I have a feeling that almost every Robert E. Howard fan – certainly every one who has ever put his hand to writing – has wanted to write Conan. Now, the estate of Robert E. Howard has some quite legitimate complaints about people doing this, unless sanctioned by them, naturally (and that particular market has dried up somewhat over the last few years as the pastiches fade away – a pity, as some of them are actually rather good – which means that the only remaining option is to create a new version, a 'Clonan'. Again, some of these are pretty good – I've got an extremely soft spot for Brak the Barbarian, for example. Naturally enough, this is something that has occurred to me as I warm up to starting my 'project x' on New Year's Day.
There is a secret to making this work, and it is quite simply this. Don't write a Clonan. Write your own character, using similar themes and ideals. The concept of 'civilization versus barbarism' is as real today as it was in the thirties; I could make an argument that the dichotomy is even starker now than it was then. The themes still hold good, and there are still plenty of stories to be told along those lines. I still think that there is room for a hero of this type, and yes, I use the word hero. I believe that people want to root for the protagonist of a book, and frankly...it's what I enjoy writing about.
Because here we come to the core of writing, and it is simply this. To paraphrase Nelson – extensively – 'No writer can do very wrong if he is writing about something he finds interesting'. (The original is captains firing on enemy ships, but I still think it works.) I've had a good year, and it's a year that has given me the belief that I can continue to do this for the foreseeable future, but I'm in this to write stories I want to write – because I think that shows through. I don't hold any great regard for 'write what you know', because I've never actually commanded a starship in battle (dammit) nor lead a band of barbarians to war (dammit again).
When I was seriously thinking about taking up writing, I read a lot of books on the theory of writing, and in all honesty, I didn't find much of use there. Maybe I was simply unlucky. One piece of advice I did get that I have adopted was 'write what you have on your shelves'. Essentially, it was recommended that you should take a look at the books you own, and to write in those genres, rather than to chase around going for what might be 'popular'. Try and write in a genre you don't know, and it will show. Write a genre you know and love, and you will have a knowledge of what has been done before, what works and what doesn't, and of the sort of stories that you want to write. Perhaps it is as simple that any writer is a synthesis of all the writers he or she has read in the past. That I would not choose to say.
I'm in a bit of a retrospective mood at the moment, and in the process of making some key decisions about what I'm going to do next year. About all I will commit to at this exact moment is that I'm not making these decisions based on profitability or market trends. Those come into play after I've written the book. I'll base it on the books I want to write next year. It's as simple as that.
Assuming I can work out exactly what that is, of course...