I warned you this blog was going to be a trip to the dark side, so don't throw rocks at my window or tell me that I should "look on the bright side." Don't think for a moment that I am not keenly aware of my own complaining, as well as being keenly aware of my own role in the drama that is professional writing. And don't try to fix me, 'cuz I'm not really broken. I'm simply aware that the world has changed and moved on, and it may well be that most reading and most writing is rapidly becoming a thing of the past - rather like the buffalo, the telegraph and the mullet. I say this not out of bitterness or even sadness, but with a sense of nostalgia.
When I was a child, the only real entertainment we had was reading. Nothing like curling up with a good science fiction book on an otherwise dull afternoon after school. I blew through Ray Bradbury, Heinlein, Ellison, Bester, Asimov and plenty more. Read every novelization of the Star Trek episodes and whatever rare and occasional tidbit of fiction Bantam threw our way like scraps to starving cats. Because there was so very little of it, I started writing my own and eventually, at the age of 24, sold my first professional novel. It is generally agreed that KILLING TIME is the most controversial Star Trek novel ever published. Rather than reiterating the saga here, if you're interested you can take a gander at a previous blog entry entitled "Once Upon A Mad, Mad Time."
Point being - a lot of us became writers out of a sense of genuine love for the characters we wrote, and a true desire to tell a story that would affect readers in some way. My horrible little Star Trek stories written when I was in my early teens were, of course, dreadful. But my friends loved them, and would always show up in school the next morning, eager to see if I'd written more. That was reward enough!
But now... in the big bad "real world," I'm no longer sure that a few friends saying they like my work is enough. When I was young and wild, living in Miami and San Diego, cavorting with the unknown by night and working crummy jobs by day, it never really occurred to me that a day would come when I would need to "settle down." I probably never thought I'd live this long. Good friends (and more than a few envious cynics) used to tell me, "You can always fall back on your writing in your old age! For now, go out and sew your wild oats! Live like there's no tomorrow! Be all you can be!" (Okay, that last one was probably an army recruiter I passed during my grand exit from the mundane world.)
But through all those years, I was still writing. Sometimes feverishly. Other times sporadically. Some of it was fan fiction. Other was pro. And to one degree or another, I was always successful. In the professional field, I made enough sales to tell me I was "marketable," and I had the strong support of some good editors, agents and publishers. In fannish circles, I had a huge fan following under my pseudonym, Alexis Fegan Black. In fact, I couldn't write fast enough to satisfy the hunger of my fans - and for those days I am profoundly grateful! Thank you to everyone who ever stood in line at a sci-fi convention or ComiCon eagerly anticipating one of my novels. To employ a well-worn cliche, those were the days!
And yet, I have to wonder... where are those people now? I have posted several of my stories on a large fan fiction archive, and have received thousands of hits and hundreds of kudos... and with every story I post, I also include a guide to my professional works in the same genre (usually male/male romance in this case). And even though I would think there would be some cross-over... there're those damn crickets again. It really does perplex me that the same people who literally raved over my fan fiction don't appear to have any interest in anything other than fan fiction. Nothing wrong with that - I mean that sincerely - I'm just sayin' that it surprises me and causes me to re-think that common condolence of 'You can always fall back on your writing in your old age.' Can I? The crickets are singing a different tune, and that's more than a little bit scary for someone who had grown used to feeling successful in most of her endeavors.
So at some point, I have to wonder if it's just a case of obsolescence. Has reading been replaced with other, more modern pastimes? Not necessarily anything wrong with that either. It's been proven that certain video games can improve hand/eye coordination and increase reaction time. But it's also been proven that those same video games may be at least partially responsible for so-called "ADD" or "ADHD" (whatever they are calling it this week). Even if that's true (either or both), I don't think it's going to change the way we do things in today's world. Kids are still going to play video games, and walk around with their eyes glued to their cell phones, and listen to music that the previous generation would have dismissed as someone having recorded military explosions... and our generation is going to sound like our own grandparents, when they were telling us that television would rot our brains and rock 'n roll would turn us into devil-worshiping zombies. Reading is going to become all but obsolete, and probably a lot sooner than we think. Sure, small pockets of readers will continue for awhile, but will probably begin to be treated much like those strange kids of my era who insisted on listening to Lawrence Welk just because their parents and grandparents thought his "champagne music makers" had a nice sound. You know the ones I mean - pocket protectors and beanie hats with propellers on top, and a line of bullies chasing them home from school every day.
The world is changing - and the result for me personally is that I spent most of this morning rubbing the cat's belly and marveling at the fact that cats will never be obsolete. Plushie was a foundling who was living on our carport back in August of 2013 - just a wild little half-grown creature who had once been somebody's pet, but obviously got left behind when they moved on. For awhile, he convinced himself he could live on squirrels and sparrows by day and run from the coyotes at night, but finally one morning he let me walk up to him. He spoke in a very human voice with a slight touch of a piratical accent, and said, "It's gettin' tough out there on the high seas, m'lady, and sooner or later that Kracken is gonna take me down. So whatta you say you leave the door open and I'll just find me a nice comfort zone there on the couch?"
So we came to an agreement, me and the cat, and now he spends his days lounging around the house and serving as an object of meditation on days like this. He has no worries. Food comes. He does not need to pay any bills or run any business. Certainly he doesn't concern himself with writing fictions for the other cats to enjoy. He simply exists in harmony with life - eating and sleeping when he chooses, flat on his back with his eyes closed and just the tips of his little white fangs peeking out as he snores.
What this says to me is that humans have really screwed up their priorities. At times, I feel I am somehow "failing" as a writer because my sales haven't shown any drastic improvement in several years, despite the extreme effort I put into it. And yet... how can something "fail" if it is already on the fast track to becoming obsolete? It stands to reason that as more technology becomes available every day, less people are going to be avid readers - particularly readers of fiction. I suspect non-fiction will linger on life support a bit longer, but between illegal pirate sites and dwindling interest in general, I'd give it less than 5 years before the "new humans" have chips in their brains and simply upload their interests the way we download things to our ipads and ipods and PCs and tablets today. Nothing wrong with that either. The world is going to change, and so are those who live in it. Unavoidable.
I was conversing with another writer today who mentioned she had published a book not long ago and was intending to work on the sequel. But she was reconsidering because sales of the first book were disappointing, and the crickets were doing their thing again. I was amazed at how closely this paralleled my own recent experience. After publishing my first erotic male/male romance in several years (Prince of Umberlight), I was frankly appalled that sales were so slow. That's a kindness. Let me rephrase. Sales were dismal. And even though I am at least halfway through the writing of the second novel in the series, I am seriously reconsidering whether it is worth my time and energy to finish it. Wendy (my life partner) says she writes for herself, for fun, for the sake of doing it. She is much more of an optimist than I am, and seems to genuinely love the thing itself. Me? I like that old saying, loosely paraphrased... "I don't like writing, but I love having-written." But even so...
I think a lot of highly talented writers are questioning whether entering into a career as a writer is rather like going to school to become a telegraph repairman. If it really is a simple case of obsolescence, so be it. Things change. Technology evolves. Humans want what excites them even if it doesn't necessarily enrich them in the bigger picture. That, sadly, really is human nature.
Me? I'm going to go contemplate the cat's navel. At least that makes me smile. By tomorrow, maybe I'll be singing a different tune. Maybe the crickets will, too.
May 14, 2015