It seems like fiction writers, more than any other creative type, will not put themselves in position to be criticized. Many will barely tolerate the implied criticism of quality work in their own field. In addition, there is a thriving industry that tells anybody with the aspiration to write that their talent is real and their voice is necessary. Just imagine this was the case in all the arts, that you could go to a seminar and spend $300 an afternoon to be told the whole world is waiting for your band’s hair metal covers. That doesn’t exist (please please don’t exist) and it shouldn’t.
In my early 20s, I was sitting in Washington Square when a man coming up to me to ask to borrow my pen. I was holding it under my coat, to keep my hand warm in the November weather. The pen was for making notes in the book I was reading, and the man asked what this was. I said Steppenwolf. “That’s a fun book,” he said, and he asked if he could make up (not recite) a few poems for me. About me, I think he said. I suppose this was a come on, and I as usual did not want to be come on to, but I was comfortable enough to say that I liked one poem but not the other (“The first one was better”), and afterward there was a third about which I don’t recall having an opinion at all. I assume if he noticed the pen I was hiding, he had also seen the title of the book I held, and that was what had invited him over. “More than Prince Charming to me” were words he poemed with. It must pay some sort of compliment that I remember.
The original Star Wars trilogy is told from Luke Skywalker’s point of view: you root for him, you identify with him, you share in his successes. He’s the young cocky kid who wants to ride off and save the galaxy, only his aunt and uncle won’t allow it. Lucky for him, his family is skeletized by storm troopers; now he has nothing else to do but to all-but-single-handedly take down the most powerful military force the galaxy has ever seen. And he does.
When described that way, it’s a hack story with absolutely no legs at all. Fortunately for Star Wars, it is not a series of tales about a brash youth defeating evil across the galaxy, but about an older generation overcoming its cynicism to save the wildly under-prepared Luke Skywalker.
Spaketh the meme:
The Killbug Eulogies is still moving along the production pipe. Today I’m announcing a novelette whose release I’m slipping ahead of that science fiction novel. It is called Kevin the Vampire.
When I was a freshman in college in the mid 90s, someone directed me to a wagering website that hosted what it called a death pool: people made a list of ten famous people and whoever had the most on that list die in the coming year won the prize. (The concept may be familiar from a similarly named film.) A ticker ran across the screen, updating you on the viability of various celebrities. Who was old, who was sick, who was doing their own stunts—and at the end came the reminder: Kurt Cobain, still dead.
This is how The Killbug Eulogies came about.
In my mid twenties, my chief creative pursuit was song writing. I didn’t play the guitar well, and I couldn’t sing, but lyric appealed to me because I considered it a blend of what life has taught you, what you’ve read about, and what rhymes. I used to walk around lower Manhattan with a pocket notebook and a pen in hand, sometimes till two in the morning, writing down couplets as the wanderlust inspired me.
Hey man, what were you up this weekend?
Oh you know, same old. Got shit-faced, had irresponsible sex with strangers, blacked out and forgot the whole thing. I only know from pics and and confusing texts on my phone.
You spent it writing didn’t you.
. . . No. Shut up.
Every now and again I meet a novelist who brags their work is so powerful, it even makes themselves cry. How’s that for the weirdest chest-thumping you’ve ever heard? Also, it’s ridiculous. A novel is a personal thing: by necessity an author draws it from experience. Who will ever relate more to your own experience than you?