Thursday, March 28, 2013
So... Why Pulp? - To All The Stories I Never Wrote
I’m tempted to break into singing that Willy Nelson song right now—you know, the one about the lovers who got away? Sometimes it’s like that with writing too. You have projects tucked away here and there, ideas by the boatload on some proverbial back burner, and things that just sound like they’d make great stories if you only had the time… Yeah, the mind of a writer is like an old attic stuffed with artifacts of a lifetime of living in the same home. It’s that closet, room, garage, or shed that never gets cleaned and organized. I don’t know about you, but I have files galore holding the bits and bobs of tales that went dormant into some phantom existence, waiting to be resurrected at a future time, like King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table.
I have to thank writer-extraordinaire and all around Paladin of the Road to Pulpy Adventure, Mr. Derrick Ferguson, for the commentary that seeded this week’s column. ‘D’ as I call him, often asks thought-provoking questions or purveys ideas to the rest of us hacks meant to turn up the burner under the muse. Recently he was warning us all about the perils of putting references in our stories of events and people whose tales haven’t yet been told. It seems some of his regular Dillon fans (And if you’re not a Dillon fan, you should be!) are dying to know all about the ‘Daughters of the Peacock King’ and something about being chased by a ‘15 foot polar bear’. Geez ‘D’—who wouldn’t want to read those tales? Since I’m currently working on a novel based an antique story start, and trying to update it to where the characters have gone today, it got me thinking… Where else have I stranded a perfectly good concept that might have a chance of catching some eyes? Have I missed some signals from readers telling me they’d like to know more about something or someone?
You can make yourself crazy thinking like that. It’s not like I don’t already have dozens of story concepts flashing through my synapses and swirling around in the gray matter as it is. I look at what I have lined up for this year, and I want to cringe, because I’m already behind. I go to bed at night, and try to get some sleep, and the ideas are pounding on the inside of my head, trying to get out. I get up in the morning and they follow me around all day, touching me with cold, clammy fingers, begging from every corner of my consciousness, wanting to be made corporeal on some page. If I am ever to get even half of what I want to write done, I’ll need several more lifetimes to do it in. I can’t work fast enough or devote more hours than I have now without chaining myself to the office chair in total isolation. I make notes, tuck them in files within files, and move on until I need them. Boy, does it bug me that I can’t get to more of it!
It’s rather reassuring to have so much territory of my own to mine, even at this point in what I laughingly call my ‘career’, where now and then I get approached on projects outlined by others. If I ever run out of fresh material, or old stories to revamp, I will certainly dig into those idea files. If I someday find myself staring at a blinking cursor wondering what the heck to put on the page; all that stuff will certainly come in handy. So yeah D, if someone comes to you and asks about that polar bear or the Peacock King’s nubile but deadly offspring, you might want to jot down a couple ideas for the story and shove it somewhere for a rainy day. Those little adventures you mentioned just in passing during some story stuck out in a fan’s mind, and it means you hit a game winning triple and made the sports page. Avid readers tend to move from one book to the next rather rapidly, so when a detail like that stays with them, it’s worth exploring.
Can you tell I’m one of those people who has trouble tossing things out? Maybe it’s my dump-picking, junk shop, yard sale and flea market haunting nature; but I love repurposing things, and that includes in writing. I am reluctant to part with any useful story fodder so I tend to fill up files rather quickly. I’m also a collector of random scenes from books, movies, television and real life that moved me in some way, and I save entire folders of pictures that might spark an idea. I figure if something resonated with me, it will likely do the same with others. No, I don’t plagiarize anything, but will write something with the same basic ‘flavor’ as that which interested me.
They say we’re all writing the same stories over and over again. Well I don’t know who ‘they’ are, but essentially, that’s true. What makes each tale unique is that you put your personal twist into them. So while D’s peacock ladies and polar bears represent common and familiar pulpy menaces, his take on them is going to make them come alive on the page. I’ve no doubt he’ll get to them someday (especially since I outed him even further—evil grin!). I think we all have some ‘tales within the tales’ to tell.
In the Vagabond Bards anthology I introduced a couple of characters I liked so much, I couldn’t let them go, so they are getting a series of their own. The fact that the only person to comment on them didn’t like one of the spinoff characters at first, and then the cavalier grew on him, tells me I chose well. Even in the Keener Eye stories, my foray into PI fiction, the fact that red haired and voluptuous flower child throwback Gwen has been described as irritating makes her memorable. Since she was written to be annoying but loyal, I did something right. Gwen is a contrast foil for Kate Keener; who is all about staying calm, figuring things out, and using what she knows to get by rather than panicking and needing to be rescued. The high wizard Kendahl, who appears in several of my Terran World books, seems to strike a chord with some readers, though he’s never been the star of any tale (yet). I’ve answered several inquiries about him. With the reactions I got to the fierce and vicious people-eating weremon in Fortune’s Pawn, I know I have to expound upon on them as well. Kendahl certainly needs his own book someday (he figures prominently in the one I am currently writing) and I have to tell the origin of those four legged sentient half human beasts with the paralytic saliva.
Yeah, there’s things I can return to.
When I look back at some of the stuff I wrote previously, I often cringe at the style. I’ve definitely improved as a writer. That doesn’t stop me from reusing what is worth salvaging within those long-ignored pages. If there’s an audience for it, I’ll write it. So if someone says to me, “Gee, I really would like to read more about drakkar, or snowbeasts, or how dragons went from collie size desert hunters to the scourge of the continent,” I’m going to note that. I’ll get around to explaining the great magickal war between evil sorcerer Gruhneholm and his less ruthless but more organized peers over whether he should be allowed to use magick to modify the code of life. I’ll certainly need to explain what all that ‘Light World/Dark World’ stuff means. I’ve still got plenty of places to go with most of my original material. I’m sure more avenues will occur to me as I go along.
I’m never going to have the time, energy, or incentive to write it all. My mind moves on far too quickly for that, and situations inside and outside of writing will influence what I can accomplish. There are ideas that I will look back fondly upon, and then move on. There are others I will run away from faster than a 15 foot polar bear just because I just don’t want to deal with them. It’s rather comforting to know that the pool of unwritten work is still plenty deep and wide. Any time I need to dip into it, I can.
So can you.