Taking on hell with a fire-bucket

There are times when it is probably relatively sensible to back away. When the ‘good idea’ fairy is being their most helpful… Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), humans are not very good at that. Monkeys like myself, less so. This explains a great deal about the situations I frequently find myself in, as well as a great deal about the fact that the human race is not extinct or a tiny little group living in a cave in Africa, debating on the digestibility of cousin Thag. Because if we spent all our time backing off because something wasn’t totally safe and totally pleasant… we’d lose a lot less people (immediately, and then more, later) and not figure how to cope with dangers and make things we thought impossible and dangerous do-able – or more do-able.

There has to be a selective advantage to taking on hell with a fire-bucket of damp sand, or we’d have bred it out of the human race by now. I believe the social engineers of modern society are trying their best to get rid of it (partly because it makes people so had to control) but it is quite a large part of the gene-pool. I’d like to attribute this facet of the human race to intelligence or something charming… but the truth is it often comes down to being a bit optimistic, and not fully informed. Of course, that doesn’t stop the obstinacy part kicking in once the optimism and lack of information dissipate somewhat, but then obstinacy goes with taking on enormously difficult and fraught situations.

Now, it almost certainly doesn’t surprise you that the good idea fairy and his military cousin and Dave have been associates for most of my life. They have regularly tried to shorten that, and I have certainly gone along with their cunning plans. My survival – and indeed often making the crazy ‘good idea’ work – have often come down to that obstinacy, and a fairly large dose of ingenuity… and a LARGE chunk of optimistic belief that there are always ways to solve anything.

When – around the end of apartheid, jobs in the biological sciences and in fish farming were effectively non-existent, the good idea fairy said “Write books. It can’t be that hard. You’ve just got to be better than sf/fantasy’s average output and people will love your work and you can make a reasonable living at it.” I – to my credit, did NOT think it was ridiculously easy, and that I was brilliant at it. I just thought (on the basis of reasonable evidence) that I had taken on a lot hells with a fire-bucket, and, by obstinacy and a habit of learning how to do things – and thinking up new and unusual solutions to overcome obstructions, succeeded a lot more often than I should have. What was one more?

As I learned, a lot. I was woefully ignorant about how publishing worked, believed it a meritocracy which was producing a lot of books I thought that I could write better than, if not better than my role models, like Pratchett or Tolkien or Heyer or Zelazny or… (I could go on for a while). I didn’t have to write better than my role models, I just had to write better than the average on the bookseller’s shelves. Eventually, of course, I learned it was more about push than meritocratic pull, and to succeed without push the merit had to be exceptional. If I hadn’t been so obstinate, I would have quit, because it was a huge hell and a tiny fire-bucket.

Because I always try other ways to ‘solve’ anything, I was running multiple approaches — including any competitions — I could find. I had no guidance (I wasn’t even online, we were desperately poor – and submissions with ‘return postage’ in a foreign currency would typically cost half our monthly budget.) I entered every writing competition I could find, which unsurprisingly were not really looking for sf. Still, I kept trying, trying submission to the slush, to short story markets, and competitions. The first one I won was NOVA – the South African Science Fiction comp. Yes, it was a relatively small pool to fish in. But when every avenue gets nowhere, just one breakthrough helped my determination and obstinacy to press on. It didn’t lead to publication then – but it has now — about 25 years on. CANDYBLOSSOM was me trying to out-Simak Simak… and that small success colored my writing. I went on from there to become South Africa’s first internationally published sf/fantasy author… and onto making the good idea fairy’s idea work. I still haven’t put out the hell that is trad publishing. But I am working on going around it – solving the problem in a different way.

So: I was very pleased to be asked to write the foreword to this collection, and to have a story in it.

20 thoughts on “Taking on hell with a fire-bucket

  1. Don’t know if you’d call it a win, but one byproduct of you creating a damp patch in hell is that I’ve gone on to publish. And even become a publisher myself, on a very small scale. Perhaps you are more of a gardener than you realized.

    (Living in the very hot and dry Texas landscape this last year has made me appreciate how any moisture atall encourages sudden green growth).

  2. Hey there Dave. I gave my Mom “Georgina” to read, and she loved it, and said to tell you so, and I assured her I would do so on today’s post.
    My paternal Grandma Toots’ name was Georgina, so Mom liked that fact, and would love another book. Maybe a book called “Beverly”? That being her mother’s name.(~_^)

  3. Ah, folly. And what it is.

    “The most exquisite Folly is made of Wisdom spun too fine.”

    1. I guessed what I’d find at the link, and was right. Go me, and my trove of useless knowledge.

      Unfortunately, I can envision people who have never heard of the substance encountering it in a story, and immediately walling the book as ridiculously unrealistic.

      1. You just need foreshadowing and build up.

        Can’t you just see a novice captain taking on load of that stuff because it was at 2x-3x the usual shipping rates, and the load master, who actually bothered to read the MSDS, completely freaking out when they find out?

      2. Well, I didn’t guess right (lithium, sodium, etc. are things you don’t put out with wet sand). But even the most basic knowledge of chemistry should tell someone that a substance made up entirely of chlorine and fluorine is going to be rather energetically reactive. I would have no sympathy with those who walled a book mentioning it.

        1. Energetically reactive, yes.
          But to the point of burning SiO4?

          That’s an irresistible force unaffected by an immobile object

          1. Well, no – but you do end up with some nice colored lumps of glass all over the place. Splatter range of molten glass depends on how much metal you’re trying to put out.

  4. Let me just offer you significant congratulations. (And let you know that you first came to my attention with Dragon’s Ring/Dog and Dragon (and I want more) at a time when I was seriously jaundiced about fantasy wannabes, and just about to start writing myself.,

    1. “I could write something better than this” has started a number of careers :-). Fortunately, no one explained that it’s a push market not a pull one.

  5. Bravo, sir! Congratulations on braving the flames. I’ve never been quite so daring, but when the Good Idea Fairy said, “Learn to fly so you won’t be afraid of it,” little did I know that drug addiction is curable, while flying addiction . . . is not. Twenty years and a lot of memories later . . .

    I write because stories pester me. I’m not sure if I’m related to the primeval story teller who helped the tribe remember where that one good waterhole was, or the story teller who got run out of every other tribe for corrupting the youth with tales of adventure and wonders “just over there, to the west.”

      1. Alas, no. It’s a long story, compounded by the current price for aviation fuel (high!!!) AvGas prices make CA and HI premium car gas look reasonable almost.

        1. Ah. Can understand that.

          If you’ve got access to a Xbox with gamepass, MSFS is very good, if a little tricky with a gamepad.

          The DHC-2 Beaver got added as a free plane for their anniversary update.

  6. I finally figured it out watching dummies jumping from cliffs at the local lake. The same thing that makes the guys do that, made them come down out of the trees in the first place, and play with fire, and invent wheels, and…So here’s to dummies.

Comments are closed.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: