Monday, November 15, 2010

Paranormal is the new Normal

I have a million and one things that I want to write about and generally I take several runs at a topic before I figure out what it is that I really want to express. It is at this point I generally tear what I’ve written completely apart, delete quite a bit, and then hopefully, arrive at the heart of the matter. I began writing this particular blog two months ago and though it’s been rearranged, edited, slimmed down, beefed up, I still find myself wondering, “What am I trying to understand?”

A few days ago I stumbled upon a blog written by a former literary agent, who is now a children’s author. One of the blog entries is entitled Ten Commandments for a Happy Writer. ( I’m fairly certain that these commandments apply to all people, regardless of your profession. In the first paragraph he states, “Writers aren't generally known as the happiest lot. As a recent Guardian survey of some top writers shows, even the best ones don't particularly enjoy it all that much. And in case you think this is a new development, an 1842 letter from Edgar Allen Poe to his publisher recently surfaced in which he was found apologizing for drinking so much and begging for money.” So much for the happiness quotient!

What I believe is that writers are inventors who quietly tinker in solitude. I think it is ironic that these inventors endeavor to create whole worlds filled with people, events and emotions that represent to many an escape from reality – so they can be quiet and solitary.

The first time I was utterly consumed by a book and had the happy circumstance of spending an entire day living in another time and place was when I was ten years old; the book was Little House on the Prairie. When I finished the book I remember wandering to the kitchen to find out what we were having for dinner. Some part of me wanted rabbit stew and hardtack by a fire. I’m sure by evenings end I was grateful for a bathroom and not some scrubby shrub off in the distance. I still remember the power of escape that the book provided and I couldn’t wait to get to the school library to check out the next book in the series. My passion for reading had been ignited.

A few years ago I was at the public library trolling the shelves for locations unknown and not finding anywhere to go. Deciding this was ridiculous I applied my strategy skills and now have a handy set of rules to follow: I check out at least one biography, one staff recommendation, one fiction, one non-fiction, and two artsy books. For the last two years I have added books by authors who I think might belong to the same genre as the one I am trying to get published, so I end up with an additional four or five book to read. At this point I would guesstimate that I read approximately four to five books per week (and skim two).

So, I feel completely free to blame some poor, innocent employee of the library system for my recent encounter with a Paranormal Romance Novel. As far as inventions go I haven’t found a need for werewolves, empaths, vampires, and shape shifters. I couldn’t care in the slightest how popular The Twilight Saga is/was! Before writing this blog I had no idea who wrote it, where it was filmed or that it was a saga. I thought it was one book.

At the behest of the employee I read about four pages of some horrific book about a woman who had a piece of dragon in her body, was consumed by a wild and lustful crush on some “thing” who was mostly dragon (it was conveniently tied to DNA and blood issues, he didn’t actually look like a dragon), but was the consort of some other “thing” that resembled the Devil. Now, one must commend an author who can give that much information in four pages, but none-the-less, I decided I couldn’t read the remaining 350’ish pages.

As I was ranting about the ridiculousness of the storyline to a friend she sadly shook her head and asked who the author was. When I told her the authors name she said, “She isn’t any good. You have to read…” Now I knew she was a huge paranormal romance fan and the person to go to for information, because as with all genres there are tried and true conventions and formulas successful authors use. Basic continuity rules must be observed. After getting the low with regards to all things paranormal my lovely friend gave me half a dozen novels to read, which I have now made my way through.

By no stretch of the imagination am I converted or an expert, but I feel like there are a few insights that I can share. My favorite generalization is this: once a paranormal critter finds its mate it cannot be unfaithful! It is repugnant. Fidelity is the result of sharing either blood, mating pheromones, or empathic abilities, or all of them, which forges a connection both so emotionally and physically binding that they are truly “one.” I have decided that the author who invented this paranormal truism was jilted at some point and is looking for their “happily ever after” fictionally.

My second favorite generalization is that these creatures are either immortal or cease to age at a normal rate. There are many smoking hot guys who are over 600 years old. (I truly burst out laughing when one hero explained his tan was the result of being turned into a vampire during the summer and so his tan was permanent.) When you combine the previous generalization with this one, well… you have invented the unbeatable combination; people who will always look their best, have super strength, unusually developed senses, and pheromones that will rage between them for forever!! These people won’t grow old and bored. These creatures know that once they have met their mate this is their eternity, so they are happy to wait around a few hundred years for the right person to come along. Who wouldn’t? Most of us would take a bite to the neck or become genetically altered by a scientist if we could be in our prime forever. I’m equally as certain that I will become more willing to be vampire fodder as I age. This getting old(er) business is for the birds. AND I’m still going with the idea that a jilted lover invented this concept as well. Because let’s face it, who wouldn’t want to see an old flame fifty years after splitting up and look like a twenty five year old?

