Contribute to An Online Compendium of Noble Failure (or: Dreams Delayed)

Jeff VanderMeer • February 19th, 2008 @ 11:15 am • Culture

So, I’m on the road for a day or so, and I thought this would be a good time to ask everybody out there to answer one or both of two questions, the answers to which intrigue me in the wake of an article I read about books that almost were but weren’t. But I want to expand it to be books, yes, but also other projects of any kind.

(1) What project you worked on that you were really invested in failed utterly and you still to this day think about it with disappointment?

(2) What project have you always wanted to do but have not yet gotten around to? Like, your dream project?

Again, these can be anything, not just related to books and writing. For #1, it’s kind of an opportunity to share a vision that might’ve been. For #2, it’s an opportunity to begin to get closer to starting that project. Who knows, someone who reads this blog might take you up on the idea.

This ain’t a contest. Just curious. And you can post anonymously if you need to. Later, I’ll share my own.

jeff

32 Responses to “Contribute to An Online Compendium of Noble Failure (or: Dreams Delayed)”

  1. Rose Fox says:

    1) A career in architecture. My first bout of forearm tendinitis was directly related to my drawing classes. My right arm is simply not capable of sustaining that much pencil-holding. (Good thing writing and editing can be done with a keyboard, or I wouldn’t be able to have this career either.) It was a crushing disappointment. I call it “the career that got away”.

    2) I can’t think of a specific dream project that’s achievable currently. If I just haven’t gotten around to it, it’s small, like hanging paintings (we’ve been in this apartment three years) or finishing the cross-stitch piece I started when I was 14. The big unrealized dream project is my dream house, which I don’t think is actually physically possible, never mind that I don’t have the money to at least try to approximate it.

  2. Robert Devereux says:

    1) My first demo tape. After recording it, my singer asked me not to distribute it. She made the right call, because my ambitions far outpaced my abilities at the time. I’ve tried to salvage a bit of the work, but most of it isn’t salvageable.

    2) I really want to do an ethnomusicology CD for a fictional country, like a Rough Guide to the Music of X, where X exists only in the imagination. A CD like that needs lyrics, and I can’t write lyrics to save my life. I’ve put it on hold for now as I work on a rock CD, but lack of movement from my singer is tempting me to work on other projects again.

  3. Greg L Johnson says:

    1. I once got involved in opening a restaurant with a couple of other guys, one of whom turned out to be less than trustworthy. The whole thing became a real mess.

    2. This isn’t so much a project as it is a dream. I’d like to see the science fiction community become appreciated for the contributions it can make to mainstream discourse. Here’s an example. The local public radio station has a morning talk show that covers a wide range of topics. One day last week the host had a copy of a fifty year old issue of Popular Mechanics that speculated on the state of technology and what we might find at the start of the 21st century. The topic was to compare what the magazine had predicted with what actually happened, and to predict what might be coming fifty years from now. The guests, as I recall, were an economist, a sociologist, and some kind of engineer.

    As I listened to them talk, I couldn’t help but think ‘How come there’s no SF writer here?” After all, speculating about future technology and how it might affect society is what they do for a living. And there are plenty of writers here in Minneapolis and St Paul who would be eminently qualified to join in such a discussion.

    But I sincerely doubt that the producers or host ever even thought about asking any of them to be on the show.

  4. Lane says:

    1) For an independent study in college I attempted to make a documentary about how I keep telling the same embarrassing story over and over again. It was a mish mash of me telling the story, interviews with friends and passing acquaintances about me telling the story, and footage of various projects that rehashed the story, including a previous narrative student film and a cringe-inducing theatrical performance. The big denouement was when I interviewed a friend I had lost touch with who was actually present the night my ‘youthful indiscretion’ won me a night in the drunk tank. Yeah, it was about as bad as it sounds. Didn’t help that my interviews were horrible, most of my footage was unusable due to various technical issues, and I didn’t have a decent enough script to hold the thing together.

    But if you’re ever having drinks with me and an unpleasant lull in the conversation forms, I’m still liable to tell the story again out of an awkward desire to have something to say.

