So publication of Dusk Watchman looms large. The end of a series, the end of an era – or something like that anyway. A time to be reflective; to look back on the last few years of professional authordomshipness and wonder if I’ve actually learned anything in the intervening time. The fact is that I’ve at long last got a complete series to be judged upon, one I’m very proud of. But has the experience taught me anything?
First things first, it taught me some people really fucking hate elves. Seriously, I hadn’t known that back in 2006! Now as you might imagine I’ve read a few fantasy novels in my time, but I wasn’t devoted solely to the genre and wasn’t part of the SFF fan community. So I hadn’t read all the bad fantasy novels that clearly some people have, not nearly enough that I’d be put off the subject entirely and could only hate a book that mentions them.
There was a lesson in there however, one that wasn’t easily learned – the fact that some people are going to hate what you do, unequivocally and without reserve. They’re going to complain about the same things that others say they love about you, it’s a fact of life and certainly a fact of the internet – but it doesn’t mean they’re right.
Following on from that – another lesson might be ‘don’t make your first ever novel the start of a million-word epic’ – a bit late for me now, but a series gets understandably judged by many on the first book. If that’s not perfectly polished and the next book on the shelf is a debut by some guy called Scott Lynch, you’re working hard on the comparison front! I got lucky and lots of people enjoyed Stormcaller, but why make things harder for yourself?
The last one I’m going to mention is this: it taught me that I’m not China Mieville. This may come as a surprise to those who know how hard I work on my pecs, but I mean in a different way. Before I was published, I read books – I often had four on the go at any one time and at least one would be SFF of some sort. But I wasn’t an observer of the genre – I’m not a fitting-in sort of person and was barely aware there was a genre community, let alone how I joined. I’m not good at penetrating to the deeper levels of meaning in books – might be I can make the odd interesting observation and conclusion, but I don’t have a doctoral thesis I can trot out at a convention. I may have fairly high standards in what I want from crazed daemon mayhem, but mostly it involves words like ‘awesomeness’.
Now I certainly don’t object to those who are at the intellectual end of the spectrum, but I spent such a long time at the start of my career utterly paranoid that this was expected of me because… well, in some parts it seemed like it was. And I didn’t want my author membership card to be taken away. Some people – especially those who’ve been part of the fan community for thirty years – want that intellectual face on panels; they want us to weigh in with profound opinions and elevated intellect authors are meant to be noted for.
Once I got more comfortable with the whole author thing, life got much easier as I realised I didn’t have to live up to that. The next Con I go to, I’ll be suggesting a quiet corner of the pub and a handful of writers/fans who just want to talk about stuff. Not a paid-for coffee klatch, just whoever wants to get involved and talk about books etc over alcohol. You want the best of me? That’s where you’re likely to get it and I doubt I’m alone. If Gollancz decided to run that as a monthly/quarterly thing with a couple of writers and half-dozen genre fans/bloggers, I’d certainly sign up.
Notwithstanding all the above, the paranoia, angst, frustration, depression and childishness that most authors experience, there’s one final point to make – one you all probably know.
Being a professional author’s kinda fucking awesome.
It’s not perfect and it’s not a job conducive to mental health or social skills, but I have a long shelf of different editions and languages, fans all across the world and, ah… oh yeah, I get paid for making stuff up! I’m never going to live like my lawyer friends or anything, but it’s above minimum wage just for what’s going through my head anyway.
Some moments you just can’t buy. That electric first time you have an actual book with your name on in your hands, when someone’s spotted reading your book on the tube or someone you’ve never met tells you how much they liked it and asks questions that show they really get what you’re on about. And of course that first time you see a young lady’s eyes brighten when she finds out your not some shabby layabout who doesn’t get paid much, you’re a published novelist and suddenly a whole lot more interesting… Maybe not the time I saw someone taking a photo of my books on the shelf in Waterstones however, I’m still a bit concerned about that one, but you get the picture.
So what has the Twilight Reign taught me? In part, how much I can enjoy life and what’s really important. It’s not always writing, I’ll tell you that for free, but no one does this job to pay the bills for their real interests.
Oooh, wait – it also taught me that most problems can be solved by throwing daemons at the situation. Truestory.