The Success Trap

Jay Lake here. Author of Mainspring, Escapement and Green from Tor Books. I’m guest blogging this month at to celebrate the June 9th release of Green. I’ll be talking about the book some, as well as covering other writer topics of interest to me, and hopefully you.

I was discussing the book recently in a telephone interview with a newspaper reporter. He asked me how Green had come to be written. I recalled a comment that Beth Meacham, my editor at Tor, had made to me when we were looking at my proposed projects. This was after Mainspring had come out, and I was working on Escapement. She said, “If you don’t want to be the clockwork guy for the rest of your life, you might want to write something outside that sequence.”

She was right. That’s an interesting trap for a writer—success. To some degree, anything an established writer complains or worries about sounds a bit like anxiety over winning the lottery, at least from the point of view of an aspiring writer. But complaining about success, even (or especially) potential success, seems even more idiotic.

It’s a real issue to writers. Step outside genre and look at John Grisham with an extreme case of this issue. Biggest legal thriller writer around, gazillion copy bestseller, major movie deals, the works. He wanted to write a litfic novel, so out came A Painted House. His numbers on that book were terrific, by most people’s standards. But they weren’t terrific by the standards of John Grisham’s legal thrillers.

Guess what his readers, and therefore his publishers, wanted next?

How would I feel about being “trapped” inside a big selling series? I suppose I’d cry all the way to the bank. But I’d also be pleased as punch to be selling titles, building readership, making numbers for Tor, and just generally entertaining people.

For now, like most newer novelists, I’m doing all of that on a more modest basis. (Those of you who are breakout phenoms may talk amongst yourselves.) Books sell, readers read, Tor digests the sales reports, and I write more. In this case, Green, as a new direction between Escapement and the third clockwork book, Pinion, due out in the spring of 2010.

A second book about Green, Endurance, is in the planning stages. I am almost certainly not done with the clockwork universe, but I will give it a rest for a while after Pinion. In addition to following where Green leads me (and she’s a persuasive young lady, I have to tell you) I’ve got a lot of detail drawn up concerning a high concept space opera tentatively entitled Sunspin.

So why did I write Green? Because I didn’t want to be the clockwork guy. But more to the point, because I am the clockwork guy. And the Green guy. And the Sunspin guy. And all the other chameleonic shades any versatile writer can be. As for success? Bring it on. I’m ready to be tested.

Jay Lake is the author of the author of Mainspring and Escapement, and winner of the 2004 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. His forthcoming novel Green is available today from Tor Books.


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