Tuesday, May 8, 2012

#556: Author's Notes

I've written about this B4 -- about how I sometimes think that "Author's Notes," the stories BEHIND the stories, R sometimes far better than fiction, tho no1 seems 2 agree with me.
There was a time I wouldn't read a writer's comments on his own work, when I wouldn't even read BOOK REVIEWS -- all that stuff useta B BORING 2 me. All I wanted was THE STORIES.
But by the time I 1st started trying 2 write fiction (around age 16), all that stuff suddenly got a whole lot more intresting. & later, when I got sucked-in2 the reporting/journalism/non-fiction end of writing, it Bcame an addiction. I read very little fiction these days -- it takes a heckuva good novel 2 hold my attention now. I'm doing good if I can finish 2 novels a year, & maybe a handful of short stories.
Probly the writer who got me hooked on the behind-the-scenes stuff was Harlan Ellison, who practically made an Art of the Author's Note in his short-story collections of the '60s & '70s (DEATHBIRD STORIES, SHATTERDAY, etc), & became an Author's Note Legend with his vivid & lengthy writer-intros in his massive DANGEROUS VISIONS all-original-fiction anthologies. (In fact, those long intros & the amount of work they took R supposedly 1 of the reasons his massive LAST DANGEROUS VISIONS anthology never appeared.) Harlan sometimes got zinged 4 being outrageously honest about writers' pasts & accomplishments, but I never thot he went overboard....
Harlan's wordy non-fiction never topped his stories, which were always vivid & wild & massive in their emotional impact. Some of his non-fiction got close tho -- like a long piece about being arrested & held in New York's "Tombs" central jail in MEMOS FROM PURGATORY, or his 2 big GLASS TEAT books of late-'60s/early-'70s TV criticism.
There were others in the same period doing something similar, if at not-as-great a length. Editor Ed Ferman in the old MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION sometimes went a long way toward making fiction-writers look pretty cool in his chatty author-intros. But he was apparently trained by prior F&SF Editor Avram Davidson, who would go well over a page sometimes, if he thot the writer was worth it or that writer's appearance in the mag was a big-enuf event.
Judith Merrill was doing some of the same kinda thing in her chatty intros & Btween-story discussions in her late-'60s YEAR'S BEST SF series. Damon Knight would sometimes chat a bit when intro-ing writers in the pages of his late-'60s/early-'70s ORBIT collections. Damon would go on 2 write a 250-pg Author's Note in his Xcellent overview of legendary '30s/'40s SF writers' group THE FUTURIANS (1979).
Best-of book-editors were always pretty generous when it came 2 intro-ing writers & providing lists of credits, & sometimes tossed in a little flavor about how it felt 2 BE a science-fiction or horror writer. Terry Carr was 1 of the best in his annual BEST SCIENCE FICTION OF THE YEAR collections in the '70s, & in his long series of UNIVERSE original anthologies. Robert Silverberg did some pretty great author's intros 4 his NEW DIMENSIONS series, & sometimes reminisced about what it was like 2 create his own massive fiction output in the intros 2 many of his own short-story collections. Silverberg also wrote a classic intro 4 James Tiptree Jr.'s 2nd short-story collection, WARM WORLDS AND OTHERWISE (1974), tho in it he failed 2 catch on that Tiptree was a woman....
Gardner Dozois carried on this chatty tradition in his massive, still-continuing BEST SF OF THE YEAR series, which started back in 1983. David Hartwell is still doing a great job with his annual YEAR'S BEST SF, Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling followed Dozois's model 4 their YEAR'S BEST FANTASY AND HORROR in the '90s, & Karl Edward Wagner did a great chatty job editing THE YEAR'S BEST HORROR in2 the early '90s.
Now-superstar fantasy writer George R.R. Martin wrote a great set of story-intros 4 his 2nd collection SONGS OF STARS AND SHADOWS (1977) -- neat little peeks in2 how his dark, moody, fiercely romantic early stories were written. George shoulda done more intros like that.
I've said here B4 that I think SF writer Barry N. Malzberg shoulda bn an essayist. Some of his intros & notes R far better than his short stories -- summa the best Xamples appear in his BEST OF and MALZBERG AT LARGE, & as an afterword 2 his novel REVELATIONS. & in THE ENGINES OF THE NIGHT (1982) he wrote a brilliant 200-pg author's note 4 the entire science fiction field. An Xpanded version of this book, with the added brilliant essay "Tripping with the Alchemist," is also available as BREAKFAST IN THE RUINS.
Horror writer David J. Schow wrote some screamingly funny intros & afterwords 4 his 2 early story collections SEEING RED and LOST ANGELS (both 1990), focusing mainly on summa the weird circumstances under which the stories were written & published -- & how he developed a coupla pen-names, 1 on purpose & the other Ntirely unXpected.... SILVER SCREAM (1990), a massive original-story horror-movie-themed anthology that Schow edited, features 50 PAGES of author's notes at the end, a sorta roll-the-credits 4 the nearly 2-dozen writers who contributed. It's like heaven, if you're in2 this stuff:  Full of behind-the-scenes info, & screamingly funny.
Orson Scott Card wrote some great in-depth intros & author's notes 4 his best-of-the-'80s SF anthology FUTURE ON FIRE (1991). Tho I didn't agree with all his choices 4 the best stories of that decade, I was sad there was never a "Volume 2"....
Stephen King occasionally did some VERY good, chatty, background-info-filled author's notes 4 his short-story collections like SKELETON CREW and NIGHTMARES AND DREAMSCAPES and FOUR PAST MIDNIGHT. Maybe he's still doing them in his newer collections, I don't know. & I currently have none of those collections in the house, so can't double-check. Also apparently don't have either IT or THE STAND, which 4 me R King's 2 best novels -- apparently I thot I'd never read either of those epics again, so.... But if YOU haven't read them, what the heck R you wastin' time readin ME 4...?
The best RECENT Xamples of classic Author's Notes I know of were printed in Leisure Books' reissues of Jack Ketchum's dozen classic horror novels from the '80s. Each of them features an intro or afterword of some kind focusing on how the books were written & what kind of troubles Ketchum had as they made their way in2 print. The afterword 2 SHE WAKES especially amplifies some of the points in that fine novel.
But best of all R the notes Ketchum added 2 the reprint of OFF SEASON, his scary & grisly 1st novel, originally published by paperback giant Ballantine Books back in 1980. Ballantine were apparently nervous about the over-the-top violence in that book -- a tendency Ketchum has become famous 4. He recaps the WEEKS of bargaining over the story that he & his then-publisher went thru B4 the book ever saw print.
Ketchum claims that Ballantine constantly tried 2 get him 2 "soften" the story, telling him "We'll let you keep the rape scene if we can cut the beheadings...." Ketchum REALLY gives you a feel 4 what it was like 2 B a struggling horror writer....


Perplexio said...

I've been reading Douglas Coupland's Generation A and it's really getting inside my head. It's easily one of his best books (far better than Generation X was). He's matured and improved substantially as a writer over the years. I love that his books not only make me think but also make me "feel." I literally have a visceral reaction when reading much of his work.

It may be fiction but it's also chock full of socio-cultural commentary. Some of which I agree with, some I don't... but ALL of which makes me stop and think.

TAD said...

Plex: Hey, welcome back! & thanx 4 the recommendation....