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Lizard Brain is a shared blog about Science Fiction and Fantasy from Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck.

Ambition, or Vicious Grace Hits Shelf

12.01.10
by Daniel Abraham

Well, this is it.

Yesterday, Vicious Grace hit shelves officially (though my experience working in bookstores is that it’s probably been ootching out for a week or two).  Go tell your friends and relatives. Shout it from the mountaintops and the street corners.  Mention it at work.  Like that.

For me, the work for that one is over, and now there’s nothing for me to do but hope people like it, put my head down, and keep doing the next project.

When I was an ambitious kid wanting to be a writer, I didn’t actually picture this moment.  In fact, I didn’t really picture any of the moments exactly.  Like any of my fellow authors, I bounced between thinking I was the best writer of my generation and knowing that I was a fraud and not even a very good one.  In my travels, I haven’t yet met a writer who didn’t suffer that useless, inaccurate oscillation of self-worth.  I think it’s our defining characteristic.

But when I started this gig, I didn’t know what I was getting into.  I didn’t get into it for the money.  (Funny story.  I knew this very high-power lawyer — Fred — for a while.  We didn’t get along well, and yet I think of him fondly.  He had a talent for the utterly cutting remark, and some part of him lodged in my head and comes out every now and then to say something mean.  Daniel’s-Fred-Homonculus on writing for money:  “Writing fiction is a stupid way to make money.  If you’re writing fiction to make money, you’re stupid.”)  I didn’t get into it for the fame (as evidenced by my apparently freakish willingness to strip off my name and put on a pseudonym at the first opportunity).  I didn’t do it to win awards (they’d be nice, but if I never won one again, that’s cool too).  God knows I didn’t do it to be accepted by the academic world or I sure as hell wouldn’t be writing the kinds of things I write.

So if i it’s not the money or the fame or the awards or the academic respectability — to riff briefly on The Lookout — what am I doing here?

When I started getting published and asking people who were better and more established and invested in this industry than myself what their ambitions were, I got a wide variety of answers, but none of them ever really seemed to describe my situation.  And what’s more, I often got the feeling that the people telling me weren’t actually sure of themselves either.  It’s easy when someone asks a question I don’t know the answer to — especially if its something about my internal psychological life — to make up some post-hoc rationalization on the fly and trot it out as if it were truth.  But I look around at the writers I know, and the rich ones are just as desperate and insecure as the poor, the ones who’ve never won an award are just as dedicated and driven as the ones with a shelf of Hugos and Nebulas and those hilariously ugly Lovecraft heads they give out for the World Fantasy.  There’s something else that we get out of this that makes long years of labor with little return, the constant casual judgment of others, and the cultivated insecurity of the job worth it.  There is an ambition that is just his side of driven by demons, but I don’t know what it’s driving us — by which I mean me — toward.

I know that Vicious Grace is out.  (And also “Hurt Me” — MLN Hanover’s first published short story, which has been mentioned kindly in some reviews of Songs of Love and Death.)  I know some folks like them.  The Dragon’s Path will be out in April.  Leviathan Wakes, in June.  And I hope y’all enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them.

But I also know that this moment — my book is in print! — is a necessary step, but it isn’t what I’m here for.  I’m not filled with joy and satisfaction so much as bracing for the blow of lousy reviews and poor sales numbers that may or may not come.  What I’m really looking forward to is the next chapter of the next book, the thing I haven’t written yet, the one that might yet achieve and fulfill my ambition.

Whatever it is.

10 Responses »

  1. YES.

    I’m not like Dorothy Parker, when she says, “I hate writing. I love having written.” I actually really like writing. When I’m done with a piece and see it in print I pretty much immediately stop thinking about it because I’m deeply embroiled in the next thing.

    I feel selfish. I have no higher artistic purpose or altruistic goal. I’m a writer because there’s nothing else I want to do. I’ve worked very hard to make a decent living at it to ensure that I don’t _have_ to do anything else. That lots of people read my books is really nice because it means I can keep writing them.

    But I’m always kind of astonished that people are reading my books. I may always be astonished by it.

    Before I got published, I wanted one thing: to get published, because that was the first step toward making a living as a writer. Now that I am making a living at it… The goal is to make the next book better. The other goal is to never ever have a real job again as long as I live.

    (BTW, _everyone_ loves “Hurt Me.” Good job!)

  2. Congratulations on the release!

    Most folk are stuck earning a living answering to their corporate overlords. Their mark on the world can be found in that fraction of a percent change on the stock ticker.

    Acclaim and success have their perks, but the chance to draw from your own life experiences, knowledge and feelings to actually create something unique and of value? That’s rare. You earn a living clearing out your head and tidying up what you find.

    This is my envy, it is understated.

    Keep it up =)

    • Well, and I don’t mean to come across as bitching about it. There are problems, sure, but I wouldn’t trade this out for any other job in the world.

      • You’re one of the most humble and agreeable authors I follow. Never considered your post as a bitching session, if anything, it’s a rarely discussed topic I enjoy reading about. Creating, selling, building or trading, work is work.

        I used to tell friends “There’s a reason God created the world in 6 days; if it took him any longer, he’d go nuts during revision.”

        I envy you your final product, not the process leading up to it. It’s no simple task doing what you do, but I’m not certain there’s many as potentially fulfilling.

  3. Love reading your blog. You always seem to have good stuff floating around. :) Oscillation of self-worth in relation to writing: describes me to a T. Good to know I have at least one of the qualifications to do a job like this! Now I just need to get to the “my book is in print!” part. And yes, we love reading your stuff. Getting my copy of Vicious Grace tonight and absolutely can’t wait for both The Dragon’s Path and Leviathan Wakes.

  4. In case you haven’t gotten a few emails about this opportunity for self promotion:

    http://whatever.scalzi.com/2010/12/03/your-holiday-book-suggestion-list-from-authors/

  5. So, just a little in to the book so far(I haven’t been to a bookstore in a while) and loving it. :)

    Just had a quick question about who I should contact for any errors I may find in the book.

    • You know, that’s actually a really good question. I’m not sure who does the error correction between editions. I know that I only find out about a new print run after the fact. So let me see if I can find a canonical answer for that.

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