Thursday, March 26, 2009

Why I Write  

When I first came across Allen Ginsberg's Howl in an audiobook of modern poets reading their own work, I was struck by the raw power of his prose:

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by
madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at
dawn looking for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient
heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the
machinery of night,
who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high
sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of
cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities
contemplating jazz...

It goes on in this vein for a while, containing challenging material for the late 1950's which led to obscenity trials and quite a bit of controversy.

I was reminded of the poem when I went to the City Lights Bookshop recently, a liberal bookstore with its own rich history that was influential in nurturing the Beat generation of poets. Pictures of Ginsberg adorn its walls, including one in which he clutches what at the time was his only bowl.

And that started me thinking about what Ginsberg might say if we had a chance to meet and he could read some of my work. And that made me realize that I'm not trying to do what Ginsberg was trying to do at all.

Ginsberg's work was raw, powerful, lyrical. He experimented with form, filled it with deep emotion, and used it to catapult the secret frustration, struggles and shame of a repressed generation straight out into the light, exposing drinking and drugs and sexuality and homosexuality and protest and jazz to a world that wasn't quite ready to receive it for precisely the same reason that it desperately needed to hear it.

Sometimes that needs to be done, but I don't care about doing that at all.

I want my work to be honest, but I'm not interested in throwing things in people's faces to wake them up. I believe in illuminating worlds that are rarely seen, but only to create interest, not to expose secrets. I do feel deep emotion, but often drain it from my work because rage blinds me from seeing my opponent's point of view. I rarely experiment with form and often when I do, I regret it. Where Ginsberg was raw, powerful, and lyrical, I try to be smooth, balanced and direct.

But that's a post-hoc analysis, derived from what I like about Ginsberg and how it differs from what I write. It isn't the first thing that came to mind about my writing, which was: I write what I like.

I like to write stories that I like to read. I write science fiction because I enjoy hard science, space opera(*), Star Trek and Star Wars too. I write urban fantasy because I like Anita Blake and Mercy Thomson, and Interview with the Vampire and Buffy the Vampire Slayer too.

I constantly have stories running through my head, more than I could ever write down. I've written many, many short stories and novels, only a few of which have gotten published or seen the light of day, but that's slowly changing as I put more effort into publishing.

But at the end of the day that doesn't matter, because I can still read my stories. I'm not writing to make other people happy. I'm not writing to change the world. I'm writing to produce more of what I like to read.

That, and my head would explode if I stopped writing.

I hope some more of my writing will get published, that you all get to read it, and that some of you enjoy it. Until then, please enjoy this blog ... which I write for the same reason I write science fiction: I enjoy having blog posts to read and will continue to produce more of them that I like.

-the Centaur

(*) I fully understand that categorizing Larry Niven as "space opera" will be construed as a terrible insult by people who don't understand the difference between the kind of SF that he wrote and the kind Hal Clement wrote. Uncharitably, these are probably the same people who insist on the distinction between "sci fi" and "science fiction" or draw some mental distinction between "Trekkies" and "Trekkers", and they can all just go away. For everyone still reading, Larry Niven is one of my favorite authors, but if your stories include hyperdrives, you're writing space opera and not hard science fiction, even if your space opera is filled with real hard SF elements.

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