    2) Until I manage to get anything done, everything is a dream project for me. The first thing that comes to mind though is a script/movie I’ve been pushing around in my head about a guy staying in a hotel run by a monkey that wants to kill him. There’s more to it of course, but I thought of the monkey hotel since it was loosely inspired by a dream.

  5. anon says:

    To live freely, openly, in mind and spirit. With an open heart. Afraid of nothing, in debt to no one.

  6. Cesar Torres says:

    in 2006 I wrote and performed in “Drag” at the Neo-Futurarium in Chicago, and I spent six months completely immersed in the writing, editing and rehearsal process. Though it wasn’t an utter flop, I do feel like I learned a ton from mistakes in the project. In some sense, it was a personal failure for myself, but one that helped me grow a lot.

    http://centerstage.net/theatre/shows/3445.html

    However, the most important thing I learned is that my sense of narrative and taste for fiction were indeed the right path for me. The show “Drag” was about gender identity, or identity in general. But I decided to use that as a canvas to tell stories about the Morrigan, Norse Gods and the Aztec goddess Coatlicue. And yes, I got to dress in full drag with snake heads and a necklace of ripped human hearts!

    All in all, I am so glad I worked on the project. Though it failed, I never would have gone on to complete bigger subsequent projects.

  7. Larry says:

    1) I dropped out of my History grad program after my MA work was completed in December 1997. I was working on some rather cutting-edge (at the time) research into Adolf Hitler’s rather murky and complex relationship with the Christian Confessions (Protestant, Catholic). I was just so burned out at the time that I’ve never returned to that program. There still is nary a good academic book on this field that’s available in English, the last time I checked. Part of me regrets the notoriety that could have been mine.

    2) My latest “dream project” is to get a grad degree in teaching English as a Second Language and living for a few years in Latin America, preferably in the Buenos Aires area (I have an affinity for the cultures there, have friends there, plus I can communicate in Spanish). If I don’t get a full-time job in the next few months teaching regular ed social studies/English in my home state of Tennessee, I’m going to file paperwork for an ESL position in South Korea, so I can make a living while I save money for the necessary certs.

  8. Will Hindmarch says:

    1. I don’t know if you could call my time at White Wolf Game Studio an utter failure, so, here, let me do it for you. It certainly qualifies inasmuch as I continue to dream badly and regret.

    2. My issue has always been that I cannot single out one project for “dream project” status. I have novels, short fiction, and games all in the works right now, which is part of the dream. But it’s like I can’t see the whole thing at once, ’cause it’s too big. Over there I can see that it involves frequent travel, and there near the top I can see that I’d write about it. This part near the front looks like a house in London, maybe, but it’s hazy. And I think I see a motion picture there, in the back. But I can’t make it all out.

    How are you supposed to pick one thing to be your dream project? I’ve never figured out how to do that.

  9. Jess Nevins says:

    Sadly, I think my current book is going to be a failure which I’ll look back on with disappointment, simply because it’ll be too long and about something that ultimately only I and a handful of others will be interested in. And yet, I’m years into this thing…I can’t stop now.

    Robert Devereaux–if you ever manage to finish that cd, I’ll be first in line to buy it. It sounds great.

  10. Jonathan Wood says:

    1) I first got into writing through script-writing, and at age 21 my friend and I were shopping around a sitcom script we’d written. After processing the advice from some initial rejections we sent it to and producer at the BBC and while she wasn’t interested in that particular script, she liked it enough to introduce us to an actress who wanted to take her acting career in a new direction–doing impression, and we landed the job of writing the pilot script. We went through the whole process and I like to think put together something decent despite the bizarro concept we were given. The producer was happy, anyway. Then all of a sudden it becomes a sketch show, but due to the iminent meeting where ideas are pitched we don’t get to rewrite the script and the producer pulls random bits of the script together as examples. Not that any of this matters, because as soon as she mentions its a sketch show the higher ups say, “oh we’ve got enough of those already” and it’s canned.

    2) It is already way too late for me to get into the video game industry and revolutionize story-telling as we know it.

