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Thursday, September 13, 2012

Stephen King’s Dilemma

In his memoir On Writing, Stephen King wrestled with the fact that, of all the novels he had written, the overwhelming favorite was The Stand.  While he was glad his readers liked the post-apocalyptic tale, this was his second published novel.  He believed he had grown immensely as an author since he had crafted that early work, and by the time he wrote On Writing, had published an astounding number of novels.  He had invested all his stories with imagination, creativity, and passion, and believed some of his later novels represented his best efforts as a writer. Yet by an overwhelming majority, readers loved The Stand more than any of his later stories.

Over the last few months, a few of my posts have attracted more page views than the norm.  In my Pages section, you can find a link to my current Top Ten posts.  The first four, all about authors working today, have garnered an astounding number of page views.  Fans of those popular authors evidently liked what I had to say and recommended them to their friends.  Four of my seven-part series on Ritz Cinema also got a large number of hits.  I attribute the popularity of those posts less to the James Herriot connection (or my particularly beautiful prose), and more to the fact that Ritz Cinema is a very special place, and therefore, like Steven Brust, Kevin J. Anderson, Rebecca Moesta, and David Malki, has a passionate following.  My original intention for my blog, to write about particular works of fiction, is represented by only one entry: “Envying Luke Skywalker’s Lightsaber.”  I’m not sure if this is because people like what I had to say, or if they were searching for images of Luke’s lightsaber.  

Blogger has its foibles, some of which I’ve discovered since I started using the Pages function.  One inconsistency I noticed long ago, however, was that the number of page views listed in my Posts section was often different than the numbers represented in the Statistics section.  In many cases, the number of page views is higher on the Posts list than it is in the Statistics section.  One entry in particular, “As Time Goes By in Holland Park: Part 1,” has enough page views on the Posts list that it should reside in number eight on my Statistics section’s Top Ten page.  Yet it doesn’t appear there.  I suppose it doesn’t really belong in my Top Ten anyway, as parts Two and Three only have half as many page views, and “As Time Goes By Jean’s House” frequently appears under search terms that drew people to my site.  This may also explain the popularity of “Catching a Glimpse of Norman Clegg’s House.”  The latter post, which initially attracted average interest, has steadily risen in popularity in the months since I wrote it.  In reading it, I can see why fans of the TV show “Last of the Summer Wine” would like it.  But “Norman Clegg’s House” also shows up regularly under Searches that led people to my blog. 

I apologize to all you “As Time Goes By” fans: I don’t know the address the TV crew used for the exterior of Jean’s House.  (Nor do I know the exact address of Norman Clegg’s house, but I believe the second location the production used was a cottage behind The White Horse Inn, if that’s helpful).  Part one of my three-part entry is about exploring the residential and commercial area of London known as Holland Park, and parts two and three cover the actual park.  The Dutch Garden within the park was an important place for us to visit, as it is there that Lionel first pursues Jean, and realizes that he wants to get to know her better.  (Even if you’re not a fan of the TV show, it’s a beautiful garden, and the entire park is worth a visit).  At least I know that I’m not the only one who still loves a show that started twenty years ago, and aired its last reunion show seven years ago.

One entry that I particularly love, but hasn’t gotten many page views, is my entry “Leaning on Steven Brust.”  While it’s somewhat derivative of “Steven Brust: My Ultimate Weapon,” it not only relates to my struggles as an author, but to Grand Master Robert Silverberg’s own struggles during the 1970s.  I wrote it later in April for those who enjoyed "Ultimate Weapon."  Yet, as Stephen King found with his published novels, what resonates with readers often astonishes the writer.  I know my affection for Jupiter Project, If the Stars are Gods, and The Stars in Shroud surprised Gregory Benford.  His favorites tend to be novels like Timescape and Artifact, SF stories about working physicists such as himself. 

From a business side of things, it makes sense for an author to look backward, study what books have sold the most, and attempt to cater to those tastes.  From an artistic standpoint, it makes sense that a writer should ignore past successes, and follow his muse wherever it leads him.  I hope I never find myself in a place where publishers will only buy one particular type of story from me.  Stephen King’s dilemma (and every popular writer’s dilemma), is that the type of books he longs to write may not resonate with his readers as much as some of his other types of stories.  This phenomenon should not be ignored or discounted.  As readers, we should sympathize with those writers who can only sell one type of story.  But at the end of the day, it’s an author’s job to serve his or her readers, whatever stories they’ve come to love, and for whatever reason they treasure them most.  At this point, the fact that anyone out there loves anything I've written brings me joy.  It’ll be my job to remember that, should I win a publisher’s attention, and see my novels published.  

Dragon Dave

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