Sunday, October 16, 2011

Write Proudly!

“Hey, Dayton, when are you going to give up that Star Trek nonsense and do some real writing? Why do you even bother with that stuff?”

I field some variation of this question on an irregular though not infrequent basis. Most of the time, it’s from someone who’s read my original fiction, and wants to know why I’m not devoting more time to that instead of Star Trek or media tie-ins in general.

My all-time favorite example of being confronted with this topic is from several years ago. Along with my frequent writing partner, Kevin Dilmore, I attended a writing conference hosted by a decent-sized writer’s association (of which I was a member) here in my home state. The conference’s aim was to give writers of varying experience a chance to interact with editors, agents, and other publishing professionals. Most of the people who had paid to attend the conference were new to the writing game, many of them still hunting for that first sale to a professional market. We accepted invitations from a friend on the planning committee, who wanted us to chair a discussion about the business and craft of writing for licensed properties. The opening night’s introductory session featured all of the conference’s “faculty members” for the weekend, seated at a long table atop a raised dais. Seated at a table on the floor, next to the dais? Kevin and me. Yep, we were at the kids’ table, unambiguously segregated from the “real writers.”

Though we exchanged knowing glances with each other, Kevin and I, being professionals, put on our game faces and took our seats, and waited for our turn to speak. We didn’t have to wait long, as the person chairing the discussion turned to us and offered what I’m sure was the opening zinger she’d been refining and rehearsing for weeks: “I was hoping you’d be wearing your [Star Trek] costumes.” Her comment garnered some few chuckles, after which she asked, “So, tell us, why do you write those Star Trek stories, anyway?”

Kevin will tell you that it took me somewhere between two and three tenths of a second to formulate and deliver my answer: “Because they pay us.”

The response earned me a nice round of applause from the audience, a look of contempt from the conference chair, and various offers to buy me and Kevin drinks for the remainder of the weekend. For the next two days, conference attendees and even other members of the "faculty" approached us--coming out of the closet, to borrow an expression--and asked about how they, too, could get in on that tie-in action. Only a few seemed put off when I told them that, contrary to popular myth and legend, one does not first have to be bitten by another media tie-in writer in order to become one. We even sat and talked with the conference’s keynote speaker, the wonderful, incomparable, totally awesome and equally sweet Leslie Banks. After blowing the doors and windows out of the joint with her riveting address to the conference, she wanted to pick our brains about writing tie-ins, as she had recently signed a contract to write such a book.

So, why do I write tie-ins? As I elaborated after offering that conference chair my initial (and admittedly flippant) answer, and aside from the fact that it can pay rather well, I do it for the same reason I like to write science fiction, horror and the odd mystery now and then, and why other writers craft romances, or westerns, or vampire stories: because it’s fun. Writing for hire has also presented me with other opportunities I otherwise might not have enjoyed, such as writing for magazines and certain high-profile websites. In the case of writing Star Trek fiction, it helps that I’ve been a fan of the original series since my diaper days. What’s that old adage about writing what you love? Well, that applies here, too. Getting to write all-new adventures for characters I’ve loved all my life? And they pay me? Are you kidding?

Yes, there’s a stigma attached to media tie-in writing. Many people believe such books are cranked out by hacks looking for a quick, easy paycheck. At one time, that might well have been true to a large extent, and I can’t say for certain that there aren’t still writers who take on such projects for similar reasons. On the other hand, the people I know who do this with any regularity invest the same sort of time and effort into their tie-in projects as they do their own original works. As for me, I don’t even know how not to do that. When I was a kid, my father taught me that I should carry out every task in such a way that I’d never hesitate to sign my name to the final product or result. Since that’s something I literally do every time a fan hands me their copy of one of my books, I want to be able to look that person in the eye and tell them I had fun writing the novel they bought with their hard-earned money, and that I’m proud of the work I did.

Don’t ever feel ashamed for writing what you love. Don’t ever apologize for it, either. Write proudly!


KeVin K. said...

My brother, a university English instructor, has *finally* stopped asking me when I'm going to "get serious about writing." Not that he has accepted that media tie-in is serious writing; he's just given up hope. I would still be writing Trek if I had my druthers, in addition to game fiction (wherein I create both stories the deliberately wiggle-roomed source materials that fuel gamer/game master debates). As I've said many times, the difference between writing in your own universe and being part of something larger is akin to the difference between being a soloist and being first chair with an orchestra; same talent, same craft, same dedication, different application of skills.
Now adays my long-ago Trek writing earns me more respect than it did, and I get no flack for writing fantasy, science fiction, or mystery (all non-serious genre). However, in certain circles my interest in writing romances raises some eyebrows. (Which means, me being me, that I tend to emphasize that.)

Charles Gramlich said...

I really hate this kind of holier than thou attitude that some writers have. I think they've forgotten what it is like to love certain stories, even if those stories aren't your own. The "work" of writing is very much the same no matter what genre you're in, or whether you are writing this kind of story or that kind. If you're writing and selling regularly, you deserve some respect.

Liane Spicer said...

What a disgusting bunch - inviting you to participate in their conference and then trying to humiliate you. I'd have clapped and bought you a drink too. Or several.

I write in different genres but I've published only romance thus far, and I tend to feel apologetic about it because of that same attitude. It's one of the reasons I hardly ever mention anything about the writing side of my life to people I know.

I've had one reviewer say she wasn't a romance reader until she read my novel; my agent and her entire staff were fans long before the book sold; readers have contacted me from all over to say how much they liked my work. That's all the endorsement I need.

Dayton Ward said...

Liane, I don't think everybody at the conference was out to get us, though I have no doubt that the person chairing that discussion and a few of her cronies had been looking down their noses at us from the moment they saw our write-ups in the program. We were invited by a friend, and I know she wasn't setting us up. In fact, she came to us after the panel and expressed her utter embarrassment at what had happened. Kevin and I laughed it off (since we'd "won" by that point), and the weekend proceeded without further incident. The high point for us was hanging in the hotel bar with Leslie Banks. What an amazing woman she was.

Lynn Emery said...

Amen! I'm proud of every book I've written. I love your flippant answer, too! Can I borrow it? :-)
I had to privilege of meeting Leslie several times. She was beautiful and fun! She left a lot of happy behind.

Shrinky said...

There is so much snobbery in the writing world, isn't there? I suspect mainly from those insecure of their own talents. So long as certain people want to read what you've written, you're a success.

Dayton Ward said...

Lynn, borrow to your heart's content.

Shrinky, I love this comment: "So long as certain people want to read what you've written, you're a success." Word.

Jewel Amethyst said...

That same snobbery often comes from published authors who direct it at authors who are yet to be published.

I've also seen it from authors published by mainstream publishing houses, directed toward those who self-publish or use vanity presses.

Dayton Ward said...

^ I've seen my share of that, too, from both sides. Personally, I'm not a big fan of vanity press houses, because there are too many scam outfits running around out there, but if the author knows the score going in and is willing to weigh risk against possible reward, who am I to judge?

On the other hand, I love, love, LOVE small press publishers. Some of the most fun I've had writing is for small/micro press houses where there's little to no money in the offing, but I've submitted to a particular anthology or whatever because the theme looked like too much fun to pass up.