The Pain of Reading Old Work

Toss old ms. into flames--what a quaint idea!

Inspired by David Gaughran’s Let’s Get Digital I am exploring the pros and cons of self-publishing my novel (when it’s finished) as an e-book. My post today isn’t about pros and cons, or even about the process of formatting, marketing, and so forth. It’s about the basic issue: content.

My novel is months away from being ready. I don’t know how many months, but less than a year, I hope. I would love to test the waters with something now, say some short stories. I have some already written–two dozen or so published since the late 1980s, and a handful of unpublished works. The published ones are somewhat obscure. Most were in the very excellent Tales of the Unanticipated, and five were in the British semi-prozine Interzone.

I’m in the middle of reading them all now, to see what kind of mini-collection I could put together.

Reading old work. Whoa. Scary. Weird. Some concerns emerge.

#1: Anachronisms. Oddly, this affects the science fiction and the fantasy equally. In the 1990s, I utterly sucked at foreseeing what techno marvels would come to wow us a mere decade later. Oh yeah, I’d read Phillip K. Dick while listening to a compact disk, and sneer at him for having his characters listening to their music in 1990-something on reel-to-reel tape. I never saw the mp3 player coming. My idea of an up-to-date modern household in 2050 is a big-screen flat TV and robotic vacuum. Pathetic.

My fantasy fares no better. A single cell phone can collapse an entire plot line, and a lack thereof can seem really weird in a story that’s meant to be happening in the present, turning it into a really nebulous no-time period piece. Giant shoulder pads and big hair lurk offstage.

#2: It’s old. Those handful of readers who have read my work (most of whom I hope would want to read more) want to see something new from me. It would seem cheesy to slap some old thing up on Amazon, etc., that they’ve read before and ask them to pay money for it. There has to be some previously unpublished work up there, which means I would have to write some new material, short stories, to be specific. Darn. I was hoping to have something to sell without actually having to write something.

Before I toss those old mss. into the flames, there is one other consideration: Some of this earlier work is pretty good, and I would like to see it out there again.

Possible solution: Find a way to combine old and new material in such a way, like a themed mini-collection, that would appeal to old and new readers alike. Yeah. Guess I have some work to do.

For now, I’ll keep reading.

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