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July 28, 2005

Comments

Charlie W

Sarash - I don't know, but I suspect when the protag's loved one is saved at the end it is often down to editorial interference. Either that or the ones where the loved one dies are not often chosen for publication.

I sometimes wonder how the film SEVEN would work as a movie, done well. Loved one dies at end, killer explains himself at length, and while we're at it we can check every other box on the cliche checklist. Yet it's a great film.

Charlie W

Oops.

Graham Powell

Cliches can work sometimes. For example, in Harlan Coben's GONE FOR GOOD...

MAJOR SPOILER ALERT!!!!!!

...the main character's lover is killed in one of the opening scenes. Coben does an excellent job with the atmosphere of gloom as the character goes to the funeral, looks down into the open casket - and it's not her. Or, more accurately, the woman he loved wasn't who she said she was.

It's a twist every mystery reader would expect, and Coben pulls it off anyway.

David J. Montgomery

I must be thick, because I wouldn't have expected that! :) Sounds like a pretty cool twist to me.

Keith

Well, to get back to the original complaint, which wasn't about clich├ęs...

Character gimmicks (or gadgets, or tags, or hooks, or whatever any particular how-to-write-bad-novels book calls them) are annoying because they almost ensure a lack of character depth.

He's a tough, hard-hitting oil well firefighter...who loves French poodles!

Yeah, great. Click.

No, wait! She's a masked avenger...who's a single mom!

Yeah, thanks. I said click.

It's high-concept for characters, and when the concept is all there is, it sucks.

Same thing happens in novels, and it sucks even worse there.

tess gerritsen

About the old cliche of the hero's imperiled beloved who gets saved at the last minute...

okay, so it's a cliche. Happy endings ARE cliche. Real life sucks. And real art is supposed to reflect real life, so of course the ending of a book SHOULD suck, or you're not writing real art.

But consider what happens if you, as an author, have your beloved character die in the end: you get stoned by your readers. Honestly. Your reviews may be great. (Critics always love bittersweet/tragic endings.) But your outraged readers tell you that they will never buy another one of your books because you killed off their beloved sookie. They tell their friensd, "oh, don't buy that book, it's got SUCH a horrible ending," and so you've lost another ten or twenty or a hundred readers. You find out your dead-Sookie book's sales are a fraction of your previous book's. Your writing career, which was on an upward trajectory prior to the Sookie-killing, has suddenly nosedived. Your editor, who didn't want you to kill off Sookie in the first place, doesn't renew your contract.

You're now an orphaned writer. All because you killed off Sookie.

Okay, maybe an exaggeration. Or maybe not. (didn't I say that real life sucked?)

The point of this is that Hollywood endings are happy because they sell tickets. And novels that end happily are more likely to sell well.

Once, I wrote a bittersweet ending. In THE SURGEON, the hero and heroine walk away from each other, each knowing, in their heart of hearts, that they were not meant to be. It was bittersweet. It was artistic.

My editor nixed it. "What do you think you're DOING?" she said. "Your readers will HATE this ending!"

I listened to her and gave them a happy ending. And I received many, many letters from readers telling me how SATISFIED they were that the relationship ended on a happy note. (Do you think anyone would have written me: "oh, I'm so GLAD it ended badly for them!"?)

My point here is that, as writers, we struggle with both artistic considerations and commercial considerations. And we try to satisfy both needs. But sometimes, they are in direct conflict, and even though killing off Sookie feels like a cool and unique and literary thing to do, maybe doing it is really just the vanity of an artist indulging his need to be "cool and unique and literary". And the book isn't necessarily better.

But it IS a real dog in the marketplace.


JA Konrath

Dammit! So much for my next book, KILLING SOOKIE...

Rebecca

I think Stephen King kind of said the same thing in MISERY, didn't he? Except in a MUCH exaggerated form.

That said, I don't completely buy the "real life sucks" argument. Real life is UNPREDICTABLE. Sometimes it has an "ending" (in quotes since in "real life" the only ending is death) that is HAPPY IN AN UNEXPECTED WAY. My first book was praised in the states and panned abroad for the ending because different people saw its level of both likelihood and happiness differently.

