Friday, June 11, 2010
Genre – A Writer’s Best Friend (and a HOT giveaway!) with Bestselling Cozy Author, Cleo Coyle
Please welcome guest blogger Cleo Coyle. Cleo and I are actually swapping posts today. While she’s here, I’m over at her usual Friday spot at www.MysteryLoversKitchen.com. So after you’ve met Cleo, come on over to the kitchen for a visit. ~ Liz
First a big thank you to Liz Lipperman and the lovely ladies of Mysteries and Margaritas for inviting me to be their guest. Today I’d like to tell you about the moment I decided to become a genre writer. Yes, I can trace it back to the exact nanosecond. It happened during my senior year of college, going on twenty years now yet still shatteringly clear.
One of my professors, an award-winning poet, was teaching a course on writing magazine features. The lanky, bearded instructor stood there, in front of the silent class, slowly shaking his head. Sad. So sad…
What? Did someone die? As far as he was concerned, the answer was yes. You see, a female friend of his had landed a book contract at a “big New York publishing house.” The New York Times noticed this woman’s novel, giving it a few column inches in the back of their Book Review. Unfortunately, the review was negative and dismissive.
What the professor said next would affirm my professional decisions for years to come: “Just a few column inches,” he said, “and her career is over.”
I grew up in a small town outside of Pittsburgh, PA. My mother was a telephone order clerk with a beautician’s license; my father was a steel worker. I’d never met anyone who made his or her living writing fiction. The mere idea seemed as likely for me as picnicking on Pluto. Yet even I knew that my professor’s opinion on his friend’s career was completely full of crap.
If you want to write me off as some backward bumpkin, think again. After graduating from Carnegie Mellon University, I went to work for The New York Times as a cub reporter. I then went on to work for several major publishing companies where I created and oversaw book programs attached to major media properties. Yes, I studied poetry and literary fiction in college and even won a minor poetry award, but I did not find my bliss in the hushed halls of academia or the quiet confines of small presses. Why?
I love popular culture, that’s why. And I love story: lively, passionate, plot-driven story; tales with arcs and acts and cliffhangers; daring misdirection; larger-than-life characters; treachery, hilarity, and tear-welling drama. As far as my legacy as a writer, I would rather have the average man (or woman) on the street remember my character’s name (e.g., Scrooge, Scarlett, Tarzan, Miss Marple) than my own.
Some argue that genre is confining. I disagree. So does P.D. James, who described the story structure of mystery as freeing to her as an author, allowing her to explore any number of themes, characters, and settings. Blending two or more genres provides the author an even larger palette to create unique and beautiful tales (Charlaine Harris). And I firmly believe that growing as a writer is a stronger possibility if we’re practicing for an audience, just as all creative artists practice: dancers, actors, playwrights, musicians…
Yes, I know Emily Dickinson spent her life isolated and unpublished, but we’re in a new world now. Would Emily have posted her verse on Facebook? Would she have tweeted? Would she have lurked around blogs and left wise and quirky little comments? She sought publication in her lifetime, didn’t she? She sought an audience.
I wish I could speak to that professor now, ask him to stand back, way back, far enough to get some real-world perspective. Some of the most beloved and widely recited poetry today isn’t found in the New Yorker. It’s in our iPods.
And, speaking of lyricists, I watched an interesting YouTube video the other day. Click the link to see to see Pearl Jam, one of the most influential musical groups of the 1990s, talking about their writing process: http://www.youtube.com/user/pearljamofficial?blend=1&ob=4
I found their short, little film to be full of inspiring truths of the writing life, whether one is writing lyrics, composing music, or creating fictional worlds for tens of thousands of readers.
So that’s my story; and I hope, on days when you’re feeling dismissed or dejected, you’ll think of that sad, so sad shake of a professor’s head and know that your career need not end because of a few column inches in a book review broadsheet.
You are a writer whose work goes straight to the heart of a readership excited to see what you’ll come up with next. You’re writing for bright, literate people who are truly grateful for your storytelling abilities. Don’t stop writing. Your audience is not the critics. It’s the readers. Don’t let them down.
Your turn: What genres do you write in and why do you love them? Or if you’re a reader, what draws you to your favorite genre or authors? Or answer me this: Do review quotes matter to you?
Cleo Coyle is the pseudonym a multipublished author and New York Times bestselling media tie-in writer. She is currently writing two mystery series for Penguin in collaboration with her husband: The Haunted Bookshop Mysteries and The Coffeehouse Mysteries. On What Grounds, the first book in her Coffeehouse series, was not reviewed by Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, or Kirkus. The title is now in its 15th printing. By book #7, those publications finally took notice, giving Espresso Shot favorable reviews, including a starred review from Library Journal. (Cleo’s advice: Go forth and write, fellow authors, regardless of reviews.)
Today Cleo is also sharing an instant giveaway. Her new release in August, Roast Mortem, is the 9th book in her Coffeehouse Mystery series. The murder mystery revolves around a heroic group of New York firefighters, not unlike these actual members of the FDNY…
In celebration of Roast Mortem’s theme, Cleo is giving away a copy of The California Firehouse Cookbook today. To win the book, simply leave a comment or question. Cleo will randomly select the winner here and post it at her website www.CoffeehouseMystery.com tonight at 11 PM (Eastern Time).