Drop a Penny in the Well

On the way home from Serenity last night, started on an old topic: he wants me to write a sci-fi novel.

Now, this boy, he loves sci-fi, and he loves my work, so I tend to
dismiss this as just a “I want two great tastes in one!” impulse. And I
throw up the by-now-standard responses: SF doesn’t want
me. The kind of language-oriented prose I write is ultimately
incompatible with the genre. I have nothing to say about technology, or
spaceships, or the ultimate destiny of the human genome. I know
jack-all about science (which, while a Standard Excuse, is one I should
stop using, since I just wrote a book largely about physics.) No one would want to read an immund SF novel, and if you can point me to a successful one, I’ll accept that, but still maintain that no one would want to read my immund SF novel. As much as I love Firefly and Farscape and Star Wars,
I just don’t see how I could write a space opera without violating what
I think is important about my writing. Even if, yes, I have occasional
twinges of desire to do it, and once spent three days filling up a
Moleskine with world notes that no, you cannot see.

So he says, fine, you’re wrong, it would be great, but whatever, let’s
talk about something else. (And then he proceeds to talk about it for
another hour.)

But he doesn’t understand. I’d like to say you can’t say that shit “to
a writer,” but I think it’s been well-established that I have no idea
how other writers think. I’ll modify, and say you just can’t say that
shit to me. My brain works in these convulted ways, and you can’t drop a wish into it and expect just a plink of water.

The Daughters’ Tales, by far and away the most commercially viable and massive
thing I’ve ever written or am ever likely to, began simply because I
wanted to tell a little girl a story. I looked at my niece, whom I love
no less than if she were my own child, and I wanted to give her this
whole universe, I wanted to give her this garden to play in, I wanted
to give her a secret place that sprang wholesale from her aunt’s love.
And I imagined what my life would have been if I had been given such a
tremendous thing as a girl. I wanted to say “This is yours; I made it
just for you, all these people and creatures and stories are your people and creatures and stories, and even
though I am never with you, you can walk in my heart, in my history,
every time you open this book.”

At the time I just meant to print it out and give it to her for
Christmas, little more than computer paper wrapped in a bow, maybe
laminated so she couldn’t stain it with jam. But, as the big JR said,
it was a tale that grew in the telling, and now it is much bigger than
either myself or that still beautiful and often sad little girl. This
secret place I built for her is going to be open to so many others, but
it is still ours, and when she is older she will understand that. And
she didn’t even ask for this.

When a friend tells me they want something, my instinct is to, well,
give it to them. And should it be something so simple and easy as a
story? God, why not? I can do nothing else so well, and I show my work to those who I think might have wanted it, somewhere deep where they couldn’t voice the wish, with the eager-to-please posture of a child with macaroni art clutched in her fists. I am, after all is on the page, a storyteller, and I want to
give people the stories they need. I have been known to leave completed
manuscripts under Christmas trees and tucked into the closets of folk
who expressed the smallest desire to hear how I might write Book X or
Play Y. When I care about someone, even a friend–maybe especially a
friend, because they expect nothing of the kind–I make like a retail
employee on a 12-hour shift. I tuck my hair behind my ear with a pen,
knuckle sleep out of my eyes, and smile blearily:

“Just a minute, sir, let me check in the back.”

You just can’t tell me this
stuff, because I’ll want to do it for you.  It’s how I am. I hold
my arms out full of all these dancing dervishes, and tell you to pick
the one you want. After all, they’re all mine, I have no preference.

So I’m sitting here with very cold feet on an autumn day, wondering if I can scrape an SF novel out of my rusty innards. 

I think we’re out of mustard and brake fluid back here, too.

I’m gonna kill that guy.

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