The last few weeks, I’ve sort of digressed from the original intent of this blog. I needed to vent a couple of things and I’ve done that. Now it’s time to get back to business. I want to add, though, that I may stray again in the future. I won’t necessarily vent—I never know from week to week just what I’m gonna write about, so I can’t promise anything—but I may get away from writing from time to time.
For one, it’s hard to keep coming up with new things to say about writing without getting either completely boring or repeating myself or both. And for another, writing isn’t separate from life, at least not for me. It’s what I am and what I do. To treat it as if it’s something completely apart from everything else is silly. What happens to me in everyday life affects my writing and sometimes inspires it—especially when it comes to my crime novels.
As an example, a friend of mine (thanks Russell) sent me a story from The New York Times about a sheriff in Ellsinore, Missouri who was arrested for selling and making meth. Naturally, the article’s writer took on the usual Times aloof and arrogant tone when dealing with those not privileged to live in New York City, but the point remains the same: meth is still in the news every day. Add in the stories this week of the huge protest march against the drug wars in Mexico, and my novel Pipeline is still relevant as ever. If you’d like to read the entire article, I don’t have the link, but its title is “Drugs in Ozarks Town Infect Even Sheriff’s Dept.” by A.G. Sulzberger.
Anyway, the theme for this week is just what the title says: don’t throw anything away. I’ve read a similar article by someone else, and I wish I could credit her. She had written something before she got published but didn’t think it was good enough to put on the market. If I remember right, her agent read it and encouraged her to sell it. The point being, I’m reinforcing what she said in that article.
If you’ve read my past few posts, you know I’ve been at something of an impasse since finishing Pipeline. I wasn’t sure whether or not to dive right into writing or to take a break from it. Turns out I’ve made something of a compromise, writing on Spree in fits and starts. I’ll write a day or two, then take two to three days off in between. I’ve made it up over 20,000 words that way, but it’s taken over a month to do it. I’m now convinced that a true break was in order so I could recharge my creative batteries.
I have two and a half fantasy novels I wrote back in the ’90s that have gone from spiral-bound notebooks to word processor (stored on floppy discs) to two or three hard drives, at least, including this one. I thought I’d really written something until I transferred it to Word 2007 and actually bothered to look at the word count. The first one is 69,557 words long, the second 69,875 and the third, unfinished one has 35,554. Writing those first two in notebooks by hand, I thought I’d written novels of pretty respectable lengths. Not quite as long as I might have wanted, maybe, but not bad. And maybe they’re good lengths for what they are: a mix of fantasy and Western.
Over the years, I’ve thought off and on about tackling these novels again, expanding on them or rewriting them, something. But I always had something else on the burner and mostly just looked at them as being learning experiences: those first-novels every writer has that’ll never see the light of day in the sense of being published, but you hang onto them so you can look back occasionally and see how far you’ve come since then. These were my first completed novels, and from what I’ve read, very few authors ever publish their first novels.
But this past week I re-thought my strategy. I started reading Star Wars: The Bounty Hunter Wars by K.W. Jeter. It’s part of the Star Wars canon and it’s centered around Boba Fett, the bounty hunter who transports Han Solo to Jabba the Hutt in the original trilogy. The novels start just after the events in Return of the Jedi where Luke Skywalker and crew rescue Han from Jabba. Boba Fett falls into the Sarlacc, a huge creature that lives underneath the Dune Sea and has for uncounted years. In the movie, there’s little doubt that Boba Fett dies when he falls into the Sarlacc. But the novels differ in some respects from the movies. Authors find little loopholes and exploit them for stories (my favorite is Han Solo’s explanation for how he made the Kessel Run in twelve parsecs, but I’ll leave that for you to discover if you so desire).
In The Bounty Hunter Wars, a creature named Kud’ar Mub’at hires Boba Fett to destroy the Bounty Hunters Guild. The only major movie character that really shows up—in the first novel, anyway—is Darth Vader. I won’t go into all the details, except that he appears in a meeting between him, the Emperor Palpatine and a character from the books named Prince Xizor. Xizor is the one who’s engineering the downfall of the Bounty Hunters Guild, and he hired Boba Fett through Mub’at and—well, it gets kinda involved.
