Yesterday’s post worked out better than I thought it would. I spent the rest of the day plotting out a few things and felt comfortable with both of them (both re-workings of the last two books I finished) so I’m certainly not ready to jump off a cliff or anything. What I really need to do is probably work on some more short stories and clear my head further, but I’m really feeling the novel itch so we’ll see which ultimately wins out. But the comments on the previous post got me thinking about some other things, namely my unique contribution to literature.
This is one of the things that came up in a few questions on a panel I moderated at Mayhem and Murder in Muskego. The authors repeatedly talked about putting their own spin or their own take on what ultimately boils down to just a few stories in the world. And if you’re going to get started and succeed in this business, you have to be unique, but not too unique and I guess that’s what the bigger overarching theme to all of my posts is. What is my unique contribution to literature? Laura alluded to a comment I made over the weekend that my TBR stack is split almost evenly between dark, violent crime books, and frillier romantic books with pink covers. That’s not totally true though, I also have quite a bit of small character, coming of age “literary” novels as well. My influences are quite broad.
The question is, should I try to combine all of these influences into a unique genre or maybe I should be writing in multiple genres under pen names. In MURDER BOY I think I tried to combine as many of them as I could, because there’s some romance, some coming of age of a writer, and a lot of violence at the hands of a bounty hunter/PI character. But I wonder if instead of coming up with a unique contribution I’ve instead watered down a bunch of influences into a messy stew. I can take solace in the fact that I’m not alone in this struggle. Victor Gischler wrote recently about how he’s trying to decide what novel project to work on next and his option seem even more across the board than mine. Check it out.
Right now, I’m going back through MURDER BOY and trying to sharpen it up and make the plot a little more coherent. I still think this book is the best use of my talent right now, but I can’t help but think I’m shirking away from a challenge regarding the other novel: a big, monster of a PI novel that deals with issues of fame, corruption, fatherhood, families, and the history and future of Detroit. So it’s not a question of writing what I want (I want to write it all), or writing to the market or away from the market, it’s a matter of what, right now, is the best use of my skill and will provide me the most success. I don’t have an easy answer, and I’m sure what I feel now will change tomorrow and then again. But I’m more hopeful than I was the last time I had this discussion with myself and that’s all I can really ask right now. And really, look at this pitch of MURDER BOY I sent out and tell me it doesn’t sound like fun to work on:
MURDER BOY is a charming tale of larcenous creative writing students, vengeful bounty hunters, cultish baseball fans, and romantically obsessed cops set against the backdrop of a city with nothing but bars, strip clubs, and abandoned buildings to keep them occupied.