READ

On Turning in My Latest Novel: Musings on the Question of “Audience”

It’s been a while since I’ve posted here, and part of the reason for that is because I’ve been writing like a lunatic. The nice thing about writing like a lunatic is that it means you actually finish stuff… like a new novel.  Yep, I turned in my book and my publisher has accepted it. They’re saying it’ll hit shelves in Summer 2018, and hopefully I’ll have more specific details to share soon as things shape up.

The act of turning in my new book, coupled with some recent travel, really got me thinking. When you travel you often cross paths with lots of different people (you sit next to someone on an airplane or chat with new acquaintances at a wedding – these sorts of interactions). People will say, “Oh, how exciting – you’re a writer! What should I read of yours? Would I like your books?” It’s a very kind question. And… willing readers! Wow. People can be awesome, and God bless people who still occasionally opt to read a book instead of binge-watch Netflix – amiright?

In answering the question, I find myself picturing the person sitting down to read one of my books, and I always wonder, “Is my book their type of book? Will they like it? Are they going to be like, ‘What the eff is this?’ ” Because… you know… not every book fits every reader, and for better or worse I feel pretty aware of what someone may or may not like about my first two books.

My first book (The Other Typist) is a mystery, but it’s also a little bit girly. I don't picture a lot of dudes reading it (but they are certainly welcome to read it!). But perhaps my saying this now is more revealing of my own gender assumptions than anything else. Who knows. I can tell you, there’s lots of dressing up and drinking cocktails in Prohibition-era speakeasies. There’s girl-on-girl obsession, à la Single White Female. There is also a (purposely) fussy prose style, an unreliable narrator, and an ambiguous ending that has since prompted strangers to write to me, demanding I explain “WHAT REALLY HAPPENED.”

My second book (Three-Martini Lunch) has three first-person narrators. I’ve found readers either love that kind of thing or hate it, and there are very few who land somewhere in between. And while my first book erred on the side of “girly-ness,” my second book has two male narrators and one female – I was told it consequently had significantly less “women’s fiction” appeal. Furthermore, the voices were very stylized (for instance, one of the male narrators talked like a Jack Kerouac-wannabe). They were interesting but flawed characters, and I think if you’re the type who needs your books to contain likable characters who always make likable choices, my second book might be a tough sell.

Then there’s also the fact that I’m a politically-left-leaning person (sorry, but most writers are). So that’s going to show up in some of the stuff I write. When I picture some ultra-conservative member of the Tea Party reading, say, my second novel – a novel that is very critical of 1950s-era white male patriarchy – I’m thinking, “Hmm, this person might not love this book.” And you know, that’s okay. They don’t have to.

As a writer, one of the questions you must constantly ask yourself is about your perceived audience: “Who am I writing this for/who can I picture reading it?” And it’s probably a good thing if you can accept that old proverb, “You can please some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.” MFA students, for instance, often take a lot of heat for writing in such a way as to please their fellow MFA students, their professors, etc. I actually have no dog in that fight. I find I sometimes read and very much enjoy books by authors considered “writer’s writers” – which means exactly how it sounds: Writers who’ve studied the craft in depth who write for other people who’ve also studied it. The frequent complaint is that they’re writing for far too narrow an audience, but if you think about it: There’s a sort of language-within-a-language to be appreciated there. It’s not like academics who write criticism aren’t doing the same thing (i.e. communicating via a coded convention, a language-within-a-language). We seem pretty okay with the expectation that academics are writing for a smaller, more specific audience.

Anyway, I’ve gotten away from my point. Ironically, the point I’m about to make will now fly in the face of everything I’ve written in this blog entry so far, and that is: My third novel, Eagle & Crane – the manuscript I just turned in – is about as close as I’ve ever come to writing something for EVERYBODY. Instead of realizing I’ve written something for a narrow or niche audience, I feel like… well, it turns out I kind of wrote this for about the widest audience I can imagine. It’s pretty balanced in terms of gendered appeal, I think. It contains a mystery plot that hopefully keeps the pages turning, but it’s also driven by character development. There’s love, there’s tragedy (but also happiness/upbeat events, too), there are epic generational tales and also an historical backdrop of political turmoil. The writing (I hope?) makes it an easy read and it’s told in a fairly straightforward third-person voice (as opposed to some of my other prose experiments). There are likable characters and a twist ending that is not at all ambiguous (there you go, annoyed/anguished fans of The Other Typist, I present you with a twist that resolves itself with lots of clarity; I hope you like it!).

I have no idea how I’ll feel about it in three months’ time, six months’ time… or a year from now when it finally hits the stands. I also know that it is IMPOSSIBLE to write a book that everyone loves. Books are definitely NOT one-size-fits-all. But as of this moment right now, it feels like I’ve written something I could pretty much recommend to anyone and not be too embarrassed to picture various different individuals reading it and trying to get into it (as a writer, if you have any humility at all, it’s always a little bit embarrassing to picture someone reading your book – a tiny hint of that being-caught-naked-feeling). Perhaps it’s the subject matter itself, or the voice and tone – but for whatever reason, I feel like this book is genuinely easier to recommend to people from all different walks of life. I really hope that’s a good thing.

In any case, I’ll insert the brief blurb from Pub Marketplace that describes Eagle & Crane below. Descriptions from Pub Marketplace tend to be almost tweet-length, so this won’t be too illuminating but at least it will give you an idea of my new novel’s topic until we can settle on some good jacket copy.  Thanks for reading!

--------------

EAGLE AND CRANE, set in the world of a 1930s flying circus in California, about two young aviators -- one of them Japanese American -- and the girl next door who loves them, focusing on the effects of Pearl Harbor on their relationships and the fate of their daredevil act.