Monday, March 15, 2010

The Elemental First Page

For those of you outside the business in which me and my friends are engaged, you may not be aware of current Common Sense, vis-a-vis the publishing industry.  According to this contemporary Common Sense, the first page is EVERYTHING to a new book.  This is a result of extensive market research, of that I have no doubt.  Browsing habits of people in bookstores were examined, and these marketing professionals determined by observation that if a book can't snag a reader by the first page, then the reader puts the book back on the shelf and carries on with her browsing.

I certainly understand the inescapable logic of this.  I mean, I've done something similar my whole life.  I read the back of the book, the inside flap of the book, study the cover art, then, if all of those conditions tickle my fancy, I dive into the copy.  

Now that I'm on the other side of the great divide -- the gulf between writer and reader -- I wonder about the wisdom of this.  I know we're an instant-gratification generation of people.  We can't be bothered to listen to the whole album to find the songs we like best; we go to iTunes instead and download the few tracks we've heard on the radio.  We can do that now.  We don't have to read the whole paper anymore.  News is delivered in three-paragraph gulps to our internet home pages.  We don't have to sit down to a full meal anymore, not with tapas bars and smoothie counters.  

We are, here and now, enamored by convenience and speed.  We want what we want, and we want it now.

But -- doesn't that run counter to the entire concept of a book?  A book isn't about the first page.  Most of the masterpieces of classical literature couldn't have made it in today's climate (a notable exception that comes immediately to mind is "Metamorphosis," by Franz Kafka, which had me from the first sentence).  A book took years, and in some cases, decades, to write, and it was assumed those of the public who spend their hard-earned duckets to by the book would savor every word, examining sub-plots and character depths that most fiction readers have to be forced to find by their college professors.

I know some of you are arching your dominant eyebrow at me.  I have confessed to many that I am very, very weak at the first-page concept.  I'm really not here to make excuses for my literary deficiencies, only to find myself puzzled by this over-reaching need for a compelling first page.  From the first line of agents to the pocketbooks of readers, it means the world.  Writer-development websites have made contests that focus on the first page.  Again, I understand the sound marketing judgment behind this focus.  However, I can't help wonder if Austen, the Bronte sisters, Poe, or Clemens would have persisted in this environment.

They probably would have.  Feel free to chalk this up to sour grapes, and return to your regularly-scheduled day.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

For YOU, the Hero of Every Story

Most of you, I don't know at all. As I sit here, sipping coffee and occasionally glancing out the window at the thick, soupy Central Texas dawn, I wonder about you. I wonder who you are, what you look like, and what you do. I wonder what you worry about and who you love. I reflect on your stories, and I speculate on all the ways we're different.

Some of you I've had the pleasure to interact with on the fansite wall; you've left your insightful comments, telling me what books you're reading, what heroes you admire, and which direction your lives are leading you. I hope you don't think I'm not really paying attention. I read what you write; you help me immensely in figuring out what happens next in my own story, as well as the stories of the people in my head.

I imagine most of you do NOT interact with me on the fansite wall because you don't feel that either what I'm saying is of interest to you, or what you would say would be of interest to me. I want to take a moment right now to say that if you fear the latter, your fear is totally without foundation. I am ENDLESSLY interested in what people have to say. It's almost a fascination. Sure, it can be a little selfish, this Personality Voyeurism in which I indulge. I can't make the people in my head sound real unless I catch snippets of Real People conversation -- in other words, I can't properly hear THEM until I hear YOU.

If the issue instead is that what I'm saying is of no interest to you, please let me know. I want this to be a fun ride for all of us. I really am NOT in this go-kart race for my own ego. I'm in this thing because of the nature of CORONA herself, because of her message, which is this: INSIDE EACH AND EVERY ONE OF US IS A HERO. I sincerely believe that.

I don't care if you're a stay-at-home mom, a mail carrier, a waitress, a cab driver, a student, or the lady behind the counter at the supermarket deli. If you let me look in your eyes, I promise, I will see the hero inside you. You can't bury him or her that deep. You may have tried to forget that hero is there. You may have tried to do evil things to contradict the hero. It doesn't matter. Your nobility, your essential flawed humanity and desire to be worthy, won't die, no matter how silent it's grown inside you.

Maybe you think I'm full of crap because Everyday Heroes don't make the news. Mothers who rush to comfort their disappointed children, office workers who face termination to point out a bad business practice to their supervisors, the random pedestrian who chases a ditzy lady across a busy street to return her dropped wallet -- that kind of thing just HAPPENS.

Still, if you really think about it, aren't the best books about Everyday Heroes, just like you? Isn't it all about people like you doing things you can't imagine you'd ever have the courage to pull off?

Yes, I'm still watching the dawn and thinking about you, about all the ways we're different, but in one very important way, we're the same: If push came to shove, I believe in our ability to get fed up with being pushed around and step aside to let the inner Hero save the day.

So to all of you Everyday Heroes, I say this: Thank you so much for letting me see your faces and hear your words. If there's anything I can do to get you more involved in telling your story, let me know.