Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Influences and Pastiches

I've been thinking about how Marion's work influenced my early writings. There's no clear answer, but there never is. Certainly, there was no effect at the beginning. I didn't discover her work until the early '70s and I'd been writing down stories since 4th grade (late '50s). By the time I read The Falcons of Narabedla and The Dark Intruder (they were an Ace Double), I'd accumulated quite a pile of utterly unpublishable short stories and incomplete novels, plus 2 or 3 novels that I'd actually finished. I hadn't yet found my literary sea-legs, that was for sure. I hadn't the slightest inkling of what authorial voice was. I knew only what appealed to me--the characters, the situations, the action, the emotional turning-points in the lives of my characters.

Falcons, for all its limitations, stuck with me: moments that just "clicked" with me as a reader, turns of phrase, bits of dialog and description. Much later, I learned that many of these elements reflected Marion's homage to writers who had inspired her. (She wrote a wonderful essay about the formative influences in her creation of Darkover in the Introduction to the Gregg Press edition of The Bloody Sun.) I suspect that this "pastiche stage" is one just about all writers go through as we figure out how to take what we love in the works that have come before us and learn to tell those stories in our own way.

After a long dry spell of academic and professional mania, I started writing seriously in 1979 or 1980. I had a new baby, my first, a high-powered career, and I'd hit complete burn-out. I dumped the job to stay home with my kid and work part time. And wrote another novel. In this one, I can see my own fumbling efforts to reproduce the kind of imagery and emotional experience I'd had in reading my favorite writers (Marion of course, but also Andre Norton). It featured a strong but psychologically damaged female sword-fighter, internal as well as external struggles, adventures through parallel worlds, and a love story, to name a few. Some years later, after Marion and I had become friends as well as editor/writer, I asked for her feedback on it. After she'd finished it, she sat me down and said, "Look, Deborah, there are about ten people in the world who will absolutely love this book and I am one of them. But with that ending, there's no chance of it getting published."

She was, of course, right about the ending. It took me a while to figure out why I'd done that, what I was trying to accomplish, and why it failed so badly. The important point of the conversation was how many elements we were in agreement about. (By this time, I'd already gone on to working on the 3rd or 4th novel after that one, and it made sense to take what I'd learned and move forward, rather than try to salvage what was really a beginner's mishmosh.)

The ending dilemma: I'd forced my heroine up into a choice between her (male) lover and her (female) comrade-in-arms. In a Romance, she would have gone with her lover, but everything that had come before had established that this was not a Romance, it was a gritty women's-empowerment story. Even after many awful things happening to her (betrayal by a previous love-interest, the death of her father, near-fatal injuries), my heroine never stopped fighting, never stopped striving to live her own life according to her own highest standards. In this, the story very much reflected The Shattered Chain. I thought I was trying to show that being able to risk her heart in love once more was part of healing and self-determination.

In our discussion, Marion pointed out that she'd dealt with a similar but not identical issue in The Shattered Chain. Many women readers had been upset by Jaelle's choice of Peter Haldane. How could she go off with such a man? (Or any man?) Yet Marion had skillfully established how important early experiences are in shaping our romantic and sexual relationships. Even so, readers come to each story with their own preconceptions and views of the world. She aimed for complexity and nuance (and in my opinion succeeded brilliantly!) My book, on the other hand, was still at that flopping-around uncontrolled stage of development. I don't know how much The Shattered Chain influenced how I saw my heroine's dilemma and her resolution; I do know that I was grappling with an issue that Marion had also worked with. Whether this was direct influence, imitation, parallelism, or shared world-view...or some mixture of the same, is less important than the process of each of us--Marion, me, you--learning to find both common ground and our unique voices.

I'll save my experiences writing Darkover short stories for another post.

No comments:

Post a Comment