Here Comes the Sun
by Victor M. Gonzalez
I've been in a better mood lately. Usually spring is a season of sick despair, a bloody loneliness that wrenches me every time I see a couple smiling, arm-in-arm, oblivious of my presence. Sunny spring days are a reminder of my failures.
But this spring, thanks to Sheila, the white clouds that grace a blue sky, the green lattices of sunlight and shadow, and the birdsong emerging from breeze-swayed tree-limbs throw me into a reflective, optimistic mood. I'm able to look at my past without cringing so much.
One thing I've been thinking about more positively is my writing. I write for several forms and genres, though I'm "successful" in only two -- fanwriting and newspaper journalism. Should I put more time into a long-form non-fiction true-crime project I have in mind? How about the contemporary novel I've been working out the plot for? Perhaps I should go someplace filled with social unrest and violence -- Zaire, say, or Juarez, where the maquilladoras' greed fosters a murder rate higher than any place in the United States; a town of more than a million just across the river from Richard Brandt's floater. Maybe I should just try to be better at the two things I'm already doing.
In thinking about this I've been drawn to consider how I started writing in the first place. Ted recently talked about "writing" even before he knew how to draw a letter. My goal in this essay is to spend a little time talking about how I came to be a writer. Unlike many people, I have a difficult time unraveling the emotional aspects of my life from my actions, so my history is rather event-based. But my other goal is to elicit descriptions from others -- from you -- in any terms they're comfortable with.
How is it I came to start doing the thing I do best (and yes, I realize how this statement must ironically reflect on the rest of my life)? There's another more difficult side of this question as well: What is "writing" made up of? For sure it is the distillation and presentation by a human brain of a set of information.
The interesting part comes when you start breaking down the meaning of that in terms of a particular form or genre: are the skills based in analytical abilities, memory, descriptive vocabularies? Are the skills significantly different that those needed to speak effectively? Is a writer an original thinker or just a communicator? I think the hardest part for daily journalists, the part that drags on them for years until they die of liver disease or seek other work, is watching other people do all of these things -- design churches, establish municipal policy, hit a home run, even kill a person -- while he or she merely writes about those events. The church would still be designed, the policy still established, the baseball would still be in the bleachers, the unfortunate would still be dead, if the journalist hadn't covered the story.
That kind of writing is a utility, not an art, most would say. Some would say it has little positive value at all. And they'd be right some of the time.
I recall writing a pirate story, pen on lined foolscap, and illustrating a cover to go on it, when I was nine or 10. I also wrote a science fiction story -- straightforward run-around-the-solar-system-and-shoot-'em-up -- that my mom typed up nicely for me. At some point I read the story in fifth or sixth grade, and was approached by a girl who told me I was a male chauvinist because there were no female characters. Who could disagree?
Before both of these stories, however, I remember writing a short-short-story as a grade-school assignment. We were to personify an object, and tell a story from its point of view. I don't
recall the plot, but it was about a pen in a desk drawer, and there was a story. I remember my dad reading it out loud at a Thanksgiving gathering with friends, and commenting that I had spelled "there'' three different ways. Talk about the pathetic fallacy! But it is the first success I recall.
Like most writers, reading has been a major part of my life since I learned how to do it. I have always wanted the skills that for so many hours have transported me into different worlds. In my teens I read a ton of science fiction, more than a novel a day. I still credit that with being the reason I dropped out of college the first time around: I only had time to read about a chapter before I had to go to bed. Is that the good life?
And so long as I kept reading, I kept wanting to write. When I was 14 or 15 I wrote a story that combined science-fiction tropes with my experiences as part of Seattle's Rocky Horror crowd, liberally laced with confusion about love and anger. There were women in this one. It wasn't a great story, but it was a place for me to explore, or at least release my feelings. I even workshopped the story in a writers group that included Tom Weber and Linda Blanchard.
I must admit at this point that I'm leaving a lot out. I've always written, a little here and a little there. After I wrote that story I started up with fandom, and began writing fan essays. Eventually I went back to college and had to write scores of meaningless essays. And a couple I liked.
And then I started writing fiction, for the first time with frequency and on deadline. I had to because my major required it, but it was also a blast, because I really started to find a voice, and I developed a confidence I never had before. I wrote maybe a dozen half-decent stories, some quite long. I spent hours developing characters, plots and settings. For the first time, I really felt like I had a handle on the process of writing fiction. I also realized that I wasn't going to be able to break into the big time right away, so, in an uncharacteristically forward-thinking move, I went to journalism school.
And now I'm working, and wondering where I'm going. I sometimes feel sick with regret that I don't have more time for long-form stuff. And I wonder where the motivation is when I do have some time. I've returned to fanwriting, and sometimes I wonder why I spend so much time doing it.
And I also wonder why you spend so much time doing it.
But that's not altogether fair. We all have reasons to write, for whatever they are and for whatever audience. Digging too deeply there is foolish, because such impulses aren't necessarily too deeply based. And there are clear similarities between the way I got into fandom and the way many others did: reading a lot of science fiction and then meeting the right people.
But I'm sincerely curious about how people think about their writing and how it evolved. I think we could have a conversation about it that would explain for many, including myself, some causes of the compulsion.
So, do tell. The spring weather might not stay rainless forever. Who knows how long it will be before Sheila discovers what I'm really like and splits for Mexico?
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Next article: Dr. Fandom Goes Out, by Ted White.