From a Science Fiction perspective, my favorite book had to do with creatures that live in parallel universes and can travel to the past or future; returning to present time to bring technology with them or prevent some disaster. Somehow they are the guardians of humanity and live amongst us for generations. Other books deal with the retelling or foreshadowing of stories that can be quite interesting; a vampire might have lost his wife and children to the plague, his mistress and children to the crusades, another mistress or two to various wars. But voila! All is forgotten once he meets his true love. I’m telling you, their patience is enviable!

My favorite paranormal creatures so far are similar to those in X-Men movies. Some creature is the result of human DNA crossed with animal DNA and the result is that “it” has incredible sense of smell, sight, and/or hearing along with phenomenal strength and speed. These creatures are feral! There are all kinds of alpha dominance issues going on! I’m telling you, no mortal male can compete with these guys! So next time someone appears to be appreciating your perfume, take a deep long look in his eyes and see if they remind you of a lion or coyote!

As you can see, I have endeavored to make my way through all permutations of creatures, but have yet to find a normal human romancing a paranormal creature. I don’t think it can happen; there are too many differences of lifestyles; what to buy for dinner (bottled blood or steak), who sleeps where (coffin or bed), whose blood is this (a feeder or victim), do we plant a moonlight garden (we can both enjoy it for a few hours every night). In all honesty, if you’ve read a successful combo of this sort, let me know.

If at this point you are wondering how Paranormal Romance ties into the question I am asking myself, the answer is, I admire the forerunners of Science Fiction for taking us into worlds created purely from their imagination, borrowing only minutely from reality. I admire the inventors of genre standards. In every way that I can measure, these people are creative and financial geniuses. Last year over 1.3 billion dollars was spent on romance novels and a hefty chunk of this money was on paranormal romances. It has to be because these books are an interesting combination of action hero and titillating romance. If you are a fledgling author, I’d recommend going down this path. If you’re suddenly wondering whether I will or not, I have to be honest and say it’s tempting, but I think the bases are covered.

What spurred this sudden emergence I can only venture an educated guess. As farfetched as it may be, I think it has to do with the Harry Potter series. JK Rowling introduced children to supernatural creatures who are cuddly and kind as well as menacing and cruel. When we were kids supernatural creatures definitely lived in the realm of the terrifying (unless of course you were watching Scooby Doo.) I watched Vincent Price’s Wax Museum when I was in the sixth grade and all I can say is, “Egads!” I avoided all things spooky for years after that. Readers now fully accept and want to integrate science fiction themes with everyday events.

I believe that it is virtually impossible to measure the success of artistic pursuits. By the public – everyone knows the artists name and loves their work? By the artist – satisfaction in the completion of the piece or public acclaim and financial solvency? There are many authors that I’ve read, who have invented a formula that is incredibly successful and they have published many (predictable) books and there are authors who’ve written one brilliant book and they are considered to be successful.

My new friend, Nathan Bransford, writes for Commandment number three: Recognize the forces that are outside of your control. While it's tempting to think that it's all your fault if your book doesn't sell, or your agent's fault or the industry's fault or the fault of a public that just doesn't recognize your genius, a lot of times it's just luck not going your way. Chance is BIG in this business. Huge. Gambling has nothing on the incredibly delicate and complex calculus that results in a book taking off. Bow before the whims of fate, because chance is more powerful than you and your agent combined.

Author Ann Lamott poses the question in her book, Bird by Bird, “Do you want to write or be a published author?” People have kindly asked me whether I’ve made any progress in getting my book published. Alas, the answer is no. In all honesty I can say that I am thrilled to get responses to my submissions. The knowledge that someone in the field of publishing has taken a peek at my book makes the experience all the more real. At this point in my life, what I want is “real.” I want to take things from the “Wouldn’t-it-be-great-world” to the “I-gave-it-my-best-effort-world.”

Right now, I have great balance. To date I have had over a thousand visits to my blog from people in nine different countries. The feedback has been fabulous and I believe my tinkering has improved significantly. This feeds my confidence and helps me move forward with another submission.

So, finally, at the end of this blog, I know that the question I’ve been trying to explore for months is, have I the talent to invent interesting escapes? Can I create people and experiences that supplant living in the here and now and take readers to the end of a day, wondering whether to return to the real world or to stay adrift on a cloud of my imagination? I believe the answer is yes.

Thanks for reading!