Kage Baker began writing only about the things she personally liked.
That may seem self-evident as a writing gambit, but few writers have the self-control (I guess you’d call it) to stick to the tiny personal stuff. Real writing is a stronger siren than the urge to write fan fiction about the Martian Man-Hunter, and before long, most people find themselves writing about … things, you know, just fabulous irresistible things; important and philosophical and emotional things. Grownup things. Then they get drawn into serious research, and making sure things are spelled correctly and keeping the deorum ex machina to a minimum.
Either that or they go on to a long career of Adventures Among the Pea-pod Fairies, or careful little pamphlets on Miniature Golf Courses of the World. Being any kind of writer is inherently perilous.
Not everyone should go on to a fuller writing path, anyway. Ever since Amazon started listing self-published books on their inventory, a frightening number of people have gotten their second-stage stories out there in plain view. They have passed the adolescent first stage of writing about their favourite bands, and are writing about specific periods of history or their favourite wars. They write lots of novels that are their own takes on famous battles, romances, kings, gods, monsters.
They also write whatever the latest best-selling fad is among genre stories: brave girls who save the world. Brave girls and boys who save the world. Brave girls and boys who save the world and discover sex. Witches are perennial favourites, and urban fantasy has been simply getting more popular as time goes on. Zombies and werewolves and ghouls, oh my! Plucky teenagers are a must-have for some of these themes. Then they end up being sold on Amazon’s Remainder Table, which markets them for a couple of dollars – or even for free, if they can be rendered as an e-book. They get included as a freebie along with the other Prime treats, now that a Prime membership is over $100 a year …
However: this may be a second-stage in the multi-stage rocket of writing real books, but that’s not saying all of it is second-class. Far from it! Being intermittently impoverished, I scan the freebie books on Amazon every week, looking for something marvelous that will entertain me on sleepless nights. And I always find stuff, too. The financial necessity of “beggars can’t be choosers” has enabled me to discover many an excellent read being inexplicably offered for free. And as a side effect, I have ventured into side branches of he science fiction and fantasy genres at which I had, in more monied days, turned up my nose.
Kage always said I should be more experimental in what I read. She herself was willing to at least take a stab at writing anything for which someone was willing to pay. Only once did she take on a commission that she absolutely could not stomach – and that was not because the subject matter bothered her. No, it was because the people who control the Estate of Johnston McCulley wanted a dreadfully bowdlerized version of Zorro for their anthology – and rather than castrate her childhood hero like a fat tomcat, Kage ultimately refused the commission. But the stories she wrote before that were great Zorro stories.
She was right about my snobbishness. I have never been fond of werewolves or zombies, and had refused to read about them for years. I’m still not all that crazy about werewolves – I detested Twilight, and most of the pack fantasies are too BDSM for me – but zombies have turned out to be absolutely fascinating. I especially like the work of Mira Grant – but then, Ms. Grant is insanely talented, and managed to make a series about tapeworms sympathetic. M.C. Carey’s novels about post-zombie apocalypse Britain are also wonderful, moody and dark and yet ultimately hopeful.
On which note, it’s time to go look over my own notes on a zombie story. Yes, I have succumbed to the lure of seeing what I have to say about the subject. It’s gotten that interesting, and I have had an epiphany: just because I didn’t like it when I was 20 years old doesn’t mean it’s bad. It just means I was 20 years old once. Can’t blame me for that.
In the meantime, what would happen on a story arc where zombies intersect an HOA? Now, that seems like real urban horror to me …