As a sequel to my last post, I have received a charming and delightful email from a person who informs me that I am a ‘miserable fool’, that I am suffering from spiritual pride and need to turn to the Lord, and that the only way to do that is to do exactly as he, the writer of the email, commands. But it is I, you see, not he, who suffers from pride.

As a further balm to the wounded spirit, he offers this gem:

As for fiction, you haven’t enough broad and intense experience to ever convey the kind of depth and originality to the fantasy field (or any other) that makes for greatness or popularity.

I shall not reply to him in person; I have dealt with this character before; his eyes, ears, and mind are closed to everything and everyone, as far as I can tell, and the only thing he pays attention to is the din inside his own head. But I reply to him at large and in public, in the words of C. S. Lewis from The Pilgrim’s Regress:

But how can you help me after removing the only thing that I want to be helped to? What is the use of telling a hungry man that you will grant him his desires, provided there is no question of eating?

I put it to the 3.6 Loyal Readers – just in case I should be missing a jewel in a dunghill; I do not want to dismiss advice without a hearing. Is this man right, and I should give up writing fiction?


  1. Hrodgar says

    Your interlocutor believes that depth and originality are necessary for popularity. If he’s so deluded as to believe that, then he’ll only be right about as often as a broken clock.

    For my own part, I enjoy your work and hope you keep it up. I’m not well enough versed in the industry or familiar enough with you personally to offer much practical advice beyond the almost the most general advice possible: I know that in times of trouble, prayer and penance are of even more importance than usual, so if you aren’t already it might be a good idea to start. Beyond that, what would you do (not what COULD you do, but what, realistically, WOULD you probably do) if you were not writing? Would it be nobler or less noble? I hope you keep writing, but if you do stop, only let it be to do something better.

  2. NO. The man is a fool and should be ignored entirely. Speaking as someone who got almost completely burned out on fantasy as a genre, your works are deeply enjoyable, and I’m still eagerly awaking the second parts for both of your series.

  3. Eric Schmidt says

    The answer to your question is an unequivocal NO. I know of no reason to think this man knows you well enough to make such statements. And what is the meaning of telling someone he will not be capable of writing well, when he already has? Further, I would be greatly saddened if you gave up writing fiction, and think that the world be worse off if you ceased.

  4. I blush that I did not reply to your last, I plead shortness of time.

    Your essays while they ostensibly treat merely of subjects like fantasty writing and jazz, are lucid gems that entertain and delight while instructing in Truth and Beauty. This is a rare and important gift.

    H. Smiggy McStudge is a worthy successor to Screwtape, and I would love to put a book of him into the hands of my daughter and other friends who re-read Screwtape’s letters.

    Personally, I found Lord Talon’s Revenge too crude for my taste. Angel Keep and Eye of the Maker are both solid, competent fantasy. Your dialogue is always clever, funny, and human. I found the worldbuilding in Angel Keep much more compelling, and the characters more engaging. (The cliffs with the spoilers in them! The bird-healers! ) Of the two, I am more eager for more Where Angels Die. Maybe once other episodes are completed, Angel Keep could be the freebie that sucks people in?

    Your insight, and wit, and craftmanship cxombined make excellent and valuable content.

  5. markwark says

    In reference to the last post and this; I’m not good at advice, and in any case don’t feel I know you well enough to give any way. I can maybe encourage you, though. I have bought and thoroughly enjoyed everything you have released (to my knowledge). My own reception of your fiction has indeed been silent, but has not been cold.

  6. I didn’t write last time, either, because I hesitated to poke at your darkness, and, in my ignorance, make it worse.

    This guy had no such qualms. He spoke garbage.

    I haven’t read a lot of your fiction yet – physical infirmities and a shortage of neurons makes it possible for me to either read or write – not both. But I’ve loved several of your essays, and have at least one of your books.

    Most people don’t have your depth of understanding. When that kind of a mind writes fiction, the fiction is complex, deep, layered, and connected – and it’s a slow process.

    God gave you that mind, and the ability to write. I wouldn’t tell God He’s wrong if I were you. I’d bow my head and meekly get back to work. Write if you need encouragement – I’m fairly good at it.

  7. Please don’t give it up.

  8. “The fact is that anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days. If you can’t make something out of a little experience, you probably won’t be able to make it out of a lot.”

    ― Flannery O’Connor

    • Aha! Good catch. The ultimate response to such an argument.

      O’Connor was no fantasist, it is true, but if a woman who traveled so little and lived so short a life could put out such incredible fiction, we all have no excuses.

  9. NO!

    And I ditto the quote from Flannery O’Connor cited by Mary.

