Friday, November 11, 2011

Are You Listening?

You've probably noticed that I'm what you'd call a funny(ish) gal. So it wasn't a big surprise when my first novel (a mystery) turned out to be a humor(ish) book in places. My second novel was a riot--it housed talking geckos and robot pirates and flying space galleons and monkey overlords and a SECRET that could blow up the universe if it got into the wrong hands, which (of course) it did. After that, I threw a funny(ish) sequel to my first novel into the mix, and then attempted a spoof on the Hardy Boys novels of yesteryear.

Yes, funny is my playground.

So it came as quite a surprise when my current WIP wouldn't leave me alone. It's poignant(ish), literary(ish), and completely beautiful. I can feel the main character's longings as if they were my own, and in some ways I guess they are. It's a book about growing up in a dying culture, the culture my mother and grandmother and great-grandmother lived in and passed down to me. It's also about learning to let go. I'm writing this book because it shares the childhood I had but a childhood my kids will never know. I'm writing this book for my grandmother. I'm writing this book for me.

But, as much as I love this book, I realize its genre is a dying culture of its own. You know, one of those quiet books. Today, industry folks use the word as if it was a bad thing. I have serious reservations about ever selling it, but I'm writing it anyway.

Sometimes, there are story ideas that sneak up on you and take up residence on your shoulder. They whisper straight into your ear and don't bother to check and see if you're paying attention. When those kinds of stories start to talk, it's best to listen.

Sometimes those story ideas aren't dressed like the rest of the stories you've written or plotted either. They don't fit your brand or the trends. So what do you do?

You write them anyway.

Don't worry about whether or not you can sell them. Don't worry about whether or not they fit with the rest of the books you've written (or will write). Don't even worry about whether or not they speak to anyone else.

They are speaking to you. Are you listening?

Chances are, once they've finished speaking to you, and you've written them down, they will speak to others, too. Those kinds of story ideas make the best kinds of books. And even if they don't speak to others, you've been transformed by them. That's all that matters, really, because it will make a difference on the next book you write, and the next and the next and the next.

So do the rest of the world a favor and listen. Okay?


  1. Ooooh, yes! Hope you keep running with this project, Elissa! Many "quiet" books end up being award-winners. :-)

  2. I agree! Write what is speaking to you. Forget about trends and what's selling. If a story is making you fall in love with it, then it needs to be told and will probably find a home at a publishing house. So write on!

  3. i love this elissa! my crit group always tells me to write what's speaking and calling to me the most....even if it's not the "trend"....and it's good advice!

    and you could always pull a Richard Paul Evans with this "quiet" book and (ahem) self -publish it for your family....and who knows where it will go from there!

  4. Great post, Elissa. It sounds like a lovely lovely book. Good luck with it. And I think you're right. Follow your heart. You can't miss when you do that.

    So....monkey overlords? Seriously? Ack! I need to read that. :)

  5. Kip--No worries. I don't think I could stop writing this even if I tried! But an award-winner? Oh, gosh! That would be shocking if it happened, especially since I worry that it won't even sell.

    Kelly--Oh, I am in love, that's for sure. I've been mulling over this story idea for over a decade, but when it finally clicked together a few months ago, I was a goner. :)

    Amie--thanks for loving the post! And you're right, of course. I probably will do that if it doesn't sell. Actually,(shh, don't tell my family) I plan on presenting the manuscript to my grandmother for her next birthday. She's turning 80, and a year or two ago she nudged me to write this book. I figure once she gets a copy, everyone in the entire family will want one, too.

    Erin--Yep. Monkey overlords. I'm still revising that one, because it's just too over the top. I'm thinking the talking gecko needs to go. That should fix it. ;)

  6. A powerful and amazing post, Elissa! Thank you, I am listening--and in a way it's about being fearless too. Looking at that place where the story resides and not looking away when it touches close to home.

    You gave me goosebumps...I want to read this book. And quiet--yes, but a quiet book can have a hook, the kind of heart and character that speaks loud and therefore finds the audience. You go girl!

  7. Amen! Preach it , Elissa. :)
    I hope your "quiet" book gives you great joy to write. And who knows? Trends change ALL THE TIME.

  8. G-oooo-d post. I know those whispers. Listening...

  9. Deb--Aw, you gave me goosebumps, too! Thank you for listening (and reading). And you're right, it is about being fearless. I have to admit that, because it is so close to home, each time I open that manuscript I choke up just a little. But in a good way, I suppose, because I'm bringing back a place and time I thought I'd never see again.

    Nikki--I'm preachin'! I'm preachin'! ;) And don't worry, this book has already given me more joy that I thought possible. Honestly, I'm touched it spoke to me and not someone else.

    Ann--Yes, they do. And they do more than that. They change lives.

    Mirka--Thank you! I am so glad you are listening, too!

  10. Very Interesting new story idea. Is it a true(ish) story?

  11. Alice,

    True-ish, I suppose. I'm drawing heavily from the setting, and the inciting incident happened (or a version of it, anyway). Other than that, the story itself is completely made up and the characters bear no resemblance to anyone in my family or anyone else I know. Basically I wanted to tell a story that was an emotional truth more than a factual one. Make sense?

  12. Sounds like a wonderful story. The ones that really leave their mark on you as the writer are the ones that will also make meaningful connections with readers.
    I write quiet stories, too, so I know just what you mean.

  13. inluvwithwords--I'm glad to know I'm not the only one writing a quiet story. Maybe the universe will see how many of us there are and bend so that quiet stories are again popular. Hey, it could happen. ;)