Just lately I’ve been thinking a lot about writing. I’ve been doing it since grade school … stories, song lyrics, INTENSELY bad poetry. In the intervening years I’ve continued to write, to enter the occasional contest and even submit a few stories. However, I never really sat down to DO it. Not on purpose. Life kept “getting in the way”.
A few things led to this blog. While going through an old box throwing stuff out, I found the rejection letter from Algis Budrys. He was in the process of moving his magazine “Tomorrow” online (this was the late 90′s) and wasn’t buying much, but he also let me know that he thought it wasn’t right for his readership, although he thought the story was “consistent, and often clever”. Consistent! From an editor! I was thrilled – I was expecting not only rejection, but form letters. Typing out a short personal critique meant a lot to me.
That story was written while sitting around in the airport. At the time I was shining shoes, and the morning shift was VERY busy. We got a new owner of the stands, and she wanted to try a night shift. This was risky, since we paid a lease on the stand for the night & got to keep the rest. Still, I was curious, so I signed up. It wasn’t nearly as busy, and I had a lot of time between flights to think. My mind wandered … from some of my favorite music, to what I thought of the man who makes that music, to fantasies about if we met … and then “What if” scenarios, where suddenly I was thinking “she” instead of “me”. Just like that, I was heading down to the gift shop for a notebook and pen (90′s, remember?)
At home, though, there are too many things to do – social media, movies to stream, books to read, stuff to knit & crochet. I know I can shut myself in my room & write… when John Scalzi decides to have a writing contest for charity and I see it the day of the midnight deadline, I can whip out my Lester Dent outline and SHAZAM YA’LL, story!
I write the reason most people do – I LOVE love love to read, and reading so many awesome stories sometimes makes you want to tell stories of your own. No matter how you feel about fan fiction, it does point out that people do love to tell stories. I had gotten serious enough at one point to take a writing workshop with David “The Trouble With Tribbles” Gerrold at a convention with my then-writing partner & still most excellent friend Lindsey. Also raising an autistic son & dealing with cancer & other stuff. Excuses, lol!
This post was inspired, though, by a far more recent submission, my love of “Harry Potter”, other people’s love of “kids”/YA books like The “Hunger Games” and “Twilight”, and the author blogs I read.
When something’s popular, and people admire it, they either consciously or not will be influenced by that. Originally, most science fiction was very action-oriented, whether it was aimed at adults or kids. It was generally the classic Hero’s Journey – you knew the good guy would eventually prevail, but the finding out how he’d get out of THAT mess never got old. There were always exceptions – Ray Bradbury’s stories were more fantasy than hard SF, but no one cared, because they were so good. “Dark They Were, And Golden-Eyed” was a huge emotional punch to the gut for me at age 15, and I get a tingle just thinking about it now. I also read a lot of Harlan Ellison, who doesn’t write the most cheery stuff, either. This was almost a decade after the cancellation of “Star Trek”, however, and ‘space operas’ were still the big thing – as evidenced by a tiny movie that hit theaters without much fanfare called “Star Wars”.
There was a lot of talk about that movie being based on the type of stories intended for kids, probably because the third working draft of the script was called “Adventures of Luke Starkiller, as taken from the Journal of the Whills, Saga I: The Star Wars.” Really, though, that’s just how Lucas writes, like a big kid. There’s nothing wrong with fun kid-like adventures; where he gets a lot of shit is the boring dialog and lack of physics fact-checking.
As the 60′s & 70′s wound down, people were less optimistic about the future. Punk rockers were mad at their hippie parents for letting the Summer of Love devolve into swinging and cocaine parties, disillusioned Baby Boomers were too busy “finding themselves” to participate in society like people used to, and SF dove head-first into dystopia.
This might have continued to be just one style of many in SF if not for the amazing “Neuromancer” by William Gibson. It was SO influential that when you read it now, certain words/phrases pop out at you – loud, wordless music called ‘dub’, a slim plastic stick of software that you jam into a jack in your head called a “microsoft”. I only read it myself a few years ago. There was still an amazing number of books by authors I currently loved to try new ones, and SF authors such as Piers Anthony & Alan Dean Foster had discovered fantasy settings and were pumping them out, and I needed them all! (Sometimes amazing artwork would lure me in, like “The Sword of Shannara”.) Fantasy is almost 100% ‘good vs evil’, and I like that.
Suddenly, happy endings were not cool, although I don’t find “Neuromancer” really not-happy at the end. It’s like the movie “Fitzcaraldo” – you can either focus on how he failed to get the boat upstream, or you can rejoice at the fact that he was successful at bringing opera to his jungle village, which is why he was messing around with the boat in the first place.
