The Future Will Not Be Categorized

I really don’t know what kind of writer I would like to be.  I honestly don’t think about it too often.

If you read reviews online (and, really, there’s no reason you should), I’m usually classified as a funny writer, a humor writer, wacky, zany, kooky.  It used to bother me, but I’m getting over that.  Still, the thing that comes up a lot is that I am not a terribly poetic writer.

I don’t know how to respond to that.  I’m certainly not the kind of writer to pour over ever sentence and milk it for maximum writerly effect.  I think I have my poetic moments.  I think I can write some truly crackerjack passages here and there, have terrific moments of subtle characterization, and the occasional clever turn of phrase.  But I also don’t mind a sentence that just gets the job done or a paragraph that bridges the action without impressing.

It feels weird admitting that.  I know writers are supposed to obsess over ever word, every detail.  And I do obsess over those moments in the story that really matter.  I care about the characters.  I care about the action.  I don’t even mind a little fantasy world-building as long as it doesn’t become an exercise in itself.  But I’m not like a lot of writers.  I don’t usually bother building a cosmology.  I don’t generally bother creating deeply detailed profiles of my characters’ childhoods.  And I am not devoted to impressing the reader with my ability to describe every leaf on every tree with literary beauty.

I feel guilty when I admit this.  There are so many people who are writers.  So many people who take this so much more seriously than I do.  So many who treat it as a calling.  And maybe they’re lying about it.  Maybe they’re just towing the line to help create the illusion that what we writers do is magical and inspired and a gift from the Mighty Robot King himself.  Something that elevates us beyond mere mortals.  And maybe they believe it themselves because, when you get right down to it, making up stories is a strange way to make a living.

I’m not saying it doesn’t take talent.  It does.  I tell a story better than most people, and I do take my job seriously.  I know that people are paying good money to have me tell them those stories, and I want those stories to be satisfying, fun, and, with a little luck, something they can take away with them that stays with them a long, long time.

And it’s not as if I’m in this entirely for the money.  If I was, I’m sure I’d be on my sixth sequel to Gil’s All Fright Diner by now, and doubtlessly have a much stronger publishing career than I do.  (Not that I’m complaining about my career, which has so far been more rewarding and fruitful than I had any right to expect.)  While I think there are some definite rewards from breaking The Series Rule of modern publishing, there have also been some wonderful rewards from breaking that rule.  So it’s not as if I’m taking a stand even to the detriment of my career.

So how do I define myself?  I guess I don’t.  Definitions only serve to box things in, and if you ask me, we’re already too boxed in as it is.  Maybe that’s the real trap.  Perhaps we don’t have to define ourselves.  Perhaps it’s a waste of time and energy to try to.  People will slap labels on us just fine without us helping them.  I’m only really comfortable with the Fantasy Novelist label at this point, and even that I approach in the broadest of strokes.

That’s what annoys me about the Comic Fantasy label.  It comes with too many expectations and eliminates too many others.  If I wasn’t a comic fantasy writer, I’d be allowed to have somber moments in my stories.  It might not be assumed that I can’t have deeper thoughts or that I’m a merely another competitor to the thrones of Adams, Pratchett, or Moore.  As if there is only room in this world for so many Comic Fantasy Writers.  As if we are all writing in the same mold rather than I our own distinctive styles.

So forget the labels.  We’d all be a lot better off without them, I think.  What do boxes like Republican and Democrat, Comedy and TragedyTrekkies and Brown Coats do but help keep us apart, put walls between us?  They’re tools, but only tools.  We should feel free to throw them aside when they get in the way.

So what kind of writer am I?  A good one.

What kind of writer do I want to be?  A better one.  Always.

And that’s just fine by me.

Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,


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  1. Michael B
    Posted July 30, 2010 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    I guess the Comic Fantasy tag must be an easy one to apply. While your books are fantasy and have comic elements in them, the elements themselves are taken seriously. (e.g. a witch without a name with a demonic duck sidekick – funny elements, but they’re not used for comic effect in the book, with the odd exception).