Also (sorry I'm being contrary here), I've gotten letters saying how SATISFIED people are because of precisely because Sookie got killed off by the protagonist. AND I HAD TO FIGHT MY EDITOR AND THREATEN TO WITHDRAW FROM MY CONTRACT TO GET TO KEEP THE BOOK THAT WAY. My editor has (since the mail) had the grace to admit I was right. Lesson: don't listen to editors uncritically.

Donna

I just want to say first of all, that I would never ever ever read a book containing a character called Sookie and, quite frankly, Sookie deserves a horrible death. I'm with Rebecca on this one. I love it when an author does something totally unexpected and kills off a beloved character. But not because the author has said "I want to do something shocking and unexpected" - that never works. But when it's something that fits in and feels right then yes, it can be excellent. I can think of a couple of wonderful examples but that would be spoilers for the books in question so I won't.

Gimmicks or hooks...well, like cliches they can be done well, or they can suck. Some books with an alcoholic ex cop who drinks lapsang Souchong, bakes his own bread and listens to nothing but Perry Como while cleaning out the cages of his 25 Red Kneed Patagonian Spitting Spiders, are a cup of pure honey in the hands of the right author. In the hands of someone not as skilled those same gimmicks can come across as an enormous mugful of day old elephant pee (gosh, I suddenly feel thirsty all of a sudden).

As for cliches...well, I love them.

Donna

Kevin Wignall

Tess, I have to take issue with something you've said here. I've killed Sookie so many times and in so many ways, and you could well be right in connecting this to my sales figures. But I never kill Sookie because I'm trying to be "cool or unique or literary", I do it because it's right for the book, and the book always comes first. I aim to give my readers a good ride, but I never promise to take them where they'd like to go. I would never criticize an author for being commercial and pandering to the wishes of their audience, but by the same token, I think it's wrong to suggest that everyone who takes the riskier (particularly financially) route of killing Sookie does so out of some shallow desire to be hip.
And yes, I never thought the day would come when I'd argue a literary point around the name Sookie.

David Terrenoire

Elmore Leonard wrote rules for writers he called "Easy on the Hooptedoodle." (If you'd like a copy, drop me a line and I'll send it. I sleep with it under my pillow). The beauty was, for each rule, Leonard gave an example of a great writer who violated the rule beautifully.

I prefer to take these things on a book-by-book basis. Is an obese PI who raises orchids a gimmick, or is this the foundation of a terrific character?

But what do I know? My hero plays piano.

m.j. rose

Uh Oh! David, so does mine. Jazz piano. But he is from New Orleans.

This is such a hot button subject though - and really interesting. Tess's take versus Kevins.

And It also brings up that eternal question - are you writing for yourself, the critics, or your audience. I love how writers answer that one.

Tess Gerritsen

A good question: "are you writing for yourself, the critics, or your audience?"

I would say that every time I wrote for the critics, the book didn't do as well.

Every time I wrote for myself -- the book did much better. And since I think of the audience as many versions of myself, I suppose I'm also writing for the audience as well.

And the truth is, I HATE it when an author violates my trust by kills off a major series character. Esp. if Sookie has been established as a beloved, sympathetic character who has been around for several books. (If she's just a character introduced for that one book, then --well, okay, go ahead and kill her.)

I've had this same sort of discussion about other fiction standards such as the "likeable hero," and I had to defend the idea that your hero should be sympathetic. But again, I'm a reader too, and I just won't spend much time with a detective whom I despise. Oh, he may very well be a cat burglar on the side, or be guilty of murder, but I still have to like him in some way.

There are many cliches in mystery fiction -- e.g., why does the mystery always have to be solved? Why does there have to be a satisfying ending? Why does there have to be a murder? (Why isn't anyone writing about shoplifting?) Why does the hero have to be intelligent? Where are all the stupid heroes? (I was once told by a critic that my female astronaut in GRAVITY was a cliche because she was courageous and intelligent. "Why do all astronauts have to be courageous and intelligent?" he asked. Okay. Try writing about an astronaut who's cowardly and stupid. Try making that believable. You can't.) Sometimes cliches are cliches because they are simply reflections of reality.

