Sunday, November 27, 2005

Funny Dilemma

Titling this post I discovered two things. One is that the first definition for 'dilemma' that comes up on Google says that a dilemma is 'state of uncertainty or perplexity especially as requiring a choice between equally unfavorable options...' I don't think that the options have to be unfavorable. The other is that I can't spell delimma. (Why I was looking up the definition--the word looked so wrong to me that I checked the spelling on-line.)

I've been working for months on an internet marketing project called Last Call Poker which has been completely engrossing. Embedded in the website is a modern noir story told in fragments that the audience has to collect and piece together in order to experience the narrative. (If you go to the site and click on The Muck the story is now compiled for you. But part of the experience is working with a community to construct the story out of fragments.) I love the work. Art is the product of advances in technology. Novels are a product of the printing press, which eventually drove down the cost of written narrative to the point where people could afford them. Before the printing press, vast armies of scribes would have had to spend large periods of their lives copying out, say, Valley of the Dolls and then people who wanted to read it would have had to spend thousands of dollars to read it. Which is why books tended to about philosphy, religion and science. And maps. The magazine is a product of a technology we don't normally think of as a technology since it's not a scientific innovation so much as a system innovation--the postal system. But the postal system makes the magazine possible. When Melie was making the first films, he tended to film them the way we would see a play--from a distance with a camera planted, indoors. He invented a lot of cool film tricks. But it took a little while before people realized that movies were just filmed plays, but a whole new way to conceptualize narrative. That the camera could go outside, could film from above and below, could go close and far away.

Computers created the video game. The internet has created ARGs. Whether they're a new artform or a kind of cool thing that someone has done that will disappear in a few years is hard to say. But it's exciting as all hell to be at the beginning of what might be a new art form. And the pay is a lot better than novels. It's hard and sometimes frustrating and the hours are long (hence my post about sleep.)

I don't want to give up novels, of course. Still, although I have possible publishers for a new novel, my career is not exactly exploding. I watch the careers of some of my fellow writers implode and I am aware that the future might be difficult. The fun thing about working on ARGs is that it is work with a group. Many hands come together to create the ARG. It's difficult to point at a piece of writing on Last Call Poker and say, 'that's mine,' because the process is so collaborative. That's fun and challenging and cool.

On the other hand, I didn't become a novelist because I like working with large groups of people. Just the opposite. Some part of me really likes being by myself, doing my little thing.

But the world has handed me this opportunity and I've decided to seize the day. And then I get word that based on Mothers & Other Monsters, a couple of major mainstream publishing houses want to know if I'm working a novel.

Yes, at last. I can write sf in such a way that it transcends the expectations of genre. I can do with sf what Le Carre does with the spy novel. I have spent years hoping and working for this. I like the work of other people who do this; people like Jonathan Lethem, Michael Chabon, Dan Chaon and Jonathan Safran Foer. And especially Kelly Link, who is such an artist. I like that life, the life of art, the pursuit of technique and craft in the service of something inexplicable. But I have this new art form that requires me to work enormous hours and demands that I give it my all. But I have the opportunity to reach a goal I set for myself twenty years ago.

So I'm working on BabyGoth to deliver a proposal to a couple of houses at the first of the year. It's very possible that both of them will turn it down. I'm not committing to anything. I'm just...exploring the options, you know?

Of course, I'm tickled beyond words to have too much good fortune. Stressed. Afraid I'll make the wrong decision. Strike while the iron is hot. Too many irons in the fire. I expect no sympathy.


Blogger David Moles said...

It helps if you remember the word "lemma". In mathematics it's a sort of theory-let. (Of course I imagine it as some sort of small African ungulate, maybe something like a mouse deer with giraffe markings, but that's my problem.)

As someone who finds the idea of ARGs fascinating but is too lazy to actually get involved in one, I know which way I'd want you to jump. Plus, you'd rock as a stealth SF novelist. And right now (if we're talking novels) it seems to be all boys doing that, except for Karen Joy Fowler, and it's about time there were more women in that clubhouse.

On the other hand, getting a chance to do good work with cool people is not something to sneeze at, either. It doesn't happen to many people. And to be able to do that and be writing at the same time...

Well, I hope you don't have to give up either one.

November 27, 2005 10:27 PM  
Blogger Christopher Barzak said...

I hope you don't have to give up either one too. I understand the need to have a safety net though. I've finally gotten practical about that in the past year or so and need to figure out what to do with the rest of my life as well, because writing is just not going to keep clothes on my back and a roof over my head, unfortunately. I'll still do it as much as I can, because I want to and I love it, and I don't think I could stop, but I definitely need something else I can do that will take care of me monetarily for the future. It's just plain stupid to ignore that.

Now, if I could figure out what I can do. That's the question. Why don't they have a demand for professional karaoke singers? Life is so unfair.

November 28, 2005 4:36 AM  
Blogger David Moles said...

You know, Barzak, there's bound to be an angle there. You'd make a pretty good local-level gaijin personality on Japanese TV, for instance.

November 28, 2005 3:41 PM  
Blogger Christopher Barzak said...

Local? Local? *blinks rapidly* You must be joking, David. I'll only settle for country-wide or nothing at all.


Actually I know I could make a living here. It's back in the States where I'm not so sure of that. And as much as I love it here, I would like to come home some day, and not just for a vacation.

November 29, 2005 5:56 AM  
Blogger SquidgePa said...

Back in high school, we studied "Valley of the Dolls" in the original Greek in my Humanities class (properly titled, "Κοιλάδα των κουκλών"). Our text was derived from the copy found in the Hunington Library, one of the three remaining copies on display in public collections.

I wonder if they still study classics like this in school?

November 30, 2005 12:12 PM  
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March 24, 2009 1:48 AM  

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