Monthly Archives: July 2012

When a Trend Finds You

There’s something sort of comforting about writing weird books in an obscure genre.

Of course, I didn’t realize this back when I actually was.

It took me a long time to even figure out what genre I was working in. (I even queried one book as literary fiction for a while based on some horrible advice, found not just once but in several places, that said that all character-driven stories are literary fiction.) For a long time I assumed I would find my home in urban fantasy – after all, it was what I loved to read when I was growing up – until I looked around and realized that not only did I have a decidedly lukewarm reaction to most current urban fantasy, I had never really written one. No, that post-apocalyptic story was never going to be an urban fantasy, no matter how many angels were in it.

Finally I looked at that book I had been querying (which was not The Torturer’s Daughter, by the way; this was a different book), the one that was no more literary fiction than that post-apocalyptic book was urban fantasy, and thought, You know, I might have better luck selling this as science fiction. But it wasn’t science fiction either, not exactly. It was set in a skewed bleak dystopian version of our world, and that sort of thing did technically fall under the umbrella of science fiction, but the plot didn’t rely on any science-fictional elements. Aside from an injectable tracking device, it didn’t even involve any advanced technology. Eventually I threw up my hands and just started calling it a “dystopian novel” in my queries. I looked at my past experiments and future ideas, realized a lot of them fell under the “dystopian” heading, and groaned a little. I was going to have to do this genre dance all over again. Besides, you weren’t supposed to write multiple dystopias. You were supposed to just write one, and it was supposed to be a thinly-veiled political rant about the problems you saw in the real world. I wasn’t doing that. I was just writing stories set in the overtly nightmarish or subtly oppressive worlds that fascinated me.

At some point I realized something that was likely to make the genre dance a lot easier, though. Despite vaguely thinking I should be reading more adult novels, I still loved YA best, and that was where my true fictional home was. It fit not only my story concepts – even the ones with adult main characters worked a lot better when I imagined changing the main characters to teenagers – but my writing style as well. I’m not sure how to quantify it, since there’s such a variety of YA novels, but in some ways the genre has a distinct style, and it’s the style I automatically find myself falling into. This was a reassuring realization to me; there’s a lot more flexibility when it comes to genre if you’re writing under the wider umbrella of YA, so maybe I would have a better chance of selling some of my… strange… hey, why are there so many YA dystopias being published all of a sudden?…

Suddenly my books had gone from weird and uncategorizable to being smack in the middle of the latest trend. I was thrilled – not only did I have tons of new books to read now, it was going to be a lot easier to sell my own. But it also created time pressure. I had to hurry and get out there before YA dystopias stopped being popular – publishing trends only last so long. And now I was going to look to publishers like I was writing to the trend, and authors who write to trends tend to have short careers. A pattern was also emerging in the dystopias being published, and my ideas were squarely on the periphery. What if, having so many to choose from, publishers rejected my books because the settings weren’t strange and exotic enough, or because my characters didn’t solve all the world’s problems, or because I didn’t include a love triangle?

And did I mention the time pressure?

I read something the other day predicting that the dystopian/post-apocalyptic trend will be over by 2014, and I admit, it made me freak out a bit. Two years? How am I supposed to write all the stories in my head in just two years? And post-apocalyptic too? It will take months just to rework the post-apocalyptic series into something that can be written, never mind actually writing the thing. And then what? I’m not going to get any less fascinated with dystopian worlds just because a certain time limit has been reached.

But I can remember other publishing trends. Look at chick lit, for instance. The chick lit explosion is over, and publishers and literary agents will tell you that chick lit is dead. But there are still plenty of chick lit books out there, and plenty of readers devouring them. That doesn’t look like a dead genre to me. Trends become niches. To use a broader example, there was a long period of time when it was nearly impossible to sell a horror novel. (I’m not sure if this is still the case, since I don’t really keep up with the horror genre; horror is one of the few genres I just won’t read.) This didn’t just affect horror writers; it left a lot of readers stranded too, readers who had to hunt through used bookstores to find the kind of books they wanted to read.

And although I always stayed well clear of the horror section, I was combing the shelves for YA novels set in dark worlds long before they were so easy to find. I’m sure I’ll be looking for them long after. I can’t be the only one.