And sometimes, the story elements that critics call cliches are actually genre conventions. (The romance with the happy ending; the mystery that gets solved; the hero who survives his perilous journey.) When those conventions are violated, then you may have a splendid tragedy, or a literary gem, but you will also have readers who feel you have violated their contract with you.

David Terrenoire

m.j.

I hate to talk about these things too much, but I gave my guy the piano because he's a romantic at heart and wants to believe in all the old standards (Our Love Is Here To Stay is a big one) in spite of the ugliness and cynicism of his profession. It was also the reason he was chosen by his mentor. A piano player working casuals disappears in a room. If that room is full of powerful people, a piano player can pick up a lot of interesting information, i.e. who's talking to whom, who's been invited to which parties, who's wife looks bored, etc.

Olen Steinhauer

MJ, I think you write for your audience because art is just another form of communication--however, you also write to your own tastes, because if you don't, your books end up carbon copies of any old tripe that's out there. So, does one end a story with a happy ending because the audience wants that? It's a matter of percentages. What percentage of your drive is market, and what percentage is personal?

I'm with Kevin overall in the Kevin-Tess debate, because I was taught to write without, and am influenced by writers who avoid, easy tricks. And because when I think about audience, which I DO think about, I'm not limiting myself to this year's audience. It'd be nice to know something I've written will have lasting power.

Lately though, I've been frustrated by my limited present-tense readership, and have been questioning some of my basic beliefs, which may lean me toward Tess's side in the future. Long discussions over Da Vinci Code haven't helped the situation. Just a cursory glance at the opening page evokes a horror of cliche and terrible writing. But, for God's sake, fans actually tell me part of the appeal of it is its great writing! I find myself baffled by this.

So is there really no objective criteria to judge the quality of writing anymore, or is a huge percentage of globe simply stupid and unable to see the ugly elephant in the room when they're reading about Catholic conspiracy?

Just questions here, for which I don't have the answers.

Mark Terry

I love that a critic would wonder why Tess's female hero in GRAVITY (Great book, by the way) had to be intelligent and courageous. Um, huh. Because high school dropouts who are afraid of heights and have a fear of flying and the unknown tend to stick with watching TV and not applying to NASA, or if they're so delusional as to apply to NASA they don't get accepted. Gee, this is an organization that routinely turns down men and women with double PhDs with experience as test pilots. Sometimes I just can't figure critics, and I am one.
Best,
Mark Terry

Tess Gerritsen

Hmmm. I'm not sure the happy ending qualifies as just an "easy trick". Because sometimes, the happy ending is the HARD thing to pull off in a book, esp. when you've spent the whole book getting your hero or heroine into a tight spot.

I remember, during the writing of GRAVITY, that I had written my heroine into a corner without any way for her to survive. And I could not think of any way to save her. I spent two weeks with writer's block, and just about called up my editor to tell her: "My heroine dies. This is a tragedy."

In that case, killing her off WOULD have been the easy trick. The far harder trick was coming up with a plot twist to save her.

I know that sometimes the death of a major character can function as a big surprise in a book. But we, as mystery writers, should be perfectly capable of introducing big surprises in our books in other, more creative ways.

Ingrid

Well, I don't know what to make of this. My books don't necessarily end happily. Life isn't happy. As for killing off Sookie, I do believe it gets worse when you kill off a charming small child and destroy the protagonist's marriage. (That book isn't sold yet, and now worries me). I definitely do not write for an audience, though I adore fan mail. I don't particularly write for critics, but the thought of reviews is on my mind as a write. (I don't get nearly enough of the delightful things!) I do write for myself, first and foremost -- to entertain myself, to please myself, sometimes even to give myself a great thrill with the beauty of the thing. :)

Olen Steinhauer

Tess, I didn't mean to single out a happy ending as an "easy trick"--sorry if it sounded that way. Certainly it's not, since as you point out the hero/ines end up in poisitions they must extricate themselves from...and without the use of easy tricks like deus ex machinas.

