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New Directions, New Uncertainties

One of the changes in my approach to writing hasn’t shown up yet, but it’s beginning to take on a possibly destructive tone. I have a lot of WIPs backlogged, some of them fairly well along in development, and I’m thinking seriously about deleting quite a few of them. As I’ve mentioned before, my early fiction was influenced by a temporary but intense immersion in male/male slavefic, much of it fanfic. All that reading was meant to be just an exploration of an area I didn’t know anything about, but it resulted in works that I now feel are somewhat trivial.

Of course, my first “non-trivial” novel, Privileged Lives and Other Lies, has turned out to be a bomb as far as sales are concerned, but it’s the direction I need to go in, so I’m just stubborn enough to keep going that way. Privileged Lives isn’t really a good novel because I didn’t give it the time it needed to flesh out properly. But I suspect that even if I hadn’t rushed with it, it still wouldn’t sell. I’m pretty sure people read the blurb and get turned off. It’s a serious novel, and doesn’t fit comfortably in any recognizable genre. So be it.

It’s a matter of finding my feet and settling on a path that’s meaningful enough for me to stay on it. Since my primary concerns are personal autonomy and the rise of authoritarianism, there’s going to be some consistency in my topics. Some might say “sameness.” ┬áIt means that I’m going to be getting more cerebral and steering away from anything that will let readers respond primarily on an emotional basis. I think Hidden Boundaries is, in that context, a failure because people do respond to it almost purely for its emotional content rather than the issues it raises, mostly about slavery. But it sells — slowly but steadily.

With all this in mind, I’m glad that I haven’t finished The Warden, in spite of working on it for a couple of years. The ending has hung because there’s something missing from the novel, and it took a long time to figure out what it was. Partly, it was my concentrating on the characters in such a way that the reader response would have been emotional. And there wasn’t enough of a context for what was happening — the social changes that made a new kind of imprisonment and the prospect of slavery for some convicts a possibility. A question of balance, really.

Then there’s the question of whether I’m capable of writing about serious issues in a way that makes them compelling. I guess I’ll just have to keep plugging away until I know, one way or the other.

 

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10 Comments

  1. I think Hidden Boundaries is a 5-star novel with an important message. Yes, it’s an emotion-inducing novel, but that’s part of what makes it great, IMO. :)

    • Okayee. I guess that’s proof that authors don’t know diddly about how readers will respond. I’m still fairly proud of it, as my first published novel, even though it could have been much better. So it’s still a thrill to get that kind of reaction. Thanks.

  2. You’re right to persevere in the interests of quality and using writing as a vehicle for what you want to express rather than what will please more people as that is your motivation for writing.

    Personally, I thought Privileged Lives did a good job of maintaining the balance between making you care for the characters on an emotional level and making you think about the nature of power and the societal changes that could take away even the illusion of freedom. It was compelling.

    Sounds like you are having a breakthrough now with the Warden and the missing pieces start falling into place to make it into the novel you want to write.

    • I’m not sure I can stand so much approval all at once. But maybe what you and CMStewart are saying is why the book continues to sell. Still, I’d rather underestimate the quality of my writing than go in the other direction. Much thanks.

  3. OK, so I won’t give you any more approval, because you’re about to overdose on it. I have some experience with unfinished works in progress that end up as just unfinished. I started seven novels in 2011 and didn’t finish any of them, after writing five complete novels in 2010. Finished three of the unfinished this year, but not sure if I’ll ever get to the other ones. They may join the early writing career Masai were-hyena novel, or the Beast of Barnard’s Star about a vampire on an interstellar colony. I think all of us start on things that just don’t seem to work and we move on without closure. Heinlein stated “finish what you start”, but I wonder how many big name authors had tons of unfinished works.

    • Doug, judging from what I’ve read about the estates of deceased writers, I’m sure you’re right. Even Heinlein probably had a drawer full of unfinished work. I also read a lot about “too many WIPs” being a result of getting pulled away by brand new ideas. I confess that happens to me, too. But, as you said, some stories just don’t work out. And others get left behind because they’re part of a developmental process that’s turned in another direction.

  4. I live constantly in the presence, real or virtual, of writers, and I know of very few who claim to have too few ideas. I had a fully formulated novel occur to me just this morning, but now isn’t the time to work on it.

    My point is this. PLEASE do not delete your older WIP. It is a roadmap from the beginning to where and who you are now. It is a valuable historical trail for you, and who knows how many really great ideas you have in that collection?

    Putting them aside is one thing, but deleting is permanent.

    • Thanks for that advice. You’re right. I’d thought, some time back, about older *published* works being a picture of my development as a writer, but not about WIPs also serving that function. And there’s another thing I hadn’t thought about. Some of those WIPs might serve as a break from more serious stuff now and then. My mental well-being requires variety, and I do burn out on following just one path for too long.

      I hope you made plenty of notes on that novel idea.

  5. Catana, The way is hardly ever clear for fiction writers; there’s just so much stuff going on in their heads. It’s a bit like shifting furniture. A person could draw up a scale drawing of the room with all the furniture to go into it also to scale and push the pieces around on paper, but in the end, there’s no substitute for pushing the real furniture around the real room. It’s time consuming and energy draining, but it’s worth it when you get it right.
    I agree with Richard: Never delete. Just put those old WIPs somewhere out of view.

    • I delete stories once in a while, but only after I can see that they aren’t worth bothering with, usually just not very interesting and not enough substance to try to develop. Most of what I’ve started will stay safely in storage. Who knows? I might look at one in an entirely different way someday, and voila!

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