Old and New: Avoiding the Ruts in Publishing

Photo Credit:  wrhsonline.net
Photo Credit: wrhsonline.net

Stephen King is quoted on the back of cover of a recent publication from Jayne Anne Phillips. In the quote he states that her new book Quiet Dell, is the next In Cold Blood. Phillips herself, who has at least one best-seller under her belt, is not immune to the huge trend that spans film, television and literature. The trend of what is old is new.

From fashion, to film, to publishing, it seems that the world is devoid of new thoughts. It all make me think of my mom who, a few years ago, lamented the fact that she had given away her Frye boots from the 70s because, lo and behold, they were/are back in style again and of course more expensive than ever. I’m not sure what inspires this retro trending of things, but it’s apparent that it happens over and over again.

As I mentioned above, publishing works in a similar way. Even in your query letters, you are expected to tell the potential agent who or what your story is like. The idea of such trends is hugely depressing as a writer. How many Hunger Games or Twilights do we need? In my opinion, the market is hugely overrun. But still.

For those of us in the real world and not working behind the scenes, this trend may be exciting. Hooray they’re bringing Full House back! Or Hooray for more vampire/werewolf stories! Well for a lot of us, at least. For the people working in the industry, I would expect that this trend is in part due to the fear of trying something new. The recession may be over (well not really so it seems), but money is still pretty tight in a lot of industries, particularly publishing as they try to settle the rocking of that boat. And, of course, when a certain kind of story gets popular, every other publisher follows in the wake of it with their own versions. If you have a popular or famous writer of the same genre quoted on your cover, you have the potential of attracting all of that writer’s fans to your flock. Not a bad idea in theory. But it makes for slimmer pickings in the variety category.

Photo Credit: Jayne Anne Philllips and Simon and Schuster
Photo Credit: Jayne Anne Philllips and Simon and Schuster

Anyway, back to Jayne Anne Phillips and Quiet Dell. This book is probably one of my most favorite reads in the past couple of years (If you haven’t read it, GET ON IT!). And the story and the writing trump In Cold Blood for me. Don’t get me wrong, I loved In Cold Blood. But there are errors and Capote was filled with biases. He DID virtually fall in love with one of the accused after all. In spite of the shortcomings, it’s a fantastic text and truly chilling. It’s an important marker in the evolution of the crime/true crime/detective story genre. Quiet Dell lacks these biases and is, of course, written with a more modern sensibility. Granted, it is a fictional story about these event, though the author did an abundance of research. Plus, the story is told from the perspective of a woman who makes it much more interesting for female readership.

I had never come across Jayne Anne Phillips before, but she came to Kansas City last fall and thus appeared on my radar. To be complimented by Stephen King alone is a major accomplishment. Plus, to be compared to an infamous writer like Truman Capote…of course that’s going to sell books!!

Even though Phillips is compared and sort of is a one up on Capote, she does something really new with the genre that Capote pioneered for the modern reader. King may connect Phillips with Capote, but Phillips takes what Capote did and re-imagines it in her own way.

This of course is the way evolution in writing is supposed to work. The difference between Phillips and Capote and the host of Hunger Games and Twilights follow-ups out there is this: Phillips builds on what Capote did while a lot of the imitators don’t. Their stories follow the same paths instead of imagining something new. And this, for me, is where the problem begins. Ok fine, compare your writing or use someone else’s writing as inspiration for your own, we all do it. That is the way of art and imitation is the finest form of flattery, or so they say. BUT, don’t limit yourself to what others have done. Build something new. Dare to imagine something bigger.

I know some people out there say that there are only seven plots in existence and “nothing under the sun is new.” Blah blah blah. For me, that is a horribly depressing idea. We should all strive to grow and avoid the ruts in publishing, and in other art forms as well. Everyone is capable of creating a new idea. You just have to give it time to grow.

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