Warning: This post contains major spoilers for Peace by Gene Wolfe, Agyar, and how to make me swear loudly.
I came to Gene Wolfe late, and at first didn’t like him; I stopped reading Shadow of the Torturer about a quarter of the way through because I wasn’t enjoying it. Then, when everyone I respected kept raving about it, I tried again, this time forcing myself to read slowly and think about each word, each sentence, and, well, you know what happened. There aren’t enough o’s in wow. So then I went out and grabbed everything of his I could find, like you do. And all went well until I came across Peace.
I read it. All the way to the end. Then I scratched my head, and did what everyone does when confused by a Gene Wolfe novel: I called Neil Gaiman. “Neeeeeillll?” I said. “Help meeeeee? I just read Peace and I don’t get it. An old guy wanders around his house. Wolfe would never write a book that’s just an old guy wandering around his house. What am I missing?”
“Right,” he said in that delightful accent I used to be able to imitate perfectly but no longer can which is probably for the best. “You know that tree that falls over on the first page? Halfway through the book he plants it.”
“He’s a ghost.”
“And, during the course of the book, he commits between four and six cold-blooded murders, but he doesn’t tell you. Well, he tells you, but he doesn’t tell you.”
“Remember when he goes prospecting with his partner, and then after that he’s rich and you never hear from the partner again?”
So I read it again, and, like, there aren’t enough o’s in wow. It set off almost every one of my Cool detectors, which is hard to do, because some of them are set up to only be on when another is off. But let’s not get into that.
A year or two went by, and one night a chance remark during a conversation with my brother-in-law on an entirely different topic closed the final switch in the “I know what let’s do!” circuit. I stood up, mumbled something at said brother-in-law, dashed upstairs to my study, and wrote all night. Because what had clicked was this: What if I wrote a vampire novel, but never said he was a vampire? Just, you know, this sociopath wandering around doing terrible things, and maybe I could plant a few clues so some people would get it, but never actually say what’s going on. Wouldn’t that be fun? I mean, I’d decided years before that I’d never write a vampire novel, because Chelsea Quinn Yarbro had already done everything I’d have wanted to do in Hotel Transylvania. But then this happened, and I stayed up all night writing the first chapter.
I showed it to my writers group, wondering if I should tell them right away what was going on, or if I ought to wait and see how well it worked when they didn’t know. They said, “Oh, you’re writing a vampire novel.”
I showed it my agent, who said, “Oh, you’re writing a vampire novel.”
I showed it to my editor, who said, “Oh, you’re writing a vampire novel.”
YES I’M FUCKING WRITING A FUCKING VAMPIRE NOVEL SHUT UP.
Anyway, I wrote it, it’s one of my books I’m most happy with, and I’m also happy that, many years later, I got to tell that story on a panel when Gene was in the audience, and he laughed a lot.