Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Things I wrote that you may never read

I have written far more essays and book-length projects than will probably ever see the light of day. Or, some of them have seen the light of day but they have slipped into darkness for a variety of reasons.

One of my first paying assignments was a work-for-hire project for a company called CyberAction. They produced interactive collectible cybercards with a unique technology that allowed you to buy specific electronic files that were branded with serial numbers. The system supposedly ensured unique value. That is, you couldn't simply copy the files from one computer to another. You had to deactivate the file on the first machine and activate it on the second machine.

Unfortunately, CyberAction did not survive the dot-com meltdown of 2000-2001, and all the work I did for them has vanished (except from my personal archives, possibly). I was hired to write scaled-down episode summaries of the Kevin Sorbo Hercules movies and the first season of Xena episodes. The CyberCards included trivia questions that I was quite proud of. Actually, encapsulating a 45-minute episode into 7 paragraphs was quite a challenge, too, since I had to include as many dialogue quotes as possible.

Another work-for-hire project was a collection of commissioned essays for Toy Vault, makers of a pre-Peter Jackson line of Lord of the Rings action figures. Toy Vault wanted their customers to get a feel for Tolkien's Middle-earth, so they commissioned me to write an essay for each character they featured in the line of action figures. The last project I did for them consisted of writing liner notes for their Lord of the Nazgul supersized action figure. The factory producing the packaging made an error on the first production run, and if I recall correctly, about 200 (or maybe that was 2000) boxes were printed with only a portion of my liner notes.

When Tolkien Enterprises started yanking licenses back from various companies around the world so they could relicence merchandise in association with the movies, Toy Vault lost its franchise and they turned all my essays over to Tolkien Enterprises. I have never seen them since. I don't recall all the topics I wrote about, but I am sure I wrote essays on Galadriel, Gimli, and the Balrog. It's possible a well-known Web archive has copies of some or all of the essays, but I haven't looked recently.

In 2004 I left Houston briefly and returned to Florida, land of my birth. During that transitional process, I signed up with a service called Blogit. I wanted to see if there was really any decent money to be made in subscription blogging. While it seems some people did make good money, the effort to create content and attract an audience was just too demanding. I posted three essays at Blogit that I didn't keep permanent copies of. Tonight, I finally signed up again (burning $6 in the process for a one-month subscription) so that I could get my essays back. I deleted them from the service after saving them.

Those essays are now republished in the Xenite.Org Staff Essays section, where you may read them for free. Technically, they cost me $12 dollars to write. I paid for a one-month subscription to test the service. They are the only works I have ever paid to have puhblished, despite what some people would tell you.

In the merry old land of Oz is a nostalgic review of the power and the influence of L. Frank Baum's original Wizard of Oz story and the 1939 Victor Fleming film adaptation (starring Judy Garland, Buddy Ebsen -- I mean, Ray Bolger, and a few other great actors). The essay ranges into Tolkien and Rowling and the movies based on their books, too.

Sky Captain and the world of yesterday's movies is another nostalgic piece disguised as a pre-review of "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow". I actually like "Sky Captain" and I bought the DvD. I hope we'll see more movies like it, but I'm not holding my breath.

The third Blogit essay I wrote was A song for the soul, a melody for the day. This piece is another nostalgic venture into my youthful interest, passing up into more recent musical tastes. I had for a while entertained the notion of focusing on nostalgic writing for Blogit, but the low rate of return on my monthly subscriptions and the amount of effort it would require to build a paying audience just didn't justify that much creativity. Besides which, I wasn't feeling all that nostalgic after writing these essays.

In the 1990s I wrote a series of book-length manuscripts for a fantasy world. These stories evolved from a teenage Tolkien knockoff world I created. The 1990s books were too traditional compared to the schlocky fantasy novels that were being published at the time. Modern fantasy has descended to new depths of low quality every few years. I'm not sure of why people get tired of reading more traditional fantasy, but I suppose the fact that every self-appointed critic bashes Tolkien has something to do with it.

Which is not to say that my books were well-written masterpieces. A few publishers indicated some possible interest, one agent said she thought they might be marketable, but no one bought anything and I got tired of collecting query letters. I did take the opening chapters for one of the books and rewrote them into a short story. I submitted the short story to a workshop Marion Zimmer Bradley offered to do for a small convention I was helping with. That may have been the last or one of the last workshops MZB did for unpublished writers.

The lady was simply amazing. There was no fooling around with her. She took my story out of an envelope, slammed it down on the table we were using, and said, "This is a novel, not a short story."

Did she think there was hope? She was circumspect about promising me riches and fame, but she offered concrete advice on how to expand the story (back) into novel form. I never found time to work on it again.

That short story, the original book it came from, and many other books, partial books, protobooks, and some short stories all went into boxes that I left with a relative in New Mexico when I moved to Texas in 2001. Through the years, those boxes -- I am told -- have ended up in yet another person's possession, although they are in storage. I no longer have access to my own work.

I did bring five notebooks with background information, historical essays, notes, chronological tabels, genealogies, and maps to Texas with me. But those notes were packed up when I moved to Florida and I had to leave them in my brother's care. I have since toyed with the idea of recreating the entire fantasy world from scratch and self-publishing it as a series of eBooks (for pay). But those manuscripts and notes represent about 15 years' worth of work. It is just such a daunting task to start over from scratch. And though I might actually write better stories this time around, they would not be the original stories.

My fiction career just never took off, and I have advised so many authors not to self-publish their fiction that I would feel very hypocritical to do so myself. Then again, since the kind of stories I like to read are no longer being published by mainstream publishers, I guess New York City is irrelevant to my fantasy interests anyway.

My current agent, who hasn't received anything from in a year, may no longer consider herself my agent. I've been struggling with some chronic health issues -- not simply chasing girls -- for a couple of years. It is very difficult to write for any length of time when you are not feeling well. Good writing requires discipline. After I started this blog, I realized it would serve as an opportunity for me to re-establish my discipline.

I don't pretend that this blog will become as popular as my old Suite101 topic was. While I hope the Suite doesn't represent the highlight of my career, I was riding the coat-tails of three immensely popular movies. And my essay topics were focused and consistent enough that I was able to build a large loyal audience. Here, I'm just sort of meandering through personal experience pieces. It's a new style of writing for me. But, who knows? Maybe it will help me write some first-person fiction -- that is the most dreaded form of fiction, by the way. Some people would say it tends to be the most dreadful form, since many beginning writers resort to it.

But if I can keep the momentum going, maybe I'll hit a new stride and kick off another great period of productive writing.

1 Comments:

Anonymous Lydia said...

Good luck with your writing Michael. We won't see you at DragonCon this year. Maybe next year.

7:19 AM  

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