Pat here, rummaging around in Ye Olde Question Box. I’m still playing with contemporary ideas, researching asthma and Jaguars and other modern terms, so I’m not in a place to play with historical research blogs. And unless you want to hear a diatribe about never-ending winter, I thought I’d answer reader questions instead. Given that I’m currently trying new directions, the question below seemed appropriate. Nina, I owe you one book!
Nina Paules writes: What would the WW’s write if they could write
anything they wanted to write? In other words… if there was no
consumer dictating style and plot direction via their purchasing
habits, how might things be different?
This is a topic near and dear to my heart, and one discussed endlessly in authorial circles. Or authorial squares or mob scenes, depending on setting.
First off—I am not talking about “writing what’s hot.” That’s a fool’s journey. I could write the next greatest vampire story in history and not sell it tomorrow because NYC will have decided the “vampire market is saturated.” I could invent a whole new brilliant genre untapped by anyone and NYC will decide “it’s too different, we don’t know where to market it.” So forget the flavor of the month. I’m not going there.
What’s bugging me right now is “high concept,” a film related term that’s been picked up by publishers.
Yeah, I’m also bugged because so many readers insist on Regency historicals and very few want western historicals and all that jazz, but I’ve found my way around most of those deficiencies. If I want to write a book, I find a way to do it. I’m creative. I might dabble in first person POV for an idea I’m playing with, but since that idea doesn’t fit any subgenre known to mankind, I’m not foolish enough to market it. I’m writing it for myself. I suppose, if we discarded all market guidelines, that’s what would happen–a lot of insane writers would run screaming into the streets, joyously trying everything they’ve ever
wanted to do. Murder and mayhem would undoubtedly result. And readers would run screaming for the sanity of their televisions.
But I’m not totally blase about market restrictions. Right now, the craze du jour that can’t be escaped is “high concept” books, especially in the contemporary market. I cannot begin to understand how one writes a high concept historical unless it’s something of the order of “Prince of Wales kidnaps Arab Sheik’s Daughter.” Essentially, everything in history has already been done, so we’ve got to stretch ourselves pretty danged far to make a historical romance into high concept.
That’s just it. I can respect and read and enjoy many high concept books. “Daily Reporter Takes Down Superhero”—KARMA GIRL by Jennifer Estep; “Psychic Weather Forecaster Gets TV Show”—FORECAST by Jane Tara. Go ahead, name some more. Seems like every contemporary out now stretches for an even wilder and more improbable premise. And I’m okay with that—up to a point.
But what I really, really want to see and write right now is what some of us have been calling “quiet fiction.” We want REAL people. We want real life situations. We’re tired of Soccer Mom Kills Demons (no offense—I like Julie’s books, but her concept was original when she first wrote it. Let’s not keep
asking the rest of us to repeat it). Why can’t we write about women who worry about their weight and women who lose their jobs and women who get the job they’ve always wanted and hate it? Why shouldn’t we write about women who save trees or cities by doing something normal like writing petitions and protesting or even running for office? Normal people. Normal situations. Not out-there-on-a-limb-so-far-its-gonna-break high concepts. If anyone has any recommendations along the “quiet fiction” line, let me know! I know about the long-time bestsellers such as Siddons and Binchy. I want to hear about new authors making waves in this market. Anyone?
Fortunately or unfortunately, the only quiet fiction I’m finding right now is in inspirational, and I fear most of those go a little too far in the opposite direction. Not all. Beth Patillo is a name that comes to mind as a great writer of “quiet fiction” about normal people, some of whom just happen to be ministers.
But as of this moment, most romance editors seem to be after Navy Seals, Werewolves meet Frankenstein, Billionaire Buys Waitress (or better yet, Waitress Rejects Billionaire, but then it wouldn’t be romance <G>), complete with over-the-top sex and violence.
Whatever happened to Neighbor Falls in Love with Neighbor? Sure, it sounds boring, but given the right conflict and a good writer, any topic can reduce a reader to tears and laughter. The problem is that publishers have to SELL quiet books, and it’s not easy without a great hook shouting pickup lines to readers. Currently, to sell books, we have to pimp the cover with smoke and mirrors and hunks, and whisper come hither promises in the back copy, before a book even lands on a bookstore shelf. Once it’s on the shelf, it has to make another big leap into the customer’s hands. What are the chances of MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON leaping into anyone’s hands when DANGEROUS DECEPTIONS is sitting next to it? (and my apologies to anyone with that title—I count six recent ones on Amazon—I mean no offense. It’s a great title, which makes my point.) We can’t even sell quiet titles anymore.
So I’m throwing this rant over to our readers—prove me wrong. Name some great quiet fiction you’ve read recently. Give me quiet titles and artwork that work for some good books.
Or tell me why you’d rather read monsters and serial killers and superheroes and royalty than about the boy next door. I really want to know.