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ASK THE EDITOR Write What's In Your Heart

By Susan Malone

October 2001

In the past two weeks, I've had untold number of writers contact me, all with the same question: "In light of the recent tragedy, why would anyone care about my romance/mystery/thriller/etc.?"

This is a question with which we're all grappling at this point, and justifiably so. A lot underlies it, and the repercussions of the changes in our world will continue to be felt far into the future. On a broad scale, life as we know it has been irrevocably altered, which is a topic for a different sort of column from this, but which nonetheless affects what we'll be reading and writing for some time to come. Narrowing it down to our own niche, publishing itself resides in New York, and I don't know an editor or agent there who wasn't vitally and personally affected by the tragedy. Everyone in New York is still at least somewhat shell shocked. As one agent recently told me, the telephone lines have been very quiet in the industry during the last weeks. But life does go on. And so does the business of publishing.

Except for the rush books that revolve around the events, the same sort of works will still be bought, printed, and sold as have been in recent years. Since publishing is on such a long lead time (an average of eighteen months, once a manuscript is purchased), the slots for the next year or two are already filled, many books being well into production. So that in itself won't change. The business of books is done through such a rigid system of sales avenues, that a major overhaul just isn't quite possible. I.e., no drastic changes. Yet.

But some changes will occur. "Whether the WTC tragedy and the specter of a war in the Middle East will ultimately effect the fiction market remains to be seen," Gary Goldstein, Senior Editor with Macmillan Publishers, Inc., told me. "The word on the street is that romance and mystery categories will fare the best, because of their escapist element. Escapism will be sorely needed if indeed we get into a prolonged war, which now seems inevitable. The men's thriller market, except for guys like Tom Clancy and a couple of others, will probably shrink. A good guess also is that World War II novels will do well, because it really was one of your better wars,and there's safety in living in the past as opposed to the present."

Historically, in times of great trials and tribulations (war, financial distress, etc.) the entertainment business in general has boomed, providing the vital function of diversion for folks wearied to the bone by the "real world." And thank God. We need to be able to get out from under the sorrows and difficulties of both our own little lives, and those of the greater whole or we'd just all go insane.

But I think the question addresses a much deeper emotion. We feel that our small pieces of the creative puzzle are not quite "big" enough; don't speak to the "important" questions of the day; don't mean squat when folks' lives have been turned inside out by great trauma. As humans we want answers. We want something tangible to hold onto to assure us that all will be well, or at least no worse than before. And we tend to see those answers coming only from "big" books,you know, the ones that center on life, death, and what it all means.

To question our own creative place in this conundrum is a natural step. Why would anyone want to read about my people, my place, my story? Why would anyone care?

You know, as writers, we all have to have a bit of ego, or we wouldn't have the impetus to do this in the first place. And that question really speaks to the little ego part of ourselves that wants to answer the big mysteries, wants to be on the cutting edge of the solution. Which is a fine goal, as long as we don't start believing that little ego self (our own press), and forgo what it is we're actually accomplishing. Because face it, very few of us came into this life to be Ghandi. Or Roosevelt. Or to write one of the books of the Bible. But that in no way negates what we DID come here to do, to write what is in our hearts, and do it to the best of our abilities.

Because we don't see the bigger picture, the God's eye view, if you will. The only sin in the writing realm is not to use one's gifts in the best manner possible. Who are you to say that your mystery doesn't have just the grain of Truth in it that some reader in Podunk needed to solve a piece of her own puzzle? Who are you to know?

It has often been said that artists are the soul of a culture. Through art, Truth does resonate, and art lives in the eye of the beholder. Now, more than ever, we need our writing artists?from household names to the yet-to-be-published and everyone in between?to tell stories and finish books and tell their Truths as they know them, even if said Truth "just" relays that the hero gets the girl. Is it not of importance to bolster those heroic traits within your reader? To reinforce that good does, indeed, overcome evil, even if only in backwoods Texas?

Isn't it the height of ego to feign humility at a time like this? When true humility is accepting the gift you've been given, and doing your part.

So write. The business will survive. We will survive. And someone just may learn something from the art, no matter how seemingly small, which you produce.

Susan M. Malone is a Contributing Editor to Authorlink.com, a multi-published author, and owner of a successful editorial service. Ten books she’s edited have been published or sold within the last three years. Check out her listing under Editorial Services, and email her at aaasuz@aol.com