This led to a lot of other amazing novels. There was a split between “hard SF” which was more science/spaceship oriented and the new, more philosophical, “what’s wrong with society” novels. Those split off into cyberpunk, steampunk, dieselpunk – but all the adults were reading some sort of punk, space operas were ‘old school’. Still being written and enjoyed, but not as much.
My writing so far has not been happy, either. I wasn’t happy when I wrote it, and my “love stories” always end badly. 20 years later my story written at the airport has the heroine all alone, but realizing it was all her own damn fault, too late. In another 10 years, I submitted a very short story to “Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine”. Girl finds man w/supernatural things about him in the woods, falls in love, ends badly.
The rejection letter was extremely short as well. I meant to keep it, but I’ve misplaced it, along with the hard copies of the stories themselves (I also can’t find them in my computer backup drives; I’m currently scouring old backup CDs). Basically, I was told that when I get older and have more life experience, my writing would mature as well. I was in my 40′s at the time, so I chose to find it amusing rather than annoying. After all, she didn’t say the writing was BAD, just immature. At this point my friends had talked me into reading the “Harry Potter” series, which I loooove (in spite of huge & annoying plot holes), and they were immersed in other YA books as well as re-reading classics like “The Chronicles of Narnia”.
Why? For myself, I’m tired of sad. Real life sucks ass, I want the good guys to kick the bad guys ass (physically or intellectually), and for the main characters to hook up, or at least find love somewhere. I’m tired of my entertainment ending badly.
My good guys epiphany happen after watching Robin Williams in “One Hour Photo”. It was a very well-done movie, but I HATED everyone in it by the end, and by extension the movie itself. Watching the DVD extras, the writer or director or someone said “we were making a more European film, where there are no good guys and bad guys; everyone has a little good & bad in them.” Which is true in Real Life, but do I want to sit there and watch that? Hell, even in the Lifetime “women in jeopardy” movies, they always get out of it and get justice/revenge/whatever at the end. “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” series is pretty much 95% revenge.
The new “Star Trek” movies are less depressing Borg and more explosions, humor and ass-kicking. The new Marvel superhero movies are about people with real flaws (even addictions) still getting up and kicking ass when need be. I find the relationships in “Twilight” abusive and disturbing, but if you like Bella, you’re glad that she found her true love & family (I guess, I haven’t seen/read it, although I have many intelligent, reasonable women friends who adore it). YA novels are not all simplistic – kids like surprises, too. I was reading a comedy article a few days ago that mentioned the HP character Snape “… who if you’ve never read the books or watched the movies assume he’s the villain.” The discussions on the message boards on that was epic, and there were many of us at conventions with little green & silver “Trust Snape” ribbons, lol.
So what makes writing “immature”? “The Hunger Games” is fairly dystopian & violent. Simple plots and characters? “Harry Potter” was rejected 13 times for being to complicated for children’s little brains to handle. Lack of romance? “Twilight”. Child protagonists? Usually – although “Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card features children almost exclusively, and isn’t considered a kid’s book. John Scalzi (my favorite author blog, obviously) writes about “adopting the ‘juvy’ format” for his “Old Man’s War” in his “Lessons From Heinlein” essay/blog post, linked to from his current post, which is the 10 yr anniversary of that book being sold.
I think it’s a more willing suspension of disbelief. While reading “Holes” to a boyfriend’s kids over a few nights, I was thinking to myself “This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever read in my life.” Living for months at a time on nothing but onions? But kids don’t care. They’re too busy feeling sorry for the poor dude having to be in that situation. During my discussions of “Harry Potter”, every time someone would bring up an annoying plot hole (like the entire premise of “Goblet of Fire”), it would be quashed with “Well, it’s intended for children, so you just have to overlook it.” But — this is where the problems happen. Poor JK Rowling then decides to write a book “for adults”, and it’s ripped to shreds (I still haven’t had the heart to read it yet). It’s now being judged by adult standards, which are harsh.
Since my writing seems juvenile, I’ve decided that that’s the market I will submit to. There are enough adults out there now who have loved at least one YA series that they would be willing to pick it up if their friends recommend it. YA novels can make the best-seller’s list. Fan fiction can be published with the names changed and be a big hit. I don’t think labels really matter that much any more, and yet you still see comments online about people who read kid’s books or watch cartoons – as if they’re mentally challenged, immature emotionally or burgeoning pedophiles. I think that’s what bothers me, the “what’s so wrong with adults liking spunky kid wizards?” question.
I’m in a more “give zero fucks” part of my life than I used to be, but during quiet times, I still have questions and fantasies rattling around in my brain. Now, they’ll be spilling out onto here. You’re welcome.