Saturday, September 20, 2008

Wandering the Internet in Search of the Elusive Quote Bird

After a longer-than-usual workday, which also involved more physical labor than usual, and a mountain of desk work that I brought home to complete before deadlines next week, I didn't anticipate writing a blog entry until Monday.

However, this quote attributed to science-fiction writer Jack McDevitt keeps cropping up in my life: "When it rains in a Burroughs novel, the reader gets wet."

Curious about the source of the quote, and then about McDevitt, I looked him up online. The last page I read was the most recent journal entry on his website. Below are the last few paragraphs of that entry:

SPOILER ALERT for Seeker: A number of readers have written to say they could see the end coming from a mile away. That's not necessarily a problem, at least as far as I'm concerned. But there's an interesting adjunct to the story. One of the more common questions at workshops is whether I have a complete outline for a book before I start. The answer is no. Usually, I have a set-up and a conclusion. With Alex Benedict, that means a mysterious event, and a reasonable solution that does not rely on super science or the intervention of aliens or some such thing.

With Seeker, two ships and a mission had gone missing during the third millennium. If you've read the book, you know how it ends. You might be interested to know that my original intention was not at all to end it the way I did. Chase & Alex were going to find, not a thriving civilization when they finally tracked down the mission's detination, but instead would encounter only an AI. "Hello," it would say, "how are you?" Everything else was gone, unable to sustan itself during its early years without support from home. In fact, I wrote the first draft that way, and was several pages into the conclusion when I realized it was the wrong climax. I sensed what everybody else did: That the narrative was building to a party. So, remembering Terry Carr's dictum that the reader should not go through 400 pages to be let down at the end, I went back and did it right.

It's the advice I always give at workshops: When your plans comflict with your instincts, follow your instincts.


To my knowledge, I've never read any of his work, or Carr's, but even strangers in the literary realm can come to the same conclusions. A piece of advice that I always give the writers whose work I edit: "Be true to the story." Seems like I'm not alone in that.

Very cool.


Phy said...

Oh, what great advice. I just wish more authors would subscribe to it.

I remember getting all the way through David Brin's 'Kiln People' and thinking that I'd loved everything except the actual end. What a let-down. It's like slogging through to the end of LotR and then have it turn into a tragedy, and Frodo turns into the new dark lord himself. It would be going against everything which had come before. (Dr. Horrible, I'm looking at you.)

The Texican said...

I love all this literary stuff. I think one day I will try and be literary, but for now, blogging. Pappy


Phy - Yeah, what he said!

I shared Dr. Horrible with a friend, who was laughing all the way until the end, when Dr. Horrible's blog ended horribly. Ah, Joss, what were ya thinkin'?

Tex - You ARE literary. Hope that doesn't ruin your day!