Inevitably Someone Will Complain About Being Called a “Larva”

Jay Lake, a clever young fellow I think you’ll be hearing about a lot in the coming days, offers up “The larval stages of the common American speculative fiction writer,” detailing all the Stations of the Cross a newbie science fiction and/or fantasy writer is likely to visit on his or her path to crucifixion publication. Read it and see yourself in it, you larvae!

32 thoughts on “Inevitably Someone Will Complain About Being Called a “Larva”

  1. Was Dune a Larval stage book because it was Herbert’s first? Would that make it a sand trout stage? Still best selling sf book ever, and it was only rejected by 20 publishers. Or rather editors, that kinda missed out on spotting that gem. So much for trusting the opinions of those who know. Ha.

  2. Was Dune a Larval stage book because it was Herbert’s first? Would that make it a sand trout stage? Still best selling sf book ever, and it was only rejected by 20 publishers. Or rather editors, that kinda missed out on spotting that gem. So much for trusting the opinions of those who know. Ha.

    Since Dune was Herbert’s second published novel and originally appeared as a serial in Analog nearly twenty years after Herbert’s first published short story appeared in Esquire in 1945, not to mention the twenty published short stories and nonfiction newspaper article published in the years in-between, I’m going to answer your question with… uhm… hang on… got it: “no.”

    (See also.)

  3. P.S.

    “Nonfiction newspaper article” looks funny but is appropriately singular, based on Wikipedia: Herbert published a piece on UFOs a few months before the first installment of Dune appeared; I presume his status as a published and established SF author was probably the reason he was asked to write it.

  4. Eric, what was Herbert’s first novel called?
    Would you call him established just based on the short story sales? Not that there’s anything wrong with short stories, or collections of shorts.

  5. The Gray Area, the larval stage occurs *before* publication. So if, for the sake of argument, Dune had been Herbert’s first book, he’d have been past that stage. But, as pointed out, he had some publishing experience before Dune, so I’d say he had reached another level than the one Jay Lake (amusingly) describes.

  6. One person skipping the larval stage and plopping right up as a respected author doesn’t disprove the whole larva theory.

    Of course, I’m a prodigy, so I’ll just call my new agent-to-be and leave you larvae to your business here.

  7. There’s a number of larval stages I haven’t passed through. (Although maybe that was because I got edjumacated about realities pretty early on. Like, I’ve never thought there was a conspiracy in publishing, that I was a genius, or that the fools would miss when I was gone. But I did definitely pass through the first three stages, and am now in All My Friends Are Selling…and if I don’t have an agent by my annual writer’s week in Toronto or have several submissions in short markets, people in my writer’s group may sadly sigh at me next July.)

  8. Who you calling a larva? Don’t you know I was the senior editor of my high-school annual creative writing booklet!? I even won some money for best entry based on a fair vote of the other editors (introverted and easily intimidated) who worked under, and answered to me.

    Seriously though. that writing stuff is HARD. Do you wonder why all these hack authors get published when you can count two or three cliches on every page?

    Try writing something if you haven’t been doing it for a long time. The only thing your mind offers you is cliche. It’s hard to write a single sentence that doesn’t sound eerily similar to something a favorite author wrote, only suckier, more predictable, and contrived.

    Props to the people who made it past even the second stage.

  9. I’d love to see a similar list of writer evolution as they recognize and shed various writing tropes.

    For instance, one stage would be when it dawns on the writer that she/he doesn’t actually have to spend 2 to 3 pages describing, in detail every every hallway the character walks through over the course of the story. In fact, you can leave those scenes where a character is just walking through a hallway out entirely!

  10. Gray Area: Sorry that I couldn’t resist a little snarkiness in my first response. Like AliceB says, I think Herbert was at another level than the one Lake describes by virtue of pre-publication. And in Herbert’s case, I’d have to say well beyond it by the time Dune was serialized in 1963 given that he’d been publishing work in a variety of formats since 1945. Further, I’d have to note that the publishing industry was a little different in those cheap-paper-no-internet days: the magazine industry was going through one of its healthier phases, and it seems it was easier (tho’ never easy to sell short stories and make some kind of writerly living doing it; it was, at the very least, a bigger market, though that had the unfortunate effect of keeping rates down.

    Looking at Herbert’s bio in Wikipedia, I might also have to amend what I said earlier, sort of: Herbert seems to have had a day job through this period–working for newspapers in Seattle, Salem (OR) and San Fransisco as a writer and editor. So my saying he had one newspaper piece in addition to the twenty years of fiction is probably wrong, but it seems to go more in the direction of Herbert being an established writer than less. (Journalism and writing fiction are obviously different things, but I imagine succeeding at one while trying to break into the other is very different from the larva stage–personally, I’d probably be happier with the fiction I’m struggling with if I could point to a successful parallel career. Instead, I remain a struggling larva myself.) Not only that, but Herbert’s post-1945 writing career appears to resume a professional writing career that began immediately after high school (according to Wikipedia, “[Herbert] graduated from high school in 1938, and in 1939 he lied about his age in order to get his first newspaper job at the Glendale Star,” and then a few years later Herbert enlisted in the U.S. Navy for WWII).

    There may well be a writer that went from egg to butterfly in one stage, but I’m not sure Herbert is a good example. If he was, it was in 1939, when he started working for a newspaper right out of high school, and not in 1965 when twenty publishers rejected a book that at that point had already been published (as a serial in Analog).

  11. Ben, my hallway discriptions are epic. An infinite hall of mirrors has a lot of stuff to discribe.

  12. Eric, it’s good to be pointed in the right direction. I had been too lazy to look it up. Just one of those things I thought I knew, but didn’t. I first heard the story of Herbert’s attempts to get Dune sold (as a book), at a panel discussion at a con. I figured the author knew what they were takling about. It’s still a good “keep trying” story. I’ve read the Dune books more than any others; I really should know more about Frank Herbert.

  13. Screw being called a larva. He takes a completely unnecessary swipe at romance authors for no good reason I can tell. Surprising too, considering how many great romance authors are also great science fiction authors. Catherine Asaro. Linnea Sinclair. Nora Roberts.

  14. The Gray Area, if you want to learn more about Frank Herbert I highly recommend Dreamer of Dune by his son Brian Herbert. It is much more insightful than the Wikipedia listing (not to knock wikipedia).

  15. I’m not sure, but I seem to recall that Robert Heinlein went pretty much right to the published author phase. I can’t imagine him at the larva stage anyway.

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