Monday, June 27, 2011

Do Not Pander

I've been reading Live From New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live.  I bought it awhile ago, but never picked it up until now.  Like many people, I love SNL.  But this book has made me realize/remember how revolutionary this program was/is.

I won't lie.  I want to be cutting edge.  I want to be revolutionary.  I want to write comedy (and fiction) the way they did/do.

No holds barred.  Forget those who don't get it.  Make yourself laugh and let everybody else catch up.

This idea is best highlighted by this quote:

We wanted to redefine comedy the way the Beatles redefined what being a pop star was.  That required not pandering, and it also required removing the necessary neediness, the need to please.  It was like, we're only going to please those people who are like us.  The presumption there were a lot of people like us.  And that turned out to be so.  - Lorne Michaels

I continually struggle with what I write.  Personally, I love it.  But it is rare for me to walk into the bookstore, pick up a book, and say, "Holy Crap!  I should've written this book!"  Of course, some people are probably thinking all, "Yeah.  Thank god."   But still, you know the feeling.  The one where a book just gets you.  It's like it reads some unwritten part of your history, resurrecting this long-dead thing inside your soul.

Oh yeah, I just went there.

But dramatic or not, I really believe this.  I really believe that books can do this for us, for teens.

And trust me, there are times where I just want to be like, Screw it, I'm going to write a INSERT TREND HERE book because it seems like the fast track.  It seems easier.  And even though I know this isn't true, it's hard not to feel like, maybe, I should just write something uber-commercial.  Just to get in the door.  Because, honestly, sometimes it feels like everything I love about books and writing is radically different than what I find on the shelves.

I'm not saying what's published isn't good.  It is.  It's great, actually.  I just finished Please Ignore Vera Dietz and it blew my mind.

It's just different... Because despite how amazing it was (I read it in two days), it's not the book I needed in high school.

And I guess that's kind of the point.

I'm not going to say we shouldn't write for the trend.  And I'm not going to tell you to write what you know (well, maybe.)  Every agent and editor out there has been saying that stuff for years.

But I will say this:  don't pander.  To the market.  To your own ideas of what could sell, even though its not your passion.  Don't write something just because you think it's going to please other people.

Because if we're doing that, if we're only writing to gain access to the halls of New York City, haven't we lost something major?  Haven't we knee-capped creativity?  Are we then producing forgetable, disposable stories?

To be clear: I don't think this is happening.  This is not a slight against publishing.  But it is a moment of clarity, of clarification, maybe.  It's the point where I am saying to myself, Write funny boy books about ninjas and professional wrestling and love and faith and kissing and dudes who have no clue but always seem to say really funny shit.

Because I love it.  Because I can't imagine writing anything else, at least at this point.

If writing a dystopian book is your passion--great!  Do it.  And when the market changes and people are yelling, "NO MORE DYSTOPIANS!"  Keep writing them.  Create something new and different.  Force people to take notice.

And then, maybe, we'll all be able to sit back and say, We were part of something special, something great.


  1. Pandering is for politicians, not writers.

  2. I. Love. This.

    "...if we're only writing to gain access to the halls of New York City, haven't we lost something major? Haven't we knee-capped creativity? Are we then producing forgetable, disposable stories?"

    Yes. Yes.

    I can't wait to read your novels.

  3. Vera Dietz was one of my favorite reads of this past year - definitely top three. A.S. King is wicked-cool too by the way. Just who you'd expect to write such a kick-ass book.

    I agree with you on this post. Write what ignites the passion within. I guess it's that simple.

  4. Please Ignore Vera Dietz blew my mind too. I am almost finished with THE DUST OF 100 DOGS and it is equally amazing, but in a totally different way.

  5. I echo Nova's comment and add that I really want to read..

    "...funny boy books about ninjas and professional wrestling and love and faith and kissing and dudes who have no clue but always seem to say really funny shit."

  6. Jonathon - DUST OF 100 DOGS was great. Loved that book.

    Nova - I already said thanks...

    Ms./Miss/Mrs. Walton - It SEEMS simple, doesn't it...

    Jeff - Hopefully.

  7. Bryan, what author voices are similar to King's? I'd like to read a lot more in that tone.

  8. Jonathon, that's a hard question... at least, for me. But here's my best shot:

    Sara Zarr, Nova Ren Suma, Tim Tharp, Courtney Summers, Matt de la Pena.

    All of them represent a different "voice" in YA fiction that I enjoy. There are probably some big ones I'm missing (Francis X. Stork just came to me...)

  9. I forgot to say thank you for the list. All of those authors are on my tbr pile, so I am moving them to the top.