Thursday, February 11, 2010

What’s a Writer to Do?

I’ve run across a terribly frustrating barrier in my search for a publisher or agent for my first novel. The problem starts with me. You see, I wrote my story for myself, and not for the market.

Of course, I did what I could to make it appealing to readers, and I’m sure there are thousands (millions?) of readers out there to whom it would appeal —what author isn’t sure of that? Better still, there hasn’t been a reader I’ve shown it to who’s disliked it—and quite a few have raved over it. But I never wrote it thinking, “Now where will this sell?” I wrote it thinking, “Darn you, Hans Christian Andersen, I can write a better ending than that.” As a matter of fact, that’s usually how my writing projects begin—fixing some other author’s (perceived) mistakes: writing to please myself.
Unfortunately, that means that I have a fantasy novel on my hands. (Queue derisive laughter now.) I say that with a certain amount of humble doubt in my voice. I’m not sure that what I have is worthy of being called a fantasy novel. Sure, there’s magic in it. The main character of the book is a prince with a curse that needs lifting. There are peri, daemons, a necromancer, and a dragon—but these are all mostly “off screen”. The book focuses far more on the prince’s personal problems, and those of the people around him, than it does on weird beings and their spells. Even the prince’s Robin-Hood-like exploits are barely described.
This means my fantasy novel has no hole to hide its head in. It’s not literary enough (I suspect) for literary fiction—that is, not deep and subtle and angsty enough—and even if it were, one look at the synopsis (“A what?” “A curse, George.” “Crazy authors—can’t even read guidelines.”) would send my query letter to the recycling, or rather, into the cyber void. On the other hand, my novel isn’t exactly the cats meow for genre folks, because of its aforementioned lack of emphasis on magic. Besides, my novel is so clean by comparison to most of the genre, that when pitched amongst its brethren it gives forth short, shrill sounds like those emitted from the interaction of a fork and plate guided by the hands of a less-than-skilled child diner. So it’s not literary, and not adult genre. That leaves me with . . . hm, young adult fantasy. I certainly didn’t write the book for teenagers. If that’s where I have to go, I guess that’s where I have to go. But I’m not sure it’s action-oriented enough to be accepted there.
It’s sad. For me, the truly fascinating thing about fairy tales—and a fantasy is just a long fairy tale—is that they combine the strange with the normal, to say something true about the normal, not about the strange. Recent fantasy seems to be saying that the normal is the strange, or even that there is no normal. “It’s fun! hop on for the ride!” Well George, there’s a place for that, to be sure. But what’s wrong with a fantasy that deals in human beings, human problems, and human reactions, for once?
Nothing at all, says George. There’s just no market for it.

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