It’s my turn over at Storytellers Unplugged today. Initially I thought I’d write something about the nature of plotting, which seems to me oft misunderstood, but realized my thoughts on that aren’t pulled-together enough…Next time, I think.
So I wrote about my breakthrough realization with BLOODANGEL: about writing what you want and need to write, not what you feel you ought to write. Which sounds basic enough, yet can still be a slippery sucker to grasp.
I love how people assume — sometimes quite heatedly, like one woman at the virtual workshop I love to waste time at — that you ‘went genre’ in order to sell out (I love the assumption that the money you get for a first genre novel is worth selling out for), as if there’s no other reason why we could possibly want to write this stuff. Leaving aside the fact that such idiots are operating out of a waaaaay narrow and unimaginative a definition of both ‘genre’ and ‘literary’, that they are accepting what are essentially sales and marketing terms as innate and absolute truths, and also leaving aside the tragic fact that much of both genre and literary tends to be, sadly, crap of one kind or another, this assumes that people who write genre a) can’t possibly write well enough to ‘be literary’ or b) long to write literary first and foremost but decided to sell their souls to the devil instead. For all that cold hard cash I mentioned earlier. Whether you’re writing for money or writing for a certain kind of approval and prestige, you’re still writing according to an external set of criteria that doesn’t hook up with your internal obsessions and longings. And the result rings false. Which is one reason why, I believe, it’s so difficult to “write for the marketplace”. You can’t force yourself to be the kind of writer you are not, no matter how much you might like to, and wise (and successful) writers tend to understand this.
I love literary fiction, but at the time BLOODANGEL truly was the story I wanted to tell. It had nothing to do with writing what I thought would sell; at the time, as I mention in my essay, I really wasn’t sure just how and where BLOODANGEL would fit in the bookstores at all. I remember trying to describe it to one agent over the phone — I wasn’t pitching it, I was just about to start writing it — and neither of us could get a handle on what genre it was. “So it’s fantasy?” she kept saying. Well, sort of. It helped greatly when Gaiman’s AMERICAN GODS came out, and did so well, because that proved to be the book I could invoke in query letters (“…will appeal to readers of AMERICAN GODS” or however the hell I put it). And then suddenly the whole “post-Buffy fiction” thing exploded and BLOODANGEL found a place with what strikes me as startling ease.
Perhaps one day that position I experienced some years ago will reverse itself: I will feel I ought to write genre fiction, while wanting and needing to write literary fiction. I’ll merrily bomb that bridge when I come to it.
Off to Sundance today, where THANK YOU FOR SMOKING (my husband is listed as one of the exec producers, which basically means he gave them money) is the big opening film. I was in Colorado last week for an in-law’s 60th birthday and am not sure I’m mentally prepared to go back to snow and cold. My Canadian blood has thinned, thinned. It’s pathetic.