Weird Compliments Turned Good

morning salt flats

My dad is starting to read Winter; Cricket and Grey. He’s 10 pages in and he says “I think you’re a really good writer”, longish pause while constructing the words that will follow the coming ‘but’ “but it’s dense. It’s not an easy read, you know? It’s dense like a D.H. Lawrence book.”

If you love D.H. Lawrence you’d think that was a wildly fabulous compliment. I don’t.* But more importantly, my dad doesn’t either. I had to laugh because in my dad’s world, writing like D.H. Lawrence is not a plus due to it being literary. He’s never been a big reader. Lately he’s getting into mysteries and that’s cool because it means he’s reading and reading is something I understand whereas I can never understand his love of sports. I love reading mysteries myself. It’s just about my favorite genre. But I do love a lot of literary authors and so from MY perspective it’s great to be told my writing isn’t “easy”.

The important take-away from this (for me) is really that my dad is trying to be supportive and he’s “determined” to finish reading my book. He assured me at least twice that he really will finish it. The other thing is that he’s being honest but trying to phrase it in a way that won’t bludgeon me because what he really wants is to be supportive. I can’t fault him for that.

It got me thinking about genre again and figuring out where my writing fits into the world of books. I know many people say “Just write and don’t worry about genre or word count or labels!” and that’s fine up to a point. Up to the point where you want to sell your story to an agent who will sell it to a publisher or up to that point where you’re self-publishing and promoting your book and potential customers want to know

WHAT KIND OF BOOK IS IT?

If you can’t tell someone what kind of book you’ve written you give them little room to trust your writing. Some professional awareness is necessary. So this is what brings me back to these questions again and again. A person whose tastes run to literary books wants a book that uses language to paint a rich portrait of complex characters and embed you deeply into a world in which there is a strong element of philosophical exploration. They aren’t going to be as easily sold on a dystopian novel in which there’s a Mormon crime boss.

Likewise, someone whose tastes run mostly to mysteries isn’t going to want to linger on turns of phrases that make you stop and think, they’re interested in action and solving one main problem – the crime that has been committed.

There’s lots of cross-over, of course. I believe I’m a cross-genre writer at heart. So that complicates things. My writing doesn’t easily fit into any genre. There are also many readers who have eclectic tastes in reading, such as myself. In recent years I’ve mostly been into reading murder mysteries. The gnarlier the better. I love Connelly, George, and Kellerman. I’ve gone through periods where I read mostly cozy mysteries like Christie. But I’ve also read and enjoyed a great many classics. I also love some literary fiction, though I don’t read much of it any more because there’s a tendency in literary fiction for them to end on depressing notes with either everyone being dead who you rooted for or pretty much emotionally destroyed. I ate that up when I was younger but now I want hope, I want characters to grow through hard times and come out finding something good in the world.

This is not an important or revelatory post. Just another gathering of thoughts on writing. I’m finding myself thinking more about this again as I finally FINALLY find a flow with my writing again. I had an almost 3,000 word day on Wednesday. Yesterday I wrote 526 words into a new chapter. I’m making myself GO with it and not get hung up. I don’t know how long I’ll get to stay home and not go to a day job that sucks away all my writing energy. I need to make use of this time I have. It feels incredible!

Two things my dad said stuck with me particularly, about me trying to build a writing career as a novelist. The first was that he thought I should get my apothecary business to make money so that my writing doesn’t have to. So I don’t have to think about writing to please commercial tastes. That’s not the kind of advice he normally gives. He’s really loving my apothecary business plan, so that’s cool. In the past I would have read into his suggestion that I don’t try to make money on my novels as him not believing that I can succeed as a novelist. But I’m not reading it that way because I know that my dad wants me to succeed. I know he thinks I have writing skills. But he’s not the kind of guy to know how to put much store in finding security of success in the creative fields. He doesn’t know how and it’s uncomfortable to him.

The other thing he said he said because I was talking about how I want to be a career novelist and I don’t necessarily think I can do that with the kind of books I’m writing right now. I was telling him how I always end up asking myself why I don’t write romances. Then I try to write a romance and I can’t keep it light and stick to the tried and true formula. So my dad suggests I use a pen name to write romances with the idea that having a pen name will give me the freedom to write commercially viable romances. My first instinct was to explain to him that if I could write commercially viable romances I would be proud of them because I don’t look down on the genre. But then I realized that it was really a suggestion to help me release whatever inhibitions I might have about writing in a genre that I haven’t yet been able to feel free writing in. It’s kind of genius. Whether he meant it this way or not – I think that writing the novels under a pen name might be just the ticket, but then publish them under my own name.

I would like to know how it feels to write a book in just a few months and writing the way I write normally takes me a lot of time.

Of course, it could turn out that that’s how much time it takes me to write ANYTHING. That’s okay too. I’m beginning to settle into the notion that I’ll never be fast at anything. I never have been. I tried running fast once for the track team and passed out in front of the love of my life.** Slow and steady has always been my pace. Or sometimes slow and not steady. Whatever.

I know one thing for absolute sure – I need to NOT get another day job or all the writing will simply dry the fuck up and if I can’t write I become a desperate mess of human pulling my saggy remains across the smoking hot rocks on the floor of hell. I have to write. That is the most important thing of all.

*I don’t like D.H. Lawrence’s books. They leave me cold and depressed. But if someone who loved his work compared me to him I’d feel wonderfully complimented because one thing you can say about his work is that it’s beautifully written to make me feel like shit about human beings.

**Turned out not to be the love of my life, but I had a mad crush on him for 3 solid years in elementary. MAD CRUSH.

2 comments

  1. Jay says:

    In tune with compliments: I hope you never forget that you are a writer that contributes nearly every day to a group of folks who find you outstanding at illuminating parts of the human existence that we may never understand, know existed, or ever find a way to express in words. That group is fortunate to be acquainted with a writer of your caliber and you need to understand just how appreciated your skills are . I find myself fortunate to be a member of that group.

  2. angelina says:

    Thank you Jay! I should paste this comment of yours above my desk for those days when I feel super discouraged. What an encouraging wonderful compliment that is!

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