Monday, May 8, 2017

Riding Waves or Making Them

Brian and I were chatting on the weekend about selling out. No, I don't mean that we have untold amounts of property of great worth we could cash in on so we could retire on a private island. I mean selling out creatively.

He was saying that, despite the fact that he knew that if he had an opportunity he'd sell out in a minute, he was saying how much he wants authors to swing for the fences, that too many series go on too long and lose their luster.

The risk to the artist is stagnation.

On the flip side, I commented about how often I've given my head a shake over the latest TV star who quits an iconic role because they think they can make it big in movies. Why don't they see they have a good thing going and enjoy the moment?

It struck me as odd that I had opposing views for different industries.

I know how some things work in publishing. Years ago, the shocking truth was revealed at a Harrogate panel; publishers don't want something completely original. They want something that is similar to things that are currently successful because they know how to market that type of product.

The question then, is, how do you become the one who's making waves and leading the charge, rather than the one who's simply riding someone else's wave?

I'm not sure I have any easy answers for that question. There's been some chatter, on Facebook and elsewhere lately, about trends. One discussion was about whether there was an emerging trend towards using small towns or remote settings in fiction. I wonder if it's the Fargo effect. Personally, I find just another New York or Los Angeles story a little dull. It's like the only things that happen in the world happen there. Give me someplace different. Breaking Bad did it. Fargo is doing it. Fortitude is about as far off the map as you can get.

Originality isn't just developed through setting, though. I think one has to be willing to set aside conventions and think outside the box, but also be progressive. There are some things that get tiresome in fiction. I was thinking about that with the start of season 3 of Bosch. In season 2 (run now if you haven't caught that season yet and want to avoid a spoiler) Lance Reddick's character's son is killed in the line of duty. His wife blames him for getting their boy killed. I wanted to throw something at the TV. You let your boy enter the police academy. You watched him graduate. You talked to him about his work on the police force. You didn't tell him it was too dangerous to be a cop. Nope. You were good with it, until the unthinkable happened. And at that point you react irrationally and blame Dad and end the marriage.

Because women are pure emotional reaction, right?

Homeland isn't flawless, but one of the things it does do is portray strong women. I think that they rectified this largely in season 4. Carrie's bipolar had exacerbated her emotional components in earlier seasons, but she really matures in her role in season 4 and is capable of making tough decisions, even when potential personal loss is involved. The US Ambassador is a strong compliment to Carrie's role.

I'm not saying you can't have women of all stripes in fiction, but that's the point; your women should play more than one note. So should your men. In today's increasingly complex world, returning to the same stereotypes and tropes is the equivalent of recycling trends, and in some cases this means recycling trends that aren't even fresh.

On the one hand, I realize that some of my fiction may never find a conventional home because of the limited perspective of what's considered marketable. But on the other hand, I know that if I were to ever achieve the next level of success it will be because I've swung for the fences, and stuck the landing. Ask me what I'm looking for with the stories for the Spinetingler issue, and I'm asking myself, "Has this been done before?" Challenge yourself to bring something new to the table, even if you're writing a procedural piece or a PI story or a tale of romantic betrayal.

For right now, I have the luxury of writing what I want to write, and no plans to write anything that I'm not personally interested in. I hope everything I have that gets published will mark some form of growth, whether it's the growth of writing just one POV, or the growth of crossing genre lines. Hopefully, whether it's in two years or twenty, this will help me reach a point where I produce something that makes my husband proud.

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