Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Voice

So I’ve probably mentioned before that I am not a fast writer; that I am not prolific writer.  That’s not to say that I can’t write fast or that I can’t be prolific. If the mood takes me and I’m inspired the sky’s the limit – I can crank out thousands of words at a time and burn through a project in a couple days. And if the mood doesn’t take me and I’m not inspired… well, it might be a year or more between significant work. That’s just the way my personal muse works. He or she is moody, fickle little fucker, and when not in the mood to play forget it – there’s no forcing it. I suppose there are “techniques” I could practice to help me produce more words, but my experience has always been that when I force it all I get is a lot of crap, and it’s a long, tedious, and painful process to get that.

But, I can do the editing, assembling and copy work on the works of others pretty much any time, and therein I get an abundance of pleasure and reward. There’s nothing like soliciting the work of an author and waiting for that story or poem to come in (used to be in the mail – that was extra exciting because there’d be a big envelope or package that I knew contained something fun – e-mail and attached files just aren’t the same, sadly; they smack of drudgery and office work and not the fabulous creation of some talented wordsmith).

Sometimes a story is godawful, and I feel like I’ve wasted a part of my life that I’ll never get back. But I learn who tends to produce the stuff I don’t like, and they don’t usually get invited back to future book projects. Worse maybe are those pieces that are just okay; they are competently written and might be decent stories, but they don’t solicit any excitement out of me or bring me to any heights of ecstasy (or depths of despair for bad work). Sometimes reading bad work is better than reading just average stuff because at least I can be brought to loathing of a work – I may have wasted some time, but at least I felt something! And then, on those rare occasions, I find that sparkling gem. And that is really exciting.

I don’t know how to truly explain the excitement of reading something fantastic that an author has written specifically for me. It is like I’ve somehow had some tiny influence on a masterpiece; it might be a bigger thrill than writing something really good of my own. It doesn’t happen often. If I’m lucky I’ll get one or two fantastic pieces for a book, the rest being hopefully good stories and maybe a few acceptables just to fill it out. And the thrill of finding a masterpiece is compounded when the author is a new guy or gal. Discovering that new voice – that’s what every editor secretly hopes for – to be able to say “so-and-so had his first story published in one of my books!” To help to usher in a young new talent is an editor’s dream – or mine, at least.

Once I’ve found my jewel I have to decide where in the book it’s going to go. Assembling a collection of stories is like composing a piece of music; there is a flow and a rhythm to it. The works have to come together to create the right feel for the book. Of course, the kick in the head about all of this is that I would guess that most people don’t read a fiction collection in order, but jump around from story to story, probably starting with familiar names and moving on from there. It’s too bad – we editors do put a great deal of thought into the placement of stories in a book. But I’m a hypocrite – I jump around when I read, too. But I do take note of the arrangement of stories and try to see the editor’s bigger picture. Eh, what are you gonna do?

I’ve been exceptionally fortunate with the handful of anthologies I’ve had the pleasure of assembling. I’ve had the chance to work with and become friends with some pretty big names and a bunch of great new folks – I’m still in awe sometimes when I look through my list of contacts and phone numbers. And I’ve seen a few really brilliantly-talented people come through, some of whom went on to bigger things and others faded away. That’s another hazard of the industry – sometimes someone does only have one good story in them. Or frequently the more brilliant talents carry a lot of baggage and just can’t produce much for one reason or another. It’s too bad, really, but I fully understand, although make no claims to brilliance or exceptional talent… but I do understand baggage!

So I take solace – and inspiration – from the talented, talented authors who willingly create something special for me when I ask them. So if I can’t be Mr. Prolific with my own writing, at least I can enjoy the creations of other gifted scribes who answer my calls and take joy and pride in the books I put together and the occasional new voice I find and help bring to the world.

Until next time from the House of Secrets,

Sweetly the voices decay
Draw on the lines that they say
I’ve lost it once before
Now it cries to me