be any fireworks, no echoes of ancient gunfire; that would scare the cats, after all. Just a glass of wine, perhaps among friends. But it will mark a sort of independence, all the same, and it has nothing to do with old school publishing. I never got past an editor’s desk when I first attempted to write and publish books. Traditional publishing never had a hold on me, and if that hold had developed I’m not at all sure I’d be fighting to free myself.
What I’ve done since March is to free myself from the disappointment of having missed out on something. Of not knowing what it would be like to have people read the books I wrote. As I’ve said in an earlier entry, I’d given up on all of this, and that was a terrible feeling. It would’ve been much worse, no doubt, if years from now (many years, I hope!) I looked back the way I came only to contemplate the consequences of giving up on the thing I most wanted to do. That’s a fear from which I am now free, and that surely is a thing worth celebrating.