My first novel, Flowers for Dionysus will not, in all likelihood, blow your mind into the next galaxy.
Why would I say this? Have I not learned in all of my research that saying something like that could kill my chances of ever getting the novel published traditionally? After all, what agent in their right mind would Google my name, (which it seems they all do) and want to take a chance on my book, if I, the author, come right out and say on my own website that the novel is not going to blow your mind? If I don’t believe in it, why would anybody else?
That’s just it, though. I do believe in my novel. It speaks to me, and I feel that it will speak to the right kind of readers as well. I’ve taken pride in its construction, gone through several revisions, and seriously considered the advice of those who have read it for me. At best I have two more revisions left after four years of work before I begin the publishing process. The novel means something to me. It came to me in several moments of inspiration.
But it will not blow your mind because it was not written to blow your mind. And there’s the situation.
I set out to write a warm, human story with memorable character that’s a little off beat, but still realistic for the most part. Normal people in some extraordinary circumstances. I hope to touch readers. But I would be lying if I said I set out to profoundly alter the course of their entire lives by writing this novel. I would by lying if I said I wrote it with the intention of blowing their minds, or shocking them, or ripping their hearts out for the sake of doing so. What I did, as I said, was write a story.
Matthias Blackwell is a disillusioned amateur actor who has stepped away from the theatre, only to return at the behest of a good friend that needs his help. During the troubled production, he and his cast mates experience certain unexplained events, and end up changed by them (and by one another) in both subtle and not so subtle ways.
Yet much of the advice out there, particularly for those seeking an agent and eventually “traditional” publishing credits seems to lean in the opposite direction. Entire books are written on how to impress a busy agent with a query letter that contains just one sentence about your novel. In one sentence, you are to bowl over an agent, and make them feel that it would be a disservice to the literary world if your work were to not be represented and published as soon as possible.
Now would I be disappointed if my novel was never read? Yes. Very. But can I even pretend to assert that I believe, for the good of society, my book must be published? No, I cannot. But new writers these days are inundated with commandments to do that exact thing; they are told to write blockbusters.
If you are not already famous, you can do this several ways. You can write a book that’s suspenseful enough to make readers chew their finger nails. Or perhaps you can write something so poignant and tragic that a box of tissues should be kept on hand. Of course you could go the socially-relevant route, and expose something of profound importance to the continued health of Western Civilization. Or you can be “brave” or “brazen” as a writer and explore taboos just for the sake of doing so. You can say “kiss my ass” to social norms and dare people to bitch about what you have written. Have the audacity to piss people off.
Yeah. I’ve written a warm, human story that’s a little off beat…
Could stories like mine sell? Is there room for me in a world of fiction that has become oriented towards the bestseller just waiting to become a movie? Or is there no hope for a book such as Flowers for Dionysus, which seeks merely to tell a good story about people you will relate to? The answer seems to be “no”, if you go by much of the advice and demands of the industry today. But then again I pick up published books all of the time that not only fail to be as important or explosive as this, but fail to illicit any belief in me that any agent thought they ever could be.
Fictions needs structure. It needs to be clear, well written, expertly edited. An author must be willing to revise many times, and put the work into getting the manuscript finished. It is not easy to write a good story that people will enjoy reading. A lot of fiction fails to catch on. So why do we make it harder on ourselves by insisting we write something that will change the course of history? Because that’s what’s selling? Like I said, look again and some of the stuff that gets published, and ask yourself if you really ought to feel pressured to be profound or explosive, or heart wrenching in order to get where you want to go. (Anybody reading The Night Circus should instantly understand the hype-over-substance reality I’m exploring here.)
I feel that if more agents and publishers took chances on good, solid stories as often as they took chances on what they think is merely a template for the next Johnny Depp movie, the market would respond positively. But that isn’t happening any time soon, so it seems to me you are faced with a choice. Either torture yourself to find out how to cater to blockbuster lust among those in the industry, or you can write the stories that come to you in the best way you are capable, and convince the right people that what you’ve done is worth their time to read.
You don’t have to blow people’s mind. You only have to work damn hard and be true to the story inside of you, even if you don’t think it’s purpose is to blow anyone’s mind.