I had a lesson driven home rather forcefully this past month. It started with my beloved daughter-in-law Rena making a simple trip to a “doc in the box” for abdominal pain. She was sent to the ER. They discovered aggressive cancer. My son’s and her world were shattered.
Four days later she was gone.
She was an artist, and although she mostly painted in oils, I include the above picture of a pencil sketch and woodburning of hers to give you an idea of the sort of work she did. She was 34. Very talented. Such a tragedy. But let us take a lesson from that.
I’m not just talking about my own personal angst here when I say that writers don’t live forever. My mother-in-law pretty much knocked that out of me back when I had whined that I’d turned 60. “Oh, 60,” she of 90-plus years sniffed. “I remember sixty,” she commented dryly. Like it was no big deal. Until it is.
Well, I did finish my first novel the year I turned 60 and got some non-fiction off my hard drive and into print, but I still have stories to tell. I’m developing the discipline to get them on the page. We all need to do that.
Let’s think of all the writers—from Robert Jordan to Kage Baker—who never finished their series. Stieg Larssen (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) died without publishing the fourth and final book in that series. Mervyn Peake died while writing his Gormengahst books. And mystery writer Sue Grafton’s alphabet series, beginning with A is for Alibi…, etc, is permanently halted at Y is for Yesterday. She did not live long enough to write what Z was for.
At each Nebula Awards Weekend, the SWFA does a slideshow of those we lost from our community in the past year. Sometimes those who leave us can cause an earthquake in the field, like when Terry Prachett or Gardner Dozois passed. The list is never short, though. So grow some discipline. Despite your challenges, write. I can give you inspiring examples of those who pushed past depression, anxiety, mental illness, poverty, abandonment and despair to give us lasting works of timeless beauty and adventure. I wrote despite being a poor single parent with a major depressive order (at the time), being a dyslexic typist, and while working two jobs and going to college. Others have written while dealing with far worse.
We need to get our stories on paper, shop our novels, send out our manuscripts, poems and short stories. Because writers don’t live forever.
Don’t leave your fans hanging. Don’t leave boxes of unfinished manuscripts all over your home for your heirs to deal with. After all, you probably won’t have a son like Christopher Tolkien spend his entire academic career on finishing your “Unfinished Tales.”
Your stories are aching to be told. Don’t let them—and us—down.
Wendy S. Delmater, Editor
Abyss & Apex