I consider myself a blue-collar writer. Like your father or your grandfather or maybe your great-grandfather, I never throw anything out. My writing garage is filled with bits and pieces, odds and ends, all sorts of debris accumulated over the last 19 years. Most of it hasn't seen the light of day in a long time. Frankly, most of it doesn't deserve to see the light of day. But there are occasional moments when I wander into that writing garage, looking for a specific part or a chunk of something -- and I find the kernel of what could be a good story.
"Exiles of Eden" started off that way. There was an old story I'd written in 1996 -- back when I was very brand new at this gig. Not a very competently-told tale, to be honest. Clearly the work of a green writer. It had made the rounds of the (then) markets, and gotten rejected. But I'd always been fond of the central character and his predicament: a human being whose mind has been recorded into the memory banks of an interstellar warship, then flung off into the galaxy to do battle with an overwhelmingly implacable alien menace.
So I did what I've done several times as of late: I threw the kernel of that old story into the machine parts cleaner, brushed off the corrosion and the rust and the old oil, then set about constructing an entirely new adventure around that lone, refreshed concept.
Only, this time Rordy the recorded human wasn't alone. I gave him friends. And a much longer history. And an alien foe so literally awful it had wiped humanity utterly from the galaxy. Or so Rordy had been assuming for too many years. Until his ancient friend Wanda showed up. Wanda, with whom there had been so many unexplored possibilities, in the time right before the Earth's sun went supernova...
Obviously, I like to play with "big" concepts. Virtual immortality. Replicant tech. Love and relationships that span centuries, or millennia. Invincible monsters hiding under your (galactic) bed. The end of the frickin' world, and so forth.
But I try to play with these concepts in ways that are accessible to many different kinds of people.
I think that's another aspect of being blue-collar: I sometimes flirt with literary word-smithing, but in the end I deliberately try to tell tales that a Private in the Army can digest. Me, the old Reserve Warrant Officer watching these something-teen year olds walk out the door to Iraq or Afghanistan. If only more science fiction writers understood how voraciously a lot of those Privates read. Especially within the genre. If I'm spinning sci-fi yarns those young Janes and Joes in The Box can't grok, I kinda suspect I'm doing it wrong.
So there's a lot of "voice" in this story. In all my stories, actually.
Dean Wesley Smith sold me on that concept, back a few years ago when I was barely writing at all, staring at a mountain of rejections, and wondering if it wasn't just a colossal waste of time. Dean smacked me on the head and said, "Stop re-writing your work to death, you're killing the voice!" So I don't re-write endlessly anymore. I usually give myself three passes, and I'm out. The story is either up to snuff, or it isn't. After three runs through the manuscript, it's as good as I can make it -- at this current time, at my current skill level.
For those stories that don't make it -- happens less often these days, to my great delight -- the writing garage beckons. Just take the story in and dump it out onto one of the (crowded) shelves. Maybe I'll come back for it in a few years, when I feel like it.
Of course, with the gleaming electronic freeway of e-publishing beckoning like an Eisenhower Interstate of 21st century writing, maybe I'll put more time into bringing out all the old garage stories? Build me some kitbashed, Frankenstein hot-rods?
Tracy Hickman always says that stories that don't get read are stories that don't do anyone any good -- least of all the writer. Until the stories get read, they don't have meaning in the lives of the people who read them. So why let any of that material gather dust?
I think I'll go get my coveralls on...