Have you ever watched a publishing trend spring up that was exactly what you like to read or write? Ever had one die before you were done with it? What formerly-popular genres do you wish you could find more of? And what are your thoughts on the future of YA dystopia?

The Ubiquitous Love Triangle

I’ve been feeling strangely nonplussed by the romance subplots in most of what I’ve been reading lately, and for the longest time, I couldn’t figure out why. It’s not that I’m an unromantic person. I love a good intense love story. And it’s not that the books I’ve been reading have been bad – far from it. (The Hunger Games is a perfect example. I loved those books. But the romance aspect… that part did nothing for me.) So what’s going on? Why haven’t I been able to get invested in these relationships?

It took a while, but I finally figured out what the problem is.

I just don’t like love triangles.

I’m not saying books that involve love triangles are bad, and I’m not discounting the possibility that I might write a love triangle someday if it suits the story. But in general, it’s just not a concept that does anything for me. Part of it is that a lot of books have the heroine choosing the mysterious alpha-type when I’m usually rooting for the sweet best friend… but mostly it’s the triangle itself.

What I like is a romance subplot where the main character has one person they’re drawn to above all others, one clear choice. I like soulmate relationships. I want these characters to feel differently about each other than they do about anyone else, to have a connection that nothing else can match. Those are the relationships that draw me in; they’re the ones that have me tensing up as I turn the pages when it looks like they’ll never be able to be together, the ones that can make me forget that a happy ending is all but assured as I read faster to find out whether everything will work out against all odds, the ones that have me bouncing in excitement when the final obstacles are overcome.

When there’s more than one prospect – when the main character could conceivably have that sort of connection with a couple of different people, and could turn away from a connection like that because she likes somebody else better – the romance loses its magic for me. How can they be soulmates if it’s possible for her to choose somebody else? I know that’s not necessarily how it works in real life, but it’s how I prefer my fictional relationships – and after all, it’s not like you always have two guys fighting over you in real life, either.

I mentioned The Hunger Games as an example of a book that I loved, but that didn’t have a romance I was invested in. Granted, romance is a very minor part of The Hunger Games – but I suspect that if it hadn’t involved a love triangle, I would have felt a lot more strongly about that aspect of the trilogy. I could easily see myself getting wrapped up in the relationship between Katniss and Gale, or between Katniss and Peeta. But when she has feelings for both of them? The magic is gone.

In contrast, the romance in Delirium, by Lauren Oliver, drew me in a lot more than I thought it would. I didn’t expect it to, since I hadn’t been having much luck with love stories, especially in YA. I mainly picked up Delirium because I was snapping up every dystopia I could find. But I found myself believing in the romance much more than I thought I would, and rooting for the main characters to not only escape the tyranny of their dystopian world, but for them to be together. I didn’t make the connection at the time, but Delirium, unlike the majority of YA out there these days, didn’t involve a love triangle.

The love triangle is a staple these days – mainly in YA, but in other books as well. And I don’t think it’s going to stop being popular anytime soon. But knowing that I don’t like them, and knowing why, may make it possible for me to enjoy those books more. If the romance subplot does nothing for me, I’ll know it’s not because of the way the characters are written or because there’s something wrong with the book; it’s just because love triangles don’t enthrall me the way soulmate relationships do. I can thoroughly enjoy the rest of the book, accept that the romance subplot probably isn’t going to interest me, and move on. And if a book looks like the main plot will be centered around a love triangle, I can pass it by, knowing it’s probably not my thing.

It’s not a bad thing that authors are writing love triangles, after all. A lot of people like them. (Clearly, or they wouldn’t be so popular.) They’re just not for me.

What kind of romance do you prefer in the books you read? Love triangles? Soulmates? Star-crossed lovers? No love story at all? What do you think of the current ubiquity of love triangles in YA – do you love them, or are you ready for something different?

Tear It Down

The reason there’s practically nothing here at the moment is because I decided to get rid of it all and start fresh. That isn’t as momentous as it sounds; there were only a handful of posts here to begin with, scattered over a period of months. I lost inspiration for blogging after internet gremlins ate my previous blog (which had more than a handful of posts in it), and besides that, talking about writing was… problematic, which I’ll get to.

So I wasn’t updating with any kind of regularity to begin with, and then I wandered away from the whole thing for a couple of years.

