Got and finished 1636: The Saxon Uprising by Eric Flint yesterday. Usually Flint has cute, quaint little lines but in this book he actually laid down a few that made me laugh out loud. They reminded me why I picked up 1632… damn, almost ten years ago now. It’s the longest series I’ve followed (excluding that abortion that the Dark Tower series turned into after King’s accident) and it makes me wonder if any of today’s authors will stand the test of time like Asimov and H.G. Wells did.
If forced into a corner, I’d say King would stand the test of time, Crichton, and J.K. Rowling. I’m not sure about many others, simply because not many books in certain genres have staying power like they used to. King made horror mainstream, and he’ll always be remembered before someone like Koontz (even though I prefer Koontz to King). Crichton was just prolific and seemed to have his finger in every single pie in existence (I’m certain someone’s going to find a Crichton novel featuring cyborgs lovers set in a Harlequin romance novel, and a western novel featuring aliens and cowboys — oh, never mind), while Rowling, though she’s “only” written eight books (well, seven and a half), has probably outsold every single writer in history (and is probably giving Paul of the Bible a run for his money) and has shaped an entire generation with her magical world. I mean, it’s petty and stupid, but compare Rowling to Le Guin. Most “older” readers (i.e., readers of traditional fantasy and science fiction, not gram and pappy) will know who Le Guin is, and will think she is a better writer. However, walk down the street sometime in a city. Ask random strangers who they prefer, Le Guin or Rowling. Most likely, there will be very few people who know who Le Guin is, even though her Earthsea series is on television. Or, better still, ask them to name a Le Guin character and a Rowling character.
As horrible as this is going to sound, it’s not about how “literate” your writing is, but how “entertaining” it can be. I’m going to be crucified for saying this, but I don’t want to be known for being a very literature-oriented writer. I want to be a highly entertaining one, which in today’s society (and perhaps more so in the future) means I need to write fast paced, great stories that will keep the reader hooked. Drawn out plots, slow moving stories and so on will only serve to separate younger readers (the fabled under 30 crowd) from enjoying a novel. This might not be important now, but those same people are going to have kids. What are they going to read their kids? Le Guin or Rowling?
What have you read to your kids? Le Guin or Rowling? Who do you think your kids will be reading to their kids?
This is where knowing your potential market comes in handy. Not only this market, but the market ten years from now. I mean, in 2001, could you imagine that sparkly vampires would rule the bookshelves? Did you see the rise of ebooks (well, I know some people did, but they were in the small minority) and eReaders? Now think of how it’s all going to look ten years from now. Will there be a backlash against the rising urban fantasy literati? Will vampires be replaced fully by some new creature of the night (my money’s on a succubus or incubus, FYI)?
A writer must know their audience. Not only that, but they have to keep it fresh while knowing said audience. Played out scenarios, the same story over and over again (I’m looking at you, Honor Harrington), and nothing new or edgy will eventually cause a backlash against your beloved creation. But then there’s that line between writing for your fans and writing for your audience. That scary, scary line that you must not cross. Yes, believe it or not, there is a difference. But that’s a discussion for another day.
Today’s question is simple: how do you stand the test of time?
Oh, and I’ll be out of town (again) until Monday. Have a fun weekend.