I meant to write a lot more fiction when I started doing this. I think I assumed that’s what I’d be writing because that’s all I had written in the past. A lot of it, too – around fourteen hundred pages spread over four novels.
But it’s hard to do that daily – it kind of felt like those cartoon strips in the daily paper that are really a big soap opera, you just get three frames a day. Judge Parker was one of them. Tuesday he shaves and gets a phone call. Wednesday he walks over and says, “Hello.”
That’s how fiction feels, eight hundred words at a time.
Especially when I’m in a hurry, because fiction takes me forever. My imagination is not very visual – I have to sit there and really think hard about what a place looks like, where a guy came from, and then the problem is, no one wants to hear all that once you make it up.
You have to pick a couple of really good ones, otherwise you’re standing there listing all the articles of clothing a guy has on, or where the chairs and couches and end tables are in a living room.
And anyway, the political posts and the angry rants and for some reason the stuff and about my children and my cat – much more popular than the little bit of fiction I’ve put up.
So then that Starcraft fiction contest came up, and I sat here for a solid sixteen hours knocking out this twenty page short story that was really like a comic book without the pictures. Not very deep, not very literary, and set entirely in a universe which I experienced in a video game.
Yes, I’ve been through it myself, as you might imagine. Not exactly the New Yorker, no. A big step, artistically, like the decision to play cover songs, maybe.
A normal thing for a writer to aspire to is some kind of John Irving-type of life. You write a novel, and it gets published, and you never have to do anything else, just write novels. But you kind of assume the intellectual angle, the literary nature of it all.
Novels, that’s what you aspire to. You want to write novels and have them reviewed in newspapers. You kind of dream about reading a bad review, and throwing the paper across the room in disgust.
You miss an exit by twenty minutes, realizing that you’d just been participating in an imaginary interview with Teri Gross, regarding your recent novel.
You feel like you’re being realistic – your novels won’t be on the bestseller list, just novels, out there in the world, making you a comfortable living.
The key part is making a comfortable living writing novels – that’s pretty hard to do. But I think I just figured out what’s easier, and that’s making a decent living writing books.
Paperback books. Books for dorks, in particular.
Think about it – why am I trying to be so cool? You know I’m a big dork, I know I’m a big dork – let’s just be honest with each other, right?
Now go to the library or the bookstore and go check out the fantasy/science fiction section. It’s ginormous – these dorks are just like me, and they need someone to write dorky books for them.
Doctor Who books. Stargate paper backs. Did you know there is a Burn Notice novel? Somebody wrote that, you know.
I think I could knock out about a half a dozen of those a year, and be whistling dixie. I would have to watch all of those dork shows, to keep up on all the plotlines – it would be hard work. And then the rest of the time, I’d have to sit here rubbing my face, writing about them. Making up whole new shows, taking any characters, whatever I wanted to do.
You guys, I can do that. I think that it’s possible I was born to do that.
The great news is that’s not an ego talking – pick up one of those Star Trek novels sometime. Can you write a book from beginning to end? Can you fog up this mirror? You’re qualified.
Let me tell you something – I got totally into it. I had a damn blast. I haven’t written so much fiction in a couple of years, not in one sitting, and I found that it was a lot easier.
Almost as if I’ve been working out daily for four months.
I took myself really seriously, too. I was practically rolling weird, twenty-sided dice. I was down here scratching my chin, my brow all furrowed, working out the logistics of something. My wife was more than a little bit amused.
I said get used to it, baby, I’m a sci-fi franchise paperback writer now. It’s going to be sweet.
She bought her tickets. She knew the risks.