f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: On a Scale of 1 to 10 – Market or Muse?

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

Monday, October 04, 2004

On a Scale of 1 to 10 – Market or Muse?

We discussed this topic of few weeks ago: What Do You Write?

On one extreme, a 10, is the writer who is stricken with a story and unable to ponder anything but the opus brewing in his mind. This is how we end up with book about albino whales and coffins being used as flotation devices. These are the misunderstood men and women who are discovered to be geniuses after their death from typhoid or as they’re starving to skin and bones in the poor house. You’ve heard of them, but you may not have gotten around to reading them yet.

On the other end of the spectrum, at 1, is the writer who studies the market, studies trends, and writes a book that no marketing, editorial, or salesperson could turn down. They know the economics of the game and the simple fact that a book that isn’t read is just ink and paper.

The same author can fluctuate on the scale. John Grisham writing A Time to Kill? Probably a 7 or 8. Grisham writing The Client? Probably a 2. A Painted House? 6, perhaps.

We don’t necessarily look at sales figures, though, as the end-all determination of this category. Certainly writers have “can’t miss” ideas that miss. And certainly there are writers who have their idiosyncratic scrawlings hit the big time. (Don DeLillo’s Underworld, for one.)

Like we’ll discover with most of these scales, those on opposite ends tend to disparage one another. Those writing from the muse look down their scabarous noses at the “hacks” who do it just for the money. “Pompous self-important literati,” comes the reply, “you wouldn’t know a good idea if it fell from the sky.” And so on.

I’ve written two books. I’d rank myself as a 4 for Ezekiel’s Shadow and an 8 for Quinlin’s Estate. In general, I lean toward the upper-end of the scale. My own philosophy is that I’d rather swing for the fences and write something folks haven’t seen before than something they’re expecting.

Where do you rank? Hack or Pompous? Market or Muse?

What do you read?

And does one guarantee better books?