Monday, July 14, 2014

30-Week Writing Survey: Week 15: A Writer I Admire



Today's question: Midway question! Tell us about a writer you admire, whether professional or not!

I'll just do the obvious here and answer by praising the author I considered my uncontested favorite for many, many years: Joan D. Vinge.

I'm not sure, to tell you the truth, whether I'd think she was my favorite author if I'd started reading her now, and it's been a while since I picked up one of her books, but I seem to recall that she's one of those authors whose books I revisit and am always surprised how good they really are.

She's a character-centric writer who also includes epic plots, but ends up focusing on how these epic situations affect INDIVIDUALS. And to tell you the truth, a lot of her writing is horrifying because of how realistic it is at times. I have seen her portray some of the ugliest things about human nature and gone away crying because I see shadows of those same attitudes in my own life.

I don't want to go into anything specific about her books here, but I will steal a few important excerpts from an author's introduction she wrote for the ten-year anniversary edition of one of her books. I want to use her own words to show you why she's a favorite of mine, what her attitudes and experiences regarding writing are, and how shockingly, scarily similar she is to me in that respect.

She wrote this about her character Cat back in 1995. I have known and loved Cat since . . . I think it was 1990 or 1991. If you read nothing else of this, read the last two paragraphs to see why I love this author.

Over the years, between other projects, I had tinkered with that manuscript again and again, but I was never satisfied with it. Finally, after The Snow Queen, I took it out again. This time, when I reread my "trunk novel" (i.e., that old first book every author supposedly has stuffed in a trunk or a closet somewhere), I realized two things: that I still wanted to tell Cat's story; and that the "exciting adventure" I'd started when I was in my teens was in fact a considerably darker story when I looked at it from an adult perspective. (A friend of mine once remarked that "adventures are just tragedies that didn't happen." In this story tragedies, large and small, do happen.) At that point I did a major rewrite, using what I'd learned about writing (and human nature) in the intervening years to make it the book it wanted to be.

I get a lot of the same pleasure from writing a book that I get from reading one, because I don't plan every detail about who will do what before I begin. It's the lure of that next startling or unexpected development that makes me want to go on with work that often feels like pulling my own teeth. By the time I'd rewritten Psion, I realized that I wanted--needed--to write more about Cat; that in fact I wanted to write a series of stories about him, at significant points throughout his life. . . .

. . . For years I wondered what it was about Cat that made the need to write about him so compelling. I often said to people that he seemed to be almost an archetypal character; his hold on my imagination was that strong. It was only about three years ago that I finally had an insight into why: In the middle of a radio interview I was asked about it, and I said, "Cat is the personification of my social conscience."

Much to my surprise, I realized that was the answer. Cat came into my head at a point in my life when I first began to grasp the unspeakable variety and immensity of the pain human beings can inflict on one another. His personal story was an empathic narrative about prejudice and injustice seen from the victim's point of view. Cat's survival was testimony to the resilience of the human spirit, and his innate goodness proved the importance of judging everyone by what they are inside, how they treat others, and not by race, sex, color, religion, or sexual preference. [ . . . ]

The creative process taps parts of the brain that we don't generally have conscious access to, or much control over. The dark depths of that Jungian magic pool of inspiration sometimes produce images and insights that are startling and even horrifying. As a result, in the real world we do things for more than one reason; and a character like Cat takes on that same duality--like us, he may or may not really understand why he's doing something, even though he thinks he does.

That may sound peculiar (or even pathological) to people who aren't writers; but the characters who live in the virtual reality of an author's mind become very real. The writer may be playing God, but the characters still have free will. They stand up and yell, "You can't make me do that!" in your brain, or take an instant unplanned dislike to another character, or step into a scene for a moment and wind up taking over the story. [ . . . ]

Cat is, to me, far more than the sum of his parts, and always will be. How long it will take me to finish telling the story of his life, I don't know. I only know that I wouldn't mind us growing old together.

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