Writing is an Intergenerative Disease
by Anna Sheehan
Bow our authorial heads for Ray Bradbury.
There is a terrible fact about writing, one you won’t read about in
medical journals. Did you know that everyone who has written a book
has died, or will die? It is true, it is proven, and it is the kind
of statistic that no one ever mentions. Intergenerative diseases
like writing travel through entire cultures, pervading our thought
processes and corrupting our children. And there is nothing we can
do to stem the flow of death.
I was thinking about this recently when I heard about the death of
Maurice Sendak. I remembered his books from when I was little. The
illustrious children’s book author inspired and terrified
generations of children, with Wild Things, vanished children, and
babies made of ice. I loved ‘em.
It has of course happened since time immemorial, these insidious
deaths of authors. I remember I cried when I learned that my
personal goddess, the fantasy author Diana Wynne Jones, died in
March of last year. Jones’ books were some of the few things that
provided hope and escape through the peer-beaten, heart-searching
childhood I endured. What would happen, now that she had been taken
from this world? Who would fill the void she left behind?
This writing life that makes us authors has taken so many of us.
Every once in a while I’ll hear of a new victim who has finally
fallen prey. Many of these authors have been of great importance to
me. In 2011 alone we lost Diana Wynne Jones, Anne McCaffrey and
Brian Jacques. 2001 took Douglas Adams. Not to mention the tragic
deaths of Dickens, Doyle, and Shakespeare. We’ve all known about it,
but no one ever thinks it can happen to them. But let me tell you:
if you have written something great – even something mediocre – even
something terrible – or really anything at all – death will take
you. Gaze in grief upon the fields of the fallen.
Unfortunately, there is no known cure for the insidious creeping
death that will eventually come to all authors. Even ceasing to
write is no remedy – death will find us no matter our precautions.
what? There will be no more books of Chrestomanci or
Redwall or Pern. There will never be a sixth book in the (no longer
increasingly) inaccurately named Hitchhiker’s trilogy. Sherlock
Holmes lives on, but Doyle’s works have finished, and there will
never be another debut of a Shakespeare play.
So what are we to do?
Well, as I’ve said, writing is an intergenerative disease. It is
contagious. And many of these great authors have passed it on –
through the generations – to others. I suffer from writing myself.
Many of you reading this may suffer from it, too. My sympathies.
What are we, the victims of writing, to do now that these great
authors have gone before us? These poor perished authors have
succumbed, and their work is finished. But perhaps, if we all work
hard, there might be something else. Something closely approximating
the great works of these great authors.
We must fill the void ourselves. We must write more. It is
the only solution. There will never be another Maurice Sendak, or
Diana Wynne Jones, but who’s to say there won’t be fantastic books
just as touching, terrifying, or twisted? We must face our disease
with courage and strength, and force ourselves to become the next
great authors. Someone has to don the mantle. Someone has to teach
and terrify our children. Someone has to open the escape hatch for
the drowning adolescent. Someone must open the window to the worlds
of fantasy, and someone (Stephen Moffet, anyone? Laurie King?) has
to maintain the legacy of Sherlock Holmes.
So that is our task, fellow writers. We suffer every day from this
insidious illness that poisons our minds, saps our time, and causes
our backs and hands to ache, chipping away at our days. And some day
we, too, will succumb to the inevitable.
So we must do what we do. Write. Open worlds, feed minds, further
legacies. Saddled with a pervasive, intergenerative, incurable
disease such as writing, it is our task to try and make life
better for others. It is the only thing any of us can do.
To all who have gone before: We heard you. We read you. We thank
We will become you.
More Author Articles...
Anna Sheehan is the author of A Long Long Sleep
(Candlewick, 2011) You can find her at