    I would encourage you to write MORE, to focus on getting the next few books of THE EYE OF THE MAKER out into the world, of giving readers a chance to find your work and enjoy it.

  10. I wouldn’t presume to know you and your situation well enough to advise you on what is best for you in your life as it stands now. I don’t know what your sales are when you write, nor your expenses, nor anything to know whether you would be better off writing or finding other occupation. But, I have enjoyed nearly all your work, I enjoy reading your blog, I stand ready to toss my money at you when you publish again, and selfishly hope for more stories from your pen. Even where I dislike what you have written, the comments on the blog at least seem to run counter to my inclinations such that I question whether it is a lack of quality or a failing of my own taste that causes me to find them unappealing. In short, I certainly hope you continue to write.

  11. E. Crook says

    As for giving up writing, I myself attempted to do that once, and found that it deepened my depression to such a degree that I was forced back into writing. If you can find something else to do that you feel has more worth than writing, by all means take it up. If not, keep writing.
    Internal suffering can be just as intense and broad as any other kind of experience, so I would say that part (at least) of your friendly correspondent’s message is invalid. It’s ridiculous to measure others’ pain by your own yardstick, because each person experiences suffering differently.

  12. Mark Harbinger says


    Thank you for your post. There is power in sharing. Here are some thoughts and experiences that I hope are helpful.

    Depression (in my case, situational, but chronic) led me away from my true self. Over time, it changed who I was: I no longer loved what I loved, or did what I did…I had been subtly sailing off course for so long that my guide-stars no were longer even there.

    That is, except for my kids. Ultimately, they were the key to my redemption. When the plane is going down, put the mask on yourself first. I began to realize that I needed to look out for myself in order to be the best for them.

    After the key catalyst of a *true* vacation, I began to see what was really happening around me. I saw that I had to make major changes in both my personal and professional life, or else I was not only not going to be of much use to my kids, but I probably wouldn’t survive, period.

    Faith was certainly also a key ingredient for what I had to do—not so much faith in an external higher power, but faith in my internal instincts. I believed that they would prove true, and that doing what I felt was best would work out out for the best (despite no positive outcome being obvious).

    It is now ten years later. I have remarried, started a new career (law school at age 40, I don’t recommend it), and all involved are doing great. Plus, late in the process, I discovered I had sleep apnea (which contributes to depression). Life is not perfect—-but I am myself again: loving who and what I love.

    And, yes, that includes writing.

    For what it is worth: You have my Very Best Regards,

    p.s. “The End of Earth and Sky” is an exemplar ‘book one’ among recent fantasy sagas. It is only equalled by Rothfuss’s “The Name of the Wind”, IMO.

    p.p.s. You are not alone. Feel free to ping.

  13. Mark Harbinger says

    I forgot to mention: Your pop culture criticism is simply unparalleled (!). From Superversive to M*A*S*H to storytelling basics. C’mon, at the very least, you have to keep on keeping everyone in line…

  14. baduin says
  15. Matthew Salser says

    I should hope not! Please ignore him, and continue when you can.

  16. Stephen J. says

    The unfortunate cost of taking a public position of any kind on any topic is having to deal with those whose favourite pastime and purpose is the flinging of tomatoes. This sounds like a particularly rotten specimen thereof, so I will join the ringing chorus of No, by no means give up fiction writing. As Screwtape admits, the sweetest moment for the devils is to see someone yield to temptation when salvation was but moments away.

    It may be true that you are suffering from spiritual pride, in that insofar as depression has a consciously controllable component, it is the bad habit of self-targeted rumination, and obsession with one’s own self in any manner does constitute a form of pride (I say this as someone who has fallen victim to this myself all too often). However, this has to be mitigated by a few vital caveats: 1) this makes you no different from any human, as Pride runs through all of us, 2) I would not ask anybody except a trained, competent, and personally familiar therapist to speak with authority on what part of anybody’s depression was clinical and what part was cognitively behavioural, and 3) I would not presume to give anybody spiritual advice on dealing with that situation unless I had that knowledge and competence. Therefore, at the very least, you (a) don’t have to feel bad about feeling bad, and (b) you don’t have to second-guess yourself about not taking advice from someone who is trying for ‘tough love’ without knowing you well enough to have any claim to the ‘love’ part of that.

    If you are really looking for a jewel of tough love, I will offer this: If you never get around to publishing The Grey Death I will fly out to the western part of the nation and drub you thoroughly with one of those big padded clubs the American Gladiators used to use to knock each other off podiums into the water. (Mostly because from your descriptions of your physical privations this sounds like one of the few fights I might actually win.)

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