Jay Lake (jaylake) wrote,
Jay Lake

[process] The writer who came in from the cold

I chat online with jeffvandermeer reasonably often. He's a good friend, and a thoughtful human being. Plus we like to kvetch with one another. Sometimes, though, I feel like I'm participating in the world's slowest moving interview. I think that's because Jeff tends to ask insightful questions. As most of you who've met me in real life know, I've never met a silence I couldn't fill, or an idea I couldn't talk to death, so this questioning is like throwing a bale of catnip into the tiger pit at zoo.

He asked me yesterday how the New Model process had affected my writing goals. Short answer: I'm not sure it has. Slightly longer answer: The short answer is BS, but I don't have a long answer yet. However, this prompted me to muse on an observation I'd recently made to lasirenadolce, to the effect that I've been moving from the second world toward the first world in my writing.

A brief exegesis on my terminology:
  • Second world: Fiction which takes place completely outside the bounds of objective reality. Most high fantasy and future-based SF, for example. See my story "The Cleansing Fire of God".

  • First world: Fiction which takes place in or near the bounds of objective reality. Much of mainstream lit, non-paranormal romance, mystery, etc., along with contemporary fantasy and current-state or near-future SF. Includes secret history and some of alternate history. See the story by specficrider and me, "The Canadian Who Came Almost All the Way Home from the Stars".

  • Feel free to offer corrections or alternatives to these definitions in comments, btw.

I first started writing short stories with structured intent (as opposed to homework assignments or random noodling) around 1980 or 1981 when I was still in high school. I was all about the second world then. It was an escape for me, in the manner of angst-ridden teens throughout the history of angry teenagers. Around 1985 I read Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun, and I thought, "Wow, you can do this with words?" I was hooked. I continued to write, more or less in a vacuum, until I fell into my first crit group in 1990. I continued to write, with support, critique and encouragement, until the_child came along, at which point I took a two year hiatus, and moved from Texas to Oregon. I resumed writing in the fall of 2000, around the same time I found the Wordos, the very excellent critique group in Eugene, OR which played an enormous role in launching my professional career. I began publishing in 2001. The rest is a matter of public record, a fair portion of it on this blog.

In all that time, I was deeply immersed in the second world. I wrote some contemporary fantasy, but the stories always felt more real to me, more truly mine, when I controlled all aspects of setting, character and plot. This stems in part from my lifelong love for our genre, and part from simple fear of screwing things up. (Which is one reason Black Tulip will be such a big step for me — I've always steered away from historical fiction out of a desire to avoid embarrassment.) But mostly it was because those were the stories I wanted to write.

Over time I've written a fair amount of stuff in or close to the first world, our world. My recent work under the New Model process has been both — "America, Such as She Is" is alternate history but firmly grounded. "Witness to Fall" is contemporary fantasy, except set in the mid-nineteenth century. On the other hand, other recent New Model short fiction such as "Human Error", and "The Sky That Wraps the World Round, Past the Blue and Into the Black" are second world.

What I'm discovering is that I feel more power, more control, more magic writing in the first world. This is a transition in progress, and it startles me considerably. I have no idea what it means, and it scares me a bit, but it's also fascinating.
Tags: child, personal, process, writing

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