Friday, July 10, 2015

Reading, Writing, and Reading but Not Writing

I may have too many books going around in my head right now. I'm revising/rewriting book 3 of the Fairy Tale series. Then last night there were some interesting WWII documentaries on TV that I was watching for work purposes for a book I have planned. I have this idea for a secondary world dystopia that looks a lot like the darker side of Dickensian England (with a steampunk touch) but that's a totalitarian society like Stalinist Russia or Nazi Germany. Since in the backstory for this world, the current regime arose less than 20 years ago and in that time has managed to reshape all of society to the point that large segments of the population support the new regime with a near-religious devotion, Nazi Germany is a good model for it. Last night on H2 they were rerunning some documentaries from a few years ago that got into what life was like for ordinary people during the rise and fall of the Nazi regime, using a lot of home movie footage, and it was perfect for the book I have planned to get some ideas for worldbuilding. I ended up taking notes while I was watching, and then once you start doing that kind of thinking, you start having character and plot thoughts, as well, so that future book idea was becoming active. And then during commercial breaks I was reading through a history book on the American Revolution to look for events I could move to a different time and place as I'm starting to develop the next Rebel Mechanics book.

So that's three entirely different books in entirely different series that I was working on in one day. I don't know if that's a record for me.

Though I don't know if I will need another Rebel Mechanics book, considering at the moment Enchanted, Inc., which has been out for more than ten years, has a much better Amazon ranking. Unless it shoots up once it's released, I may be in trouble here.

But getting back to the books in the head … At ApolloCon a few weeks ago, I was on a panel about "What I'd Like to Read but Would Never Write." The panelists decided to turn "I'd" into "I" because the "I'd" implied that it didn't exist and we were looking for it, which narrowed it down too much. I get some of my best story ideas for things I want to read but that don't exist yet. Enchanted, Inc. resulted from me wanting a Harry Potter-like thing about grownups, or else a chick lit book with some fantasy elements. Rebel Mechanics came from me wanting a fun romp of a steampunk story without vampires, zombies, werewolves, etc. I can't think of anything I'd currently like to read that doesn't exist that I don't want to write.

But there are genres I like to read and probably will never write. Or in one case, never write again. The big one for me is space opera -- science fiction stories set on spaceships that are more about the characters than about the science. My gateway to science fiction was Star Wars, and I re-read the novelization dozens of times (back in the days when you had to go to the theater to see a movie over and over again). My parents gave me one of Alan Dean Foster's Flinx books and suggested I might like that, too (we didn't know at the time that Alan wrote the Star Wars novelization, even though George Lucas's name was on the cover). And the rest is history. The way kids in my neighborhood played, it was kind of live-action role playing fanfic, where we'd pretend to be characters in whatever our favorite thing of the moment was and run around acting out stories. With Star Wars, there was just one girl, so we had to create new characters. Sometimes I managed to get to be Princess Leia, but other times I came up with a female X-wing pilot (who was also a princess, because why not?). Over the years, I kept mentally playing with that character, until finally she had very little to do with the Star Wars universe, and then I spun her off into her own universe (which was still rather Star Wars-like), and then I realized that if I wrote down all these mental adventures, I'd have a book.

So my very first stab at writing was space opera, and it was pretty terrible, but I was twelve, so what do you expect? I mostly just had a first chapter, a few later scenes, and a lot of drawings of costumes, but that was the start of me entertaining myself by writing and the start of my ambition to be a writer.

I don't know if I mentioned this on the panel, but I've since remembered that I have actually written and submitted a book that could be called space opera. It was still more Star Wars mental fanfic -- after Return of the Jedi I found myself wondering what Luke and Leia's birth parents had been like, what kind of person Anakin Skywalker was before he became Darth Vader, what kind of woman he'd have been with. I had this whole story line and characters playing out in my head. Then early in my romance writing career, there was a brief surge of interest in science fiction romance, and I figured that this story would be perfect, so I wrote it. The problem was that these were still very much romances with science fiction-like settings, and as I've mentioned, I don't find romance novels very romantic, so it was all wrong and got repeatedly rejected (for good reason). At the same time, it wasn't very good science fiction. I'm not interested enough in the technology and space stuff to write good space opera. All I really care about is the characters.

And yet, my version is still probably better than what we got in the prequels.

Still, I have realized that while I love to read this sort of thing, trying to write it would be a very bad idea. I wouldn't enjoy the process, and it wouldn't be any good.

I suppose World War II novels would also be on my list. I love to read them, I'm fascinated by the period, but I don't think I'd write a serious one. Maybe alternate history in a world where magic works or all those occult things the Nazis were after had real power, maybe a secondary world using elements from that era, which I do have planned, but not a straightforward history story. Or even a time travel, a la Connie Willis. Love them, don't think I want to write something like that.

But with four fictional universes currently playing out in my head (there's one I'm not actively working on that still pops up occasionally), it's probably good that there are some things I'm not trying to write.

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