But do you, or does anyone, go into each book with the preconceived stipulation that the ending will be happy? I admit I sometimes enter a book knowing the tone of the ending, then other times I don't. But you know what? They always end up reflecting my own character as a writer. Thus my endings are never happy in the literal sense. Success, if it occurs, is always mixed with failure or despair, which in my world-view is just how things are. (Not a recipe for big audiences!)

As Kevin would say, "What's right for the book?" This happens to be right for my books. Perhaps a happy ending is right for Tess's, and for Kevin, killing everyone is the only way to tell it. Probably is...

Yet I wonder if killing off the heroine of GRAVITY would really have been the "easy trick". To me the difficulty about endings is not necessarily how the plot turns out, because when you sit back with all the story strands, plotting often becomes a kind of mathematical exercise. The difficulty is instead ending with the abstract things--themes, emotions, character development--coming convincingly to a head. That's what I find hard to pull off, what makes me rip out the last threads of my hair.

If it looks like I'm going stream-of-consciousness here, it's because I am.

Linda

I don't have the published writing credentials most of you do, but I'm a lifelong reader and I've been working on a mystery novel. Reading is my one real vice. My take on the happy vs. unhappy ending is that both are valid. It just depends on which day in the person's life you choose to end the story. Pick the day my husband got laid off, and you have an unhappy ending. Pick the day he got a new job with a huge raise, and you have a happy ending. Same person, same life, one sucks and one's a celebration. Same with fiction. Some stories end with tragedy and some with celebration. The key is that the ending has to make sense. A person reading should be thinking, "Yeah, I should have seen that coming. It's the perfect ending."

Kevin Wignall

Tess, we clearly come at our writing from very different directions, and I'd like to think neither of us are right or wrong here. But it strikes me that you think about the mechanics of the plot much more than I do. Some of my deaths have been surprising, but I never deliver them exclusively for that reason. And I suspect when Olen calls the happy ending the easy trick, he doesn't mean in terms of technical gymnastics, he means emotionally, in terms of the impact on the reader. I'm writing for an audience, but I only want an audience that can handle what I want to write about.

Jenny D

I'm coming in late on this: what a good discussion, though... (1) Donna, have you not read Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse books? They are excellent, I feel sure you would like them! (2) Interesting historical footnote (although it may be urban legend?) about what Guyot initially described, the character with a recognizable "gimmick" or set of traits. In the nineteenth century when the serial form of publication dominated English fiction, there might easily be a month gap between installments, and writers started giving esp. minor characters these traits in order to help readers remember them from month to month. The initial word for this was "stereotype," on the model of the technology used to print these books. I think this "gimmick" question is a particular risk in series crime fiction--it's tempting to use it to fulfill a similar function for the reader, with a year or more gap between installments, but it can be very annoying if it's not handled tactfully. Can't think of any examples off the top of my head, but they're legion. (3) I like both kinds of ending, "happy" and "unhappy," though I confess I am more likely to reread a book with a happy ending. Noir has a tradition of bleak endings that hasn't really been addressed here; but some of my favorite thrillers have really dark endings as well (Kevin's are a good example, or else something like Robert Harris's FATHERLAND). (4) Of David's list, the one that really drives me crazy is the point-of-view question. Obviously there are special cases, but in general point-of-view is a contract between the writer and the reader and careless switches for the sake of getting information, or lapses in the voice (often for the sake of some self-consciously "fine" writing or observation that doesn't fit, say, with the point of view of the character who is otherwise the focus of the narrative voice), are one of the easiest ways to make me crazy. I think this is one of the extreme challenges of writing in the third person, but it must be addressed...

Anyway, sorry to go on at such length. I am just full of enthusiasm for this conversation!

tess gerritsen

Olen and kevin, I think that even when a novel is thought of as having a "happy" ending, the tone may still be sad or bittersweet. By "happy ending", what I mean is that the protagonist survives and the mystery is solved. I find that very often, the tone at the end of my own books is sad or troubled -- e.g., in BODY DOUBLE, Maura walks away from the prison where her mother is incarcerated, vowing never to see her again. And at the end of LIFE SUPPORT, the heroine watches as the doctors withdraw life support from her mother. So "happy ending" doesn't mean a kiss, a smile, a wedding. It means, simply, that the genre conventions have been met, and that the mystery itself has a satisfying end.

