Forging Many Letters

Originally posted November 21, 2009

Several years ago, back when I lived in the Chicago burbs, I started writing my first horror novel, 'Nature's Way'. There's an odd story to this one: I had just completed 'In The Course Of Diplomacy' (for the first time), and was getting warmed up on my next project, when this story came out of nowhere, grabbed me by the throat, and screamed, "WRITE ME, DAMN YOU!"

I don't take threats well, so I had no choice. Like all my work, it went along rapidly at first, so that within a month or two I had a large chunk done, and a good idea of the characters, tone, and general direction it would take.

And that was where it began to worry me. As I have mentioned elsewhere, the author doesn't entirely control the writing process. Often, a book will do most of the work with the author as a co-conspirator. This book reduced me to a zombie as it wrote itself. And what I was putting down on paper was unspeakably grim, and at times gristly. I'm amazed and disturbed that I have that sort of horror in me.

As I progressed, I began to worry that this one might be so gristly that it would be unsellable. I decided to seek out the advice of no less than Frederick Pohl, who hardly needs any more introduction. I came across him at a Windycon, and I explained my problem to him. His answer:

"Write what you feel. If it is genuine, it will sell."

As he explained it, if you write what comes from your genuine feelings, convictions, and values, your work will have a ring of authenticity that the readers (and editors) will respond to, pretty much regardless of content. There is a market for anything, he went on. It may be a matter of sending it out again and again, but sooner or later, someone will respond to that ring of authenticity.

I have worked from that viewpoint ever since, and I am pleased with the results.

I went on to finish 'Nature's Way'. It scares the hell out of me.

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