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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

on writing what you want to read

Up early and out into the dark of morning to escort Kimmie to a medical appointment over town. Afterwards we went riding on the SkyTrain for the hell of it, to see the Millennium Line, which neither of us has ridden since its completion a couple of years ago. We walked along Columbia Street in New Westminster (near-deserted, blustery under the wet overcast), then rode on to Commercial Drive in Vancouver. We had a very good late breakfast there at the Cafe du Soleil, a dim spacious place of dark wood and an open kitchen area behind the heavy bar. We walked awhile through the narrow streets of old houses as the first microdroplets of rain blew from the sky.

So no writing today: I'm truly in the spirit of vacation.

I caught some interesting comments in my post of the other day about novel openings. Of course, my opinions on this, as on other aspects of fiction and fiction-writing, are my own. They have not been taught to me; they are based on my experience and reflection. I accept that I am an isolated case; I do not share the enthusiasm of most readers for most fictional works. When I look at works that others gush over, I usually do not see much to like. I am an outlier.

Still: I love good writing, and have long been an eager reader and buyer of books. I would be happy to buy probably 20 novels a year--as many as I could read--if I could find ones I liked. In 2005 I think I've bought only two: The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency and Forty Signs of Rain. The first I finished, the second I didn't. Both, I felt, had more or less serious execution problems.

I'm not sure whether it's just that the publishing industry doesn't care about me--doesn't want the extra $200 or so each year from me--or that there really is not good stuff (by my definition) being written and submitted to publishers. Am I unique? Or am I a member of a new fiction market--one that's currently not being tapped, not being served? If the latter, how big is this new market? No one knows.

I'm writing the kind of book I want to read. When I prowl the fiction shelves--as a reader--this is what I hope to find. I understand that this was how Gone with the Wind came to be written. Margaret Mitchell, laid up with a broken leg or something, had her husband fetch books from the library for her. The day came when he couldn't find any more books of the type she wanted, so he gave her a pad of paper and a pen and told her to write her own.

Maybe it's apocryphal--but it's still true. You have to write something that you yourself would want to read. Although Gone with the Wind has some excellent qualities, it's not my kind of book. But it was Margaret Mitchell's--and she wasn't alone, as it turned out.

I don't think I'll be alone with mine either. But only time will tell.

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