Kevin, I didn't mean to imply that every author who kills off his hero is doing it as a parlor trick. And yes, every book is different; every story is its own creature. I think I'm just reacting to the often-repeated statement by critics and others that every happy ending is a cliche, and that authors who write such endings are not "real" artists. We're all artists. It's just that some of us paint in shades of pastels, and some of us paint in shades of gray.

David J. Montgomery

I would not consider a happy ending to be either a cliche or a gimmick. That's a story choice and as long as it's true to what comes before it, there's nothing wrong with it. Giving a story an unwarranted UNhappy ending would be just as wrong as giving it an unwarranted happy ending. You have to tell the story honestly as best you can according to how you see it as the creator.

There are certain elements that you have to have in a mystery novel, for example, to make it a mystery novel: you have to have a crime, you have to have someone who tries to solve the crime, you have to have clues of some sort. Those are not cliches.

Parting thought: please, never, never write for the critics. Write for yourself. I'm a critic and I know a lot of critics, but I have no idea of what they want, other than a good story. So do your best to write a good story and you'll be fine.

JA Konrath

"But what do I know? My hero plays piano..."

I think I'm going to have my hero do that. But then, I suffer greatly from pianist envy.

As for cliche, I believe that I write for the readers. My first reader is my wife, then my agent, then my editor, then my fans (both of them).

The idea of "What's right for the book?" reminds me too much of bitter artists who defend their unsold novels by saying that only crap sells.

I believe the book's most important job is to entertain as wide an audience as possible.

What's right for the book is what will help the book find that audience.

Cliches exist because readers like them. If they didn't, all the books using cliches wouldn't sell.

I'm on the fence as to whether writers are artists or craftsmen. But I know that in either case, they are writing for an audience, and in order to sell well, they have to take the audience into account.

Kevin Wignall

"The idea of "What's right for the book?" reminds me too much of bitter artists who defend their unsold novels by saying that only crap sells."

Cheap shot. What, you're only allowed to express integrity in your writing if you're a bestseller? Otherwise you're just a bitter hack? And yes, we all hope to reach as wide an audience as possible, but if that's the only reason you're doing it, maybe you should try reality TV instead.

tess gerritsen

JA, instead of having your hero play the piano, wouldn't it be fun to have your hero trying to LEARN to play the piano? Watching my poor husband struggle just to get both hands working together on the keyboard is painful. That way, you could take piano lessons and deduct them as reasearch costs! There've been a number of detective heroes who are good at playing various instruments, but it might be fun to read about a detective who's really bad at his instrument, and everywhere he goes, people tell him to just STOP it, already. (again, thinking of my dear hubby who was once actually told by a hotel lobby clerk to please "leave the piano alone.")

David J. Montgomery

The problem with writing to please an audience is that it's impossible to know what the audience wants, and even if you could somehow figure it out, it would have changed before your book could reach them.

Writing in an effort to sell your book to some supposed audience is the quickest way to ensure the resulting product is hackwork.

Jennifer Jordan

Using the analogy of gray scale vs. pastels may be simplistic when used to describe the motivations and techniques involved in writing - especially in crime fiction which features the very worst and the very best of the flawed creatures known as human beings.

Considering the nature of this type of fiction (i.e. murder, lies and the seven deadly sins are generally involved), pastels should be used ironically. At least one would hope. Writing with an agenda that involves pleasing anyone but the oft and over mentioned 'muse' seems calculated. One wants wants one's work to sell, there's no question. But if I had to write just what my publisher, the Walmart reading audience and my bank account dictated, I wouldn't want to write (she said from her slippery soap box).

What's right for the book really seems the only way to write. But then I am a purist and an ass.

Keith

I'm gratified when my books please other people, but I get there by writing to please myself.

Paradocthical, ainnit?

David Terrenoire

tess,

I wrote a novel with a hero who played saxophone horribly. It didn't sell. Uh, I don't think the saxophone was the problem.

As for happy endings, I've had several readers ask me about the less-than-happy ending of Beneath A Panamanian Moon. I don't know how to answer them except to say that it couldn't have ended any other way.

(Pianist envy. I wish I'd thought of that.)

