Today makes me self-reflective in terms of my craft. This is one of those days where the topic keeps coming up with evocations at every turn, like a slew of flashbacks in a bad Merchant-Ivory wannabe movie…
First, I get a note about a blog post from a friend of mine, Sandra Ulbrich Almazan, discussing revisiting one of her older works. As someone who has had the privilege of reading the work in question, I’m probably in a pretty good position to weigh in on this particular issue, but that’s immaterial to Sandra’s question. Namely, can you defy Thomas Wolfe and go home again?
There’s a book I have on my shelf that can be used by both sides in this debate, The Science Fiction Stories of Jack London. Yes, before he did The Call of the Wild, Jack did genre work. And frankly, not all of it was worth it. Part of it is because his craft was, well, not up to the standards we know now he was capable of. At the same time, seeing him go places he’s not usually associated is a bit of a thrill in and of itself.
Some can do it easily, and some can’t. Lennon and McCartney wrote a song, “One After 909,” back in the early days when they were still school kids, but the Beatles didn’t release a recording of it until the Let It Be album, their last LP, in 1970. In 1982, Isaac Asimov returned to his seminal reputation-making trilogy and offered a fourth installment, Foundation’s Edge. You’re welcome to choose between these two which one succeeded, and which didn’t…
In my own case, I don’t know if I could go back like that. Some of the stuff from the early days is pretty cringe worthy, as in Leonard-Nimoy’s-“Ballad-of-Bilbo-Baggins”-level cringe-ability. (Yeah, that last link’s painful; I’m making a point here…) My first novel I wrote reads like a teenager trying to copy Comic McCarthy’s The Road, which is a sort of accurate description in that it’s a pair wandering a post-Apoc wasteland that got written 20 years before McCarthy’s much better book; with everything that’s happened in that genre and to me since then, it just wouldn’t work. Then again, there’s that unfinished vampire-cyberpunk novel in a drawer somewhere that might have a little blood in it; who knows…?
And since we’re talking about writers relating to their work, what should show up soon after Sandra’s piece than Sean Hood’s defense of his Conan the Barbarian script. This is probably one of the best pieces of self-reflection by a writer I’ve seen in a while, very honest and with enough self-depreciation to put it all in perspective. (And since I first saw it, it got amended to be even more self-depreciating. His first set of comments did sort of imply that the original drafts he worked from really needed help, and he backpedaled on some of those critiques. Ah, Hollywood, the land of easily bruised ego…)
The main takeaway from the piece is the need for tenacity, to keep getting back up and getting back to work no matter what. Which applies especially on the days you get up and have less words to show at the end of the writing period than your last grocery list…
No, there are no shortcuts to writing, even if a few folks think they have some tricks they can use. If you think I’m going to talk about plagiarism… Well, OK, you got me, kinda. With a little twist, though, regarding James Muller losing his plagiarism suit against Fox. In some ways, you might be tempted to conclude that we see too many branded ideas and retreads of familiar films because of fear of litigation; maybe if we educated people better so that “stock themes” didn’t get confused too easily with “similarities,” we might see more creative writing out there across the board in all fields.
For that matter, maybe if we educated people better, full stop…
And speaking of shortcuts, there’s those e-books coming out with soundtracks.
Years ago, I knew people who used to suggest rundowns for the mixtape to play in the background as you read their work. All that did was just cover some of the holes the writer couldn’t fix with words, finding spackle to fix a bad plaster job. It didn’t work then, and just doing that is so lazy it makes me want to jus-
Oh, all right, yes; yes, I too am guilty of such chicanery. And I still think that piece Murray Gold did would be a great accompaniment for any galleon coming over the waves for you. And if it happens to accompany the Casa del Sol as she comes about, I’d be really, really happy… There! I admit it!
Still, a soundtrack for your book? Considering the way authors usually get paid, versus how music royalties work, it’d be like paying the lighting guy more than the band for a concert. Which for all we know actually does happen in music, the one entertainment field that beats writing in the category of messed-up business models…
As I said in the beginning, a lot of self-reflection on the craft today. Too much to actually get a few words down on screen for real; someone want to pass me the remote…?
And where’s that grocery list…?
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