    Part of the problem, I suspect, is the way they’re marketed.
    “in the tradition of Robert Asprin and Terry Pratchett!”
    “Fans of Douglas Adams”
    “comic fantasy”
    …and all those are on the back of In the Company of Ogres.

    Maybe you need a new tag? It has elements of the fantastic – so does that make you a Fantastic Writer? Probably. *grin*

    And all this reminds me – I still need to buy Monster. (Sorry, sir – no room on the bookshelves for Hardcovers)

  2. Posted July 30, 2010 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    Very good post, I say.

    You mention details and cosmology and all that jazz. For me, I think that stuff is important only in the way it helps or hinders. Does it keep the reader turning pages or not?

    I don’t really try to craft bejeweled, poetic prose. (Although some authors do, and they do it very well…) I just want the right words to write my story. Enough detail, enough description to entertain…no more, no less.

    I do work hard at it, though. I don’t see myself as some tortured artist or a view writing in pompous terms. (I can’t stand it when people say they MUST write, or that they could easier stop breathing than writing…Puh-leaze!!) But I do see it as a serious, rewarding vocation. A skill to hone, a worthwhile art.

    Every writer has to grapple with the issues you wrote about. Thanks for sharing how you deal with them.

  3. Posted July 30, 2010 at 9:11 pm | Permalink

    Is your writing poetic? I can’t speak to that, but I can tell you that I just finished reading Divine Misfortune aloud to my wife. I read to her every night. Some books are very difficult to read out loud, but your words were smooth on the tongue.

  4. Rippley
    Posted July 30, 2010 at 11:12 pm | Permalink

    A. Lee Martinez,

    We share much of the same story, as far as how you got your start in writing. In an interview, you said one of your high school teachers asked you to write a short-story. You wrote the story and got an award for it, so you asked your mother to support you while you attempted to become a published author.

    In my freshman year of high school, my English teacher read one of my short stories,–one I’d written for fun–and submitted it. The story won and award, and I was hooked. I wrote tons of stories, and wrote for the school newspaper, from which I received further awards. I thought I had found my niche. People liked what I wrote.

    So, for several years out of high school I worked in a factory, earning money for college. My mom–my entire family–wasn’t supportive. I wish I had your mother. This is where we lose similarity: Anyway, I paid my way through college, and eventually ended up with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Philosophy with a minor in creative writing. After my Bachelors, I felt as if my creativity had been wiped out of me. So, I furthered my education with a Master degree in literary theory, believing that studying the greats would help me understand how to write great.

    Instead of continuing my education, (Lit theorist, usually have a Ph.D) I decide to get back to my roots, writing stories for fun. It wasn’t fun. As soon as I would get a couple pages into a story, another idea would pop into my head. The idea would nag me, until I stopped writing the original story, so I could get the synopsis on paper. Then I would go back to my original story, and BAM another story idea would pop into my head. The more I held off on the new story ideas, the more my original story started to pick up elements of the others. I tried to keep focus. I tried to write badly without stopping. I tried.

    After all those hard years I used to learn about writing, I realized I can’t write. I’m not sure if the many years at university hindered my creativity? Or if my high school years were a fluke–I won national awards, then, or what the hell happened? I just know I can’t write anymore. I’m spent. And now I’m thinking what in the hell am I going to do with my life? Retail? Perhaps, Matt Damon had I great idea “become a shepherd. tend to my flock.”

    You said it took you fifteen years to get published. What was your motivation? Are you an eternal optimist, or what?

  5. Posted August 4, 2010 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

    I loved this entry and I really appreciate you sharing. While I’ve published a couple of articles, I’ve never published a novel (which is my true aspiration). I had fallen away from writing for awhile, but am now getting back on track.

    I think one of the things you’re getting at here is the myth of the writer versus the reality. You’re fortunate that words come relatively easily for you. Maybe it’s not poetic writing, but it gets the point across well and people read your work.

    The myth of the guy who agonizes over every word is a myth that grows its own legs and feeds itself. If you think it’s hard, it will be hard.

    Great post.

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