Spent a bunch of time at the party last night talking to karindira's brother S. and their friend M. They were quite interested in probing my long view of my writing career. I told them the story of Gavin Grant asking me "does the world need 100 Jay Lake books?" S. kept pressing me about what it is I actually wanted to accomplish.
I surprised myself with my answer.
Right now I've written all the books I'm contracted for -- rewrites impending, of course, but in first draft at a minimum. That'll keep me in publications until the end of 2008. Beyond that I want to write Black Tulip as spec book. That's the historical thriller/mystery set during Tulipmania in the 17th century Netherlands. Then maybe another book or two, possibly a sequel of Death of a Starship. But what I'm aiming for is getting traction on Original Destiny, Manifest Sin.
I don't have a career arc in view, some multi-decade plan. How could I? I barely understand what I'm doing now. Rather, it's like hiking. There's a ridge ahead, I'll climb it, and when I get to the top, I'll see the next ridge, and have a new goal. The ridge I see right now is Original Destiny, Manifest Sin.
What's so special about that book? Nothing, maybe. But it's the biggest Big Idea I've had so far in my career. (And for me, ideas are the easiest part, so that's saying something.) The few people who have seen bits and pieces of the project have been enthusiastic. I've invested a lot of time and effort in site visits for location research, and a lot of thought. And if it works, it will rock harder than a pyroclastic flow.
Original Destiny, Manifest Sin aside, while I can't see far into the future to what I want, I know some of what I don't want. I don't want to do is wind up writing the same book over and over, The Chords that Blind: Volume Seventeen of the Corset of Fate!!!. Or whatever. If I am ever so lucky to find my way into a series which is sufficiently beloved by both readers and my publishers to carry forward, I want it to look like Terry Pratchett's Discworld. Each book stands alone, with varying depths of continuity between them in metaplot threads. No trilogies, or nonalogies for me, not from where I stand today. Ask me in ten years.
I also fear irrelevance, becoming a writer no one cares about. Especially me. If I lose my readers for market reasons, I'll find them again. I fear this, but I don't worry about it, if that makes any sense.
More to the point, I fear time's relentless snare drum. We all live under a death mark, it's called life -- an invariably fatal condition. So what? Do the best I can, write my 100 books in search of my one great book if I'm lucky. More than one great book if I'm profoundly lucky.
Will Original Destiny, Manifest Sin be a great book? I can't tell. Probably not. The odds are against me. But I've beat some very long odds already to get the to opportunities I have spread before me today. It would be rank hubris to think I could write a world-beating book someday. But without rank hubris I'd never sit down at my keyboard in the first place.
If I don't believe in me, how will you?