I recently learned about this feature documentary about Ursula K. Le Guin and the fundraiser that the filmmaker, Arwen Curry, is currently running through Kickstarter. It looks like a wonderful project, and Arwen Curry has been filming and working closely with Le Guin for a number of years; the film is scheduled to come out in 2017. The project has been awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, but to get the funds from the grant released, the producers have to raise the balance of their budget, which is $200,000. While they set their initial Kickstarter goal for $80,000, they’ve already doubled that, and with two more weeks to go, it looks like there’s a good chance they’ll get the full amount and then be able to focus entirely on finishing the film — I’ve got my fingers crossed that they’ll make it!
As anyone who knows me (or who’s read much on this site) is well aware, Le Guin is both my favorite author and my greatest inspiration as a writer. It may seem that I go on about her a bit much, but it’s hard to put into words the significance of the epiphany I had when I first discovered her work. As I mention in my bio here, it was because of her that I learned that there was such a thing as social science fiction, and realized that all these story ideas I had running around in my head fit perfectly into that subgenre. (And one could argue that much of my fantasy is essentially social SF with a fantasy-type setting and a few other elements that give it that fantasy feel instead.)
Because Le Guin writes both SF and fantasy and a wide variety of other things — including poems, essays, plays, contemporary fiction, and children’s picture books — she also provided an example of the kind of writer I want to be, since I’m interested in writing many things and wouldn’t want to be pigeon-holed into any category. And as soon as I was old enough to fully appreciate the brilliance of her style, it also contributed to inspiring me to strive toward that level of mastery as a writer.
It’s intriguing how a person you’ve never even met can have as much of an impact on you as, say, a favorite teacher, or even a grandparent. When you read someone’s words (and I love reading Le Guin’s essays almost as much as reading her fiction) and find that those words feel familiar yet also teach you new things that relate to your own ideas and goals, it’s a great deal like having a mentor who plays an active role in your life. It was actually a bit unsettling when I first read Le Guin’s work, because I discovered that some of the elements, such as the settings, the concepts involved, and the type of storylines, made her stories seem remarkably similar to my own.
For instance, much of Planet of Exile and parts of Tombs of Atuan gave me the odd feeling that here was something I could have written in another life, or perhaps in a parallel universe where I was a slightly different version of myself. But I should also clarify that I’m referring to the content and ‘flavor’ of those stories — not, alas, that I’m suggesting that there was a marked similarity in the writing! (I only wish I could say that my style was similar to hers when I was a young teenager!) 😉
Funnily enough, much more recently I’ve had the experience of something feeling familiar in the opposite way. I haven’t read Patrick Rothfuss’s books (I’m afraid I always have a big backlog of books I want to read, just as I have a backlog of stories to write!), but on several occasions I’ve picked one up and read a passage or two. And each time I’ve come away with the feeling that there are uncanny similarities in our styles — rather than getting the ‘this sounds like something I would write about’ feeling I’ve had with Le Guin’s stories, I found myself thinking ‘boy, that sounds like the kind of phrasing and/or descriptive details I would use’. It isn’t that anything about the content feels particularly familiar, only the style, and from looking at Rothfuss’s website and some interviews, we don’t appear to have any influences in common — other than Tolkien, which is practically a given when it comes to writers of fantasy. (But perhaps that’s not insignificant; sadly, I’ve encountered some young fantasy writers online who admit to strongly disliking Tolkien’s style.) 😕
But I also thought of Rothfuss just now because one thing I really admire about him relates to fundraisers; he founded a charity called Wordbuilders that raises money for projects like Heifer International, which I think is fantastic. Whenever an artist has had enough success to give them some visibility, that visibility may be helpful in raising awareness of a good cause, so it gives me the warm fuzzies to see an author putting so much of their energy into charity work, and Mr. Rothfuss certainly deserves kudos for all he does in that arena.
Le Guin is also someone who’s done countless wonderful things that go well beyond her own writing. She’s always been a vocal supporter of authors and artistic freedom, as well as setting a great example for being open-minded and passionate about the positive potential in all us, artists and non-artists alike. I confess it’s kind of wild for me to read some of the comments on the Kickstarter page and on Facebook about how she’s inspired and moved other people. In spite of her stature as an author, the truth is that if I don’t count people I’ve come across on websites that have to do with writing or reading, in ‘real life’ I’ve met no more than half a dozen individuals who knew her name and had perhaps read one of her books.
So in many ways it’s always felt as if my zeal for Le Guin as a writer is a personal thing that’s part of my identity alone, although of course I’ve always known — on a logical level — that it was impossible that I was her only devotee! It’s always nice to meet fellow fans who share a common interest, but being an author whose own work has been influenced by hers also means that it’s important for me to learn more about her other readers and find ways to connect with them. One of the obvious answers to the question of who the audience is for my own books is ‘Le Guin fans’; I’m sure most people would identify In the Shadow of the She-Wolf as the same type of literary social science fiction as Le Guin’s SF novels. (Hey, for that reason alone it’s exciting to see confirmation that the folks who read those books really do exist!)😀
In all seriousness, it’s great to see the depth of support for this documentary and to know there are many of us who are looking forward to it, and I’d like to encourage anyone reading this to contribute to funding the project if you’re able to (and haven’t done so already), and also to pass this along to anyone else you know who might be interested. Here’s the link to the Kickstarter campaign again.