Bad time books.

It is often said that bad times make for hard men, who make good times, which make soft men and soft men make for bad times… I wonder if and how this translates into books, or at least the buying thereof.

Certainly, from my own experience, when life is slapping me around at ten minute intervals, my taste in books is clearly reflected. I want books that make me feel better about life. And my desire for new books (or new authors) is inversely proportional to how much strife I am in. If I am only reading Louis L’Amour, Pratchett, Heyer… things are very grim indeed. When it’s down to Fallon, Pyramids, Moist von Lipwig and The Toll-Gate… things are dire. Those books are like old,solid, reliable friends, and also encapsulate characters to whom I feel a strong affinity (Jerry Chirk, not Captain John Staple. I like the latter, but I am anything but large.) I suppose the characters are all tricksters of sorts, who find themselves in dire situations and ‘build’ their way out. They may be tough or deadly, but it’s their heads that get them out… and all of them are hard men, and create good. They’re comfort reads and things I need to believe in, when things are dark.

When things are comfortable and good, I am a lot more venturesome. I still don’t like bleak endings and unremitting misery in my books, but that may be that as I have seen enough of it, I don’t need to go there. I don’t need books that tell me I am shit and my culture stinks either. Sometimes I am, and sometimes my culture did. But individual humans rise above both of those things, and I’ve seen that too.

I think we’ve been – in the first world – heirs to good times (economically, socially) made by those hard men – with the inevitable conclusion, and I think we’re about to start reaping the ‘benefit’ of what followed hard men.

My goal is to write books to help make those bad times seem beatable. They are. To write books which have courage and hope, and leave the reader feeling that they can build their way out of bad times, and that the size, power and intractability of the foe doesn’t mean they have to win. It just means we need hard men who can out-think them too, and who will build on their ruins.

15 comments

  1. I couldn’t have said it as eloquently, but that’s why I write upbeat science fiction stories filled with action and adventure, usually a dash of romance, and a happy ending. Readers get reality for free every day, and don’t need to pay for someone else’s version of reality. That’s especially true for readers who just want a brief escape from reality.

  2. Yeah, been know to reread a lot myself when things get . . . whonky.
    Most new will also be “knowns” though of late, a few are not worth rereading because it all to often feels like we are living the books (Dammit Ringo!). I did get a neat new book written by some fella living on an island recently, and it will get a second reading soon because I probably missed a word play or two. I prepped for it by rereading Tom again. I just finished the re-re-(however many ‘re-‘s needed)read of Rats, Bats, & Vats and The Rats, The Bats, & The Ugly

  3. I began to feel a strong conviction – about the time I had the notion for my first novel , which would have been 2007 or so – that things were about to turn badly sideways, and we would need to be reminded and reassured that our American ancestors (metaphorical and actual) were brave, decent, hardworking people, and that the ideal of our constitutional republic was a genius idea and worth fighting for and preserving. It was a very strong conviction, but absolute: bad times were coming, and we would need to hold onto our faiths in ourselves. I could teach people through my books, about our unique history, and perhaps inspire them to hold on.

  4. When I was young, I read for escape. When I got older, I read for insight. I went from SFF to hard-boiled detective to nonfiction and then back to SFF from a different angle. Now I want my fiction to have applicability to real world problems and to give me clues on how to solve them. Not pat answers. Clues. I learned that attitude from the detective novels.

    I think what happened is that I realized escape is futile and a waste of time, but actually trying to improve my life is ennobling. Be your own hero. And there is a place for fiction reading in that, if it’s the right kind. More epic than cozy, gritty but not pure grimdark, with plot twists that come from character twists.

    The hardboiled detective has to identify evil before he can fight it. That’s what real life is like. Real evil doesn’t sneer and twirl a moustache at you. No bogeymen for me – I’ve outgrown them.

    What’s the definition of great literature again?

    1. Something that actually survives the test of time.

      I’ve often found more of worth in over the top art than in things that tried to ‘keep it real’. I’ve been re-watching some of the old 80s cartoons (introducing my kids). He-man and She-ra… you know what? There’s more there in the over the top cheese than most of the ‘nuanced’ and ‘grownup’ things out there. When you have bold strokes of black and white you can imply the shades of grey more easily without muddying the shape.

  5. My escape reading right now is geology, just because it is something completely not related to Day Job or fiction. *taps wood*

    My fiction is meant to entertain and to keep hope alive. Bad things happen, but good people can find a way through. There will be a cost, because that’s how Life works, but hope never dies. If I can provide someone with mental breathing space and an escape, then I’ve achieved my goal. Back in 2019 – 2020 I felt driven to write as much as I could, as fast as I could (and keep the quality up). I mean “Hound of Heaven pursuing me” driven to write. Why I didn’t know at the time – still don’t -, but people wanted pulp, escapist, fun fiction. So I tried to provide.

  6. During the worst of the lockdown I binged on Pournelle’s Warworld stuff. I needed to know that freedom could rise from hell. But when things are tough but short of that tough I find old friends with happy endings or new books by old friends. Right now there’s this guy on this gas giant planet and he just got enslaved…

  7. FWIW, I just finished Cloud Castles and you did it for me. I was grinning like a loon for approximately 80 percent of the book and will be reviewing accordingly. 🙂

  8. Indeed, my current work in progress was triggered by a desire to escape from today’s reality and create a possibly better alternate.

    Speaking of which, and going a bit off topic, how long does it normally take for a new book to go live on Amazon once you hit the go button? I’m planning on releasing it on March 2nd, Texas Independence Day. When do I need to have everything ready?

    1. I’ve run between 12 hours and four days. The four days involved multiple e-mails to prove that the excerpts posted on my blog were mine. If you have stripped any excerpts from your website, probably about 48 hours unless something raises a flag. YMMV. Print is taking longer for most people.

      1. Thanks for your reply. That’s an interesting point about snippets. I have some posted on a web forum that I visit daily. Sounds like I need to ask the moderator over there to delete them.

        1. It seems to depend on what percentage of the final work is excerpted. I’ve heard/read that up to 20% is OK. I’d go lower, just based on personal experience. Also, is the forum public or private with restricted access? If someone does a “find text” search with your book, can they see the forum? That makes a difference, I suspect, but I only post on my public blog.

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