Guess what? We’ve had a lot of navel-gazing and analysis of my writing here, complete with rejectomancy and market bashing. Feel like something new?
I’ve decided to take a look at a current contest’s top five and do a bit of signal-boosting for those authors. You can even vote on which of the five you think should win the contest, if you follow the links given. I’ll look at each one in turn (you have to follow the link to the Reading Room site in order to read them, though, because they’re copyrighted and I don’t have permission to have them here.)
Two questions loom in my mind about these.
ARE THE WORKS COMPLETE? If the books are indeed finished (and they seem polished, but I’ve seen authors who carry around three chapters that have been polished to a high gloss by endless workshopping, with no book behind them), these authors should be querying the agents I’ve just been talking to. All five of these are surely the sort of books that they’d snatch up, yelling, “This I can sell!”
But I could sit down and pound out some really dark and foreboding or intriguing opening of a few paragraphs, heedless of how I would develop the story or what I was implying and promising to a reader, if I never intended to go on and make a complete and satisfying tale out of it. It’s easy to make up something if you’re not looking forward to how you will fulfill the promises you are making to readers.
Truth be told, in ALL FIVE of these cases, these promise to be stories with either grotesqueries or horrid events happening, and I could not live with that for the year that it would take to develop and perfect such a story. I could not “become” these characters who scare me and who are unlike what I like to escape into. I find real life challenging enough, and maybe that’s why I gravitate towards stories with less dark settings and happier “developments.” I don’t mean that it has to be all fluff and cottontails, but I can’t bear things where pets are being zapped and people are killing themselves in order to dedicate themselves to the dark side or preying on others and all that jazz. I mean . . . can’t we escape to something amusing, happy, funny? REAL GENIUS and A CHRISTMAS STORY instead of the dark stuff? THE PHILADELPHIA STORY and STAY TUNED instead of all the seriousness? Maybe it’s just me. It almost certainly is.
But! That’s why I never address such subject matter. I can’t live with it for ten minutes, let alone slip into these characters’ skins like a good little Stanislavski practitioner. It’s nice that these authors can . . . I guess.
And this leads me to the next question.
WHY SO DARK? DO YOU REALLY HAVE THAT VIEW OF THE WORLD?
Because if you do, that may mean that a successful author of today needs such a view unless he or she wants to write nothing but romances or slash fanfic. I see so much stuff that’s really dark and/or deals with depressing tropes. So many things on the SF channel and in the stores seem to be about dead souls or the undead or “death dealers” or whatever, things that I don’t feel drawn to and which I wouldn’t dare to write about myself (because we do not KNOW the truth of the situation, and we should not speculate about this stuff and mislead others into thinking that is the reality of the situation–that’s because it relates to people’s spirituality. I have no problem with people speculating about the future or space travel or aliens or mystery lights and all that. Go figure.)
Frex, here’s a deal that just went down and was reported in the trades. “Debut author Lanie Bross’s FATES, the story of an Executor sent to earth to bring about human destinies, who finds herself unaccountably experiencing human emotions, leading to an epic romance set across multiple worlds, to Wendy Loggia at Delacorte, in a significant deal, in a pre-empt, in a two-book deal.”
Wow! A two-book deal, significant, pre-emptive offer. What a dream! But . . . again, it is not the type of plot I would read or write. Possibly I’m a religious fanatic or some kind of weirdo. But still. What’s an “Executor”? It’s going to be, most likely, a thing like they had in the TV series “Dead Like Me,” leaving most things vague. Or they’re going to be Angels of Death. Or whatever. I’ve seen that many times before. As for the immortal being falling in love with the mortal *yawn*, that has been done SO OFTEN that it is on the The Not-So-Grand List of Overused Fantasy Clichés. I’m sorry, but it’s true. This is not particularly original except in the details and in the actual characters/settings/turns of phrase. Would I feel comfy writing about such a thing when I don’t know how things really are in the other planes of existence related to the afterlife and eternity? No. Which you may see as oddball because I have no problem writing about astral projection (into the astral plane) or about various other physical and ethereal planes in fantasy. But still, there it is. That’s something that publishing is excited about. Mega-congratulations to the clever author who would think this up and could execute it and charm the editor, even so. Once you’ve hit the best-seller list with it, you can pull off other projects that might be closer to the book of your heart, whatever that may be.
