Think She Would Trade with Me?

Former mid-list New Weird/epic fantasy novelist Steph Swainston last month famously announced that she is quitting writing, canceling her current two-book contract, in order to train to become a college chemistry teacher.

Beyond the irony of her wanting the job I’ve already got (and me coveting hers!), her comments touch on several interesting points about the writerly life.  Yes, it is extremely solitudinous.  It can feel distancing from reality.

But that’s all within the writer’s control.  Have a family; have a life.  Have other pursuits and hobbies.  Go to conventions with your writer pals and drink into the wee hours of the morning (one of my favs!).  In addition to keeping you grounded, interactions with real people of course provide the insight into human nature that makes good fiction.

She’s absolutely right about many fans not realizing the pressure they put on authors.  It seems that in our modern TMZ paparazzi society, some fans have the misguided and selfish idea that superstars owe them something.  I’m reminded of “George Martin is not your bitch.” The self-centered obliviousness that a good many of Martin’s fans have displayed over the long delay for A Dance with Dragons is disgusting.

But I think Swainston is overreacting in things like saying that vocal fans can change an author’s next book.  Only if the writer lets them.  That too is all within the writer’s control.

I have no illusions that the life of a working novelist is tough.  Maybe “be careful what you wish for”?  It sounds like in this case it’s not the objective hardship but that such a life is not working out for Swainston.

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2 Responses to “Think She Would Trade with Me?”

  1. Maggie Della Rocca Says:

    Good for her. She can and likely will return to publishing (which is different than simply writing!) and I think she’ll be that much better for having returned “to the real world”. Charles Stross wrote an apologetic blog a few years back when one of his novels was criticized harshly. He was financially obligated to crank out more work than he could manage and still maintain a degree of quality.

    I didn’t get the impression that she was particularly lonely, more like she felt out of touch with the world outside of writing/publishing. She is reinventing herself after experiencing success in one field. Most people stay in a field once that happens, but often become jaded and bored over time, afraid to make a great change in their lives. At any rate, I’ve not read her books but now I am putting them on my list.

  2. scott Says:

    I’m all for anyone doing what is best for them–that’s the only absolute there is in the human condition.

    But I didn’t get the feel that she was reinventing herself. It read to me like those constraints of the novelist life had come as an unexpected surprise, when they were actually very common genre fiction things.

    It is possible to get a pro deal without those constraints. Mike DeLuca’s friend Jed Berry published a well-reviewed hardback on more indie terms.

    I’m impressed with Charlie Stross for admitting that his quality had suffered. But he’s successful enough that I would think he could decline new contracts if he wanted to keep enough time to do existing ones at the degree of quality he wanted. Or decline con GOH’s–he was GOH at two Boston cons I was at, eight months apart. It would be unconventional to do that, but it’s still possible.

    As for Swainston’s books, I read her debut years ago and thought it more smoke than fire. There was some neat epic F/slightly New Weird stuff, but her characters changed for no justified reason, and the climax felt too easy. I think the good reviews, lumping her in with the hot new movement, were not fully justified. And may have been part of the pressure she felt.

    But that’s still all within the author’s control. Don’t read your reviews. And/or spurn the whole critical acclaim (and the fans, and the publisher deadlines) and just write what you like. If you want out of your deal, that might get you there. :)