Thursday, April 28, 2011

Would Poisonwood Bible have sold if written by a debut novelist?

I recently finished Barbara Kingsolver's Poisonwood Bible, a beautiful, haunting story of a family of six who travel into the Congo for missionary work in the sixties. Kingsolver takes us into their lives showing us their world and how it unfolds through the eyes of the minister's four daughters, and his wife. This book is one of those books that is simply perfect in description, characters, and dialogue, plotting, suspense, and satisfying conclusion. Loved it.

Despite the fact that Poisonwood Bible is a veritable modern day classic and thanks to Oprah, quite the bestseller to boot, I wonder, had this been the debut of a new novelist, would it have sold?

Everyone from my agent, to editors, to writing-guides emphasize the importance of your opening pages. The first sentence must hook the reader! The first page, action paced! Go go go! This is not the Jane Austen, Dickens era of slow story telling. We are constantly reminded to make it fast-paced, to keep the action going lest the reader put it down and reach for another book.

To put it frankly, Poisonwood Bible starts off boring. The first chapter is told from an unknown perspective, likely a being spying down from a tree- the verbiage is muddled and I had to re-read the first page at least three times because while it was all very pretty, it was also very confusingly worded. My husband agreed, not moving past the first page for the one month the book has sat on his nightstand. It's too slow, he complained.

And yet- if you pull through beyond that first chapter, you are well rewarded with stunning prose and storytelling rivaling the greats. But if this book was queried by an unpublished writer seeking representation, I cannot imagine anyone giving this book a chance. What a shame that would have been.

Maybe a debut book should start of action packed go-go-go and then once you've created a fanbase and people are willing to take a chance on you, you can dive in and do a story like Poisonwood Bible- slow to start, but beautiful and well worth reading until the very last drop.

What's your take on the current pressure on action-paced narration? Do you feel very pressured to make the first few pages pop in your manuscript?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Is it only chick lit if a woman writes it?

One of my favorite authors is Alexander McCall Smith. I love how he takes the mundane and examines it to give it meaning in the 44 Scotland Street series, and I love the Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency, a light humorous series with a lot of heart. 

I'm writing another book, and its very much in the spirit of Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency. A light, humorous, [hopefully] series, with a lot of heart. When discussing it with my agent, I tried to tell her the genre when chick-lit stumbled out of my mouth.

Why? Because its a story about women. It's light and its funny and it delves into relationships.

But- Alexander McCall Smith's book is about a female detective agency. It's about women. It's light. It's funny. It delves into relationships. But its not listed as chick lit is it?

I love the so-called genre of chick-lit. Emily Giffin. Sophie Kinsella. Great stuff. But for some reason when I think about it, it feels like a derogatory term. Maybe because if a guy called me chick, I wouldn't like it. Chick isn't how you address a judge, a doctor, your mother, anyone you respect. But its being used for me- when I pick up that chick-lit book. So it makes me feel like the people who are trying to label it are telling me I'm silly for picking it up. I'm just a chick.

For now, with my new manuscript,  I am embracing the term multicultural women's literature. I am not opposed to the wonderful, hilarious, insightful stuff that good chick lit books contain- but the label does give me pause for thought.

What about you? What are your thoughts on the chick-lit genre? Does it pigeon hole women into a narrow category? Is it a derogatory term, or perfectly acceptable for novels labeled such?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Blogging Advice #1: No apologies

I write at two places. Here, and my other long-standing blog. A few days ago I realized I had not updated here in a while and immediately had the instinct to log in to apologize to y'all for not blogging. Except, the truth is, no one should ever apologize for not blogging. While the internet is of seemingly infinite space, and you are certainly entitled to write about anything you want from the current state of koala bear fashion to apologies for not blogging- as a long-time blogger and reader of blogs I can tell you the most boring of updates is the apologies for non-blogging. Its okay to announce a hiatus- to let readers who expect a regular update know to not worry when you're away for a while, but to log in simply to apologize with nothing of substance to add is the  equivalent of driving to my house, knocking on the door to tell me sorry for not coming by more- and then promptly turning around heading back home.

Many bloggers feel pressured to constantly update- hence the sincere apologies when its been a while. There is this guilt that if you haven't updated you are letting people down. A fear that if you don't update for a while you will lose all the readers you found. Unless you are blogging for a living, these feelings of guilt and fear are unfounded particularly with the advent of the RSS feed which lets anyone interested know as soon as you've clicked 'update'.

This is not to say that you should let your blog go without updates for weeks or months at a time, a regular schedule is always a good thing not just for readership, but also for developing a mindful habit of blogging since the more you write, the more your ideas will flow. But you don't need to update daily, and if you lapse, you don't need to apologize.

Anne Allen introduced me to a concept called Slow Blogging which encourages bloggers to focus on writing quality posts over merely updating for the sake of updating. While I am not a 'slow blogger' as I do maintain two blogs, this writing space is going to be more prone to being a 'slow blog' as I want to make sure what I post is of value- and while this may mean a once weekly post, maybe once every other weekly- I hope that what I write, you find valuable- not simply words tossed on the screen to give an update- that's a waste of time for you and me. So the slow blogging will continue here, and my sincerest thanks to you for reading, though if you don't hear from me for a while, trust me, there will be no apologies!

What are your thoughts? Do you feel pressured to update regularly?

[photo source here]