  11. Alan says:

    1: I don’t know, can you call getting a decent education a ’project’? I worked damned hard for most of my GCSEs only to blow it in the last couple of months. I managed to do just well enough that I could stay on to do three A-Levels, but I left school with just one; that grade was so far along the alphabet from A that it still shames me a little to think about it. There were mitigating circumstances, but at the end of the day I had choices, and it’s only me who ended up making all the wrong ones. But hey, I’ve done okay – I even made it to university, a decade later than I would have otherwise – though I’ve always known that things could have turned out very differently.

    2: I think my only non-writing related dream project would be to learn to play the piano. Not just competently, but really well. I just love the instrument, and have done for years, but, financial and time constraints aside, I suspect I lack a little something in the discipline department to ever make it happen.

  12. Charles Tan says:

    1) When I graduated, I applied for a call center but didn’t manage to hack it. I didn’t last two months and had to resign even if I told myself when I first applied that I wouldn’t do so. Even went to a psychologist and a psychiatrist during the ordeal.

    2) There’s actually several things such as writing those short stories (or polishing the existing ones) to actually send out to writing markets but one that’s closer to home is coming out with a “best of” anthology of the year’s best Philippine Speculative Fiction.

  13. Matt says:

    1) Shortly after graduating college I enrolled in a masters program to pursue an advanced degree in counseling psychology. Bad circumstances and poor choices on my part led me to leave that program. Even though I was ultimately to find my professional calling elsewhere, I sometimes wonder what could have been had I managed to stick it out. It was probably for the best that I didn’t. I’m truly happy in my current field, but still feel the sting when I think about how I could have/should have had a masters degree.

    2) I want very much to become a self-employed publicist. I thrive on making connections and seeing projects through on behalf of people and things that I feel strongly about. I can see myself living in a big, beautiful city enjoying my life by making a difference in the lives of writers and other creative people who deserve attention for their efforts. Is this corny or stupid?

  14. Larry says:

    Matt, it’s only corny if you envision puppies and/or kittens running in the fields with laughing children of writers while an Enya soundtrack is playing. Corny is the term for those “Be a Hero: Teach” commercials that used to run on national TV a few years ago. I served my time and I certainly wasn’t a hero!

  15. Sir Tessa says:

    1. Myself.
    2. A glass submarine.

  16. Michele Lee says:

    1. I think has yet to come. Most of my failures while disappointing I suspected were going to be failures.

    2. I would really like to edit an anthology or shape shifter stories with three sections, one for horror, one for fantasy and one for science fiction. I would absolutely love to see what people can come up with if challenged to use the same theme in different genres.

  17. Timblynod says:

    1) Once, I tried furiously to coin a new phrase for the expression ‘that’s cool.’ Only mine was ‘that’s pie.’ There’s only so many ways you can express the idea, and ‘awesome’ can’t always be depended upon. ‘Rad,’ ‘tubular’ and the like have pretty much retired. So I came up with my own and attempted to circulate it into the English-speaking world. I was subtle. I left it wherever I went, inconspicuously dropping it on online forums and slipping it in my conversations at work with ninja-like precision. If I felt something was extra cool, I would include a superlative: wow, that’s lemon pie! Or, ‘chocolate merang pie,’ if it was astonishingly awesome. But my ambitious plans didn’t work. I read somewhere that language is supposed to be a flexible thing. But I guess not that flexible. And that’s not pie.

    2) Ultimate dream project: I always wanted to learn Japanese. It seems like a fascinating culture. Plus, I want to watch all of Hayao Miyazaki’s films in the original language.

    Well, there’s also this epic tale of staggering proportions jostling around in my head. But I’m too cowardly to tackle something that daunting. Probably will always remain a dream, along with the other 50-odd books that I’ll never write.

  18. B.M. Seeberger says:

    My hyperfiction project. Taking a story and by using links to follow-up stories, making it so interactive that the reader creates a new story every time the story is read.

  19. Gio Clairval says:

    1) With my semi-professional rock band (I was the only one with a day job), I tried very hard to become a good guitarist, practising like a maniac, but my fingers refused to run on the keyboard and I was never able to pull off the simplest of solos. I was simply not good enough. When I realised I could only be a singer and a rhythmic guitar, I was terribly disappointed.

