Sunday, September 15, 2013

Voices Lost

Within the space of a month, three authors who've been inspirations to uncounted readers and writers were taken from us. On August 20th, we lost the incomparable Elmore Leonard due to complications from a stroke he'd suffered a month earlier. On September 2nd, I mourned the passing of Frederik Pohl, who had been a staple of science fiction writing for more than seventy-five years. And on September 6th, mere days after posting to Facebook what she suspected would be her final update to friends and fans, science fiction author and writer advocate Ann C. Crispin finally lost her battle with cancer at the age of 63.

For very different reasons, each of these three writers had an impact on me at an early age, long before I ever entertained any notions of writing at all, much less for publication. I first was drawn to Mr. Leonard due to his stories set in my home state of Florida, but before writing mystery novels he also was known for his western tales. He's long been acknowledged as someone with a gift for crafting wonderful dialogue and razor sharp, authentic descriptions to set a scene. When I started writing, I read his famous "Ten Rules of Writing" essay, then went back and reread a few of his novels to see if he practiced what he preached. Practice it, he did. My favorite of his rules are the ones you may have heard before, even if you didn't know who may have said them:

Rule #10: "Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip."

And, his one rule that he uses to summarize the first ten: "If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it."

I'm not going to attempt to give my explanation of Mr. Leonard's "secrets for writing success." You're better off clicking on the link and reading them in the man's own words.

Frederik Pohl is someone I began reading almost by accident, after picking up a copy of his science fiction novel Man Plus when I was a teenager in the early late 1970s. I'd recently read Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles and was looking for more Mars-based fiction, only to find that Mr. Pohl's novel was an altogether different animal from Mr. Bradbury's work. It didn't hurt that the main character in Man Plus becomes a cyborg in order to travel to Mars, which was something akin to Steve Austin, aka The Six Million Dollar Man, which I was enjoying at the time. Along with Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, Richard Matheson, Joe Haldeman and Robert Heinlein, Frederik Pohl was part of my "golden age of science fiction reading," or the books I was enjoying at the age of 12 or 13. He's also the man behind the very wise Pohl's Law, which every writer, artist or other creator should always keep in mind: "Nothing is so good that somebody somewhere will not hate it."

Then there's Ann Crispin, to whom I was introduced thanks to a Star Trek novel she wrote in the early 1980s, Yesterday's Son. To this day, that novel remains popular with fans of such books, owing to her seemingly easy mastery of the characters and setting from what at the time was the only Star Trek television series. Her adaptation of the 1984 miniseries V still is one of my very favorite media tie-in works. I also read her original fiction, of course, but Ann ended up being one of my inspirations when I began writing tie-in novels of my own, because she never saw a need to distinguish between such novels and her own original fiction. To her, each was deserving of the best effort a writer could bring to bear. When asked about the difference between writing in someone else's "universe" and one of her own creation, her simple answer is one which also has served me rather well when confronted with such questions: "Personally, I believe a good story is a good story, no matter what universe it's written in."

Amen to that.

In addition to her fiction, Ann along with fellow author Victoria Strauss founded Writer Beware, a watchdog group with a mission to foster awareness regarding fraud, scams, and other illegitimate and illegal activities in and around the publishing industry. She and Victoria, along with everyone else working alongside them at Writer Beware, are among the best friends a new writer ever could have.

Elmore Leonard, Frederik Pohl and Ann Crispin: Thank you for decades of wonderful storytelling, and for not being afraid to mentor those smart enough to learn from your wisdom and hard-won experience.


Charles Gramlich said...

Yes, 3 hard losses. Noe of the three were absolute staples of my reading experience, but I had enjoyed all three, particularly Crispin's Star Trek work, which was very fine.

Julie Luek said...

Certainly three that left their mark on the world, and that, is really the goal and hope of most writers.

Dayton Ward said...

I find it interesting (and amusing) when I read some nugget of writing advice, and as often as not I see it as something you can trace back to one of Leonard's rules. The man was everywhere. :)

William Doonan said...

I read every Elmore Leonard book I could get my hands on, and never once did I come across a dud.

KeVin K. said...

Elmore Leonard's Florida novels are second only to John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee novels in my heart. First because I lived in the rural Florida MacDonald wrote about and second because I discovered Travis as a teenager and nothing replaces your first love. (As an adult and a writer, I avoid making line-by-line comparisons between the two.)

Whenever a writer sits down at the keyboard, Elmore Leonard's 10 rules should be mounted prominently in her direct line of sight. (Just to the left of Heinlein's Laws.)

Ann was a friend, mentor, and inspiration. I miss her deeply.

Liane Spicer said...

I 'met' Ann and Victoria through Writer Beware when I was on the agent hunt seven years ago. They were very helpful to me, a rank newcomer, giving me info and following up. I'll always be grateful for their time, expertise and generosity.