WINDOWS AND DOUBTS, LEGENDS AND HOPES
by Jeff Pearce
As I write this, I’m in the middle of a depression. I’ve had worse. I’d rank this one a “five,” meaning that I can reasonably function, even if there are days when I feel like jumping out the nearest window. In fact, I just scared myself by checking to see if the one nearest to me opens. It does, but it would mean a tight fit climbing out. The least you should settle for in a dramatic plunge to your death is to be comfortable as you shove your way through the aperture. The urge is still there, but meh. If this is published, it means I got over it. I do know that all this is tied to The Work.
I am one of those who want to write because after so many years, I just have to—stories will spill out, fiction or non-fiction. But I can’t pretend I don’t have the selfish urge to be successful. I don’t “write for me”—screw that. I write so that hopefully, you’ll read me. You’ll be entertained. You’ll want to read me again. And maybe you’ll enlist others. If I’m not going to last on a shelf, what was I here for? What did I do it all for? Of course, this is irrational. So is Olympic bobsledding.
The novice aches to be published. The mid-lister is already published, but pines for a breakthrough book. And in the current publishing climate, we as writers have to prove ourselves over and over. It’s not enough to have a track record, what were the sales from your last book? Who are you again?
I don’t find inspiration lacking or revision difficult. What wears me down is the number of doors closed today for unagented submissions, the perpetual, relentless search for a home for your work, the grind. I was comparing notes via email with a long-time non-fiction writer recently (who obviously shall go nameless) who confided to me how they were disillusioned by their imprint’s complete lack of interest in marketing the book in the U.S., despite glowing reviews; they clearly felt hurt by the shameless lack of courtesy when the publisher didn’t even bother to explain why a paperback release was never issued. Now if that can happen to them (and that person is very good), it makes me second-guess my own efforts to pitch, to put together those polished sample chapters, the synopsis, etc.
There are those out there who might justifiably shoot back, Boohoo. Cry me a river. That’s the biz you chose, and if you drop out, there will be others with the stamina, not to mention the talent, to rush on—marketing support or not, good manners from imprints or not, pitiful advances or not. Dedicated newcomers and other old pros won’t give up, and they shouldn’t. And those who point this out will be right. In fact, they’ll be damn right.
I am just throwing things out there, trying to take the temperature, wondering if it’s just me, or if I’ll hear the ping back across the void, the mournful song across the ocean.
I’ve had 15 books published in different genres, both under my own name and pseudonyms, but science fiction is the only one for which I question my right to work. I don’t necessarily need to work in it—I can write other things, and I have. History. Thrillers. Really dumb erotica. But I feel about science fiction the same way I do about karate. Years ago when I was training hard in a dojo. I worked with remarkable athletes, and I had to make peace with myself that I would never be in their class, not even close. They were scary good. And so I humbly loved martial arts, even if I could never reach these individuals’ level of greatness.
I live in the same city as Robert Charles Wilson and Robert J. Sawyer, but if I met either of them on the street, I don’t think I could hold an intelligent conversation with either of them. Yeah, sure, maybe in the technical sense, all three of us are writers, but if this were an evolutionary scale, I wouldn’t even share the category of “Primates” with them—I’d be down there with “plankton.”
And I have only myself, of course, to blame for that. My scientific literacy is embarrassingly abysmal. I can read Spin and love it, but there’s no way I could ever write something that spectacularly good, either in terms of its literary level or its scientific plausibility.
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