Some of the topics that I grapple with from time-to-time have to do with commercial viability and creator intent. As a writer, I’ve always felt that my strengths were more along the lines of the absurd, strange and thought-provoking nature. The first novel project that I worked on was predicated on wanting to make big, bold statements and to do so through a carefully-tuned, broken narrative structure. It may have been a bit of a large undertaking considering my lack of experience in writing novels and the commitment to the art of long form.
When I reflect on that story, sometimes I cringe and other times I get nostalgic and want to start it all over again and make it work. Basically, I always looked at writers who were presenting stories that were a bit different and looked up to them, wanting to be able to add to that lexicon of work some day. I saw writers like Kurt Vonnegut, Philip K. Dick, Thomas Pynchon, Haruki Murakami and even David Foster Wallace and that was what I wanted to do. Granted, my technical knowledge and interests might not line up with some of them, but I always wanted to create something that was frustrating for all of the right reasons and was left open to interpretation. A lot of my short fiction that I produced throughout college fell along those lines, including tales of god-like airline passengers that crash a jet to make a point, a young army veteran with a sheet of metal lodged in his head that kept him teetering the line between lunacy and lucidity and scenes of extreme, casual violence.
When I ventured off on my new journey into writing in late 2010 I found myself in a bit of an impasse. That crazy novel that I had began back in 2006 hadn’t gotten very far and looking back at it, well, it was a mess. I had some complicated ideas for it written out somewhere, but the actual novel itself had a lot of problems. Having never written anything longer than 20-or so pages before I found myself having a difficult time keeping tenses correct, which was only compounded by taking weeks and months off in between writing sessions and opting to write in a stream of consciousness fashion. This led to some utterly profound and interesting segments as well as some complete garbage that simply couldn’t be saved.
So the idea was to simply start over. The thing is, I was severely “out of shape” mentally. While I’ve tried to never masquerade as anything beyond what I am, I always considered myself a pretty smart guy, but not reading or writing on a consistent basis for a few years while working a menial, soul-sucking job left me without much left in the tank. Picking up old favorites to read was difficult, trying and frustrating, my mind quickly wandering elsewhere, which was a problem. I felt like I had simply let any intelligence and wit that I once had fade and degrade beyond repair. If you’ve known me for a long time, you’ll know how absolutely soul-crushing and difficult this was for me. But I persevered, I kept trying and eventually that hazy cloud began to roll back a little bit at a time.
I became deeply entrenched in MMA and kickboxing, simply because I had been involved in both for so long and it was the world that I knew, as well as the world that knew me. A large part of my identity after college was tied in with those sports and my work writing about both (kickboxing, mainly), so I rolled with it. One day I sat down and decided to work on a short story, with the concept being imagining what it would feel like for a down-and-out fighter who was once incredibly famous and successful to be to get out of bed with all of his physical and emotional aches and pains. I wrote for many hours straight and eventually found myself sitting on 14,000 words and a lot more left to say. I had unwittingly found myself a new novel project, which would go on to be “The Godslayer.”
Once again, in retrospect, I see problems in that book from on the sentence-level to the conceptual-level. Agents and publishers didn’t seem overly interested in it, but were encouraging for me to keep going and come back to them with something marketable. Men don’t buy books, never mind sports fans, they said. I shrugged, figured that with my contacts within the industry I could release it, get some support and go from there. I also wanted to do so without spending money, which was a very big mistake. I think that “The Godslayer” is a good story and I’m glad that I told it, but I think that my exuberance for releasing something and hoping for some commercial success may have clouded my better judgement in giving it the fine-tuning that it deserved.
I’m talking revisions, editing, the works. Maybe some day I’ll revisit it, or maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll someday try to wipe it from existence, who knows. That cloud that I spoke of before had rolled back some, but I found myself back in a familiar place again; working hard, long hours and finding myself mentally and physically unable to do much else beyond work and be grumpy. My identity being tied to MMA and kickboxing led to me getting more and more work in the field, going deeper and deeper into the well.
My dream of being a successful novelist was still there, but I had placed it on hold in hopes of making enough money so that… I’m not really sure? There wasn’t really an end in sight, just this thin hope that if I saw enough success in what I was doing I could some day stop and leverage it into publishing books. No, it doesn’t really make much sense, but that was where my mind was at.
When I was thinking about my “career” as a novelist, I found myself frustrated and dejected. “The Godslayer” did pretty well considering that the marketing that I had was calling in favors with friends to publish articles about it, making podcast appearances and writing guest articles for websites to promote it. Also, yeah, like I said before, kind of a mess of a book that I should have been more careful with before releasing. I had always loved science fiction, dating back to my love for Star Wars and the expanded universe novels being what got me into reading when I was younger, pushing me off into other science fiction and later other books outside of sci-fi, so why not write sci-fi? Science fiction has that commercial appeal with readers and, in my mind, there was a lot of garbage out there already. I could probably do something pretty cool, pump out a series pretty quickly and follow the blueprint that a lot of self-published novelists had set over the past few years. I’m a smart dude, I could do this no sweat.