But that makes it sound like something that just kind of happened. This was intentional. My writing life was going through a couple of major shifts, and neither of them were things I could post about.

The first was that I was no longer sure of the path I wanted my writing to take. I had always assumed I would pursue traditional publishing, since for most of the time I’ve been writing that’s been the only viable path. I’ve written the queries; I have the rejections. But while I was going through the submissions process for The Torturer’s Daughter, I started having doubts… and when you’re sending queries out to agents who might look up your blog, you can’t exactly post about how you’re not sure you want an agent after all. In the end, I decided to self-publish; I’ll talk about the reasons for that in a different post.

The second was more complicated.

To explain this one I have to start a few years ago, when I had a bad reaction to a supplement that I was taking, where it screwed with my brain chemicals such that I lost my sense of self. It was as if my soul had gotten up and walked away one day, leaving behind a functional shell. My mind and my memories were intact – but the inner core, the part that tells me who I am? That was gone. For two years.

Back then, before I realized what was wrong, I clung to my writing, because it was the closest thing to an identity that I had. I was a writer; that, at least, was something I could be sure of. When everything felt pointless or there was nothing I actually wanted to do, at least I could write.

Except the inner spark that drove my writing, the thing that made my stories matter to me, was also gone.

So I wrote stories that didn’t move me, and gradually stopped being able to convince myself that they did. I held my identity together with duct tape made of flat empty words. There was no joy in it. No meaning. There was only another hour, another thousand words, another book finished. I could never take a break, not even for a day, because if I did, my fragile prosthetic identity would crumble to pieces. I wrote all the time because I had nothing else, except I didn’t have writing either, not really.

Then I realized what had been causing the problems – or made an educated guess, at least. I stopped taking the supplement, and within days I was myself again. I had my core back again. Real enthusiasm, real inspiration, a real identity, for the first time in two years.

And I was terrified of losing it all again.

It took several months for the last of the effects to get out of my system. Every dip downwards, every day I woke up feeling worse than the day before, was a cause for panic, a sign that I was wrong after all, that I hadn’t found the real cause. That this had only been a temporary reprieve. Not logical, but in a fight between logic and fear of annihilation, fear usually wins.

To keep the fear at bay, I had to prove to myself that I was back to normal. Those two years hadn’t been a part of my life, not really. They had been an interruption, and now I was right back where I had left off. Everything was exactly the way it had been before; it had to be, because if it wasn’t, that could mean I was losing myself again. But I knew I was safe, because I had real interests again now, and a sense of purpose. And inspiration. Especially inspiration.

I kept the fear at bay like that for two years, until I didn’t even know I was afraid anymore. And then 2011 happened, and everything fell apart.

For me, 2011 started in late 2010, and I’m not sure it ever ended. I started a list, at one point, of important and/or strange things that happened in my life in 2011; I stopped when I hit 50. But the most important was the series of realizations that hit me like wrecking balls breaking down all the walls I had built up. I had thought everything was back to normal; how had I not realized before how deeply traumatized I was? How had I not realized that everything I did these days was motivated by fear?

With my illusions gone, I could see everything I couldn’t let myself admit before. Including the truth about my writing. The truth was, I hadn’t really felt passionate about a story in a long time. The truth was, part of me never wanted to write again. Writing wasn’t fun anymore; it was full of echoes of the way I had used it, of how my life’s passion had been twisted into endless joyless work. It was still the only thing I wanted to do with my life, just like it always had been, but now it was also a reminder of everything that scared me most.

I couldn’t get out of those patterns while I was still writing. And every time I tried to work on a writing project it made me sicker. I  could have kept going. I had a lot of practice with forcing myself to write. But that would have been counterproductive, to say the least.

So I stopped.

It was the longest I had gone without writing since… I  don’t even know when. Possibly the longest I had gone without writing since I first learned how. It was miserable, and it was necessary.

I’m not entirely back to normal yet. But I can work on editing my novel without completely shutting down. I can think about a story idea and look forward to writing it. This is progress.

I didn’t want to come back and put new blog posts next to the ones I had written when I didn’t know what was going on, when I had a vague sense that something was wrong but couldn’t admit to myself what it was. I didn’t want to build on top of a foundation I had already taken apart.

I wanted to tear it all down, so I could start over.