    2) I never got around to working on the Great Oeuvre. Transmutation of vile metal into gold remains beyond my reach. In my defence, I’ll say that I don’t have a laboratory, and my cat is not keen on watching after the philosophical egg anyway. If someone is not looking at the darped thing while it’s cooking, it may explode. Well, sometimes it explodes even when you are looking.

  20. Fábio says:

    1. Editing a SF magazine in Brazil. I´ve translated many stories for the Brazilian version of Asimov´s between 1989 and 1991 (the magazine lasted only 25 issues), and I acted like a junior editor, helping to select some of the stories. Since then, I´ve tried more than a few times, in big, medium and small press, to no avail. Recently I was invited to create and edit an online SF magazine, but with no sponsors, so I could not pay the contributors (a common situation in Brazil, alas).

    2. But my real dream is to start writing and publishing my own stories in English. I´ve made a run for it in the 1990´s, and I even got one story published (“Africa”, in a deceased online fan magazine), but I didn´t think my English was good enough then. Now I think I can do it. In fact, I already wrote two short stories, which I´ll be submitting to magazines soon enough, and I´m starting to plan my first English-written novel.

  21. Brendan Connell says:

    1) I won’t mention because this is a public space and I don’t want to go there.

    2) I really would like to write some pastiche novels using unlikey characters from 18th century fiction. I have a few of these ideas, most especially using a character from Huysmans and pitting him against a character from Charles Dickens. This is something I think I will do, when I have the chance.

  22. Brendan Connell says:

    Oops. I meant 19th century fiction.

  23. Rob Davies says:

    Well, aside from wanting to be a dinosaur when I was 6 (a Stegosaurus, if you must know) and not being able to pull it off, I guess my biggest “failure” was when, after getting a Masters and a teaching license, I realized I am too much of a misanthrope to want to stand in front of a room teaching little bastards English.

    My dream is to finish and sell my novel, The Matter of Upright Beasts, and make enough money from the movie rights to move to London. You did say dream…

  24. Paul Jessup says:

    1. I have two of them- the Lotus Lyceum and GrendelSong. Both could have been so much better. I still try and revive either of them from time to time, but it doesn’t seem to work.

    2. Several. One- a SF/F community like facebook/Myspace. Of course, tor beat me to this, so that’s ok. The other is to create a book that’s a work of art- an illuminated manuscript that bound in leather, and looks ancient and well loved. Book as art.

  25. Chaz says:

    (1) would be my first fantasy sequence, the Outremer books, which was devised & intended to be four novels. When I delivered #2, my editor asked me to wrap it up in just one more, please. Which screwed the entire sequence, and I still can’t think of it without flinching.

    (2)? That would be my book about the sex-changing monk assassins. Bizarrely, I’ve never (yet) persuaded anyone what a good idea this is…

  26. Mike Berry says:

    (1) Back in 1993 or so, I decided I would self-syndicate a newspaper column about science fiction, fantasy and horror, using my reviews for the San Francisco Chronicle as a springboard. I sent out information packets, containing sample reviews, essays and interviews, to newspapers around the country, and not one of them took me up on the proposal. I did, however, land a gig with the San Diego Union-Tribune for occasional reviews, so I more than recouped my investment (though not the full amount of my loss of self-esteem).

    (2) Right now, I’d really like to get started on that YA novel I’ve been planning, the one that’s an inverted mash-up of “Something This Way Comes” and “The Shadow Over Innsmouth.”

  27. Nadine says:

    1.Several years ago, I created a freeform, text-based (think MUSH) online RPG called Ilcaris that, astonishingly, wasn’t crap. I wrote a ton of background info; created thoughtful racial intersections; established a relatively intricate social and political dynamic that the players loved and really ran away with in fantastically creative directions. For the first time ever, I enjoyed not just playing in, but running a game.

    Then the site we played on made public chats unavailable and the game died. Bugger.

    2. My current please-let-me-finish-this project is a short story for an anthology a friend is putting together. Now if I can just wrap my head around the retropunk timeline…

  28. Sean says:

    1) In terms of my greatest disappointment, that has still yet to be. However, I think that it may happen in the near future if I don’t watch what I’m doing.

