Octavia Butler wrote one of my favorite short stories, Bloodchild, about insect-like aliens which use humans as hosts for their eggs. Each human, most often a male, is united with an alien in a form of marriage. The human is totally dependent on the alien for survival. If the alien doesn’t removed the maggots once they hatch, the human will be eaten alive!
Butler, a black woman who spent most of her life on the west coast, did not see Bloodchild as a tale of slavery. It was about botflies. But many readers will relate to the social hierarchy of the story and the stress which comes from being the one who must do the dangerous task of childbearing.
Butler wrote fourteen books and was known for lean, calm prose touching on social issues. As I fine tune my latest book, nearly two years in the making, I’m reflecting on her advice to aspiring writers.
- Read. Read about writing, read fiction, read non-fiction, listen to audio books. “Ponder use of language, the sounds of words, conflict, characterization, plottings, and the multitude of ideas…”
- “Take classes and go to Writer’s Workshops. …you need other people to let you know whether you’re communicating…in ways that area accessible and entertaining” and “as compelling as you can make them.”
- Vocabulary and grammar are your tools. Make sure you can use them effectively.
- “Revise your writing until it’s as good as you can make it.”
- Submit your work and learn from your rejections.
- “Forget inspiration Habit is more dependable.” Forget talent. You can learn to improve your work. Forget imagination. “You have all the imagination you need.”
- The thing you must do to be an author is persist. Stick with it. Persist.
Butler was not a flowery writer. Her writing won’t knock you off the page. What will is her observations and ideas. At times, I struggle with my Midwestern taciturn prose. Butler is evidence of the power of the ideas behind the words. Take her advice. Persist.