Friday, August 31, 2012

"I want to be Stephen King!"

Full disclosure: I love King's work and admire him tremendously. He is a writer's writer who loves reading, who writes every day, who walks the walk, as they say.

Photo: Reuters
Too many writers claim to want to be King when what they really want is his money and success.  Or they want to write like him.  They want his freedom and his fans. I'm not going to tell these writers they shouldn't want these things. People write for all kinds of reasons, although honestly, if they want a guarantee of money and fame, they should probably do something else.

When I say I want to be Stephen King, I mean I want to write with passion and to touch people the way he has. His work leaves a lasting impression on readers and that is what I would like to achieve. To attempt to write "like King," writing horror stories or thrillers or gore the way he does, can only lead to a mediocre interpretation of a master. And mediocrity is not an option.

King admonishes all wannabe writers to read as much as they can.  To him, that separates the wheat from the chaff.  If you can't manage to read regularly, how can you be a good writer? And honestly, why would you want to write if you don't like to read? I teach ballet because I love to dance. If I can't pass along that passion, why do it at all?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Puberty again? or, Is My Voice Changing?

I just had a great conversation with a close friend who is also a terrific writer. Together we've shared ups and downs as we've negotiated the publishing path. As I am currently in the midst of a crisis of writing faith (should I be writing this or that or nothing at all?), she helped talk me into a place of peace.

When I related to my friend my woes of feeling uninspired by characters and storylines I previously was quite passionate about, she suggested my writing voice was changing.

"Like a 12 year old boy going through puberty?"

"Yes, exactly like that," she said and then went on to remind me that our relationships with books go through phases as we mature.  Books we found fascinating as younger people no longer interest us.  It's a rare novel that I loved as a teen or 20-something that I still love today.

It's not only our ages and life situations that change our way of writing but also the times in which we live.  How many of us want to read about swinging singles living sexy, carefree lives in Manhattan or London, shopping every day, and not caring a whit for debt or credit card bills or their aging parents? As our lives necessarily become more austere as we deal with the economy and job loss and housing crises, many of us buckle down spiritually too.  Not that we find God, but that we find our own god. We discover what's truly important in our lives: family, friends, a fine cup of coffee I can sip on a quiet morning, good health and mental well-being.

When we read books, we don't need to see characters going through the exact same situations as we are going through.  That exact mirror isn't crucial to identifying with them.  But we do need to see characters of substance that reflect our own internal crises: How do I give my kids what I had when I can't find a job? How can I care for my aging parents?  How do I find what I truly love in life when all around me is crumbling? Even when we look to Escapist Lit (books that are not contemporary realistic fiction), we don't need human characters - only human characteristics.  Stories about vampires, werewolves, shapeshifters, angels, etc. may be fantasy but if they suffer as we do, we will love them.

I sat down to write what I thought would be Escapist Lit for me - I was writing the third book of a trilogy with characters that I thought I knew well and wanted to spend time with again. Easy-peasy, right? But the story was suddenly not me.  It no longer had anything to do with what I was going through - and so I couldn't relate to it anymore.  The voice had changed - my voice had changed - and I was no longer interested in telling a story in a voice that wasn't mine.

For me, Escapist Lit must be deeper in substance, the characters reflective of my need to connect with the greater world, for what is writing but a literal version of your soul? My desire to tell a story hasn't changed at all - I still love writing and have a million ideas in my head - but I'm looking for more from the time I spend at the keyboard. I'm in search of the Why...why tell this story?  Why construct this character? Why use this word?

Why write at all?