Monday, January 28, 2008

I will not live in a box

This weekend, Ben and I went up to Austin to my parents' house. While we were there, I started hunting around in my old room in my piles of books from my childhood. Before long, I had gathered a large pile of old favorites and books I deemed rescuing. (There's still more there, I'm not done yet!)

While looking through the books, I realized there were a few common themes:

  • children's books that focused on animals, dancing, princesses, fairy tales and humor
  • Books that had talking animals/ fantasy elements/ ghosts
  • Madeline L'Engle's book (Adventure stories/ Mysteries/ Fantasy)
  • Elizabeth Peters' Egypt series and Jacqueline Kirby books (Mysteries)
  • Roald Dahl's funny giants, snozzcumbers and whimsical characters

From this conclusion, I realized that my writing style is predominantly based on funny talking creatures, fairy tales, dancing (I like dancing), adventure stories in other worlds, hilarious female characters with enormous hats and a habit of singing country songs off-key, a prim British female Egyptologist and everything from a girl genius with ESP to a boy who finds a lucky chocolate bar.

And you thought I was simply crazy. Now I'm confused.

For awhile now, I've been struggling how to "define" my writing. I'm not going to wax on and on about how I'm a complicated and person with rich inner depths. Everyone thinks they're complicated. They're normally quite simple and boring. I'm an eccentric, I know I'm eccentric, therefore my writing is eccentric.

But what is eccentric? I've been told I'm a romance author, children's author, women's fiction author, fantasy author, journalist (shudder) and fun. That's all fine and dandy, but what do I tell people when they walk up to me and ask, "What do you write?" Normally, I say humorous women's fiction. However, after looking at the books I've grown up with and the ideas I have, I'm not quite sure if that's correct. It is women's fiction. It's aimed toward women, and I hope women read it. But it's not about single mothers struggling in a cruel world, a woman regaining her strength after cancer or a woman trying to define herself through a relationship.

I'm sorry. I dozed off.

I've been told I write contemporary romances and that I should delve deeper into that field. The problem is that a lot of generic romances bore me. (This is not to offend any of my Invisible Friends!) When I see a plot like this, imagine what goes through my mind:

Francesca is a eighth grade English teacher longing for an adventure. When she meets Scales, the zoo director, she feels a passion she hasn't felt in months. In between frequenting the reptile house and having secret rendezvous in the teacher's lounge, she realizes a old secret might tear them apart. Can Francesca save her new romance--or will it be lost in the jungle of love?

I'm sorry. That noise you just heard was me flinging my ears at the wall. Now I have nothing against romance. My third novel might even be called a romance. To me, it's more, but an agent might decide differently. However, I don't generally deal with a love story being the main focus. It just seems to simple to me. I need a little mystery or some other drama going on. It's fine to read, but I can't write it.

As far as children goes, I can see young adult. I can see that very well. I write about animals, young girls and hidden worlds. Got it.

However, I have no idea what to describe my work as. Right now women's fiction is the safest label. For instance, my second book The Dog's Tale is about a couple falling in love from a dog's point of view. Is it a romance? Well yes, it's a love story. Is it whimsical? Yes, there's a dog with a shoe obsession. Is it an adventure? It's an intriguing romp through East Texas, but there's no hidden diamonds or anything. Is there a mystery? The only mystery is whether Hank and his owner Jake can understand each other when they're having a conversation. Is it a fantasy? There's no dwarfs or elves, but the dog does talk... While I'm delighted my work is different, I know how hard it is to market because it isn't conventional. Also, several of the books I want to start are different. One's an adventure, one's a mystery, one's a YA, a few are women's fiction....the box is a bit crowded.

When it comes down to it, my work revolves around fairies, ponies, West/ ranches, ghosts, talking animals, love stories, relationships between people, mysteries, dolphins and lint gremlins.

I'm confused.

So tell me, Invisible Friends, what do you think? What would your vote be if you had describe my style? I'm curious to see your thoughts. Until then, don't look for me in a box or try to fence me in. I'll be outside frolicking with the butterflies and other crazy lunatics.

4 comments:

Mom said...

Interesting-but nothing I didn't already know. Why do you have to label your writing. Is it a written rule that you have to describe your style in 5 words or less? I read romance (in which there is often way to much detail), sci-fi, fantasy, mysteries, historical romance and westerns. I don't stick to just one aisle when I look for books. Why should your books be on just one aisle.

Marie said...

Whimsical :-)

Marie
http://journals.aol.co.uk/mariealicejoan/MariesMuses/

Sarah Beth said...

I agree with mom, but if you must (because I know it helps when talking about your work with others), here is what I think:

I'm not familiar with your previous work, but I'd consider The Dog's Tale contemorary or mainstream fiction. And, based on the local and the flavor, you could even pitch it to Southern fiction agents. It could also go the romance and women's fiction route.

As for the fear of women's fiction implying Lifetime-drama kind of stuff, I wouldn't worry about it. There are too many facets of women's fiction for it to be pigeonholed like that. The readers know that, and that's all that matters.

Long story short, it doesn't matter what you call it because if the story is strong enough and your storytelling abilities are compelling enough, the rest will take care of itself. Let the agents worry about the packaging; tell the story that's growing inside of you, the one you're dying to tell (that last sentence is from Jennifer Weiner, a "chick lit" writer whose writing transcends her genre in my humble opinion).

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