This morning I was told I am not “a real writer” because my last works published had been tie-ins, works that are part of other properties. The Raiders of Bloodwood is part of the Descent, Legends of the Dark franchise, as is Dreams of Fire (the book I should be writing instead of writing this post); I have stories in The Devourer Below and Secrets in Scarlet, both part of the Arkham Horror franchise.
And in the past two years I have published a few Sherlock Holmes stories.
So you see, not a real writer.
Now, it could just be bad faith (like when a guy accused me of plagiarism because I wrote a scenario for a TTRPG of which I was a co-author, and thus had “plagiarized” the game IP), or it could be this weird belief in “pure art” and “absolute originality” – whatever those can be.
But one way or another, it is not the best way to start the week – and therefore instead of ignoring that observation, I replied to it.
And here is my reply…
You might want to go out to your local record store – or maybe on Amazon – and buy yourself a copy of Rumours, the 1977 Fleetwood Mac album. Yes, you can listen it on Spotify, or Youtube, or whatever, but it would be better for you to go out and buy yourself a copy.
Vinyl, possibly, but the CD is also OK.
Once you’ve got the record, you should play it, and listen to it.
You will notice that the record includes some songs by Lindsay Buckingham (such as the opener, Second Hand News), a few by Stevie Nicks (such as the closer, Gold Dust Woman), and a few by the late Christine McVie (the classic Don’t Stop, for instance, or You Make Loving Fun).
Now, no one, but no one, would mistake a Buckingham composition for a song by Nicks or McVie, and any other way around – each of these songwriters is absolutely distinctive.
Their musical structure, their themes, their approach to the composition and execution – each one is perfectly individual and unmistakable.
Yet all the songs on Rumours are also, undisputedly, Fleetwood Mac songs.
Once again, you listen to them, and you can’t mistake for anything else.
And at this point you might want to check out Stevie Nick’s The Wild Heart, or Buckingham’s Go Insane or Christine McVie’s eponymous 1984 album – and you will find in them songs that are unmistakably Nicks songs, or Buckingham songs, or McVie songs, but are not Fleetwood Mac songs. There’s something different – not less or more, just different.
Rumors is also interesting because it features The Chain, a song that was credited to all the members of the band. It is indeed a Fleetwood Mac song, you can make no mistake placing it – and it is not exactly Nicks, or McVie, or Buckingham.
Writing tie-ins, playing in someone else’s universe, maybe adopting someone else’s characters, is akin to playing in a band – you are an individual, but you are also part of the band.
When your work is done, it is both yours and the band’s.
No sane individual would claim Lindasy Buckingham, Stevie Nicks or Christine McVie were “not real songwriters” because they were operating as part of an outfit, as cogs in a larger machine, working (hopefully) to move in a certain direction.
The same can be said of anyone working inside a franchise.
You are working as part of a larger outfit, you’ve got to be part of the band, but you should be able to maintain your individuality, your style, your personal quirks.
Of course, one hopes one’s part of Fleetwood Mac (or the Beatles, or the Stones, or Yes, or any of a million outstanding bands out there) and not the East Elbow-St.-John All Star Skiffle Band and Revue, but, well, that’s another story.
Not a real writer my foot, in other words.