More than anything else, I think my stories are character studies. As I attempt to compare my own writing to what I see published digitally, I’ve come to the conclusion that mine doesn’t comfortably fit into the more popular genres.
I ‘ve never been a fan of fluffy romance novels. Although I adore a good love story, for me, there needs to be something else equally important going on--like a war, for example, as in Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. Contemporary romance novelists seem to find it necessary that the heroine have some type of fabulous, successful career, preferably in a creative field like fashion design, advertising, or magazine publishing. And her past is always filled with passionate former lovers, ex-husbands and stepchildren. I get it--readers want to read about characters with complex, interesting lives, not banal, ordinary ones. Maybe I’m different, but I’d just as soon read about a waitress or an insurance salesman, provided they are involved in a compelling storyline.
I’ve learned that, in the world of e-books, science fiction is an immensely popular category, with niche markets specializing in vampires, wizards or mythical creatures. It must be tremendous fun to compose this type of fiction because one can be wildly creative without having to worry about maintaining plausibility—you can make your own rules. I would love to test the waters in that genre myself, though I’m not sure how successful I’d be. As they say, “write what you know!”
My personal reading and writing preference is general fiction, especially novels that center on ordinary people thrust into unique or provocative situations. A great example is Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin. Here, the protagonist must deal with the fallout when her teenage son becomes a Columbine-style mass murderer. After reading the synopsis, I knew I had to buy this book because--what must that be like?
Another example is A Map of the World, by Jane Hamilton, which tells the story of a dairy farmer’s wife who, through unintentional negligence, allows a neighbor’s child that was in her care to drown. She is later falsely accused of child abuse by a vengeful student and is pulled into the nightmarish judicial system. In Where the Heart Is, by Billie Letts, a pregnant teenager is left homeless when her cruel boyfriend abandons her at a Wal-mart, so she takes up residence inside the store. I also loved She’s Come Undone, Wally Lamb’s tale about a lonely, obese, young woman who attempts suicide. These are some of my favorite fiction books because they focus on compelling ‘what-if’ situations that could potentially happen to any of us.
One of my favorite authors is Terry McMillan—I’ve read just about everything she’s ever written. To me, she’s not a typical romance novelist. What I love most about her books is how she’ll have a character begin to opine on a subject and follow through a stream-of-consciousness narrative. In the beginning of How Stella Got Her Groove Back, as Stella packs for a Jamaican vacation, she riffs for several pages about subjects as seemingly mundane as gardening, public education and grades of gasoline. Incredibly, these riffs are the most enjoyable parts of her books, in my opinion. Talented storytellers can make a trip to the dentist sound interesting—it must be a gift.
Some of my other favorite authors are John Grisham, Ernest Hemingway and Michael Crichton. I won’t be so arrogant as to say that I have been influenced by these great writers, since I could never hope to emulate their unique voices. I have noticed that the minimalist quality of Hemingway’s writing doesn’t seem to be appreciated in today’s market. I love that style, however. Whether the general fiction genre can equal the popularity of some of its subsets in the e-book market (like romance and science fiction), remains to be seen. I only know that it continues to be my favorite.