No, the chapter isn’t going to happen. Look, guys, it’s my anniversary and I got up late for reasonsthataretotallynoneofyourbusiness and I still haven’t had time to go over the background of Rogue Magic, which means I feel like I’m not able to continue the plot coherently. (The funny thing is that I need to do this even when I write a book in three weeks and not a chapter a week. Around the middle I need to re-read and markup and reorient, or I lose the plot.)
But I was over at Mad Genius Club where my perceptive friend Cedar Sanderson is taking her pet peeves for a walk. And the first one prompted me to write this. Cedar writes:
Why are there no more small stories? I don’t mean short stories, although I have just finished reading an excellent collection of crime stories by Frederic Brown that were perfectly small, and wonderful to read. No, I mean stories that aren’t about saving the world (from the last humans, of course), or the universe (ditto those evul hoomans), or about the last two people on earth (who should totally not reproduce, because Malthus). I ran across an article that is geared more toward films and games, but it applies to writing, as well. Perfectly wonderful tales can be constructed over no more than “whodunnit” to hark back to my reading this week. Dave Freer’s Crawlspace, if you haven’t read it, is a lovely story of rats, aliens, and murder in the wake of war, set in the Rats, Bats, and Vats universe. Even had I not already been a fan of the setting, I would have enjoyed it, and wanted more (I do, I do!). So why are we obsessed with the epic, the grand scale, the supremely awesomely apocalyptic view of the world? Genevieve Valentine writes, “The truth is that some stories are folk tales, not sagas; a tighter focus doesn’t make them inherently less worthy, and their stakes are no less crucial to the story for being closer to home.”
Cedar is young-in-writing (in person too 🙂 Almost young enough to be my daughter, though not quite.) So there are things that have escaped her notice. I read that paragraph and I thought “Why, hon, there are no small books because writers were trained out of writing them.”
Look, don’t believe me? Read any of the books on how to write a blockbuster or a breakout book or whatever you want to call them. Every time (and twice on Sunday) the idea is “put the universe in peril and also involve the most important people alive then.”
This is called a “big book” and the big six decided, G-d alone knows why (though maybe their psychiatrists also know) that only big books were worthy of becoming bestsellers. This meant that, in the circuitous self-fulfilling prophecy of late-stage-push book marketing, they only printed enough of/put enough books out there for purchase, if you wrote what they termed a “big book.”
I always had my doubts about this. My tastes, I’ve long ago discovered, are not always (or most of the time) congruent with New York Publishing. For instance, no matter how many times they insist on telling me that Agatha Christie is declasse and has nothing new to say, I like her mysteries.
In fact, I like her mysteries because they’re not about saving the world, but about the private fortunes and lives of people who matter only because they are human. One of my favorites, which I was just reading, is The Hallow which is about very private people in private settings. In fact, it is a one-off for me. It’s a Poirot mystery, and I much prefer Miss Marple.
Or take Georgette Heyer’s romances where the most important thing at stake is who gets to marry whom.
Then there’s Brother Cadfael where, granted, the English Civil war is mentioned and is the background of much of what happens. BUT it doesn’t bring Matilda on stage to contest the throne.
Science fiction and fantasy have some more justification for saving the world. We do get into that sort of head space where the planet, the world, the biosphere is at stake — but even then take one of my very favorite stories The Werewolf Principle by Clifford Simak (the first person to tell me how and what I stole from that book for DST gets a prize!) is ultimately about family and two people’s happiness.
All of these books, though, are in various degrees derided by the powers that be. All of them, too, except maybe Simak (but heck, The Door into Summer was a bestseller and it’s also about the pursuit of private happiness) and that has to do with his heirs and reprinting rights, are perennial best/good sellers.
Which means clearly it is possible for people to like a book that doesn’t involve great personalities and world-shaping fates.
So why is it that the houses became convinced otherwise?
Well, I don’t think they did. Oh, maybe the young ones, because, you know, that’s what had sold in their lifetime (because it’s what got on shelves.) BUT int he beginning, I think it was driven by the desire to “make a difference” that became a paramount measure of quality in the sixties. (For reasons known only to my subconscious, I almost spelled that sissities.)
It’s a penumbra and emanation of Marxism. Since all writing does is amuse, it falls into danger of being a corrupt capitalist “art.” Unless, of course, it fights for justice and socialism and stuff, which then aligns the artist with “the workers” and makes him worthy.
This nutty idea then mutated into stuff like “you must include important people and social issues.”
My second agent was insistent that I should use Queen Elizabeth as a character in All Night Awake, which deformed the entire book. He kept talking to me about one of his other clients who had written about racism and class-consciousness in Victorian England, and it kept making me think “Wut?” because surely we know this about Victorian England and frankly, pissing on the shoulders of the giants you’re standing on, does not in any way make you better than them.
This is when I started having doubts about this concept. After all, most of the stories I enjoyed weren’t “big” by modern publishing standards. So, should I even be writing, if I had to write things that weren’t me?
It was at this time that Kristine Kathryn Rusch told me to ignore that stuff, and write what I needed to write. And I did.
Oh, some of my stories involve saving the world — or the multiverse. I suspect the Magical Empires series will a lot of times (but not always.) DST involves revolutions and such, but I’m not sure it’s saving the world. It’s more like our struggles. You know, you save/restore liberty for one generation… And the stories are still about people and their private struggles/desires.
I suspect that the big indie hits will come from this sort of private story. (In fact I have two cozy mystery scenes outlined and, hoping to Ghu I don’t get sick every other week in 14, once I finish books for Baen, I mean to do one of those, and the Tudor Queens, and…
But it’s going to take a while for things to reassert themselves. You see, writers, misgivings or not, have been TRAINED to think in terms of big-book. It will take time and the success of some “small books” for balance to reassert itself.
A) Now, some housekeeping — only two of you sent book publicity to Free Range Oyster who is compiling it for me to put up, so we’re not putting up a post on that today. So, come one come all, send your self-publicity to the mollusc at his screen name at gmail.com
B) Witchfinder really is going to be taken down, today or tomorrow (hey, I got up late) and then those of you who pre-paid will get an email directing you where to go to download a copy in your favorite format. (After I go over the copyedits — so sometime next week, since I have to do those three pages at a time, or I glaze.) And then it goes to printing so I can send out review copies.
C) I will continue Rogue Magic and Elf Blood, but these holidays have been very unsettled and weird, and it might not be till the first weekend in January.
D) My friend Alan Lickiss is back in the hospital and struggling. Prayers, good thoughts and general healing intentions much appreciated.