Wednesday, January 27, 2010


A lot of people use the term "hack writer" as a pejorative. I once knew (online only) a writer who referred to HP Lovecraft as a "hack" because he sold his stories to the pulps. This same writer went on to write comic books for Vertigo. Now would be a good time to actually use LOL!

In fact, "hack" writing is merely writing to order. It's writing as a task, generally per order. It's a job.

I admire the so-called hack writers who entertained me in my youth. Anyone who wrote work on contract were, essentially, hack writers. There's nothing wrong with being a hack. The same author who called Lovecraft a hack was wrong on that take. As far as I know, HP Lovecraft only contracted to write a single story, that one for Weird Tales which was ghosted for Harry Houdini. Other than that one instance, HPL wrote all of his work as he felt the inspiration. This is the exact opposite of a hack. And it generally leads to starvation.

Writing as a job is nothing to be sneered at or belittled. Many writers do that. Fellows such as Lester Dent made quite a good living being hack writers. It was a job, and those who did it well earned good money at it.

A few years ago when I was desperate to sell a novel, I began looking around for a job as a hack writer. I'd already written for the comic book series CLIVE BARKER'S HELLRAISER, so I know what it was like to produce fiction by formula. Pretty much all mainstream comics work is hack work. Whether it's for a continuing Vertigo series or for Archie Comics. If you write stories for titles created by others, then you're a hack.

I'd given up trying to get back into comics. The doors were just sealed up too tight. So I looked around for paperback series that I might be able to crack. I settled on THE EXECUTIONER and related titles being published by Gold Eagle. Somewhere along the way I'd gleaned the names of a couple of the top editors there and started inquiring about the possibility of working for them. And I kept writing to them, sending my resume' of published works, emphasizing the comics work. For a long time they ignored me.

Finally, one day I received an email reply from the editor-in-chief there. He told me to work up some plot outlines and to submit them.

So--it had been a long time since I'd seen any of their books--I went out and bought a stack of second-hand copies of their adventure titles. I was, quite frankly, horrified. There was a powerful gun-crazy right wing tilt to the books. Yeah, yeah. I know. What the hell did I expect? I'm not quite sure what I expected, but I did know that I did not want to write fiction that promoted reactionary gun-mad politics. I'd just forgotten the titles from my days as a bookseller.

I sat down and tried to brainstorm my way into it. I kept coming up with outlines and fleshing them out and they would always end up being...well...right wing rants. And I'm not into that whole scene. The guns. The knives. The subtle racism. The killing. Gods, the killing.

And, in the end, I just let it all slide. I got rid of the books and forgot about the whole scheme.

I just ain't got what it takes to be a hack.

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