Thursday, September 7, 2023

A Time-Line for Slow-Starting Gonnabes



Alvaro Zinos-Amaro, who labored long and hard to create a book-length series of interviews with yours truly,  Being Michael Swanwick, shared with me a solicited blurb from John Clute recently

“Some authors refuse to talk about themselves or their work. Others do so, but run out of new things to say. Only a few have the fertility and the mental legs to go deep and long. J. G. Ballard and Samuel R. Delany and Robert Silverberg are three who’ve done so, at great length: but the books containing interviews with them, which take up hundreds of pages, end too soon. And so it is with Michael Swanwick. The 300 pages of Being Michael Swanwick are not enough. It is only the beginning of a fractal journey into the art and artifice and accident and fatedness inspiring his work that make almost every story Michael’s written over the near half century of a brilliant and prolific career so much worth talking about. The more we read, the more we want. The more we want from him, the more we gain.”

This is heady praise. But I don't quote it in an attempt to win your admiration. Ignore all that.

 By a coincidence, over on Facebook, in response to a comment that surely I was always a good writer, my old friend Jay Schauer, himself a very good writer and a much earlier-bloomer than me, posted in response to a comment that I was surely always a good writer:

As Michael's former next-door dormmate, I'd like to mention that he was NOT always a good writer. I read some of his early fiction, and it wasn't that good. But his determination to learn and improve was hugely present. I honestly thought he didn't have the chops, and told him so. He proved me wrong -- hugely wrong. Now I look to him for inspiration and guidance. I have no hope of ever being as good a writer as Michael, but I can learn from his outstanding stories, and more important from his complete devotion his craft. I'm sure I'm not the only one to feel gratitude for his work.
After which, Marianne Porter, the owner-editor-proprietor of Dragonstairs Press (and by sheer coincidence my wife) wrote:
I met him a few years later. By then he was writing concentrated, intense, dazzling ... fragments. But always writing.

Now let's put together a timeline:
 1966: One night, my junior year of high school, after finishing my homework, I read The Lord of the Rings. I determine to become a writer.
1972: The last year of college, Jay still believes my work is hopelessly bad. He is right.
1975: I get a job working as a clerk-typist for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Health, Bureau of Laboratories in Landis State Hospital, where I meet Marianne. I have progressed all the way to writing interesting fragments.
1979:  I finish my first science fiction story. It's not very good. Gardner Dozois and Jack Dann show me how to fix it.
1980: I publish my first two stories, "Ginungagap" and "The Feast of Saint Janis." They both place on the Nebula ballot. And lose.
1990: Stations of the Tide wins a Nebula, my first major award after a decade of losing I forget how many.
2023: John Clute's kind and generous praise of my work.
So I dedicated my life to writing at age 16 and might be judged a success at age 40. Some of us are just slow starters. But I am still going, still writing, at age 72. I spell all this out for the sake of any gonnabe writers who are feeling discouraged but won't quit anyway. (As a rule of thumb, if you can quit, you should; this is a rough way to earn a living.) There are writers who start young and are first-rate almost immediately. That's not all of us. Sometimes it takes a big chunk of your life to get anywhere. Sometimes that's just the price of admission.
End of sermon. Go thou and sin no more.


JJM said...

1972. In the course of three years of reading your early scribblings and of long and pleasant conversations about literature and writing, often over pizza at the Villa Roma (unjustly nicknamed "Vile Aroma"), I already had no doubt you would become a writer, even a celebrated one, if you really set your mind to it.

2023. I was right, wasn't I?

(And there you are, hobnobbing with some of the writers who were our heroes 'way back then ... Yowsah!)

Mark Pontin said...

Bill Evans, in an interview:

“Now there are early arrivers that have great facility. And (people) say ‘God, he’s only 15 and listen to that young guy play, man, he’s all over the horn and he seems to have it covered.” But …I knew a lot of people with those kinds of facilities, and they don’t know what to do with it often. They don’t have the ability to discard and add, and … as real contributors and so forth they don’t add up that much. So often the person that has to go through a more laborious, long, digging, analytical process finally arrives at something which is much more precious.”