Crime Vs. SF

Way back in 1998, when tech still boomed, dotcoms hadn’t busted yet, and the biggest crisis the nation faced involved a stain on a blue dress, I had a decision to make. I could stick with my SF roots and try and create a new universe. Or I could dust off a PI character I’d toyed with in the late 1980’s. At the time, crime seemed like a good bet. There had been a PI explosion in the late 80’s, and we were still in its afterglow. A new character with a new take on the formula might meet with success. On the other hand, SF had two problems. What I wanted to write looked too much like Star Trek (and I was still somewhat into Trek at the time), and the scifi shelves at Barnes & Noble and Borders looked pretty anemic. If your name wasn’t David Weber, Iain Banks (may he rest in piece), or Anne McCaffrey, forget it. Science fiction and fantasy had been welded into a single genre, and even the sword-and-sorcery stuff had gone into decline. Publishers were getting inundated with literally thousands of manuscripts that did not take place in Middle Earth if only to avoid lawsuits from the Tolkien estate (and many of those did a poor job disguising their fanfic origins.)

So I went with crime. I think I would have been OK if I’d have started on Northcoast about two years earlier and been more patient looking for an agent. As it was, I pulled the trigger too fast and signed with a small press that was way too small for its own good two weeks before an agent called me. Ouch. So while I tried to find a way out of that mess, the market for crime collapsed. If you weren’t already in, you were done.

Meanwhile, science fiction underwent a sort of renaissance. And the paying markets for short stories did not evaporate as badly as those for crime had. I made a critical mistake.

See, there are crime geeks. One gent calls himself the “Nerd of Noir.” They are definitely loyal to their authors, but their numbers are small. SF geeks, fantasy geeks, game geeks, and comic geeks comprise a much bigger ecosystem that never really went away. If they find something they like, they latch onto it with a tenacity that makes tax examiner look like a slacker. I never tapped into that, and shame on me. I was one of them for a very long time. I might have spent the 90’s sharpening my writing skills, but I should also have been building a world for readers to dive into. That sort of thing was and is tailor-made for the Internet.

So I will be “building” another writer, an SF writer. I still have contacts in that realm, so it won’t be nearly as hard to build up the network writers need to get started. That doesn’t mean I’ve stopped with crime. I mean I just posted the cover for the new Kepler, which will be the first one to see print in eight years. At the same time, if I can’t sell Holland Bay or get people excited about it, that’s probably going to be it for crime. It’s been fun, and I’m proud of the work I’ve done, but a decade and a half is enough time to know if the rabbit’s going to survive the experiment.

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