I may have broken myself, over the last couple of years, in my misguided attempts to write commercially-acceptable, popular fiction. To wit:
I read Neil Gaiman’s new book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and I didn’t like it. (Update: To clarify, the problem is not specifically with Gaimain’s book; this is a straw/camel’s-back situation, and the final straw is not actually to blame.) The first forty or forty-five pages were pretty good, and then…
Well, then the antagonist was introduced. The plot. All that dumb, formulaic, repetitive conflict. A third or more of Gaiman’s stories share this same plot, and more share the same character arcs. Worse, they aren’t unique to Gaiman, they’re the same ones which are so common they’ve been extremely well documented over the decades. There was quite a bit of good writing; well-constructed sentences, engaging imagery, and poignant (if both obvious & contrived) metaphorical meaning in the author’s personal context.
I really wanted to like it. Even as I was frustrated & disappointed by it, I knew I ought to be enjoying it—instead, I was dragging myself through it, slogging through it, counting the pages until the heavily-telegraphed resolution.
In discussing it with my wife (who had loved the book), I described what I’d realized as I’d been reading it:
You know how some people become vegetarians because, after witnessing the process which takes an animal and turns it into food, they can’t stand to eat meat anymore? The idea that most people are better off not knowing how sausage is made. Well, I spent most of the last few years painfully (as I’ve thoroughly documented here, in the past) forcing myself to learn all the gory details of how popular and commercial fiction is created. The hero’s journey, the linear progression of conflict within and between books, the “right” way to construct a scene, point by point to manipulate the reader without them noticing, to generate and endlessly ramp up the tension and the stakes even from scenes and situations where it doesn’t make sense. I filled my head with it, against my instincts and with a great deal of struggle and pain, and now I seem to have put myself off reading. I can’t stomach it, any more.
Worse was that reading this book, by an author I respect and used to enjoy the work of… Reading it sickened me because I realized that this book was the result of an extremely talented and creative and inspiring author putting so much of himself down on every page, and it was improved by dozens of first readers and beta readers (far more than I can ever get to actually read my work & give me feedback), and it was clarified and polished in interface with his wife (another talented & inspiring creator I respect and admire), and it was further improved by not one but three professional editors of some great repute (any one of which, or any one colleague of which, stands well beyond my financial or reputational reach to work with on my own works) (not to mention, of course, the dozens of other highly-paid and talented professionals who further polished and packaged the story), and yet was still frustratingly formulaic tripe I could hardly stand to read … then what of my own work? I am no Neil Gaiman. I have no staff of professionals. I have no editors. I think I managed to get feedback from 3 readers on my last book, and one of them was my wife. If this tripe is the best an army of talented professionals can put together, how much lower is my work? What depravations am I thrusting upon my innocent readers, what absolute shit?
. . .
So, I quit.
At least until I an’t stand it any more, if not forever. This morning I updated modernevil.com to say submissions are closed, and I updated my Facebook page to say I’m on indefinite hiatus re: writing/publishing. (I’m considering going around the web and replacing the word “author” with “asshole” in every little bio about me.)
I’ve reached a point where I’ve put myself off reading, and I can’t trust my own writing, and there comes a point where you just have to give up, and I’m giving up.
This world doesn’t need any more of my shit.