I swear every other week, another ad comes across my feed saying “So and so is the new Heinlein.” Needless to say when I look up their samples, they’re not even the old Heinlein — outdated and sometimes odd, but shining with a brilliance all his own — they’re more like the new newby, all stumbling sentences, half baked ideas and either repeating the new SJW hotness or trying to be its contrary in a self-conscious, little-girl-at-recital way.
I don’t hold it against anyone if their publishers compare them to Heinlein. That’s not your call, and you can’t say anything. A few that their publishers have promoted that way have a spark of the master, and you know who they are.
I’ve been compared to Heinlein in reviews, and obviously I’m not going to scream at that. I always get incredibly flattered, even though I know it isn’t true. Sure, he’s a major influence in my writing, because he was my favorite writer since I became aware of having a favorite writer. But I’m not him. I am but an egg. And when the egg hatches (maybe, some are duds) I’ll probably be more myself than him, because that’s the normal artistic progression: you outgrow your influences and re-meld them into a new synthesis.
I would not, however, dream of comparing MYSELF to Heinlein. Why not? Well, because I am not him. Every time I re-read his work (once every year or so) I become aware of my short comings. Every time I learn something new. To put a thing up saying “I am the New Heinlein” is just inviting all his long-time fans to examine my work minutely and compare it to his. And that — since I’m one of those long time fans, I know — only ends one way, and that’s NOT with them terribly impressed with me.
However, if they read it without my dancing around saying “I’m so great” fans often say “there is a tiny spark of Heinlein there.” And his reflected light is so great, that that’s enough to get other people to try it.
I didn’t get this when I was a much younger writer. I don’t think any young writer (as in recently published) does. It’s just something that’s not immediately graspable. It’s made worse by agents and publishers who ask in submission forms (do they still do that? I realized I’ve been established for ten years and haven’t cold-submited to anyone) “Who is the author you most resemble?
It’s silly, and I think they intend to use it as part of their publicity, but it used to stop me cold “Who the hell do I resemble?” And the answer was as it is still “no one. I’m me.” Particularly considering what I am likely to write at any given moment partakes of the day and what side of the bed I got up on, how can I say that about all my work? I remember I sent a submission out once and I filled that space with Le Guin, because the work I was submitting was a magic world that involved human sacrifice. I was thinking of the Tombs of Atuan, of course. I got back this shouty rejection telling me I was nothing like Le Guin and yelling at me for not writing with my “feminine side.” It wasn’t till much later I realized they saw Le Guin and read “feminism” while I was saying “deep and dark world with magic and human sacrifice.”
This is particularly true of YOUR work. When I took my first class with Kris and Dean, they told us that a writer is the worst judge of their own work. And they were right. And it doesn’t just mean judge in quality terms. Sometimes what my fans find to love (or hate) in my work leaves me going “Oh, I guess that’s there. I hadn’t noticed.” And sometimes the reason a book (or movie) is popular is something you consider so incidental that it would never occur to you to promote it. Someday, you should listen to Dave Drake telling how Jim Baen thought he was in the same niche as a bunch of other writers, people he’d never thought of. The only thread linking them? Mil SF. From the publisher’s perspective, despite vast style differences, etc, there was no difference.
I’ve never been good at this type of comparison anyway. I’d have done it if I could when I was a rank beginner, except I always had the feeling that what I saw in these authors isn’t what other people saw.
I used to call attention to my deficiencies in a different way: I used to put lines of poetry at the beginning of my short stories. This is because reading poetry was (still is) the best way to come up with short stories. A metaphor will inspire me, or a bit of feeling will catch me, and I carry that into the story.
When I was young and stupid (a conjunction that’s not obligatory, but which often occurs) I used to think that if I put the piece of poetry at the top, it would carry my story along on its back, as it were, and I’d have to work less.
This assumption almost gave Kris and Dean a heart attack at my very first workshop. Their first fear was unfounded, mind. Because at the time I mostly read poetry in Spanish or Portuguese, they assumed I was taking someone’s translation and using it without permission. Yes, translators get copyright to their translations. So if I were doing that, at least more than a couple of words, I’d need permission. BUT even when I reassured them that I had translated the bits myself (and most of the poems are out of copyright, anyway) they told me it was a bad move.
Well, it adds nothing to the story. Not really. It might be what inspired you, but if you did your job right, the bit that inspired you will be right there, embedded in the story. And by putting in words that are greater than yours, you’re just inviting comparison.
It goes something like this “if that poet is so great and has such a following you think it enriches your story, are you saying you’re as good as he is? And if you aren’t, is that a comparison you want?” … and for that matter, if you are, since I used some poets that wrote in Spanish and which are iconic everywhere in the world (the Portuguese one is less well known, but revered where known) even if I should have been so full of myself as to think the comparison was in my favor, do I want the poets many, many fans who disagree to gloom onto me as having insulted him? Do I want them to read my work looking for flaws, or looking to become a new fan?
So… I ditched the poetry bits. And I’d never compare myself to someone like Heinlein, whose typewriter ribbon (well, for most of his writing career) I’m not fit to change.
Yeah, the name of Heinlein catches my eye, and I go in to look at the book. The problem is that most writers aren’t even passable, and even those who might have a reflection of a spark have got me expecting Heinlein. And they’re not Heinlein.
To be fair, neither am I. And I’ll never be.
And the best way I’ve found to do publicity is “the first taste is free.”
I’ve found that every time I put a short story up for free here, my fandom’s involvement and size jumps up.
So, going to strive for a free short a month. In addition to the novels-in-progress, which yes, I’ll finish.
Because that gets fans hooked on me. Which is good, because in the end, I’m just me. And my mind and my ability are all I have to sell. I’ll never be Heinlein. The best I can aspire to is being myself as hard as I can.