The gentleman who arrived at our door looked like someone who would be, perhaps, even better suited to perform at a bachelorette party.
But Therefore I opened the door wide for him and spent the next few hours pretending to write as he cleaned my carpets.
When he finished, and I handed him my Visa, he smiled. “You know, Mrs. Callender, cleaning carpets is just my day job.”
“Oh?” Suddenly I felt uncomfortable.
He reached for his back pocket, pulled out his wallet and slipped a business card into my hand. “I’m a writer. And an actor.”
“Ah,” I said. “Got it.”
“This card is for my new movie . . . check it out if you want.”
I read the card aloud. “Rogue Saints: The greatest church, diamond heist, romance, comedy, drama, adventure you’ve ever seen.” I smiled. “Wow. All those things in one movie!”
When my husband got home that night, I held up the business card, moving it around as if tantalizing him with a treat. “Not sure you want to commit to just one genre?” I murmured, my voice sultry. “Try Rogue Saints: The greatest church, diamond heist, romance, comedy, drama, adventure you’ve ever seen.”
Who would fund a film that clearly had such major identity issues? Who would write a screenplay that was such a blatant, unapologetic salmagundi?
Well, my friends, the Mocker is now the Mocked as it seems I, too, have managed to write a genre-straddler of a novel.
Some readers have sworn my novel is for an adult audience (this, in spite of the child narrator). Others have claimed it’s a prime candidate for New Adult, the new genre on the block. Still others have thought it feels closest to YA.
Years ago, after reading part of a less polished draft, one YA agent assured me I had absolutely, positively written a YA novel. Or at least it would be YA if I built up the teen romance. If I took the mother out of the forefront of the story. If I focused more on the narrator and less on the family dynamics of the book. If, if, if . . . then my book would fit neatly into a tidy, clearly-labeled box.
As you know, traditional publishing loves labels. That’s because traditional publishing is made up of traditional human beings.
The human brain looks at that which is different or unfamiliar and attempts to assign it a digestible identifier. Labels, genres, color coded files help us to understand and arrange things and stuff.
Humans do it to make sense of the world. Publishers do it to sell books.
But can we writers do anything other than tell the story that is simmering in the crock pot of our brain? Maybe. Maybe not. And because I’m in the Maybe Not category, my manuscript is going out on submission as is. As YA.
My agent and I suspect some editors will take one look and say, “It’s a girl!” Others may shout, “It’s a boy!” As long as it’s healthy, the gender of the baby matters little to me.
Meanwhile, as this book goes out on submission, I am working on Book #2, a story about memory and exploding space shuttles and ornithology, told from the perspective of a fourteen-year-old boy and his forty-year-old uncle.
“And what about this book’s genre?” my agent asked.
Hm. What is this next book? YA? New Adult? Good old fashioned Adult Fiction?
My agent’s question was important, especially if I wanted a graceful professional trajectory. If my first book is YA, my second book should be, too. Readers get disappointed when authors are inconsistent, and traditional publishing doesn’t want disappointed readers.
But what worried me was the possibility that messing with the soul of a story, just to center it in a single genre, might render the story lifeless. I worried that if I tried to cram Book #2 into a box, if I over-guided or stifled the story’s true personality, I would only assure that its adulthood would be spent on the couch of some therapist. So. Tell me about your author.
“I honestly don’t know,” I told my agent. “I just know it’s a book that I would love to read.”
“Great,” she said. “Don’t try to tweak it to fit a genre. The story will be what the story is.”
Lucky moi. I have an agent who understands that my book simply needs to find a gutsy editor who appreciates a book that may, at times, hopscotch off the beaten path.
And what about my on-the-side carpet cleaning friend? Just last month, I was at church, using the loo, when I noticed a flier pasted on the bathroom stall, advertising an all-church film event the following week. The film? Rogue Saints. The greatest church, diamond heist, romance, comedy, drama, adventure you’ve ever seen.
I smiled at the photo of the man who had cleaned my carpet, a guy who had managed to get his multi-genre’d film out in the world, a guy who was doing his best to be an artist just as I am, even when it’s not easy to stick a single, tidy label on our work.
But I realize that tough-to-label endeavors aren’t necessarily a bad thing. Just look at this blog. With its variety of contributors, its wide range of topics, styles and personalities, WU isn’t one neat and tidy blog that’s consistently and constantly one single thing.
WU, however, is the greatest inspirational, nuts-and-bolts, encouraging, comedic, honest, community-building, professional, personal source of writerly wisdom you’ve ever seen. How’s that for a rogue blog?
What about you? How have you been able to make a piece of quirky, off-beat writing more commercial, marketable or traditional? Or, how have you found success with something that initially seemed too weird or unwieldy for a label?
Do we honor a story by telling it as it evolves (even if doing so means it will get fewer readers) or by getting it into the hands of as many readers as possible?
I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Photo courtesy of Flickr’s: Enokson