Sunday, March 16, 2014

Faith in Fiction

The first career I ever wanted was science fiction author. I started writing in grade school. By the end of fifth grade, I preferred science fiction to all other reading material. I aspired to write as prolifically as Isaac Asimov, as influentially as Robert Heinlein, and as gorgeously as Roger Zelazny.

I even started college with a double major in English and Physics, the better to support my ability to write science fiction.

Thirty years later, if I have a career at all, it is as an editor. I have skills in a handful of income-earning areas. In fact, I can write myself a short bio remarkably like those often seen in the back of science fiction books, where the authors have tried a wide variety of jobs, as if the person with the most work titles wins. Several of those skills I much enjoy practicing, and when I find a way to receive payment for them, I happily work at them -- part time. Of these, editing is the one I find it easiest to connect with clients for, and so it is the one I do the most.

I have even sold a good handful of science fiction stories. I also appear on panels at sf conventions, which I enjoy and do well. So, I am a science fiction author. I fall short of having a sf career, in that I don't earn enough to support myself, I spend relatively little time on it, and I haven't yet developed the name recognition that would give my next story a ready audience.

There are a number of reasons I don't write science fiction more prolifically. One is that some days, I lose my faith in fiction.

Stories need conflict. Lives are better off without it. My vision of life is one of continuous small improvements, time spent with people of good will, working out differences in a spirit of kindness and good faith, and a basically benevolent universe of ongoing progress. That would create incredibly dull stories. So, on many days, the very artificiality of conflict leaves me feeling that fiction is incongruent with my life.

I was reading Afterwords by Lawrence Block, and I was quite excited when he said he'd suffered a crisis of faith in fiction. All right! I thought. Here's a professional and gifted writer who had my same problem, solved it, and went on to create many more stories and hit every mark of fiction success! I can just do what he did! 

Imagine my disappointment when I discovered his crisis of faith was about a completely different aspect of fiction than mine. Apparently conflict never gave him a moment's worry -- it was the source of narration that bothered him. He solved it by writing some epistolary and journal-format stories, and left me to find my own way to a solution for the conflict conflict.

And yet, there is something about a great story that inspires and compels me. Fiction draws me in, elates me when it is well-done, and I love turning the pages to see how a smart character resolves a tough conflict.... Story can illuminate character, explore possibilities, and detail worldview better than fact. The deletion, selection, and concentration of fiction highlight many meanings that the myriad details of reality obscures.

It is a good thing my name is Paradox. I contain multitudes, and I sense a harmony I can't yet articulate within my smooth life and my love of fiction. Despite my occasional crises of faith, I have always come back to science fiction. I like reading about well-developed characters facing substantial conflicts, however little I want to live through such problems.

So my peaceful life may well continue to have a place for writing of disturbances.

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