by Bud Sparhawk
I’ll be the first to admit that I am not a conscientious writer. In fact my writing efforts occur occasionally in spasmodic bursts of creativity but more often in damn, slogging drudgework. I am also easily distracted (ADD) and not very good on details, a combination that definitely curtails my efforts. Too often I’m distracted by something bright and shiny and lose my often-tattered thread of plot. As I’ve mentioned in my weekly blog (www.budsparhawk.blogspot.com), elements of my drafts such as names, places, and descriptions seem to remain liquid, never resolving until the penultimate draft is unknowingly submitted. I too often have regrets immediately after submission because of my PSS (premature-submission-syndrome).
All of my stories begin with far more words than ever reach the reader. Most of my short stories were almost three times as long in their original draft. As the sculptor said modestly about his works, “It’s easy to a produce a statue once you see the part of marble you need to remove.”
Editing provides both the bane and pleasure of writing. The bane is realizing that the piece I just completed is in fact an atrocious piece of poorly worded, rambling, disorganized crap. The pleasure comes from the continual polishing of successive drafts to make each word matter until the pearl steps from the oyster as it were.
To begin with, editing a first draft is easier than the writing of a story. At that nescient stage, errors of haste become glaringly obvious, as does any material irrelevant to the story. Most misspelled words and grammar mistakes are hopefully taken care of automatically so are of no concern (except when you’re writing SF of course). Editing becomes increasingly harder with each succeeding draft as I struggle to clarify and improve the action while honing descriptive and expository sentences into razor-sharp clarity. This last effort (reaching for the perfect word/sequence) often becomes as tedious as picking fly scats from the pepper line and would appear being overly compulsive to any rational observer.
I always carry a burden of guilt about my lack of discipline and fret that, should I not write for a while, the gift of creativity will depart, never to return. Occasionally I can become extremely focused, so much so that I ignore not only outside distractions but, occasionally, the physical cries of bladder and stomach. These periods come when my inner demons use their spurs to ride me to exhaustion. A similar narrow focus descends when I become captivated by a compelling story, so much so that my copyediting persona stops mentally correcting words, sentences, or sometimes entire scenes to the point that I actually understand the author’s intent. I wish I could be as critical of my own drafts instead of having these damnable teflon eyes that too frequently slide over outrageous errors of speliing and grammer.
Yet, there is a time, a brief moment when clarity prevails, when I am graced with a scene, a line of dialogue, or a plot detail that is suffused with such brilliance that it takes my breath away. When I attempt to capture it, the resulting effort captures only a pale shadow of that revelation and no amount of editing ever restores the luster of the original insight.
So I continue plodding along my punctuated path, stumbling too often, and missing many of the more clever possibilities as I strain to craft stories well beyond my skill level. My tortuous struggle to achieve something meaningful seems to be both a curse and a blessing.
But it doesn’t stop me from writing.
Q&A with Bud Sparhawk
What is the story behind “The Fading Pages of a Short Story” [on sale in our current issue now]?
I have several friends and acquaintances dealing with the deterioration of mind that comes with advancing age, some of whom are in various stages of Alzheimer’s. Such decline is sometimes harder on family and friends than the person losing their memories. This is the inspiration for this tale of a family dealing with the inevitable and trying to forestall it through technology.
How did this story germinate? Was there a spark of inspiration, or did it come to you slowly?
The basic idea of a writer afflicted with perhaps dementia was the seed thought, but I tried to give a light-hearted spin as I imagined a helpful technology advance. The family conflict came last and became the real story of compassion and reconciliation.
Do you particularly relate to any of the characters in this story?
Being a writer I naturally gave myself the lead role.
What is your history with Analog?
I started reading Astounding in 1950 and was immediately hooked to start a long history of subscriptions. However it was not until twenty-five years passed before I had two short stories appear in Astounding. Life intervened, so it was another fourteen years before I once again began submitting to Analog and immediately sold my third published science fiction story.
Since 1992 Analog’s published quite a few novellas, novelettes, short- and short-short stories, seven of which earned cover art specific to the tale. Although I appear in other markets Analog is my favorite go-to so I usually have a backlog of two or three Analog stories awaiting publication.
What is your process?
I usually write a few hundred words about an idea, figure out how it might play out, posit a sketch outline, break that into scenes, decide on a structure, and just rewrite the hell out of it until I’m satisfied with the result. This usually takes four or five rewrites until the structure is pleasing, the characters believable, and the science, if not factually correct, is at least believable. After that it’s just editing.
How did you break into writing & What inspired you to start writing?
Of a cold winter’s evening in northern Japan I opened a copy of Harlan Ellison’s Dangerous Visions and read it halfway through before thinking I could write better than this! Actually it was Harlan’s comments on each story that had me believing I could join the community of SF writers. The next evening I dashed off a quick novelette in long hand, realized the daunting task required to make it professionally acceptable and began sending less ambitious stories to magazines. This was in the days before electric typewriters, mailed submissions, and painful waiting for responses. After about thirty-five stories sent to multiple markets (one at a time!), I got an encouraging note from Ben Bova and, four submissions later, sold another.
What other projects are you currently working on?
I have just completed and published two new novels (Dreams of Earth & Shattered Dreams), reissued my Magician novel in trade, and am trying to complete three more novels that have been in development for fucking years. I’m also writing some mil-sci-fic, a fantasy piece, and a messy collection of this and that that clutters my desktop. Did I mention that I am slightly ADD?
Do you have any advice for up-and-coming writers?
First for the love of God, get a job that will keep you sheltered and fed while you beat your head against a world that will not appreciate your talent.
Second, let nothing deter you from finishing whatever you start nor draw you away from your passion to create Art.
Third, try to understand that everyone invests time, sweat, and anguish to produce a readable story. Your pain and frustration are not unique. In fact, struggle is the writer’s normal condition. Only liars produce publishable first drafts.
Finally, buy a really good desk chair. Your back will be grateful
How can our readers follow you and your writing?
Web site: http://www.budsparhawk.com
I’m also on Facebook.
Bud Sparhawk was born in Baltimore, Maryland and now resides in Midlothian Virginia. He has a BS degree in Mathematics from the University of Maryland and an MBA in Finance from Oklahoma City University. After fifteen years in the Air Force Bud worked for a variety of private companies before retiring from the role of Vice President at Macfadden, a Federal Government contractor. Bud is a member of SIGMA, a think tank of speculative writers that advises the government on issues of national interest. For the past ten years since his retirement he was Board member and Chief Financial Officer for SFWA.
Bud started writing seriously in 1974 and made his first sale to Analog, followed quickly by another, just when he entered his second year of graduate school, and before taking a thirteen-year hiatus from writing SF.
His work is most associated with his short fiction in Analog but has been published elsewhere in various magazines and anthologies. He was a three-time finalist for the Nebula Award for Best Novella in 1997, 2002, and 2005. His work has appeared in several Year’s Best SF anthologies. His first professionally published novel, titled Vixen, was released in 2008 from Cosmos Books. Since then he has professionally published two collections, and five novels, the most recent of which SCATTERED DREAMS will appear in early 2019.