This week we lost another great writer. Anne Rice passed off this Earth, leaving behind an impressive legacy.
While I was never a big Rice fan, I was still in awe of her storytelling ability, and how she almost single-handedly created the sexy vampire (and the gay one, too).
Sadly, many spec fic writers I idolized as a kid are no longer with us – Asimov, Clarke, Tepper, Le Guin…
Each one had their own recognizable voice, their own stories to tell, and an audience waiting eagerly for their next book.
Asimov thrilled me with his Foundation novels, and his connections between his various series that made them into one epic story of the future.
Clarke’s Rendezvous With Rama fired up my imagination for what might be out there (and maybe passing by).
Sherri S. Tepper wrote stories that left me thinking for weeks after I read the last page.
And LeGuin’s Earthsea… need I say more?
With their passing, we’ve lifted them up even higher on their pedestals, making their shadows longer.
Growing up, I wanted to be just like them. To write like them. To be loved like them. To have my books in bookstores all around the world and to someday become a part of that exalted pantheon.
Sometimes it feels like I was born a few decades too late. Or that I waited to long to get serious about my writing, and that all the great stories have already been told.
Back in the early days, it was enough to write an epic fantasy based on European mythology, or a clever story about the first trip to the stars. There were so many untold tales to choose from, when sci-fi and fantasy felt new and fresh and adventurous.
Now we have to go further and further afield to find things that have that new-story feel. The vein’s been mined out, and so much of what I see, especially on TV and in film, is the same old retreads, polished up and wrapped in a shiny bow for a new audience.
So how do I find something new to say that one of my forebears didn’t already write? How do I shine my own little light in the weight of such shadows?
In the shadow of legends, it’s hard to see your own work and its worth, especially when you feel like you are constantly shouting into the void just to get noticed.
Still, I look around, and I see sparks of life – writers finding ways to create fresh new stories with new ways of looking at the world. Sure, it’s not as easy as it once was, but emerging technologies, newly-recognized identities, and character intersectionalities all create fertile ground for storytellers.
I will never be Asimov, Clarke, LeGuin, or Tepper. And they will never be me (even aside from the fact that they’re already dead).
What’s that old (maybe Oscar Wilde) quote:
Be yourself. Everyone else is always taken.
So I’m stepping out of their shadows and owning what I write. Maybe it’s not as good as Asimov – I should be so lucky. But Asimov never wrote a non-binary character. And Clarke may have been gay, but he was never able to own that part of himself in his writing.
So I’m going to be myself. And maybe one day, if I’m lucky, my own name will be inscribed on that pantheon.
More likely, I’ll go to my grave remembered by a few loyal readers, my family and friends. But at least I can say that I was me and I wrote what I needed to write.
I am who I am, and I spin magic from words in the best way I know how. And for now, that’s enough.
To my writer friends, what author shadows are you living under? And how are you a unique, shining bright star?