Wednesday, November 3, 2010

What I Put Up With: Trends, Blocks, and The South

Okay, so I'm a writer.  I've pretty much subconsciously known that this was the case since I was a 9-year-old fan of The Babysitters Club and decided that I wanted to be the author of something.  Stories and the potential for such tend to, well, erupt out of the most random things and at the (sometimes) most inopportune moments.  I carry a small notebook and pen with me for such occasions.  I am currently working on a novel and facing those nagging doubts that afflict all writers.  The honest truth?  There's a lot to put up with.

A jaunt to the bookstore or a celebrity news column usually lets me know the trends in writing.  People like to hear a smart commentary on the days events, but they like to escape every so often.  Here's where the popular group comes in.  Vampires have been hot for a couple of years, for example.  Popular books often get made into popular movies or TV shows, which leads to more fans and higher book sales (principle of publishing:  subsidiary stuff sells books quite well.)  Okay, so what?  Well, that's where the doubt comes in.  I find myself wondering sometimes "Do I need to write the next Twilight or Southern Vampire Mysteries to get noticed?"  How do you get successful (which, be honest, all writers want) and still remain true to ourselves when the temptation is so great to sell out?

Oh yes, I've run into this problem.  See, my main character is female (like me.)  The main supporting character is male.  When I was writing him initially, he was not entirely human and had hazel gold eyes.  This character came about in the fall of 2002, so no, I did not copy Stephanie Meyer, nor would I because that would show a lack of integrity on my part.  No one besides myself and my boyfriend has read any of these early copies, and his eye color is not mentioned much at all.  Imagine my frustration when, even as my own work was unfinished, I find a published work that was the big thing and the male lead has golden eyes.  Is that anyone's fault?  Not really.  That eye color is common among nice fictional vampires (along with blue.  Yay blue and gold, my high school's colors.)  My frustration arose from the fact that a defining feature of a beloved character was now something that could bring about a charge of "you copied Twilight!" from anywhere.  I've learned that no character should be defined by looks, but still.  I mean, I have this character with this cool dynamic, and he's fleshed out and complex (and still not fully human) and oh. *sigh*  Really?  Fine. Then there's the "male and female best friend pair" thing.  Always liked it.  Can I use it?  Sure, but I have to watch the "teenage romance" issue as well.  It's been done over and over again, and it's nice, but not my favorite subject, at all.  Oh yeah, tortured good guy angels.  They're getting big in fiction, more I think than vampires and werewolves.  I'm not even gonna touch on that one, and I stay away from it when I write.

Writer's block is real, and it does happen to me.  There are times where I stare at a blank page, mentally saying either "Uhhhhhhhhhh..." or "Hmm, maybe I should read this book first, oh here's a spelling error, lemme change this, I should wash dishes, oops, I need to check my email, time to feed the dogs."  It honestly does help to write some stuff down, to think in text so to speak.  I also tend to use my boyfriend as a sounding board for ideas I'm not sure about, since he's technically a part of my audience.  If you're having issues with wondering "what happens next" then you're not alone, and eventually ideas will come to you if you're willing to think or not get distracted.

The South.  Oh boy, no pressure there.  I'm faced with the fictional counterpart of my home region all the time, and I wonder often how I can do it justice.  There are big differences geographically between even North and South Carolina.  My fiction, which is set in rural, Eastern North Carolina (born and raised, but not exactly West Philadelphia...) has to measure up to visions of magnolia trees, cotton, and that backwoods charm where everyone's a friend and every town's a speed trap.  Yeah, we have magnolias and cotton and definitely our fair share of speed traps, but we don't really live up to a stereotype here.  It's hard to know what to say, because the South is the fictional haven for vampires and other types of beings, and I feel some pressure, because people don't want to think of this region of the country as anything but nostalgically stagnant.  Do I want to change my work?  Of course not.  Regardless of where you're from, my upbringing was as normal as yours.  (Also, if you ever meet me, avoid trying to copy my accent in the middle of a sentence that I am speaking.  A)  You can't.  B)  It's rude to interrupt.  Yes, I have had this happen.)  Add all these different pressures together and try to have convincing characters with realistic actions and dialogue.  It's not easy, but you're not alone either. 

Oh yeah, and when my novel is famous, I'm totally making it a requirement that the producers of the movie provide someone who can coach a correct Eastern North Carolina accent.  Just sayin'. 

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