Walking the Line

We live in chaotic times.

When it comes to reading fiction, do stressed-out people want an escape from reality to ease their minds? Do they want to see themselves represented on the page? vicariously live out the worst case scenario? fly to fairyland?

Many writers try to tap in to the zeitgeist to give readers what they want. And that’s good if it means they want to use their writing to help people. Or, you know, write books that’ll actually get read.

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The problem is, by the time they find out (and write) “what readers want,” those same readers want something different.

Artists walk the line between understanding readers’ desires and staying true to the stories they need to tell. These aren’t always at odds with one another, but sometimes they are.

So, when push comes to shove, what’s a writer to choose?

Well, you hear different things. But, at the end of the day, I believe writers tell the best stories when they go with their gut. Which is to say, I won’t be writing about zombies or post-Apocalyptic worlds any time soon, not because those kinds of stories are beneath me, but because I’m just not interested in them.

And if I’m not interested in my stories, how can I expect anyone else to be?

What do you think? Should writers be concerned, first and foremost, with what they think readers want?

The End of the Beginning (or the Beginning of the End)

Last night, I finished the first draft of my current novel. After I typed the last words, I hit save, closed my laptop, and stared at my closet doors.

From my writing perch, AKA my bed, I thought about all the hours I’d spent creating this story. It was six months of good/hard//exhausting.

And now it’s time to leave story world and become Ruthless Editor.

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I wanted to do something to celebrate getting over this big hurdle, but I didn’t want to get out of my pajama pants, so I told my husband and kids to get ice cream and live it up without me.

How did I celebrate? By watching an Alfred Hitchcock Hour on YouTube by myself.

And now, to kill my darlings.

A Book by Any Other Name

One of the things fiction writers are supposed to be sure of is where their writing fits in the book world.

Do they write romances, sci-fi, or horror? If so, they’re genre writers. Genre writing, also known as commercial writing, is extremely popular. It’s mostly plot-driven stuff and fulfills specific reader expectations. Book marketers and publishing houses call it commercial because it sells.

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The other type is called literary, and boy howdy are there ever different views on what that word means. Some say it’s writing that’s character-driven, full of subtext, or has an overarching message. Others say it’s a way of warning readers a book has no plot. Still others think of literary writing as the kind your English professor assigned you in college (the kind you bought Spark Notes for).

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Guess which kind I write?

I’m attending a huge writer’s conference in early Fall. I’ll meet lots of industry professionals there, and do you know what at least one of them will tell me?

That literary fiction doesn’t sell.

They may also inform me that calling my book literary fiction (even if the plot is well-developed with plenty of action and clean writing) is the kiss of death in terms of marketing.

In the past, I might have said, “Then tell me what to call it, and I’ll call it that. Only let me write the way I have to.”

But times have changed. My writing is literary, and that’s what I’m going to call it. It’s not full of talking heads in cafes or one dream sequence after another. It’s not esoteric or high falutin’. It is character-driven. And, yes, I’m trying to say something.

I’m not worried about the label because there are people who want to read books like that (I know I do). It’s my job to find them.

 

 

 

 

Finishing What I Started

There are two kinds of people: those who group the world into two kinds of people and those who don’t.

I’m in the first group.

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There are two kinds of people: those who have a hard time starting something and those who have a hard time finishing.

I can start novels all day long. What kills me is the follow-through, the big ending. There’s something scary about putting a period at the end of the last sentence.

In anything. In life.

When I was in my early twenties, I became a mother for the first time. I was excited to see those two pink lines on the pregnancy test because I had no idea what I was in for. After we finished the last childbirth class (that I’d forced my young husband to attend), I ugly-cried in a sub shop, a bite of dill pickle in my mouth.

“I can’t do this. I cannot,” I said.

“Do what?”

“Give birth.”

“But…you have to,” my husband said, blinking slowly, watching for any sudden movements across the table.

“I know.”

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I got pregnant two more times after that. Each time, I was jazzed, puke and all. In those early days, labor and delivery shimmered in the mist as future realities. I knew they were coming, but I didn’t acknowledge them.

(How big a cliché is it to compare writing a novel to pushing out a baby? I don’t care. It’s a cliché because it works).

I know women who hate actual pregnancy and live for the day they can hold their kid in their arms. They are finishers.

Then there are those of us who love the idea of things, the big-picture joy of the undefined future. We wish things could stay in the realm of possibility. We are starters.

Of course, one of the big differences between delivering a baby and finishing a novel is that, when it comes to writing, you have a choice whether to get it done or not. After all, you can’t exactly put off giving birth until you feel more inspired.

Or can you? Because I would have…

For me, choosing to see a project through is the hardest part. I tell myself I’ve done it before. I can do it again.

And I will.

Thoughts on Marketing

I sort-of watch my teenagers play video games together. They talk trash while making little square-headed men jump up and down. The ceiling fan goes ninety miles an hour over my head, drying my eyes out as it always does, because our T.V. puts off heat.

As I listen to the kids argue about which avatar is the lamest, I think about the uncomfortable position writers are in now. Gone are the days when an author wrote a book and let a publishing house handle the marketing. Now they’re expected to “promote themselves.”

Promote: to cheerlead for a team made up of oneself.

It turns out, I really don’t want to do it, along with lots of other creative types.

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A book launch guy, a big name who knows what he’s talking about, tried to convince me I should think of marketing as being “relentlessly helpful” instead of salesperson-y.

Thing is, I don’t know how to be relentlessly helpful–to anyone, not even myself.

No matter how you slice it, marketing is saying, “You should pay attention to this thing over here that I made that you should buy.” To a crowded room.

And when everyone is saying the same thing about different things, the room gets loud.

And annoying.

And I don’t want to say any of it.

If it were enough, what I’d say is, I write books I care deeply about and labor over. I want to share them with you.

But I’m not sure that’ll cut it.

These are the things I think through as I watch my kids grow up in our living room.