I had a good day pounding away at Hawk, and then learned that my short story, “Playing God” has sold to this anthology. So, I’m feeling pretty good, and I’m thinking about Roger Zelazny, and I’m reflecting.
Anyone familiar with his work and mine knows that the term “influence” is a drastic understatement. As I’ve said in other places, I knew I wanted to be a writer when I first read Lord of Light and realized that what I wanted more than anything was to make other people feel the way I felt when reading that book. (It just occurred to me that it was my friend David Dyer-Bennet who first suggested I read that one, and I’ve never said thanks. So, thanks.)
Once I got to sit around a small table in a bar at a World Fantasy Con with him and Neil Gaiman and we talked about writing for hours. Oh my fucking god. During that conversation, I asked him how to write a short story. He got a mildly startled look on his face, and said, “Write the last chapter of a novel.” I don’t think I’ve ever managed to do that, but it’s been going around in my head and generating little baby ideas ever since.
I love the way he used words–I can stop and reread a sentence of his just for how the words make me feel. I love his characters–I am willing to follow them around a book just to see what they’ll do. I love his sense of structure–his story that feels balanced, that feels right even aside from how it resolves. I love his touch for the bittersweet ending that leaves one feeling, “well, it was worth the struggle, but it didn’t come without a price.” I love his ability to humanize myth, and to mythologize humanity.
I am a process geek. That is, I can think and talk about how writing works–and ought to work–for hours. I love making generalizations about writing, and then testing them. And I believe the source of that, or at least a huge part of the source, is reading Roger and saying to myself, over and over, “How does he do that?” The fact that I’ve never gotten a satisfactory answer has done nothing to alleviate my desire to try. After all, I’ve only been at it thirty-five years or so. Maybe in another ten I’ll get somewhere.
I’m so glad I knew him. I’m so glad I can still read his work. I miss him so much.