Friday, March 07, 2014

Message in a Bottle

(Acoustic version of "Message in a Bottle" by Sting)

I have another manuscript my agent wasn't able to sell. Another young adult story that is out of step with what the publishers are currently buying. That makes three books in five years.

(Digression number one: I have nothing but respect and admiration for the work my agent has done on  my behalf. Please, no agent-bashing in comments.)

Anyone less stubborn than I am might have given up on writing books that don't sell after one or two. Maybe that writer would have written different kinds of books, books that had more of what the market was looking for. Certainly, I think there have been times when I must have driven my agent mad. We had lunch when I was in LA a little over a year ago and spent some time walking through the local B&N, looking at the YA shelves together. It was sad and frustrating to acknowledge that my stories didn't seem to have a place next to what was published. What is even more frustrating is that she believes in me and in my writing. The editors who have read and then reluctantly turned down my work, praise it, but don't know how to sell it. 
(Digression number two: this isn't a 'traditional publishing stinks' tirade. I have gone on record in the past, and still believe, that the flexible author is the author who will thrive. I will publish in whatever way gets my books into the hands of its ideal readers. That means a mix of traditional, small press, and indie.)
I seem to write small stories. By small, I mean stories of choices and change, stories of friendship and danger in a world not quite our mundane one, but not too far from it, either. My worlds are not populated by flashy monsters or mythical creatures. My stories are not propelled by a primary romantic plot that depends on the heroine making a choice between two suitors.  That's just not my style or my preference in writing.

(Digression number three: I'm not anti-romance. I just think the love triangle plot device is horribly overused in YA work and has become a parody of itself.)

All my stories, both those written for a young adult audience and those written for a general adult audience, have at their center a quiet character who must make quiet choices that turn out to be crucial, brave, and ultimately heroic.

It seems like my stories are neither here nor there. Neither magical enough, nor realistic enough to fit into neat genres.

But they are the stories that resonate with me.
(Digression number four: this is not a plea for reassurance or a self-pity party. I am comfortable with the choices I have made in my writing and have no regrets.)

I don't believe in writing 'message' fiction. (I bet you were wondering how I'd relate this to the title. . . ) It smacks of parental lectures and after-school TV specials. Yet all story has a message. I understand that. This is mine:

  • authenticity matters
  • integrity matters
  • trusting oneself matters
  • honor and friendship matter
Several years ago, I spent weeks and weeks struggling to find something to put on  my business cards that captured my style, my 'brand' if you will, though I dislike that word. Let's call it part of my manifesto. What I came up with after filling pages with ideas was this:

Where the mundane and the strange collide.
Where the familiar twists slightly out of shape.
Where ordinary choices lead to extraordinary journeys.
Looking at these words, I realize they fit me now, more than ever. The stories I write may not be the blockbusters you see on bookshelves, but I believe they are good stories, stories that resonate with young people and not-so-young people. Perhaps the market will turn toward the kind of quiet, small story I write. Perhaps it won't. That's not up to me. What is up to me is that I continue to write. Perhaps some day soon, I, too, will be amazed at the hundred million bottles, washed up on the shore.


  1. What im thinking, Lisa, is that those stories are just out of sync with the current trends. Nothing more. It doesnt invalidate them (and you know that), it just means your zig doesn't match the marketing zag. In a year, or two, or even ten, the pendulum may swing back, and those stories will be salable.
    The other possibility is that when you become famouser and known for your consistent writing, a publisher well might ask if you have any other work available.

    I go through this kind of annoyance constantly, knowing that what Im writing is not what's being published, and it does become a discouragement. But we can't change our writing style just to please a publisher or an editor. not entirely. And yeah, it's the small 'unnoticed' stuff that sometimes becomes the classic, the go to book, the one that endures long after the Davinci Code and Egypt Maine have long disappeared.

    1. No, we can't change who we are and what we are passionate about writing. In some ways, it's the best of all possible times to be an iconoclastic (or just stubborn!) writer. With the web, it's easier than it ever was to find the audience that will resonate with your work. Glad to have company on this road I'm traveling.

  2. The thing about trends is they're just that: trends. They come and go. Mostly go. But that doesn't mean a story that's not trendy can't be fantastic, or that it can't set a trend. Good for you for having enough faith in your stories and own writing not to chase after something so wispy as a trend.