I haven’t written in several days. I’ve been pursuing my “other” life – helping my researcher girlfriend track down her beloved killer whales along the Northern California Coast. It has been a very good week for killer whale science. It has been a bit slower for this fiction writer.
My hiatus has been good, though. The last thing I read before I got busy with science was an article on selling out. Selling out – it’s a concept worth discussing, because when I think of sell outs I think of my favorite rock band selling my favorite rock song for use in a commercial. I think of sell outs as those who didn’t have talent enough to get past their first success, and decided the money they could get for giving up their dream was enough to buy the happiness they once hoped to get being successful over a life long career.
This article I read by Charlie Jane Anders got me thinking – not about selling out so much as about getting published. Charlie picked a good topic, I think, and I enjoyed reading it and the accompanying comments at the bottom. What got my attention more than anything, however, were the graphics in the article (you can see it here http://io9.com/5973921/how-to-write-fiction-for-money-without-selling-out-too-much) which depicted classic pulp sci fi and crime novel images from a bygone era. The suggestion, if not the explicit argument, was that those who write popular fiction are sell outs on a dream they once had to write something more sophisticated.
Most of you know that I am currently working on a science fiction novel with the intent to perhaps establish a short series. Some of you also know that I think of myself as a literary fiction writer who is struggling to put together the literary story I am trying to tell. In fact, I completed a literary novel last year and have made no small effort to sell it. More recently, though, I set it aside and began writing this sci fi stuff.
Now, I am not a fan of pop culture. My closer friends know how much I shy away from anything “pop” and that I am a religious proponent of kitsch. So here I am, formerly committed to “high-brow” art, cruising through a pop-fiction genre far removed from my literary root. But how far my root am I actually getting?
The first thing I want to acknowledge is that I am having fun with my science fiction story. My characters are coming along, my plot is solid, and the intrigue is sufficient that I have been able to follow my own story line without ever having the feeling that I was getting lost in the middle, that I had made a mistake or created a disjointed effort of any kind. I am more confident at this stage of the book than I ever was with my literary novel.
The next thing I realize is that I am learning more about how to write my literary stuff by writing science fiction – that is, plot-driven fiction – than I did doing pure literature.
I also (third) realize that my science fiction story is still a character-driven novel regardless of the themes of science, fantasy or whatever other popular motifs might be present.
But to the question of selling out. Am I selling out because I am at risk of having more success writing speculative fiction over realism?
I really don’t think so and here is why: I am of the mind at this point in my writing efforts that any writer who can publish in any professional capacity (not vanity press) is successful. The publishing world is so competitive, so inundated with volumes of written words and overworked agents, that anyone who can break through is worthy of being called a success. While it is true that there are gradations of quality among writers, among all artists, there can be no arguing the success of formal publication. From Chekov and Updike to Rowling and King, these writers have penned something that has inspired masses of readers regardless of what I think of them as writers myself. Props must be given where props are due.
I would accept being labeled a sell out at this point if that’s what it means to successfully publish my fiction. Good writing only looks easy anyway, and the “easy route” is nothing more than being successful in a genre that reads like fun. Sign me up, o’ Muse!
I intend to get back to literature soon. How soon, I don’t know for sure. It depends on how well I do at selling out. Meanwhile I am still a writer, and I’ll take any progress I can get because, dammit, writing is hard work no matter what you write. I no longer accept that writing in one genre over another is selling out. We write what we write, and we succeed at what we’re good at. Some famous actors wanted to be rock stars, and some rock stars wanted to be country stars. We continue to try what we love, but it doesn’t mean we’re good at it. But I believe we’re all good at something – so go do both.
I’ll be sure to let you know how it goes on my end. Let me know how it goes on yours.