Serial monogamy


Paula’s Post #61 – Whew! It’s still here! I feared my draft post might have ‘disappeared’ into cyberspace while I was frantically trying to shut down my computer to board my flight from Palm Springs to Vancouver.

There… and then ‘poof’… not there.


I spent the entire flight up from California thinking up a version of ‘my dog ate my homework’ excuse for not having a post up today.

I felt a measure of relief when I checked email messages on my phone while riding Skytrain in from the airport and discovered Silk had posted today, filling our pages with a post I’m sure is fabulous. (Sorry Silk, I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but I will. I promise).

Imagine my even bigger sense of relief when I arrived home, fired up my laptop and discovered my draft post was – thank you – still here on the WordPress dashboard.

So, back to business.

Time to post. My post today is short. Just a few musings (okay, ramblings) on story and genre, sparked by Helga’s offering of last week. As my 5writer colleague so ably demonstrated, the simple act of just flipping through the headlines inevitably generate a wealth of story ideas. For me, the problem is not finding a story I love. For me, the problem is trying to narrow all these ideas down to one true love.

To find that one story idea to not only fall in love with, but stay in love with.

Because I usually have the opposite problem. I usually have too many ideas percolating through my brain, zinging around like meteorites. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to be just a flirt. I want to fall truly, deeply in love. Really I do.

But with a few years of writing behind me now, I’ve grown wary of commitment. I now understand the need to find the elusive perfect match, to find a story I can stay wedded to for long enough to make it through not just the first draft, but the arduous process of crafting second and third and many, many subsequent drafts.

The dilemma: how to commit to the kind of serial monogamy our craft demands?

So, having a story idea is really just the start. Being confident you’re the right person to TELL that story. Being confident you’ll have the old-fashioned gumption to be able to stick with that story? Well, aye – there’s the rub. 

For me, the question of genre must, at this point, now come into play.

In our 5month novel-writing challenge, I stepped out of my comfort zone and crafted the first draft of a YA thriller. A fun exercise, to be sure, but not really where I want to be as a writer.

Seriously, how would you feel if you hit the mark with a genre you hated, (or even had a love-hate relationship with), destined to be pigeon-holed into a particular section of the bookstore, virtual or otherwise, for what seems like eternity? Your agent and publisher scowling and clucking at the very idea of venturing into another genre? is an online magazine offering coverage on books, arts, and culture. Although The Millions has been featured on NPR and noted by The New York TimesThe Los Angeles Times, and The Village Voice, among others, I have to admit I’d never heard of it before researching this post.

My bad.

Check it out for yourself and you’ll see what I mean. Today, I stumbled upon a little gem by Kim Wright. In her 2011 article about why so many literary authors were shifting into genre fiction, Wright noted:

The good ship Literary Fiction has run aground and the survivors are frantically paddling toward the islands of genre. Okay, maybe that’s a little dramatic, but there does seem to be a definite trend of literary/mainstream writers turning to romance, thrillers, fantasy, mystery, and YA. Justin Cronin has produced the vampire epic The PassageTom Perrotta is offering The Leftovers, a tale of a futuristic Rapturesque apocalypse. And MacArthur-certified genius Colson Whitehead is writing about zombies. It’s enough to make my historical mystery about Jack the Ripper look downright pedestrian.

What’s going on? Is it a mass sellout, a belated and half-hearted attempt by writers to chase the market? Are they being pushed into genre by their agents and publishers? Are the literary novelists simply ready for a change, perhaps because even the most exalted among them have a minuscule readership compared to genre superstars? Or are two disparate worlds finally merging?

What do you think of Wright’s comments?  Are these literary authors selling out?

I answer with a resounding ‘no’.

If what we have to look forward to is a more ‘literary mystery’, or ‘literary thriller’, to me that means only that genre fiction may be blessed (hopefully) with a quality of writing that isn’t always found in the latest commercial offerings

I know, I know, at this point I should offer up some good examples of more literary novels crossing into genre fiction, but unfortunately, as I’ve noted, I’m typing this out at the airport, waiting for my Westjet flight to be called, and the internet access here is so painfully slow I had to give up before I even started.

Maybe you can supply some genre bending candidates you love?

I’m just happy I’m winging my way back to Vancouver, excited to meet up with my 5writer colleagues this coming Friday at a meeting where we hope to exchange ideas on our next project.

For my part, I’m absolutely thrilled to announce I’ve fallen in love.

Fired up about my idea for my next novel.

Genre, you ask?

Well, that’s a good question.

A mystery for sure. Only, as my 5writer colleagues will confirm, I have a penchant for historical fiction, particularly the interwar years from 1918-1939, so take that as a hint.

Not only do I like cross-genre stories, I also find it more fun to interweave a modern-day story with a story from the past, letting readers guess how the threads are connect. So, I guess I could describe my idea as a contemporary historical mystery. Sort of.

I haven’t written a full outline yet. I’m way behind on that homework assignment. But I do have 8 or 9 characters envisioned, some of their story outlines quite fully fleshed out. I’ve also nailed down some settings and started filing away research notes into my StoryMill program, a few snippets of plot percolating away in my mind.

A start.

For me, the most important thing is that I’m excited again. Excited to get these ideas down on paper. Excited that all I can do is think about my story and how to tell it. I’m starting with character first. I agree with Helga on that point. Next, setting. as I think a well-developed setting can take on a ‘characterization’ all its own.

Plot ideas and scenes are bursting forth like exploding kernels of popcorn. Maybe our looming Friday meeting deadline had something to do with this sudden inspiration. Who knows? All I know for sure that in the months to come, my story may change, more cross-genre ideas may be woven into the story, my story may take on a life of its own.

If I can keep the characters fresh, the setting rich enough, and – wait for it – conflict on every page, I think I can manage to stay in love with this one, and go the distance.

All the way to the end. I can’t wait to share my idea with my 5writer colleagues.

For  now, got to run. My flight is being called!

2 thoughts on “Serial monogamy

  1. As far as I’m concerned, quality, literary writing has always existed in genre, whether it’s myster/thriller/suspense or SF or YA or kids writing. It’s literary snobs who have decided that genre writing is by definition “commercial” and hence beneath notice. But like anything else, 90% of all art is BS and that’s true of genre as well – 90% of it will be thin, “airport” reading that doesn’t stick to the ribs and makes you want more an hour later. But James Blish, Ursla K. LeGuin, Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Frank L. Baum, LM Montgomery and Louisa May Alcott were all literary genre writers (and yes, I’m not citing modern ones for a reason). One of the only ways we know if something is really Literature is if it stands the test of time – so while many of the genre writers today may well be literary, we can’t really know until a generation or more has passed – because isn’t that what ‘literary’ really means? You’re writing for the ages, for something that touches each of us, no matter what era in which we live, no matter what our material circumstances – and how can we know that until we see if the work survives?

  2. It’s so wonderful to hear your enthusiasm Paula! And I completely agree about needing to feel that “endless love” for your story. Can’t wait to see you Friday!

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