Olen Steinhauer

David, you're right. I'd take it further, because if the goal of writing is merely the basest level of entertainment (and saying "as wide an audience as possible" translates as "lowest common denominator"), and only that, then why does one devote one's life to it?

I mean, we're all heading for the grave. Why spent those years hacking away at a frustrating and poverty-ridden art form (and it is an art, in the right hands), if you're trying only for pure entertainment? Is there no impulse to challenge the reader? To challenge youself? To create something that just might outlast you? Something that, while entertaining, makes a reader question himself? This is really about motivation, but motivation leads to technique, which was the original topic.

JA, no one ever suggested you don't take the audience into account. But how do you treat the audience? My girlfriend is reading Da Vinci Code now, and her impression is that it's treating its audience like children, telling them a clean, unchallenging tale that will help them go to sleep.

She's not a bitter artist, nor am I; my novels sell well enough that I haven't had a day job in years, and for that I'm quite happy.

Donna

As an 'audience member' I just want to say Kevin, your endings feel right and that's what counts. I ike authors who take chances - as ong as it works. Happy endings can feel contrived, dark endings can feel contrived. I can only come back to 'a good book is a good book' - great characters, a good plot, great writing. A good story that feels believable and is told well. Kill your hero, don't kill your hero, just don't make whatever you do stick out like a flasher in a convent - unwanted, unwelcome and unlikely.
Donna

tess gerritsen

Well, I do think that cozy mysteries are the equivalent of painting with pastels. And there ain't nothing wrong with that (sez me, having grown up enjoying Agathie Christie.)

But as you know, my books are more likely to be painted in shocking shades of red.


tess gerritsen

I think that JA treats his audience just fine.

And there's not a writer I know -- not a single damn one -- whose ambitions are to write "base entertainment." We are all struggling to get our feelings on the page, all trying to challenge our readers, all trying to challenge ourselves. Do you think any of us would be satisfied turning out what we, in our heart of hearts, think of as dreck?

Now, there are writers who DO turn out what we may judge as dreck, but I betcha that if you sat down and talked to the dreck-writers, they don't believe they are. They believe they are pouring their souls onto the page. And they are doing it in the best way they know how. Maybe with bad technique, maybe with cliches, but they do it because they're like us. Writers.

What gets my goat is writers who say, "Well, I'm special because I write ART, while Mr. Bestseller over there just writes BASE ENTERTAINMENT."

Some writers just happen -- for whatever reason -- to sell really well. Who knows why? It's a mystery. (Like Da Vinci Code's success.) But I suspect that Dan Brown was writing his heart out too when he wrote that book.

Jennifer Jordan

Well, if you get to be shocking shades of red, I choose subtle shades of the deepest indigo as found in the night sky before the lunar rising.

And I firmly believe there are writers that know they right schlock and for whatever reason do not care.

That comment was written in the color of the bitterest dark chocolate.

Olen Steinhauer

You may be right, Tess. Fact is, I haven't talked to many novelists. I was just going by the terms JA used. No one, least of all me, said that because something is a bestseller it ain't art, or that a bestseller can only be "base entertainment". Every book is judged on its own worth. On the flip side, don't assume that just because someone uses the word "art" that they're elitist. Ain't no one special here.

Kevin Wignall

I think Jen's right here. Because if you pour your heart out, only to see your work dismissed as shallow, formulaic or gimmicky, it's all too easy to hide behind the claim that anyone aiming higher is just pretentious, or that the critics are simply jealous of your sales. You see, this cuts both ways? And I've never criticized anyone because they have high sales, only because they've written a poor book.

Tess Gerritsen

I suspect that we are all aiming as high as we each can possibly shoot.

Writer A says: "Well, I'm aiming higher than writer B. So I'm a superior writer."

What makes him think that Writer B isn't aiming just as high?

It's not the act of "aiming higher" that makes someone sound pretentious. What sounds pretentions is someone who says "Well, I may not sell as well, but of course, I DO aim higher than he does."

There is no objective way to measure a writer's original aim or ambition or intent. The only truly objective measurements in this business are mathematical: book sales and number of awards and number of glowing reviews (and even that last measurement is affected by a number of complicating elements such as who knows whom.)

