Somewhere along the way, I developed an aversion to “commercial” writing. Maybe it was the “hack” label I encountered, back when I was in college, when I read Samuel Johnson’s dismissal of most of his contemporaries, or maybe just a heightened sensitivity to the low esteem given journalists, which is where I spent my work life. (By the way, I’ll still argue that some reporters are better writers than what I find in many literary circles.)
Have to admit, what I aspired to was critical recognition. Respect. Self-worth.
That’s changed somewhat, especially when I consider so much of what I’ve encountered in that critically acclaimed list over time.
Gee, when it comes to admiration, which would you rather have – adoring readers or a circle of critics and academics?
The Arctic-circle Inuits’ artistic discipline of addressing a subject only once in a lifetime also struck me. One carves just one image of a standing bear and moves on, that sort of thing.
In contrast, too much of what I saw in the book publishing world was cookie-cutter construction.
Genres help readers find the kinds of books they want to read, but they also limit the scope and tone of the writing itself. You know, it becomes generic.
In fact, one newspaper editor who had corporate connections to a big-time book imprint, confided to me that he had taken a published novel by another and essentially painted over it in creating his own first volume. His manuscript was picked up, printed and released, to commercial success leading to a string more.
Not for me.
Series often also fall into that trap. A writer keeps repeating the same work with variations. I usually want more innovation.
And yet there are exceptions.
Think of Tony Hillerman, taking the cliché of two cops but on a Navajo reservation, and then his entertaining and informative run of 18 books in his tribal police series. Well, he was a newspaper reporter before that. As I was saying?
Could it be that Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee grow as the series progresses? Or that each book is essentially an ongoing news report, albeit fictional?
I wonder, too, about writers who develop an identity, formula, or format that leads to a series of similar volumes, the way Carl Hiaasen has – speaking of great journalists? Or, for that matter, his colleague Edna Buchanan.
After my initial dismissal of series and genre, I did discover how liberating writing “in series” could be when it came to poetry. My Blue Rock collection at Smashwords is one example. I’ve also seen that the classification, “literary fiction,” where my novels have largely fallen, is also a kiss of death in the bookselling world.
Call me older but wiser.
One kind of series may need its own tag – the big book that won’t fit into one volume. Each book may be quite different in structure and emphasis than the others, even when some central characters run through them all. I think that’s where I’ve landed, for the most part.
That brings us around to the question, how do you know when a work’s done?
I really feel finished, when it comes to my fiction. I’ve said what I wanted to say regarding these issues.
OK, I wouldn’t mind knowing about the rest of Cassia’s life after What’s Left, but I don’t really feel I can go there. Not yet, at any rate.
Anyone else up for the challenge?
Don’t forget: You better be good to toads!