?

Log in

[writing|cancer] We can write the gospels so they'll still talk about us when we've died - Lakeshore
An author of no particular popularity

Jay Lake
Date: 2013-05-14 05:19
Subject: [writing|cancer] We can write the gospels so they'll still talk about us when we've died
Security: Public
Tags:cancer, friends, health, history, personal, publishing, writing
Some years ago, I was in a discussion with the mighty, mighty Tim Pratt about why we write. At this point, I cannot recall if it was private conversation, email, a Con panel, bar chatter, a joint interview or what. What I do recall quite strongly was me making some fairly high flying statement about literary ambition and being read even after my time as a writer had passed. Tim claimed that he wrote to pay the rent.

To this day, I'm not certain how serious he was. I absolutely deserved to have my leg pulled at that point. I'm pretty sure I was overfilled with my own sense of self-importance in the moment. Pegs needed to be taken down, and whatnot. But even so, there's a valid discussion here.

For one, I don't write to pay the rent. I have a Day Jobbe for that. It pays reasonably well, is moderately entertaining, minimally stressful, and I like what I do while working with good people and for a good employer. Chances are pretty strong that if we ever talked about it, I'd bore you to tears, but I like my work. That's what counts.

But the writing? I write because I want to write. I write because I'm in love with the language. I write because the buzz I get from doing a really nifty thing on the page is tangible. I write because I like to be read. I write because I like having readers. And, yes, in I write for posterity. (Which statement could be argued to mean that I write to make an ass of myself, but that's the English language for you: riddled with half-baked puns and deceptive etymologies.) Money is mostly a way of keeping score, and far from the only method of doing so.

Literary posterity is a funny thing. The author of The Epic of Gilgamesh is anonymous. Most people with much of an education can name Homer as the poet who wrote the Odyssey. Some people know about the Illiad, or that he was supposedly blind. I don't think anybody but Classicists knows much else about him, even in terms of what tradition says. By the time you get to Sophocles and his lot, there's at least a little biography attached to the texts. William Shakespeare has entire fields of study around him, complete with academic controversy, revisionism and all the other fun of postmodernist thought.

Who writing today will be subject to that kind of literary posterity? Not me, certainly. But it's hard to tell. Edward Bulwer-Lytton was the great hope of nineteenth century English letters. Today, his work is literally a joke. His contemporary Charles Dickens was widely reviled by the academic and critical establishment of the day as a hack. Who is the more widely read now?

My guess is of twentieth century authors in popular American letters, we're most likely to see Stephen King and Nora Roberts on college reading lists a century from now. Not the only ones, of course, but I cannot pretend to know which critical darlings and academically significant authors will also be read.

What I can and do know is that I will not be among them.

I'm okay with that. My vanity is a little disappointed, of course, but my common sense knows better.

What I do hope for is to stay on the shelf a while after I pass. It comforts me that some people love Mainspring or Green or some of my short fiction. It please me that I'm in translation across at least a dozen languages. It pleases me that my work will always be at least footnoted in the history of various awards. It pleases me that people have read me, and for a while at least, will continue to read me.

In a way, that's always been why I write. To raise my voice a little higher, and have it heard a little longer. The end is coming, and I won't write all that much more in my life, but I'm happy with what I've been able to do. I only wish I could have done more.

Post A Comment | 6 Comments | Share | Link






daveraines
User: daveraines
Date: 2013-05-14 17:08 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I think you're overlooking one possible gift to posterity, and that's your writing about your struggle with cancer. It has characteristics of the best writing -- it takes me into a whole different world; it's got rising tension; it has style; and it's got a likable, complex protagonist (!). And, it moves me, it makes me a more compassionate person, which is a high compliment indeed. I think you were working on editing and structuring your blogs with publication in mind. I hope that work continues.

(That said, I wouldn't eulogize the rest of your writings so soon, either.)
Reply | Thread | Link



Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2013-05-14 17:32 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Thank you, sir. And I'm not poormouthing myself at all, just looking to the future and the flood of books, 99% of which are soon forgotten. I never wanted to be "the cancer guy", but here we are.
Reply | Parent | Thread | Link



daveraines
User: daveraines
Date: 2013-05-14 17:54 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
>> here we are

Yes, here we are, and it's awful. But you're serving humanity by inviting us into your situation. Which sounds too high and lofty, but just to say there's more than paying the rent.

Maybe instead of being the cancer guy, you can be the science-fiction father guy who writes about cancer sometimes. Kind of like CS Lewis in _A Grief Observ'd_ talking about the death of his wife and his subsequent grief. (Probably being St. Augustine in Confessions is an unreasonable expectation.) Literarily speaking, if you were just a cancer guy, the reading public would likely be less interested in reading about your cancer. Instead you're a well-rounded fascinating knowledgeable humane guy who has cancer, and has the talent to write about it. Kind of like why we read your posts about cheese. As far as I know, St. Augustine never wrote about cheese.

Reply | Parent | Thread | Link



daveraines
User: daveraines
Date: 2013-05-14 17:59 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I know, comparing cancer to cheese is not cool. I'm metaphor-challenged, that's my only excuse.
Reply | Parent | Thread | Link



Swan Tower: albino owl
User: swan_tower
Date: 2013-05-14 18:45 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:albino owl
Of course writers are supposed to love all their literary children equally . . . but I'm curious. Which of your books do you most hope is still remembered and admired a hundred years from now?
Reply | Thread | Link



barbarienne
User: barbarienne
Date: 2013-05-14 19:28 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
What I can and do know is that I will not be among them.

-->No you don't; stop talking nonsense.

Did Phillip K. Dick know that Hollywood was going to fall in love with his work (or at least in love enough to corrupt the shit out of it for modern audiences)? Did any of his friends know?

Look, the odds are small, of course, because there are a zillion people writing and the chances of key important people spotting and championing the work of any particular writer are tiny. But there's no way at all to tell who will sink into obscurity or who will suddenly rise to prominence.
Reply | Thread | Link



browse
my journal
links
January 2014
2012 appearances