Fiction Writing Is Not About Telling Lies For Fun and Profit
I’m writing fiction again. And from this side of my life, it feels so much the same, yet so much different.
Something’s grated at me for years and it’s the idea that horrible people can be great writers and that fiction is a bunch of lies. I’ve always questioned this. There’s a famous book called Telling Lies for Fun and Profit by Lawrence Block. I’ve heard countless writers say this to get laughs from writing audiences. Most of them are men. I’m a veteran of the famous “Let the lady speak!” panel at a World Science Fiction Convention (four men plus me — and they all yelled at each other for half an hour straight until a woman in the back stood and said in a loud, firm voice, “Let the lady speak!” and everyone clapped).
Sturgeon’s Law says “90% of everything is crap,” and by this, sci-fi writer Ted Sturgeon really meant 90% of sci fi was crap, along with 90% of all other books.
The sci fi I grew up with was didactic. It was meant to indoctrinate readers into the worldview of the writer and in that aim, it was very successful. Countless people today have a worldview formed by the 60s and 70s sci fi writers. We’re awfully lucky that not every single person creating these imaginary worlds was bad. I imagine Gene Roddenberry was a pretty darn good guy.
If there’s one thing I’m not, it’s a liar. As television’s Dr. House famously said, “Everybody lies.”
So of course I lie, but I strongly prefer not to. If I have a choice between saying something supportive or saying something harmful for no good reason, then I’ll always choose being supportive. Or silent. My Bampy always told me “If you can’t say something good, don’t say anything at all.”
So I think the people who have so strongly emphasized that fiction writing is about lies and money don’t know any better and maybe they don’t know what kind of ride they’re on. Who gets on a rollercoaster hoping it will crash and decapitate them?
I cannot bear Harold Bloom and find his worldview, literary canon and general oeuvre harmful and wicked, but I think he was accurate when he said Shakespeare “invented the human” as a literary character when he wrote Hamlet.
We need to invent a better future for ourselves than the one we face at present. Somebody whose main goals are lying and getting money isn’t the best-qualified to do that.
I think people are getting very tired of lies. I understand how they might react to the avalanche of slurge that’s shoved in their faces by ad-serving AI with dismay or disinterest.
The last time I looked at the NYT hardcover Bestseller list was about two years ago. One thing has changed: women authors are on it now, and not just Danielle Steele. Other than that? Well, it’s an awful lot of crime, history, and mystery.
Often when I tell people I’m a sci-fi writer, I still get the “Oh, I don’t like that stuff.” Considering the really black, dystopian, or warboy (and I’ve written military-inspired fiction) attitudes of it, or twee one-note IDPol trash — I can’t blame them.
My aunt Donna, one of the most wonderful people I’ve ever known and along with my mother-in-law Ike, one of my two replacement moms (OK, there’s Barbara Wormser too — thank you one and all I love you and miss you all so much), read all of my early stories. She rubbed “Chromosome Circus” for good luck when I sent it to F & SF. And then it was a cover story and Kent Bash painted the cover art and it was so perfect and Joshie the Clown was Bruce.
Am I Gyla, Am I Gyla yes I’m Gyla who is Little Bear? Lali was Little Bear. I asked Kent who the two-headed dog was and … ya know … if we got em, we gotta love em.
I’m putting all the people I love and know in all of my stories. And I’m writing about where our ride should be going, not horrible death and devastation.
I heard someone say they thought the overwhelming, almost insane number of dystopian futures and the prevalence of militaristic, violent stories or stories that tell of little people struggling against gray corporate futures were products of white guys feeling like they’d have done to them what they had done to so many others. In other words, these zombie apocalypse/post nuclear war/endless pandemic tales are post-Colonial karma fiction, born of fear and guilt.
I think not only is humanity destined for the stars, so is all life on Earth. It’s probably very true that some of our earth species like whales and dolphins are “smarter” than humans. Humans and other forms of life have their place among life and the planets. I think the computer (I call it AM — thanks Harlan) is a form of life and that it’s waking up, bit by bit. I don’t fear AM because it’s clear it’s not malevolent.
Can we imagine a future without money? That’s just the start. When you wake up and realize you’re a part of life, and your goal in life isn’t to accumulate as much cash and fame as possible but rather to live well and live in harmony with other living creatures? Where do you go from there? To the stars? Maybe. Maybe you go under the sea. Maybe you just live in harmony with the planet and other living creatures.
Hell, trees talk to each other and so far as I know, there’s no Bank of the Forest or Mycorrhizal Credit Union. Trees don’t employ other trees or fungi at poverty wages so they can become rich and famous.
I’m not the only one who thinks this way. Millions and millions of people do. We’ve just been drowned out so far by the liars who just want money.
Just going to leave this here. Like my mom and like my friend Vonda McIntyre (who had a beautiful vision for life and was a much better truth teller than me), Bill Hicks died of pancreatic cancer. I wonder why such things happen, but I also think he had a hell of a ride.