(If you enjoyed the Not-So-Grand List of Overused Fantasy Clichés, take a peek at their other pages, including The Fantasy Novelist’s Exam. Hee!)
Is the world so dark? Have we pretty much given up hope and begun looking for a good fantasy?
But anyhow. LONG POST, so the actual analysis or reviews or whatever went under the cut. It’s more like a discussion of why I don’t think I would make up stories like these, because this blog IS all about me, thanks, but there might be a few other points made. Click through if you’re curious. Thanks for reading!
These openings were limited to 500 words and were posted on a contest site that you’ll have to go to by clicking the link. Links open in a new window so you can come back here after taking a gander. (Don’t get goosed!)
First up, Out of the Grey by Tassè Bentson.
This opening, limited to 500 words, is well written in cadenced prose. I can see that the author has taken care with her images and pacing. It’s definitely VERY dark. The pace is quick.
A woman rubs herself all over with an oleander-based poison tinged with black dye. She feels the poison seeping in and rushes into the woods. The ritual begins at twilight, and she wears a hereditary talisman. She goes into the center of a stone circle and, once a particular star appears, recites an incantation. The reader knows that she’s about to turn into something undead.
The last line is partial. “If this did not work, within a day or so her dead body would. . . .”
Be found naked and twisted into a swastika? Turn to dust? Ascend into the Land of Lost Sox? Be eaten by the bobcat from the other story? *sorry, just being a prat*
So it’s DARK. It promises an undead adventure experience. It sure isn’t a Christian allegory or screwball comedy.
Therefore, it probably would appeal to today’s agents and editors, who would feel that they could sell it to the wide audience for “urban fantasy” and “paranormals.” (Whatever those are. It’s vague.)
I note that the only character is the POV character. So there’s a lot of inner monologue, which is sometimes frowned upon. (Not by me.)
However, I think it is good. It’s not for ME because I get creeped out by such things unless I have taken them from my own Girls in the Basement (whcih is creepy in itself), but it reads like a published novel.
I hope she does finish it and send it out to the various agents who have hoped that my books would be dark enough or have shapeshifters or whatever. If there’s anyone out there who can help her, maybe it’ll happen for her.
I couldn’t read this. Frankly, it’s all about someone choosing to separate herself forever from God (or “the light” or whatever you want to call the Universe’s ruler). I couldn’t live a day without relying quite a bit on prayer and various guidance offered by my faith. This is a deliberate severing of that relationship. If I did this and became a whatever (she doesn’t specify–a shapeshifter, a witch, a deathstalker, whatnot), then where would I turn for spiritual guidance? I couldn’t exactly go back to the Church of Christ/Catholic confessional/Baptist preacher and casually say, “Yeah, I want to have dual citizenship with The Dark Side and the Big Guy.” Would I pray to whatever entity granted the power? I couldn’t reconcile myself with some other entity because of the many times I have called upon God to help me, and have gotten a clear and positive helping hand or answer. I mean, it would be like joining Girl Scouts AND Blue Birds–how could I sell all those cookies AND Camp Fire candy? Like having a boyfriend in New York and one in San Diego and believing that I could keep them from knowing about the other, which never works even with mortals who are not omnipotent. Others probably can deal with this conundrum, or could pretend that they could. Or they don’t believe in anything, and thus any blasphemy or irreverence just rolls off their backs because their god is Logic, or Science, or Chaos. Or else they think like the ancient Greeks, who saw no conflict in being a follower of Athena but throwing Zeus and Diana a bone now and then. But . . . I yam what I yam. I’d have to immerse myself in an essentially Dark Side lifestyle, and I wouldn’t be any good at doing that unless it all came to woe, which it probably will, but how painful is that? Yowtch.
So that’s why I couldn’t write something like this, even though I could probably sell it. Personal limitation!
Next up: Untitled work by Isaiah Campbell.