The bottom line is, while I was reading this book, as so often happens, I started wanting to write some kind of similar story. Bounty hunters have always fascinated me, and doing a story about one would meld two of my interests: crime and sf.
That’s when I thought of my old fantasy novels. They’re centered around a guy named Luke Fontaine, who was born into nobility—his father was a baron—but ended up being disowned and eventually became—wait for it—a bounty hunter.
There ya go. There’s the elevator pitch for the first Luke Fontaine novel. Or maybe even the only, depending on publishing. My thought, though, was why not rework the novel and turn it into sf? Probably the only objection I really have to it at present is that sf isn’t selling all that well. Readers, for some reason, want vampires and werewolves, all taking place in some gritty or not-so-gritty urban setting. And hopefully involving lots of sensuous sex scenes that could be tossed out with yesterday’s fish because they’re totally gratuitous. I hate sex scenes that are thrown in solely for the sake of having a sex scene.
In short, readers want fantasy. If it doesn’t involve vampires, etc. in a modern setting, then it needs to involve elves and such in some variation of Middle-earth. Nothing wrong with that, as far as it goes, but sf is still out there, folks, and it’s good reading. A friend of mine thinks no one wants to read sf because we’re no longer sure where science is taking us. With the ending of the space program, who knows how long it’ll be before we get out there in the Great Beyond? The cynical take on this is that we no longer want to look forward, but would rather look back to re-imagined versions of our oldest myths and legends. With lots of gratuitous sex. And Sparkly Ones, or whatever the hell it is Stephanie Meyer calls her vampires. Calling them that sounds to me like an excuse to go clubbing with Katy Perry songs in the background, but to each their own.
The thought was: why not rewrite the Luke Fontaine stories as sf? Having an entire galaxy to play with would give me a broad canvas, and I’d be able to incorporate all kinds of crime stuff into the story(s). A lot of the world-building—one of the biggest roadblocks for me when it comes to writing speculative fiction—is already done, and it’s not too derivative, as some of my later works are. I can turn the elves into, well, elves, or at least that’s our name for them, taken from our ancient myths. Or I can do away with them altogether, which would probably be the better idea.
Writing them won’t be that hard, either. I’ve been over the first novel so many times that I still have all the major events memorized, though I’m sure I’ll still need to refer to the original from time to time. In fact, I’ve been over the thing so many times that I don’t remember the last time I opened it up and looked at it. Sick of the thing after fifteen years or more of dealing with it.
But it’s material I may be able to use, and that’s the point. My daughter (don’t get mad at me, kiddo), has a habit of writing something and, when it’s finished, deciding it’s the worst thing she’s ever done and it’ll never see the light of day. I’m sure she’s not the only one who sees their own work that way. She gets that penchant from her dad (full disclosure here), so I can’t hold it against her. My urban fantasy, which I’ve been told is a good story, I view as being shallow and incomplete in some way I can’t name. We all have a desire to write the Great American Novel and have our names quoted alongside insert favorite author’s name here in the annals of literature. Our own writings never compare with those of our heroes/inspirations.
But whether they compare or not, don’t throw them away. I talk a lot about Stephen King on this blog because he’s one of my major influences/inspirations. He has been ever since I saw the last half of the ’Salem’s Lot miniseries when it originally aired and wanted to know the rest of the story. I went searching for the book and, years later, was glad I got the rest of the story that way. The miniseries leaves a lot (no pun intended) to be desired.
I don’t compare myself to Stephen King, though. I have no illusions—or allusions—about being the next best-selling author of all time. That’s like forming a band and aspiring to be The Beatles. They were a unique phenomenon that won’t be duplicated. Their records may be surpassed, but that unique thing that made them The Beatles—the combination of John, Paul, George and Ringo—will likely never be copied.
But neither will my writing. I’m not aspiring to be Stephen King. I’m aspiring to be my own author. Influenced and inspired by all those I’ve read, perhaps, but I don’t want to be a copy of any of them. I want my own unique voice, even if it doesn’t mean I’ll be the next best-selling author of all time.
So don’t throw away that old writing. I can’t say how successful my little experiment will be. Maybe it’ll still end up gathering dust. Or maybe it’ll be expanded as fantasy. Maybe as sf. Who knows? I’ll give it a chance, though, and we’ll just have to see what happens. ’Cause that’s how I roll.