In summer of 2014 I decided to step away from as much of my work in MMA that I could and focus solely on this new plan of whipping up a science fiction series quickly, getting it out and getting some buzz going. My point of reference for science fiction literature ended somewhere in the late 90’s and I had grown to be of the mind that not much had happened that was worth reading or being concerned with after then. I had kept up with television and film, for sure, with some all-time favorites being Star Trek DS9, Babylon 5 and Firefly on the TV side and, well, not many new sci-fi movies were classics, exactly.
Anyway, I made another mistake here, that mistake was not respecting the genre properly and understanding it. I knew that there was stuff out there that did well, I have a general understanding of what they were, how they were written and how well-received they were, but I hadn’t really sat down and acclimated myself to a lot of the work out there. I knew the classics and knew that there was a market for science fiction so I went for it, hoping to churn out a ton of books in quick succession.
This is where “Terminus Cycle” came in. I’ve talked about disappointments with it before and I stand by them. Reflecting on it, I made some mistakes, and perhaps the biggest mistake of all was not having the respect for modern science fiction and understanding the market. My determination to be successful led me to push for something that I felt would be commercially viable as quickly as I could to build up a library of work. My intent for it was all over the place, with my stress levels on the rise because I wanted to release something that was really, truly great, something that would stand the test of time, but I wanted to do it quickly. That sort of devil-may-care attitude blended together with the pressure that I put on myself to not only write something substantial, but that would help to push my career forward led to some errors in judgement.
My intent was there, but man did it not translate into exactly what I had pictured for it. I honestly shouldn’t be talking about my own perceived failings that much because there were a lot of people that enjoyed the book and have been asking about the follow-up. In fact, those outweigh any of the more critical opinions that I’ve seen, but even then, I have a hard time with it, as just about any artist does with their work. Part of why I’m writing all of this out, though, is because I was watching the recent George Lucas interview from Charlie Rose. George Lucas has been put through the grinder over the past fifteen or so years, which the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens has only stirred up yet again.
Personally I see a lot of what Lucas has done and find stuff wrong with it. There is a lot to poke holes into when it comes to his work, from dialogue to human interaction to pacing and his incessant meddling. But still, George Lucas was the guy who created Star Wars, doing so being a tremendous risk at the time. Yet he succeeded. What followed was a career of commercial films that ranged from huge successes to near misses, all of this from a guy that never wanted to create commercial, Hollywood-style films.
When faced with what he saw as another ten years of his life to create a third Star Wars trilogy and a few commercial busts on films that he helped produce, Lucas decided to hand the keys to LucasFilms over to Disney for a hefty chunk of change and to move on. His ideas for the next few Star Wars films were rejected outright by Disney and he decided that it was time to simply walk away from something that had both consumed and defined his life as an artist and a human being.
Undoubtedly George Lucas fucked up a few times in his career, with those fuck ups only amplified by the fact that Star Wars has been such a beloved franchise that many fans grew up with. Lucas claims that he’s making films again, but that they are more like his early works, the experimental kind that most likely won’t see the light of day but make him happy. Star Wars was an obsession for him, they were his creation, but he’s been forced to move on.
Star Wars, was, if anything, a part of his quest to prove that he was more than just the guy who got lucky with American Graffiti, that he could create a new sort of fairy tale that at the time was incredibly innovative with its use of technology and filming techniques. He, of course, looks back at all of his past work and hates most of it, which really resonated with me today while watching this, because I understood it.
I’ve been wanting to work my way back to what got me passionate about writing in the first place, but I’ve had a number of detours and each time I walk away with more knowledge and understanding, but I also walk away disappointed and frustrated with myself. Along the way, though, I’ve found a new found respect for science fiction literature by spending the past year consuming as much of it as I could, finding myself enamored with the likes of James SA Corey, Ann Leckie, John Scalzi and many more. I read some really great sci-fi and some really mediocre sci-fi. I’ve also read some sci-fi that I don’t really enjoy, but understand the appeal of.
What taking a crash course on modern science fiction has really done for me is to give me that newfound respect for the genre, but also to harden my resolve when it comes to writing science fiction. There is a lot of great stuff out there and I feel like I have a very good grasp on what I want to contribute to it now. I have the “Terminus Cycle” follow-up in a good place right now and I even have more ideas that are bubbling over in my mind, just ready to come out when I’ve got the time and will to work on them.
George Lucas definitely has his shortcomings, as do we all, but he helped to shape a genre for generations to follow while also pushing the world of filmmaking forward into a new direction. That wasn’t always his intention or what he saw for himself, but it became his legacy because sometimes that is simply what happens in life. For myself, I’m happy that I’m at a place where I’m seeing my own shortcomings while also seeing growth and understanding what I want to do as I move forward as a writer.
As I write this it is 2016 and it’s time for forgive George Lucas and respect what he did and how he changed all of our lives, just like we all need to give ourselves a break sometimes and not be too hard on ourselves. As long as we are all learning and trying to move ourselves forward there is no sense in beating ourselves up over silly mistakes or perceived past failures.
So I’m going to post this without proofreading it because, hey, it’s a blog post and I’m tired. So sue me.