Thursday, January 28, 2010

Between Nancy Drew and Miss Marple

Anna Denning, the heroine of my mystery novel The Muncy Tree, is a forty-year-old woman. But when I was plotting my story, I tinkered with the idea of a protagonist in her early thirties. Why? Because I thought a younger character might be more marketable.

Take a look at the covers of today’s Christian novels. Of those with people on them, a majority feature women in their twenties and thirties. So you’d think it’s women in their twenties and thirties who are buying and reading most of the books, right? Wrong.

The statistics—who buys and reads books—run counter to the covers. According to a study on, 32 percent of book readers are over age 55 (the average reader is age 44), the average age of those who most often buy books is 50, and readers age 55 and older buy the most e-books. (That last statistic is especially surprising.)

When you break it down by genre, 92 percent of all mystery/detective novels are bought by those born in 1966 or earlier. The number one fiction genre is the mystery/detective story, accounting for 16 percent of all books, fiction and nonfiction, purchased. (At least when you include statistics for secular mysteries. Romance is the number one genre in Christian fiction.)

I enjoy mysteries with protagonists in their thirties, even twenties, but a character in her forties or fifties interests me more. I can identify with such a woman. She’s lived more. She has a depth that’s naturally missing in younger characters.

Sure, an author can try to add that depth to her twentysomething character, but she then runs the risk of making the character a little too mature, too considered and accomplished for her age--a little “off,” like those TV sitcom kids who talk like wiseacre thirty year olds.

Anna Denning couldn’t be a twentysomething. She’s experienced too much of life, and although she has her insecurities, she also has the confidence of a woman who knows things only time can teach you. And she’s a better amateur sleuth for it.

I’m not in marketing, and obviously those who are know what they’re doing, as sales of Christian fiction are holding steady in these tough economic times. But surely there’s room for the slightly older protagonist, especially in mysteries. One in the vast middle, say, older than Nancy Drew but younger than Miss Marple? Maybe even one in the same age ballpark as the author who created her?


Friday, January 22, 2010

Get Serious

When authors are asked for their writing advice, many of them say something like this: “Write every day.” Or as Stephen King recommends in his book On Writing, read and write “four to six hours a day, every day.” This piece of advice has been uttered so many times it’s become a rule of writing. Want to be a writer? Write every day. End of discussion.

I’m a freelance copy editor who works forty to sixty hours a week. As a single woman with no other source of income, I have to work that much. I’m supposed to find four to six hours a day, every day, to read and write?

Let me go into some detail here. I sleep seven hours a night—maximum. I rarely watch television. I take care of two energetic and slightly troubled shelter dogs and try to keep my house clean enough to prevent the neighbors from complaining about a “funny smell.” And I don’t sweat the smaller stuff. I leave the dishes in the sink when I have to, let the checkbook go unbalanced, and allow dog fur to join forces with dust and form disturbingly large bunnies. And I still can’t find the time to write every day.

My schedule is somewhat different from King’s. According to On Writing, King writes in the morning (his goal is 2,000 words a day), naps and writes letters in the afternoon, and spends his evenings reading, watching the Red Sox on TV, and, if necessary, working on revisions. He also walks several miles a day. His walk alone would take up most of my free time on any given day. (I have just this one quibble with King’s book; it is, in fact, one of the finest books on writing out there.)

The Write Every Day Rule (or versions of it) goes unchallenged much of the time. Every aspiring novelist I know wants to write every day—and not a single one of them can. Which is fine, their problem, except this rule implies they’re ipso facto not serious and not going to make it as writers. I give up my social life for more than a year to plot and write my book and I’m not serious? My dogs think my office chair is a removable part of my anatomy and I’m not serious?

Not serious, never going to make it. For those of us who aren’t kids anymore, who have adult responsibilities and an ever-shrinking number of years in which to fulfill our dreams, that’s a spirit-crushing pronouncement. Imagine the discouragement mothers of young children or men who work overtime to support their families feel when they’re told they’re never going to make it as writers simply because, talent aside, they’re not going about it right. Why even get started? Just pack away the computer.

I’ve come up with my own rules of writing. Write as often as you can. Work hard. If God has called you to a career in writing, be prepared to continually give up some things you might rather do—such as going to a movie, watching TV, or going to bed early from flat-out exhaustion—in order to write. If you have to walk away from your writing for a week because of work or family responsibilities, well, it’s tough, but that’s that. Don’t let it discourage you. What works for others—their schedules, their rituals—may not work for you. Follow good advice, discard the bad.

Most of all, don’t let anyone tell you you can’t be a writer. Only God and your writing skills can determine that. A rule that can be followed only by those whose lives are far different from yours is worse than useless.

I’m writing this on a Sunday night, TV off, dogs finally settled. You see, I do write as often as possible, and I do give up a lot to do that. I just can’t do it every day. Maybe one day. I’ll publish my novel and make enough money to cut back on my copy editing. You know, work forty instead of sixty hours a week. And then I’ll have a schedule a little like Stephen King’s.