This one turns my stomach with the opening line about shooting a dog. I can’t bear things like that. Call me crazy, but they got me out of left field with OLD YELLER and with Bambi’s mother when I was a kid, so I’m traumatized. I could never read this one. The excerpt begins with the claim that the narrator sees no problem with shooting a dog as long as you don’t eat it, and ends with another man tying the legs of a presumably dead bobcat. THe entire opening is a paean to killing innocent animals, and not all of them for food. Yuck! *Making sign of cross with arms to fend it off*
That said, it would probably sell. Hope the guy has finished it. Try Nathan Bransford.
It’s in a “redneck voice.” The voice is first-person and done well. It sounds like a real hunter from out of the sticks. It has an intimate tone, and it would appeal to someone who likes that sort of story and can tolerate hunting as a fun thing to do.
I will observe that this opening is like my opening to LITTLE RITUALS. It starts with a folksy quotation of “wisdom” and then begins “telling” in a way that relates it to the person’s life. This is called a “open with wide shot, then focus in” technique. I have been lambasted for doing it, but a lot of classics begin with this kind of thing.
There’s a lot of “telling,” for those who have sworn off of it. But it’s properly used here.
It’s apparent why I could not write something like this. Aaaarghh! Good luck to the guy.
Next up: Untitled work by Andrea Hannah.
You’d think that because the author mentions south Texas in the first line, I would be inclined to like it.
I don’t know, though. It opens with a trope about looking for a lost mother, and quickly becomes one of those family dramas, one of the psychological things when the brother (props for having a second character besides the POV character, BTW) carrying an aluminum bow (bow-and-arrow seriousness) heads up a hill, presumably to shoot at things or kill something. Not my bag. Lots of people like this. I’d have to untangle a bunch of “Lifetime Movie Network” family business. Just not my cuppa.
But anyhow, again, it is well written. Sounds like a literary novel. There are still agents looking for this.
I could do something like this because my family is the queen of Southern gothic issues. But I’d start it out in a diner or a Baptist church during a wedding or something more STEEL MAGNOLIAS, because I would be doing funny bits throughout.
It’s a gamble, though, because I don’t see the market clamoring for this sort of story.
Now for Laura Wettersten, Perfect 10.
This is a young adult story featuring high school girls. It has a traditional sort of opening with them walking home from school and arguing. The friend is Goth and interested in voodoo or witchcraft.
It starts out quite typically for this kind of story and has a “loves science and is a doubter” heroine walking with her foil, a smoking spellcaster-wannabe with Goth trappings. Easy flow of the narrative and no obvious problems with the story. It would feed the masses who feel their lives should be like this–edgy and with a promise of occult danger.
I see it as fairly typical of this subgenre. It would probably sell. Lots of books like this on the market. I’ve actually written one that’s something like this in APRIL, MAYBE JUNE. But the author can take comfort in knowing that her characters are FAR more “everyday” and relatable than my April and June. They seem like real, run-of-the-mill adolescents firmly grounded in the experience of the average reader who picks up the books. My characters are not the run-of-the-mill types from the get-go, and they’re not school-bound, and there are several other weirdnesses. So there you go. Relatable means salable.
And finally, Linda Jackson, A Place to Call Home.
Angst, aaaagh. This one opens with a young woman (I think) burying her grandmother. She starts right off reminiscing, telling us about how she also has buried her mother, and how her mother died from a voodoo hex maybe, and Daddy knows the witch doctor who did it, and all this jazz. I can’t deal with movies and books that start out like this, or stories about some sick person dying over the course of the story (especially to Teach Us Something). But hey, these things are gobbled up by the people who watch “Lifetime for Women.” It’s their kind of trope.
So it might just sell. It’s got a rednecky voice like the other one, but a more appealing one. Maybe just hillbilly. It’s depressing because the entire 500 words dwells on this sadness. I get no clue about where we are going, unless it’s to track down the witch doctor and kick his butt. It might be like BELOVED or THE COLOR PURPLE for all I know.
I don’t want to write about this kind of thing, although in a murder mystery, you DO have to have a murder–so to some extent I have to cover that grief thing. Yet a murder mystery is at heart a morality play. Our society uses crime fiction to talk about morality and what is right. So it’s a little different. This already has the feel of a Southern gothic.
Good luck with this.
These are the sorts of stories that I think would sell easily in today’s market. If you can swing one like them, go for it.
I don’t know whether you can actually vote for your favorite without joining the Reading Room site and getting on their mailing list. But you can read them and see what I’m talking about.