Let’s be honest: Finding something out the hard way sucks. It’s even more so when the thing you’re discovering is a truth about yourself. You can tack on another degree of difficulty when the misconception is one you’ve clung to for most of your life. And that, friends, is where I am this week.
A few days ago, I completed an online writing course. I like to think I know my craft pretty well (and no, Peanut Gallery, that’s NOT the misconception I’m talking about!), and I like to think I don’t need any further training; but this wasn’t just any class. It was a Masterclass course with James Patterson. Yes, THAT James Patterson—bestselling author of Along Came A Spider (Alex Cross Series), The Angel Experiment (Maximum Ride Series), 1st To Die (Women’s Murder Club Series), and a whole lotta others. It’s pre-recorded, of course, but that doesn’t mean the class was fire-and-forget on his part, because it came with a nice incentive: entry into a contest in which Mr. Patterson will select a new author with whom to co-author a novel.
My good friend Cyndera, who also participated in the class and the contest, has posted this article about the lesson she learned from the contest, which, to sum up, is this: she doesn’t write suspense. Suspense, of course, is James Patterson’s bread-and-butter, and the contest entries were to be within that genre. It isn’t her thing, though, and that’s fine. I’ve read her work, and it is definitely more sci-fi and young adult. Within that area, she’s amazing (and talented in a few others, as well). Suspense, though, doesn’t come easy for her.
I appreciate the honesty that it took to make that statement. Listen, no one wants to admit that they can’t do something, or put another way, that a certain field is just not for them. It’s hard to do that, but when we can, we’re better for it.
While I didn’t set out to make this a companion piece to that article, I suspect it’s going to sound that way, because I had a similar moment of acceptance during the class. For me, the genres in question aren’t suspense, though; they’re science-fiction and fantasy. Speculative fiction, some call them together. I have, at long last, accepted the idea that I just can’t write in those genres.
It’s not that I lack the tools. I have years and years of reading in those areas under my belt, and you can’t help but pick up a sense of the mechanics. I understand how elements of fantasy—history, epics, magic systems, and so on—work. I get how to take scientific principles and the basics of technology and work those things into a story. I know how to project into the future and get an idea of what might be possible. No, what I lack is inspiration. I lack the spark of creativity that is necessary to be truly speculative in my fiction—to come up with something that is, if not new, then new enough. When I write in those genres, I’m just rehashing old ideas.
It wasn’t easy admitting this. Sci-fi and fantasy are my babies. I love them like life itself, if I may be a little dramatic. When I’m reading or watching, I get into those worlds like nothing else. I’m passionately and unashamedly a nerd and a geek, and it shows (though I hope I’m not the stereotypically overbearing type of nerd). And my earliest works of fiction were science fiction (well, fanfiction, but you get the idea). Admitting that I’m not good at it stung more than a little.
I should have seen it coming, though. You can see it here on this blog, if you look in the Fanfiction section. Megaman Legends: The Traitor is ostensibly a story about cyborgs and androids working to destroy the inhumane system that created them, even while they have to defend it from corrupting influences. In reality, it’s a story about a broken marriage between two very broken people, who have to figure out what they mean to each other even while they re-establish what it means to be human. Parasite Eve: The Other is supposed to continue the story from that novel and game series, in which a human’s mitochondria develop sentience and alternately take over or hybridize with their hosts, creating new powers and lifeforms. My version is about the ability of loyalty and familial love to overcome evil, both internal and external. Secretly, my science fiction is actually drama! (My attempts at pure, short science fiction, such as The Sky Is Burning…well, those are just terrible.)
As it turns out, I’m better with other things. Humor, for one. I like to think that some of my humorous short stories (New Tricks, Storytime Is Hell, Of Cookies and Comprehension, A Fish Story) are pretty good. I can do a little romance, though little of that makes it onto this site. A little drama, as I’ve already said.
And—surprise, surprise—suspense. Surprising no one more than myself, I found that I like to write suspense, and I’m fair at it. (I won’t say “good”; we’ll wait for the contest results to decide that!). I like keeping the reader guessing. I like taking average people and putting them in dangerous situations, then seeing what shakes out. I like writing about criminals and psychopaths and dangerous people with dangerous intentions (not surprising there, given my background in corrections and mental health care). I like having a search history that would give a homicide detective pause, because let’s face it, this stuff is fascinating, if darkly so. I WANT to write thrillers that keep you turning pages. I do have things to learn, and I need the practice. But this is something I want to do.
So, we’ll see what happens. My contest submission is a rework of an idea that I started here on this site a long time ago (and subsequently removed; you’ll find the page with an explanatory note, but the text has been removed), called King of Hearts. I won’t say much about it now (not sure how any outside work will affect the rules of the contest), but I will keep you posted about any news. Win or lose, it’s a story I intend to write.
And finally, to everyone who participated in the class and the contest: Good luck! Everyone has come a long way. I’m looking forward to see where we all go from here.