    2) My dream project is to write an epic poem. I tried to start it about 8-9 years ago, but I wasn’t mature enough for it (in terms of both poetic techniques and firsthand knowledge). I know that I want to incoporate fantasy elements, and use the dream vision format. Also looking to alternate between different styles and rhyme schemes. I will say that I feel greatly encouraged with the publication of Toby Barlow’s Sharp Teeth – there is a chance!

  29. Kater says:

    1. I made a promise to myself that I would, “Learn five languages by the time I was twenty five, and seven by the time I was thirty.” By “learn” I meant “get to the point where I could have a short conversation with a native speaker.” This first part was pretty easy, because I was an ambitious linguistics major and I spent much of my early twenties living overseas. I studied German, French, Japanese, Swedish, and Spanish. (I count English as the free one.) Then I got married and had a baby, and found out that it’s not so easy to keep up with foreign languages when you don’t even have anyone to converse in in English, much less a foreign language. I broke a promise to myself, but it turned out to be unfeasible. Now my language skills have atrophied to the point where I don’t even remember how to say ‘toothbrush’ in German.

    What I learned from this is that it’s possible to devote yourself entirely to something for seven or eight years, and then one day it becomes impossible and you just have to let it go.

    2. I’d like to learn my ‘seventh’ language, and live in a country where they speak it so I can perfect it. (I’m thinking Dutch.) This might happen, but the circumstances that will faciliate it are beyond my control. I’m also thinking of getting my black belt someday (something else I did passionately for eight years and then had to abandon for financial and other reasons.)

  30. Matt says:

    to SEAN:

    SHARP TEETH ruled!

    I have an advance review copy of the book. I loved it. I’m thinking of getting the official release just because it’s so damn nice looking.

    Speaking of epic poems with fantastic elements, have you read THE KALEVALA?

  31. anon says:

    1. A career in multimedia. I loved this goal fiercely for a time, but I was also fiercely afraid of it. Of being too old, of becoming too broke, of making a fool of myself, of starting again. It seemed I’d taken a wrong turn somewhere early on, when I was too young to understand, & it was simply too late. I was 30 at the time, mind you, hardly TOO old. But I still remember that feeling as I watched myself fail. I did work in multimedia for a little while (almost accidentally that first time), but the company where I worked went bust. And though I put together a resume & approached my friends & networked & cold-called a few places, really I was just too afraid to keep pushing.

    2. I have a particular idea for a novel that I haven’t started yet because I feel unskilled. So I bide my time doing OTHER writing projects, hoping to learn how to do it so I can do my dream novel. In the end, I commit myself neither to the novel I *am* writing, nor the one I want to write. Trouble is, I don’t know when to be tenacious & when to quit! When to work at what I’m doing & when to try taking on the new thing. And the idea of ruining my dream by attempting it … makes me feel a little sick. :/

    I really do waste too much time worrying.

  32. Kate says:

    [1] When I first moved to San Francisco, I was just beginning to flesh out my photography skills and became absolutely obsessed with the idea of getting to the soul of every single neighborhood in the city’s boundaries. This included at least one photograph per neighborhood that had to include a shop or sign displaying the neighborhood’s name and my room mate and best friend Kaitlin hidden somewhere in the frame. The project became far too unweildy and massive to complete while taking 19 units at the state school and working 35 hours a week in addition to the fact that I was still a recent transplant and didn’t know my way around. I still think of this project every single day and lament its incompletion. Maybe when I get my photojournalism degree and start grad school I can get a grant to fund its completion, otherwise, no dice.

    [2] I recently read a review of a rather clever book – a guy went through women’s magazines for months, years, and cut out thousands of words. From these words he created an entire collaged novel that parodies modern “chick lit”. Immediately I took this idea and expanded on it – collect disparate maps of every major city in the world, cut them up, and from them create one massive, seemlessly collaged wall in my living room. The city to top all cities! It’s impossibly ambitious but still is an idea that has completely engulfed my mind the last few weeks. Failing that, I’d likely die of joy (and hyperbole) if I had the opportunity to study creative writing under Samuel Delany (sorry Jeff!) at Temple – the culmination of all my dreams as a reader.

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