Thursday, November 09, 2006

I Write Obituaries

Anyone who has had the nerve to call themselves a writer, has heard this question:

"What do you write?"

Being who I am, I often come back with, "I write obituaries" or "erotic novels for children". It depends on the audience, but it's a great way to get rid of people that you don't want to talk to.

But it's an interesting question, and something that most writers deal with. Because of how the industry it, it seems that genre crossing is never recommended. If your debut novel is a romance, then you sure as hell better write at least three more romance novels in order to build up your audience. If you want to cross genres, you better get a pen name or else the readers will most likely crucify you.

The problem I have had is that I am a genre crosser. I've written literary and genre fiction, short stories and novels, magazine articles and book reviews. It's not because I have ADD and it's not entirely that magazine articles pay and short stories often don't. I truly believe that each form of writing improves the other, and sticking to one median is limiting your writing potential.

For instance, in a novel, you have 90,000 words to play with. That's a lot. And I have read too many books that meander through the plot because they have so much to work with. When I have to write a 500 word magazine article about a person that has accomplished enough to fill a book, I am forced to be more selective. I'm sure I'm preaching to the choir here, but it would do a lot of novelists a lot of good to be more selective with their words, only putting in the passages which are essential to the story. The same goes for genre and literary. As Michael Cunningham so beautifully stated, "I get tired of reading books about people sitting in rooms talking about people sitting in rooms talking." If more literary writers tried their hand at a mystery or horror novel, they could learn a lot about plot and tension. Conversely, a genre writer could learn a lot more about character development and emotional drive by writing literary fiction.

The other question that is often asked is, "What do you write about?"

And I look at the asker like a deer in the headlights. "I'm sorry, I don't understand."

I can tell them what my novel is about, I could give them a one line synopsis of my short stories, but would those be accurate answers? Is what I write about judged by what I have already written? Like I said, I'm a genre crosser. Different things interest me and there's no telling what I'm going to be drawn to tomorrow or a year from now. Thou Shall Not is about the ultra-orthodox community in Israel while the project I'm working on for NaNoWriMo is about a reformed prostitute living on the north shore. Yes, I know there was a prostitution sub-plot in the first book, but that doesn't mean there is a connection. My short stories range from coming of age tales, to a girl getting the wrong zodiac sign tattooed on her hip, coming out to my Jewish grandmother or beating up a kid on the playground because he said thought I was a boy. If I only wrote about one thing, I would go nuts. To me, it's the equivalent of going to the office Monday through Friday from nine to five. It get's real dull, real quick.

To please the publishing industry, I have my answers about what I write and what I write about, the two line pitch and my platform. But the truth is, I write. That's it. And I wish it was a sufficient answer to the frequently asked questions.

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