Thursday 30 October 2008

Just Wondering

This piece isn’t too dissimilar to the series of posts on genre from Declan Burke’s Crime Always Pays; the main difference being that this post is more self-serving. You see, in the five years from my first short story sale, to my recent near-successes in getting a novel published, I’ve labelled myself as a horror writer, a dark fiction writer, a black humour writer and a crime fiction writer. A blind baboon can see the one common denominator in these labels. Writer. And how much further does this go? Screenwriter, stage-play writer, review and article writer... I either seriously need intravenous Ritalin, or a more focussed approach to my writing.

Or do I?

Write what you know. Write what excites you. Write from the heart. Just keep on trying. Be patient. Don’t write with money in mind. Don’t write to a trend. Do. Don’t. Can’t. Won’t. Stick to your guns. Don’t be precious. Respect other people’s opinions. Watch out for bad advice. Find a niche. Don’t emulate. Read widely, though maybe not when you’re writing. Redraft. Edit while you go. Ignore the internal editor. Don’t let plot drive the characters. WRITE! Where the feck is this story going? Does this work? How can you not get this? Read this, please. But not in front of me. What did you think? No, don’t tell me. What do you mean you don’t get it? It’s obvious! Hey, don’t publishers like books with serial potential? Ooooh, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Everybody’s got a book in them. My arse! Get an agent. No, wait until you’ve published one novel. Who needs an agent? What do they do? How long should this chapter be? Where did I put that piece of string? Do I have enough money for a six-pack of Stella?

How’s that for focus?

It’s a start, right?

Have I started?

My clearest ambition in all the self-inflicted crud that tumbles about in my head before I fall asleep is to see my novel, Piranhas. published. It’s a good book. I know this. And that’s why I haven’t read it since I did my final edit quite some time ago. I believe in it right now. But what if I’m wrong? What if it really is too Belfasty. What can I do about the parts that refer to the ever-evolving political system, that impacts on my main players, if I’m still submitting this novel for another five years? What if it’s not very good? Simple. I have to write on.

But what? My current work-in-progress, I’m enjoying, but constantly second-guessing. My protagonist is strong. She has serious potential as a recurring character, and actually already appears in my screenplay and unpublished novella, The Point. But today I don’t think there’s enough of a hook in the early chapters I’ve written. That’s okay. It’s not something someone else has told me. I’m going on instinct. Or am I? Is there a calculating, part-qualified accountant in me, number-crunching and ticking boxes? Have I started writing to a trend or with a market in mind? I need time for perspective, or I need to blast through. Something for me to decide later.

So, what now? Blank screen. Chapter One. Let’s see what happens to this guy... Novel, novella, short story? Horror, comedy, crime?

Ah, genre. It’s been too long.

Here’s something, though. Short fiction. Go to and feast your eyes on all the markets for short fiction in horror, science fiction and fantasy. Where’s the crime section? Because the last few stories I’ve submitted have been a little genre-straddling, with most weight on the crime foot. But I’m sending these stories to horror markets and the odd time I get feedback with my rejection. In one case, an editor wondered why the victim in the story didn’t come back as a zombie.

I can send one short story a month to Thuglit; a webzine that publishes crime fiction. Ask Stuart Neville about them. I haven’t found any other venues. Point me in the right direction if you can.

Or maybe I deal with genre thusly: I write short horror stories, crime novels, literary stage plays...

How come screenplay writers don’t seem to be as confined to genre?

Treat this as an article/half-hearted rant, smile and click onto the next blog, or scratch your head along with me. Even better, tell me the secret of success, or if I’ve almost met my requisite quota of ‘life experience’. Hell, if you’re a doctor, a Ritalin prescription wouldn’t go amiss. In the meantime, I’ll be thinking.


Michael Stone said...

I don't do smouldering, but if I did I'd smoulder now and say, "Write what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law."

Stuart Neville said...

I struggle with genre, but I've come to realise that the writing dictates the genre, the genre doesn't dictate the writing. My novel started as what I thought was a horror story. My previous attempt at a novel had been, I thought, more pure horror. But there is a grey area between horror and thriller that a couple of authors such as Thomas Harris and John Connolly inhabit quite comfortably.

It really took someone else to tell me what genre my writing was. With the previous novel, the best bits, and the bits I enjoyed writing most, were the thriller aspects. But I still thought it was horror. With Ghosts of Belfast, I was worried about what it really was. It walks a tightrope between horror and thriller. When I sent to to my agent for the firs time, I was certain he'd reject it because of the horror element. He doesn't rep any horror atall. But instead, he took the book on. And he also told me unequivacobly it was a thriller, and that's how it was sold, and how it will be marketed.

Anyway, the rather long-winded point I'm trying to make is that no matter what I started out to write, the writing itself decided it was a thriller.

adrian mckinty said...

True story:

I was at a book reading once and an elderly man asked me "why I write", I gave him this long answer about wanting to connect with people and express my deepest feelings and maybe attempt to express some literary and psychological truths - he looked at me blankly for a second and said "I was asking for the way out."

Brian McGilloway said...

Hi Ger
Write because you can't not is the best advice I ever heard. All the rest of the stuff just falls into place along the way. I suspect writing's just a form of OCD anyway!

Gerard Brennan said...

Mike - Wilt do.

Stuart - Yeah, that's pretty reasonable. I guess I should enjoy writing whatever the feck I want now. If I never get a publishing deal, at least I'll always have my freedom. And a half-full glass of cheap booze.

Adrian - Brilliant. You know, I miss those post you used to do about nightmare signings. Any more planned?

Brian - Wise words. And nice profile pic. Hadn't seen the new cover until now.

Cheers, lads


adrian mckinty said...

I've 3 good/bad ones left that I'll blog eventually. Dont want to put you off though.

col2910 said...

try and google spinetingler and plots with guns (though spookily enough your short story will need to feature..surprise, surprise a gun!)
there were more e-zine type publications around but a few have packed it in in the last few months....hardluck stories, demolition,

not sure about thrilling detective or mouthful of bullets - whether they are still going or not

Gerard Brennan said...

Adrian - I look forward to the posts. Don't worry, I won't be put off. Unless you got shot at one or something. That might give me pause for reflection.

Colman - I'll just consult google, then. Cheers!


sam millar said...

Gerard, and there’s me thinking I was depressing! I suddenly seem full of sunshine now and want to go out and kiss everyone, after reading your article. The one thing you left out was the ‘L’ word – luck. Make no mistake about it, mo chara, it’s needed almost and sometimes more that, talent (I was always a lucky sort of bastard, as anyone who’s read On The Brinks will testify. As for having talent? I leave that to the discerning reader. Read my up-coming article about getting published in Verbal at the end of the year. How’s that for a self-plugging? Did I mention how sneaky I am?) Seriously, Gerald, you are doing no more or no less than any other writer - myself included - and that is whipping yourself with self-doubt. Piranhas will be published. Have no doubt about that…
Sam Millar

Gerard Brennan said...

Sam - More depressing than you, eh? I'm tempted to take that as a compliment. Actually, I've thought of Karl Kane from Bloodstorm more than once while going through my writerly woes. Especially the jealousy that sprang when Squeals on Wheels told him about his publishing deal!

And ta for the kind words, sir.

I read Verbal regularly, so I'll be sure to mention the article here when I get a copy.