Writing, Between Parent and Child

- by Elaine Isaak

My beloved elder child cannot write a paragraph to save her life.  I, a professional fiction writer, am perpetually mystified by this.  I know that it’s common for parents to have children with different skill sets, and for this divide to cause consternation on both sides. It helps when the parent recognizes the child’s actual gifts and encourages those, and–only very gently–offers aid in the parent’s own area of expertise.  I try to keep my writing advice to a minimum, and only when asked, but sometimes it leads to an awful lot of tongue-biting on my part.

Which leads me to wonder about the legacy author phenomenon in speculative fiction.

I know of several children of famous authors going on to pursue careers in genre fiction.  In some ways, it makes perfect sense.  The parent is a model of writing success:  proving it can be done, in a way that the children of, say, engineers or auto mechanics don’t have the concrete evidence that fiction can be a viable option.

They also have likely grown up, as my suffering children have, with the parent-author’s endless critiques of narratives in all forms.  The world-building of My Little Ponies drives me nuts!  How do ponies have a hair salon when they can’t hold a brush?  Or how about the plot inconsistencies and stylistic foibles of popular books, a favorite topic for authors everywhere.  My family has had to listen to me dissect everything from movies to television to pop songs and the must-read book of the sixth grade class.  If that doesn’t give them a deeper understanding of story, what will?

The child of an author-parent has also likely heard all the tax-time grumbles and dinner-table rants about the industry itself:  contract troubles, tough choices, foreign rights, indie options, book promotion–heck, they’ve probably grown up in bookstores and already know all the local buyers!  So all of these things might give them a leg up in a complex industry.

Some, like Brian Herbert or Todd McCaffrey, apprentice to their author-parent and literally take over their parent’s dream, carrying on a series beloved by readers  and allowing it to go on not only as a world, but even in name.  I imagine they grew up in Dune or Pern as much as in the real world, as their parents devoted themselves to creating these rich and rewarding environments for fantastic fiction.

Others, like Joe Hill or Adam Stemple, build upon the skills of fiction they likely learned from their parents (Stephen King and Jane Yolen, respectively) whether deliberately or through the osmosis of sharing their lives, and go on to forge their own paths, pursuing a separate dream along that same road.

Sometimes, when I despair of my child’s writing, or when she makes a breakthrough discovery on her own, I wonder if she’ll ever be a part of my literary legacy.  On the good days, I encourage her to pursue a dream she loves as much as I love writing.  On the bad days, I hope she finds a stable, sane, and ordinary job that allows her to stand on her own, but I do wonder if writing will be a part of that.

Will she become increasingly involved in some epic undertaking of mine, so deeply that she chooses to press on with it after I have had to leave the task?  Or will she be inspired by my successes and educated by my mistakes so that she knows how to make it happen outside of my world?  Just as likely, she’ll be one of the millions of author’s children who dodge the writing bullet entirely and become doctors or chefs or mathematicians.  Who knows?  But it’ll be fun to find out!


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