How do you get published when the rules and the markets are constantly shifting? Book stores are closing, mega-publishers are adopting their smaller cousins as in-house imprints, and the internet has made the leap from fad to indispensable.
I can hardly keep up.
A friend told me recently that he’s too busy with blogs, Facebook and Twitter to dedicate any serious energy to an entire novel. He was curious about the book I’d written but wasn’t planning on reading it.
“Just tell me what it’s about.” I got two minutes of his attention span to blurt out a raggedy version of what took me years to write. I didn’t do it justice, but needn’t have bothered since he likely forgot it within the hour and won’t be waiting for the sequel.
Makes me almost resent the time I spend crafting a story. Well, not really, though I have taken the occasional vacation from pen and paper and computer. The last holiday from writing lasted nearly two years, which was a record. I made the odd note, scratched a few lines here and there but mostly focused on other projects and ignored the stack of stories already languishing on the bottom shelf of my bookcase.
But my internal story generator didn’t get the memo, and kept poking me with tantalizing tidbits of exciting adventures and new characters. When I couldn’t stand the voices any longer I picked up the pen and spilled them all out. A huge relief, sure, but what was the point of writing so many new stories if I was only going to toss them onto the already teetering pile of has-beens?
So I put them aside for a while and pulled out a half-dozen old stories for an airing. Most had done the rounds of the few magazines that I’d been soliciting twenty or so years ago. But they’d been rejected so many times I was afraid that they might have developed complexes. Lying around in a box while they were supposed to be entertaining people couldn’t have done much for their moods either.
I felt like I was starting from scratch. Even though they were still interesting, still real enough to me, my old stories seemed lame, clichéd and melodramatic. So I tore them apart – which couldn’t have done much to boost their self-esteem – and rebuilt them word by word.
I moved one story clear across country because I needed mountains in one scene. By the time I finished editing for differences in geographical and cultural details, the story had taken on a darker feel that better suited the plot.
Some of the stories needed to have their cultural references updated – give that guy a cellphone! There were too many instances where my characters were desperately looking for info that could have been found with a simple Google search. Not a big issue if it’s set in the olden pre-internet days or if the world is completely fantasized, but a lot of my stories happen in current time.
I was surprised at how young a lot of my characters sounded. Two decades will do a lot to the way you think and present yourself to the world. I didn’t necessarily need these folks to age along with me – some of them would seem out of place in their story if they were older – but I did need to kick them into shape.
The most interesting part of the whole exercise was discovering that two of the stories were unfinished, and sounded shallow and small. I puzzled over them until I realized they had more to tell. I soon had them wrangled into two passable outlines for novels. Great fun, and very satisfying, but now it has me eyeing the others again and wondering if they too could be expanded into novels.
And that’s my novel dilemma, though not such a bad spot to be in, surrounded by so much potential. I love to tell stories that engage readers. I want to give them heroes to identify with and a place they can escape to. But that takes time to build and space to spread out.
With this new age of 30-second news shorts and truncated messaging, is there still room for the epic novel or should we adapt our sagas into smaller, more manageable bites? I can give it a shot but I’m not sure I can tailor my stories to the attention-deficient.
“I cannot imagine life without books any more than I can
imagine life without breathing.”
– Terry Brooks