Today, I really needed to open up Wyoming Summer, Mary O’Hara’s somewhat fictional account of the real-life ranch in My Friend Flicka, to read this quote in a section where she discusses her latest story rejections. There are times when O’Hara’s creative struggles—with writing, with the piano compositions she also wrote—simply ring true. This snippet comes from a minor rant about how her idea of story differed from those of her era (in her case, she takes on Chekhov and the notion that stories needed to be slice-of-life vignettes).
Keep in mind that O’Hara, despite her apparent focus on horse books (I steadfastly maintain that the Flicka books are most definitely NOT children’s books, especially the last two where the difficulties in the McLaughlin marriage come to the fore), came to fiction writing from a rather storied history as a script doctor during the silent film era. Her autobiography Flicka’s Friend slightly touches on the challenges of that sort of compressed writing. At one point she jokes that she should write a memoir about the experience, titled Are You Available?
Alas, she never did create that memoir.
But given my low mood today, just glancing at those two pages was helpful. It’s been a rough day. My desktop was being cranky from the very beginning, and since it’s a fairly new iMac, this shouldn’t be happening. I think I’ve managed to defeat whatever it was that caused the issue, but all the same, wrestling with it and the printer as well took up a big chunk of the day. Add to that running into snags and snarls involved with trying to get my Covid bivalent booster (#2), a couple of places in town not having the supplies I needed (in one case selling an item I thought was being held for me to someone else), running into a buzz saw or two on social media, my hairbrush breaking, plus no book sales AGAIN, and, yeah. Today felt like marching through muddy slop up to my knees. Maybe even my waist.
Part of the challenge is, simply, finding my readers. Which was part of the social media blowup (that it happened while I was wrestling with the desktop and waiting for stuff to process while I tried everything I knew to fix it didn’t help). Folx from a certain platform are rather free about equating romance/romantic writing with porn, and I was told that I should be advertising my science fiction western romantic stories on porn sites rather than pollute their perfect social media platform with my promotions and story snippets. Which was almost word-for-word what was said to prominent romance writers by people from this site back in February.
Well. The degree to which that commenter revealed their lack of knowledge was laughable, but…it still led to a depressive mood that probably would have made that person rejoice. Because it is hard to promote the sort of story I write. I prefer to write within the speculative fiction genre, but many of the stories I write are not about gizmos and gadgets. I like to think about the impact of said gizmos and gadgets on relationships, often with those wrestling with them at a high management level. I also like to write such things in Pacific Northwest settings.
None of this makes me trendy and popular in current speculative fiction, whether in indie or traditional publications.
Taking out the speculative elements and marketing to upmarket or other non-speculative readers doesn’t appeal to me, either. I’m not a match for that market.
Thinking about these things does make me sad. It’s a melancholy that visits on a fairly regular basis. Ironically, reviews that say “oh this is something good and different” or “the best writer I’ve never heard of” just continue to pound the message home that I’m a niche writer.
It’s not so much about me, either. I’ve been working on a book that originated in a short story that I couldn’t manage to sell. I liked the story, not as much as others I had written, but enough to try to make it something that might just get read. The longer I work on it, the more I like the story and its characters. It’s far-future political space opera, with drug smugglers, assorted sentient species including a rabbit who’s a military intelligence guru, and pokes a little bit at the idea of defining sentience.
I’m almost at the end of the story. And now I wonder if it’s just another one that will be shoved aside by more traditional space opera stories, because there’s also a slow burn romance.
Part of my melancholy is also shaped by aging. I’m starting to hit a low energy wall because I just can’t do everything in a day that I used to be able to do even two years ago. I can’t write a blog post a day plus work plus draft 1000-2000 words a day like I could ten years ago.
I dunno. I’ve been at this game for a number of years, and don’t have much to show for it. No awards, just also-ran placements. Stories that have a handful of fans but…not a wide readership. There are times when I think I should have taken a different route—gone for the political pundit game, for example. Or buckled down to write more about special education (one of my pieces written for a monetized parent blog ended up being acknowledged by a professional association, after all). Or taken advantage of several friendships in order to promote myself.
But it’s never been the sort of work I’ve loved to write. A so-called friend years ago managed to distract me away from fiction into nonfiction, claiming my voice was better for that.
Yeah. Right. Along with a bunch of other people. And it still turns out to be stuff I really don’t want to write.
So what do I want to write?
I want to write those big, sweeping stories with Pacific Northwest-inspired settings. Matters of high drama with high stakes and characters that entice me into following their exploits. Old people, middle-aged people, and some young people.
Ah well. Probably time to sign off with this ramble. Things will be better tomorrow. But for today, I’m just not in the best of moods.