Wednesday, December 01, 2010
Writing out of the box
When my novel, Libbie, about Elizabeth Bacon Custer, was published, the cover was truly a misrepresentation--some New York artist's concept of the West. As one friend said, Libbie looked like Madonna in 19th century dress. She stood in a prairie, with tall grass all around, by a barbed wire fence--oops! Barbed wire was introduced, I think at the Menger Hotel in San Antonio, in 1874 and Custer was killed in 1876. No way the prairie was fenced in those two years. In the background is a fort, sitting on barren tan ground, the soil of Arizona in contrast to the Kansas prairie she stands in. The fort is built of sturdy logs, with a stockade around it. I had made the point in the book that Army posts in the West did not have fences of any kind--their very openness bothered Libbie, but there were no trees to build stockades. So much for artistic accuracy. At the time I was so glad a NY publisher was putting out my work that I didn't complain until too late. Lesson learned.
I read somewhere the other day that in order to attract an agent or a publisher, the author of a mystery had to think outside the box. The author cited as an example was Charlaine Harris who writes paranormal-vampire books and has indeed been wildly successful. I'm not going there. I have no interest in the paranormal/vampire material that is so popular today (my granddaughter loves it). But I got to thinking about the three mysteries I've written--I'm pretty happy about the first but intend to revise; not so sure about the second; pretty happy about the third, though it is in draft stage. But they are nowhere outside the box. They're perfectly typical cozies--the kind I like to read. Single heroines who are amateur sleuths but also beset by romance problems, clever with-it girls who manage to rescue themselves and solve murders but at the same time ordinary people like you and me. Okay, I admit it, sort of Nancy Drew all grown up and sophisticated--and in more dangerous situations.Hmm. I decided I should begin to think outside the box--but how? Then I thought of Kaye George, a friend and fellow writer who has created a mystery set in the Neanderthal era. Think she can sell it? She's come close a lot but no banana. There have of course been successes with such novels, notably Jean Auel's work and that of Michael and Kathleen Gear. But I wonder if maybe outside the box is part of the problem--that and publishing trends. Right now, while vampires are big, thinking outside the box in that direction is fine; take it in another direction and you might be in trouble. All this circular thinking leads me to suspect that thinking outside the box is not the answer: witing the very best novel you can is! And watch for Kaye's novel--from all I've read about it, it's darn good and her reserch into that period of history is spot on.