But as to who is aiming higher? Well, who knows.

JA Konrath

I don't believe that writing something entertaining is easy. Writing what you want to write, with no thought of the reader, is easy. Keeping the reader in mind, trying to entertain them, is thoughtful, and difficult.

It's a helluva lot easier to please yourself than it is to please 5 million readers.

The way to write something entertaining is to look at what people (yourself included) are entertained by.

Do you want to sell a short story to a certain magazine? Read the magazine to see what they're looking for. That means writing for an intended audience. It doesn't mean you can write whatever you want to write and expect the world to embrace your genius.

Publishing is a business. Think like a business person. That means making deliberate decisions that weigh your artistic integrity against commercial viability.

I believe writers are born with a storytelling gene--a need to express themselves artisitically. Why else would we subject ourself to the criticism, rejection, and ridicule unless we were compelled to? I got 450 rejections in 12 years without selling a damn thing. I didn't get into this field for the money or the fame.

When I write, I do so out of a love of writing. My desire to entertain as a writer comes from the entertainment I get as a reader. I want to provide folks with the same experience I get when I read Robert Parker, or Donald Westlake, or David Morrell, or Tess Gerritsen (loved the new one!)

The trick is to balance the art side with the reality side. If I'm asked by my editor to turn a sad ending into a happy one, I do it. Might not thrill me to do so, but this is my job.

That said, I try my best to do more than the standard formula stuff. I try to stretch the rules, challenge myself and the reader, and provide a story that has more than just bad jokes and explosions.

But even so, I'd rather be Dan Brown or JK Rowling than the person who won the Pulitzer for Lit in 1999 (does anyone even know who that was?)

David J. Montgomery

I'd rather be both! :)

Clair Lamb

Michael Cunningham won the 1999 Pulitzer for THE HOURS... No DA VINCI CODE, but it did okay...

Jennifer Jordan

Publishing is a business.

Writing is not.

The two must meet, grapple or dance but at the end of the day they don't go home together.

"Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depth of your heart; confess to yourself you would have to die if you were forbidden to write." ~Rainer Maria Rilke

David Terrenoire

I'm in a writing group with one woman who continually belittles genre fiction, claiming she's writing purely for art.

No, she hasn't published anything.

David Terrenoire

And how can you possibly write for an audience? I've been fortunate to have very positive reviews, but I know at least one critic who didn't like my book and told me so. He had the class not to trash it in print, and for that I'm grateful.

The point is, no matter what you write, you're not going to please everyone so you'd be a fool to try.

Jennifer Jordan

I was in a writing group and got out of it because 90 percent hadn't been published, wrote in only one genre, read only one genre and were disparaging of all else. I would write or read than talk about writing or reading despite the volume of words I've added here today.

I love anything well written from a magazine ad to the back of a can of bathroom cleaner to a full blown cozy to 'literary' fiction, whatever that really is. And full respect goes to anyone that has written, finished, re-written and published a book.

There is a big jump from the written cliche to art for art's sake and this is far from a black and white subject.

Whatever any writer's motivation, writers will continue to write whether that writing is riddled with cliches or so steeped in 'art' that is unapproachable.

I think Mr. Terrenoire sums it up beautifully with the last line in his last comment.
Trying to please everyone with one's writing, in backblogs or bookstores, is a task left to fools or the insane.

JA Konrath

Trying to please everyone may be insane, but pleasing only yourself is a sure way to have a short career.

Guyot

but pleasing only yourself is a sure way to have a short career.

I think there are a lot of very successful authors who might prove that statement wrong.

Was it in this backblog? Didn't someone mention that their best selling books are routinely the ones where they wrote without thought of audience? I'm too tired to scroll up.

Kevin Wignall

I'm sorry JA, but that makes you a hack. You struggled for 12 years and through 450 rejections so that an editor could dictate something so vital? Why?!? Well, you've answered your question about whether writing is an art or a craft - for you it's just a job.

Kevin Wignall

Apologies, the comment to which I'm referring didn't show in the box. Here it is -
"If I'm asked by my editor to turn a sad ending into a happy one, I do it."

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