f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Day 1 of Inspiration--What Do I Write?

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Monday, August 16, 2004

Day 1 of Inspiration--What Do I Write?

Before you is a blank paper or empty computer screen. Words are supposed to appear soon, but before that happens you need to come up your idea. After that you can follow some people’s advice and map your entire story out or you can just start writing hoping that the process of putting words to paper will encourage the story to twist and turn in its own natural way. There’s room for debate about these methods, but that’s not for this week.

Instead, I want to look at the moment of first inspiration and deciding if an idea is worth pursuing and what affects your decision of what is worth pursuing.

Whenever I think of this topic I think of a single book: Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex. This is a book I have not read. My wife has. I think of it BECAUSE I haven’t read it. To me it’s only a synopsis or some back cover copy. And it speaks mainly of the grand possibilities that await us in publishing.

Here’s what didn’t happen. What didn’t happen is that a focus group got together and decided they wanted to see a novel featuring a hermaphroditic narrator. Nobody in sales and marketing looked at the market and shot an email up to editorial saying that the bookstores had a huge empty space waiting for hermaphrodite stories. I doubt even that Eugenide’s editor suggested a hermaphrodite book to the author.

And yet here it is. A bestselling novel by the way. Pulitzer prize award-winning. And nobody knew they wanted to read it before it was written.

After three weeks on genre, we’ve spent plenty of time being around books that we “know” people will want to read. If you are a good writer (whatever that means) and can churn out an effective (fill-in-the-blank with your favorite genre) novel there is a good possibility some publishers somewhere can be convinced to publish it. Because they “know” readers out there are waiting for it. They want the next romance, the next mystery, the next fantasy series.

What we’ve had a harder time of is convincing readers to pick up what they DON’T know they want. People don’t know they should want to read about hard rock mining in Georgia, but Bad Ground says otherwise. Or the salvaging of a shipwreck in the Pacific northwest in Cindy Martinusen’s Salt Garden. Or a growing number of other ideas that are coming out of the CBA industry.

We need our readers to begin to trust our writers. To allow novelists to take them on strange and complicated and fascinating and fulfilling trips of fancy and imagination. Trust is one of our readership’s lacking characteristics. Many are wary of anything that strays too far from convention, or leaves the orthodox. I don’t know that we’ll be able to overcome that. But I hope writers continue to try.

This is the ideal, after all, isn’t it? Coming up with a startling idea and being able to capture an audience with your words? I think it offers the greatest “personal” reward but also the most risk on behalf of the writer. Your risk is either neglect at the hand of bookstores and readers or rejection at the hand of publishers.

Tomorrow we’ll look at what happens when you try to minimize that risk and when compromise becomes something more than selling out.

Day 2 of Inspiration -- The Great Ideas