Follow by Email

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Steven R. Boyett

Okay, to take a moment and be non-promotional for a change, I just wanted to quickly refer to a post at Whatever, the blog of John Scalzi.  It's about science-fictiony writer stuff, just to warn you.  It includes a discussion by Steven R. Boyett about his new novel, Mortality Bridge, and how it took so very long to get it right.

This is a common problem among writers, when your vision outpaces your art, craft, or personal perspective.  It's immensely frustrating, and can lead to the justly-feared writer's block.  That's part of the problem with being a young writer -- you have the talent, perhaps, and the ambition to write, but you just don't have the chops yet.

It used to be that authors were cultivated and developed by publishing houses, who understood that a writer matures over time and (hopefully) gets better with age.  But that was when publishing was a fairly straightforward business. About the time that Boyett was writing some amazing stuff -- namely Ariel and Architect of Sleep, both of which I devoured when they came out (I mean, Ariel's about a neurotic talking unicorn and her faithful boy companion in a rugged, magical post-apocalyptic landscape, and Architect of Sleep is about the best alternate-reality story about sign-language-using sapient raccoons I've ever read.  No shit.), the publishing industry was undergoing a change, namely the death of the Mid-List Author.  Back in the 80s and 90s people were starting to make serious money in publishing, but everyone only wanted blockbusters.  And of course publishers, editors, and agents play favorites as a professional necessity, so breaking into publishing at all was hard enough.  If your first book didn't spike enough, it was quite likely your last book.

But now we live in the Age of Kindle, in which the authors have Boldly Risen Up And Seized the Means of Production From The Capitalist Publishers, the whole industry is a bit topsy-turvy.  This has had led to a whole host of problems, and opportunities, which I'll probably talk about someday when I want to rant.  Your development as a writer isn't controlled by the publisher anymore, it's controlled by direct reader feedback.

But Boyett's point was very well taken: sometimes our best work takes years to emerge.  He calls it the Big Idea.  It's the project you keep returning to as "the one" -- the one for which all of your other work is mere conditioning and preparation.  The one which you hope to be known for, respected for, the one which gets you a simultaneous sweep of the Hugo, Nebulae, and Oscar for Best Original Adaptation Of A Novel in one year.  The one which you keep putting off even showing to anyone because it's not quite right yet.

I've got my own "the one" Big Idea hidden away, and I'm just now feeling that I've got the chops -- the technique, the craft, and the emotional maturity -- to do justice to the original, exceptionally powerful vision.  It's a truism that a writer should approach every work as the most important work, ever, to ensure a top quality and entertaining product.  But the fact of the matter is that we do, indeed, play favorites.  If we're honest with ourselves we have to admit that craft and emotional maturity are just as important as a nifty idea.  Which is why you probably won't see my "the one", a noir, disturbing planetary romance called The Wolves Of Arcadia, for a couple of years, at least.  It's got a great idea at its core.  I'm almost a good enough writer to pull it off, stylistically.  The market is moving towards favoring strongly-plotted, deeply disturbing sci-fi that wouldn't have gotten past the slush pile a decade ago.

But mostly it's a matter of emotional maturity -- Wisdom, as Boyett rightly says -- that keeps the novel from emerging fully-formed.  Until I can find that point in this very special book, it will remain in the compost pile, and I will envy Boyett his breakthrough.

I'll also be picking up a copy of Mortality Bridge as soon as possible.  I encourage you to do likewise.

No comments:

Post a Comment