“I wanna be Bob Dylan.
Mr. Jones wishes he was someone just a little more funky…”
Fantasy folks—writers, movie buffs, cosplay devotees, gamers and all the other kind of people you might rub elbows with at a major convention—are united by the playful desire to be someone else. No, I’m not saying such folk (myself included) are delusional or in some kind of denial about who they really are, hence my use of the word “playful.” I mean that we often play a version of the ‘what if’ game which hinges on imagining you are someone different.
This is, I think, healthy, and today I’d like to indulge the impulse a little, but give it a literary spin, and not towards imagining yourself as a literary character (though that might be a fun game for another day). So, simple question: which writer would you most like to be?
I know we all want to be ourselves (only with more money), but indulge me for a moment because I think this might be instructive, if only in getting us to articulate what we want, what we value. Let’s take it for granted that we don’t actually want to be other writers, but that there are things about other writers we want to emulate.
A few years ago, right after I’d sold the first Darwen book but long before it came out, I think I wanted to be J.K. Rowling, and not because she has more money than most small countries. Well, not only because of that. I wanted to be her because she had so galvanized a genre, stamped it with her identity and created a single epic series which had altered the course of literary history, film and culture generally. She also has many skills as a writer some of which—a real gift for pacing, for instance—I wanted to hone. These were reasonable things to aspire to, I figured, even if my vision was blurred by the glare of all those pots of money.
But I realized recently that I actually didn’t want to be J.K. Rowling after all, and not only because the world already has one of those. The truth is that while my latest book is cut from similar cloth as hers, I’m not really a J.K. Rowling-type of writer. In fact, taken as a whole most of my work doesn’t look anything like her work at all.
As some of you know, I write all kinds of stuff because I like to read all kinds of stuff. I’ve published contemporary mystery/thriller, adult fantasy, middle grades adventure, historical fiction (Macbeth) and right now I’m working simulatneously on a YA novel and an adult book which I can only call literary fiction. As an overview of a career, precious little of this is J.K. Rowlingish, but it’s absolutely who I am. There are continuities between my books and their various genres, but I’m a dabbler, impulsive, whimsical: an agent’s nightmare.
So who do I want to be now? I think I want to be Neil Gaiman. I love his stuff, and it takes lots of different forms: comic books, TV screenplays (Doctor Who for instance), movie screenplays (Beowulf), magical realist adult fiction (American Gods, Anansi Boys), high concept parallel world fantasy (the brilliant, Neverwhere), comic collaboration (with Terry Pratchett, as in Good Omens), children’s fiction (Coraline), dark, edgy YA (The Graveyard Book) and so on. He’s all over the map, but his work–however eclectic–always has a certain recognizable Gaimanesque quality, a Gaimanishness if you will. He writes high concept stories with strong hooks, but has a lyric skill with words and a fine sensitivity to character: these are things I love and seek to emulate. Like me, he’s a Brit living in the States. Oh, and he has pots of money. But that’s not the issue. Well, not all of it.
I like the idea of being successful despite my eclectic writing interests. I like the idea of being considered a serious writer while still working within sensational stories incorporating powerful visual elements, wit and originality. I like the idea of being capable of nuance in phrasing and the peopling of my stories while still wielding the kind of premises that make people glance at the back of the book and think “Huh. Sounds intriguing…”
I still want to be me. But I also want to be just a little more funky, which is to say…better: gives me something to shoot for.
So what about you? Who do you want to be and why?