by Louis Bertrand Shalako
All Rights Reserved
I wrote for years before I got serious. But having done that, I began to do things a little differently.
I even started to read differently. One day my mom phoned up and said she would be in town. She was wondering if I might like to read a few old Dick Francis novels.
“No. I want to read all of them,” I replied.
So my mom dug around and came up with a plastic shopping bag with about twenty-two paperbacks. My grandfather was a great Dick Francis fan, and she inherited the lot.
This by no means includes his entire output, but it was a pretty good cross-section.
What I did was to open up the books and check the date and the publisher, and then I lined them all up in chronological order. They were on the shelf right over my bed, equipped with a double four-foot fluorescent fixture. There were four different publishers represented, and maybe four or more titles per imprint. I started at the earliest one, and read them over the course of the next few weeks. (I know a fair bit about steeple-chasing now.)
In the first few books, which were not bad books or hard to read in any way, Dick Francis developed as a writer. Not only that, but he developed in print. He got paid to develop his work. And then something funny happened. The development stopped. The development stopped for all of the classic reasons.
As any self-help marketing guru will tell you, ‘Find something that works for you and then just keep doing it, over and over again.”
Dick Francis found an audience, and he learned how to serve the needs of that audience. Quite frankly, if he wanted to go off and experiment, maybe he could find a publisher for it somewhere. After all the man could write and he could meet a deadline. He had a marketable skill. Whether he was writing for a certain genre, audience or subset makes no difference.
Dick Francis’ audience had certain expectations. They knew what they were getting when they laid down their hard-earned cash for a Dick Francis novel. And Dick Francis liked rebuilding old buildings—that’s in there too. Who can blame him for wanting to make a living?
When I set out to write science fiction, I went to the library and started taking out books. I read them, too. While I enjoy writing science fiction, it is a little early to say if I have found, ‘something that works for me.’
I sure hope the pulp and paper industry will forgive me if I continue to try new things.