Writing for Hire?

Over the years, fans and even other writers have suggested ideas that might fit in my series, and I’ve always nodded politely and said kind words, but I’ve never taken up any of those ideas. Nor have I ever been approached for or pursued doing “work for hire,” such as Star Wars novels or the like. Then the other day, a long-time reader emailed me and offered an idea, declaring he wasn’t interested in anything, no royalties, no acknowledgments… nothing, and I had to think about the matter more deeply before I could answer him.

It’s not as simple as rejecting, subconsciously or consciously, other people’s ideas. For years, I was a successful consultant, developing, packaging, and presenting their case to clients or to the government. I had absolutely no problem in taking ideas from anywhere and using them. To this day, when I’m dealing with technical presentations or commentary on the website, I still have no problem in taking or expanding on other’s insights, especially those of my wife.

But with novels… it’s different. But why?

That was when I realized something that I’d known all along, but never really verbalized. I don’t tell stories nearly so well when I don’t come up with the ideas – even in my own “universes.” Part of this is because others simply don’t know my universes/worlds as well as I do. Especially in my fantasy series, but also in a series like the “Ghost” books, so much of that world lies in my mind and not on paper or in outlines that often ostensibly workable story ideas really won’t work and be true to that world or universe.

The other part lies, I believe, in how much of my creative process is subconscious. With all writers, I believe, a good part of the creation is subconscious, but from what I’ve observed, I tend to rely on the intuitive/subconscious feel of what I’m writing more than many writers. This is neither good nor bad. Different writers have different ways of creating. Some writers very successfully can cold-plot a novel, write it to that plot, and come up with an interesting and readable work. I can’t. Yes, I know the story arc before I start, and I know the character, and the main points, challenges, and the society and culture. But, for me, not only does the story have to hang together logically, but it has to feel right.

This also might explain why I’ve never been interested in writing something like a Star Wars book or a Dune novel… or anything created by someone else, however much I may have enjoyed those stories or those worlds. I simply can’t get into those worlds as deeply as I can into my own, nor, if I’m going to be honest, do I really wish to.

This also leads to another problem, one that my editors have usually been able to catch before it manifests itself on the page before a reader – that I know something so well and so intuitively about a world that I forget to make it clear to others, because in the end, the story has to feel right to them as well. That’s also why I suspect that what I write tends not to appeal as much to those readers who prize action and technology/magic in the extreme over character.

And all that is also why it would most likely be a very bad idea for me to try to write a novel in someone else’s universe.

5 thoughts on “Writing for Hire?”

  1. Sam says:

    I’ve contemplated asking you about your thoughts on playing/writing in other people’s sandboxes over the years but for whatever reason never got around to it.

    Personally whenever I read a book or watch a TV show/Movie my mind is constantly contemplating alternative scenarios to what is being presented to me. Not neccessarily better just different.

    For example when I was reading your most recent Imager novel I couldn’t help thinking that as the first Maitre of the Collegium Quaeryt should have had more notoriety than he did. Not neccessarily outside the Collegium but within it’s bounds at least. I get that he wanted to play down his accomplishments but to my mind being the first head of an institution like that should have made him a figure of intrigue even if or perhaps especially if not much about him was known or remembered. After all the Collegium is part university/part Imager sanctuary as I understand it. It is a place that I thought would foster inquiring minds.

    I also thought that as a scholar Quaeryt would have left behind some written works. It occurred to me that he should have written an instruction manual or at least guide book on training Imagers based on his experience.

    Quaeryt may have been an abnormally strong Imager but as I understand it the Imagers he trained were far stronger than the Imagers of Alastar’s time including Alastar himself.

  2. Wayne Kernochan says:

    I personally think you’re wise not to play in someone else’s world when writing. This may not be on point, but I have extensive experience in editing others’ works and having my own edited, and I have one primary rule: Someone has to be the primary determinant of language, flow of logic, etc. and the job of the editor is to fix while ensuring that person’s “world” shines through. Even a two-person shared responsibility creates jarring differences from section to section and gaps in logic. I rarely feel that 2/3-person scifi novels are as good as individual works — although things like the Weber/Zahn collaboration have their own compensations.

    Two naïve questions, which you should not at all feel bound to answer. (1) How about readers asking questions which lead you to further thoughts about your novels? It happened to me once in my youth, when my mother asked me, “Why should there still be wars 400 years from now?” That led to all sorts of more complex thinking about the world I was creating at the time.

    (2) I personally have always valued authors that “stretch” themselves with large changes from the familiar, even if those changes don’t work as well. I am thinking of folks like C.J. Cherryh, whose continual ability to tackle new and different “alien” cultures, even to the point of attempting to humanize a computer culture, has now apparently been reduced to doing one series exploring endless new permutations of the same “world”. Does your feeling about others playing in your world extend to ideas about new worlds?

    1. I have no problems about readers asking questions. Actually, two of the stories in Recluce Tales were written as answers to reader questions.

      As for suggestions about new worlds, that probably wouldn’t work as well for me.

  3. Tom says:

    Too bad; even if I think I understand your decision.
    I would love to have one of your characters help one of your fictional leaders set out a system to maintain power and thus govern successfully for a long time. You have the knowledge and experience to present a practical and workable regime. You have referred to such in generalities but I cannot recall a novel of yours with specifics.
    I would also love to read a description of what you would consider a good student in a university setting (one that was not a security agent).

  4. Tim says:

    I wonder how you would feel if another author asked to write in your universe?

    I suspect there is some unwritten rule amongst authors which would treat this as gauche. So I suspect shared-author universes must be driven by publishers.

    I remember the sequels to the Witches of Karres and to Zelazny’s Amber series but these were written after the author’s death.

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