Why would a writer abandon a project? The answers are multitudinous. Most have to do with the realities of the life of the writer, which can vary immensely from the “life of the mind” so many would-be writers are sold as a goal.
In fact, one of the stories usually untold is the number of “trunk” manuscripts, false starts, and failures it takes to get a writing career off the ground. It isn’t necessarily that the stories or ideas in these mostly hidden efforts are rotten, either. Often they were the wrong idea at the wrong time, or the right idea not visited properly. Writers mature, and jumping into an idea too soon can lead to problems. Also often unseen is the press of real life –which often occurs despite or in direct conflict with the need to write and be published.
So, In the mid and late 1970s I was writing constantly, and making a living at it — but not through my fiction. The fiction was coming along, but after I left the supposed dream job as Curator of Science Fiction at UMBC I was spending far more time writing and editing community newspapers than doing the fiction.
While I’d made a number of fiction sales by then (my first short story for Amazing — Charioteer — was a lunchtime writing project while I was still Curator) the mundane non-fiction and the sometime poetry was what was paying the bills. I freelanced. I mean, really freelanced.
I wrote book reviews, record reviews, typewriter reviews, a poetry column, a chess column, live music reviews, theatre reviews — of dinner theatres and touring shows (hey, I knew a free meal when I saw one!) — and then I did the grunt work for a number of weeklies: the cop log, garden club extravaganzas, meetings, award dinners (see a theme?) and the like. For such copy I was usually paid by the published inch with an extra bit for the photos — and eventually my willingness to do all of it led to more substantial jobs with several papers and columns in some short-lived magazines. I often wrote until two or three in the morning, turning in music or theatre reviews within two or three hours of leaving the performance.
Along the way my poetry column, and my book of poems Timerags (the latest edition is available over at pinbeambooks.com) also led to work as … well, a fill in replacement substitute poet teacher specializing in English classes.
But life is more complicated than mere “career” and starting with my attendance at Clarion West in 1973 the die was cast — I knew I was aiming to be a science fiction writer and I did almost everything in life with that goal in mind. I took the job at UMBC. I joined the local SF club and became hyperactive in it. I traveled to conventions, I wrote fiction I — well, I got tangled up as much and even more with the urgency of writing and being of the community of science fiction as I did with the other threads of my life — like the lady I’d known since high school, moved in with almost immediately after Clarion West, and then married.
The complexities there are not for the faint of heart nor for noncombatants. I got involved with a worldcon bid, which involved me in frequent long distance travel and long periods away from home. Not a good plan for young marrieds, it turned out, and we began, with some very rocky moments, to see the marriage go into decline. What did happen that can be shared is that it was clear that having a few stories in Amazing was not a career in and of itself, and that I needed to “get my novel going.”
The process of novel writing was new to me; and I made some short false starts — trying out characters, as it were, since I was so character oriented. But I was also trying out ideas, and already knew that I didn’t want to write *just one book* …
So amidst a great deal of change, challenge, and constant rushing about for my nonfiction, I started a book, called it Quicksliver after a character I’d been vaguely thinking about, and began fumbling my way toward using recent technology. The possibilities of optical storage and holograms were, relatively speaking, new technologies. So I decided to use a large diamond as the leftover record of a departed (rather than destroyed or dead) population and needed to get it into play.
Working within the solar system, with a few alien beings, some genetic tinkering, high density information storage, and ESPer stuff (ESPers, do you remember when they were hot? Really dates the story idea!) I came up with some characters and started running, not aware of exactly how much concentration I need to bring to a novel.
In the end, the story sat while the Baltimore worldcon bid went haywire, my marriage dissolved, I became editor of several weekly newspapers and then editor of a quarterly science fiction tabloid. Eventually, after moving in with Sharon and going together with her in starting an SF bookstore and art gallery, I got enough of a reprieve to go over various short pieces, and to reread what I had of Quicksliver. I felt there was something there … and so I put it away to finish later. Then, in pursuit of food (as times were tight) I got a job working sixty to seventy-five hours a week (for several years, as it turned out), and Quicksliver ended up “in the trunk” of the bottom drawer in my file cabinet. For about 35 years.
It might be interesting to see where Quicksliver can go, but right now we’re under a five book contract, and there are lots of other starts and pieces ahead of it, with quite a few stories being asked for by readers. I prefer to think of Quicksliver as an unfinished project rather than an abandoned one.
What do you think? Would another 60,000 words finish it?
UPDATE: THANKS TO YOUR INTEREST, THE QUICKSLIVER PROJECT IS MOVING FORWARD