I recently read the latest novel, The Whites, by Harry Brandt, aka Richard Price. While the story was engaging, and the personalities presented were Richard Price’s writing, it didn’t have the full flavor of a Richard Price novel. In fact, he wrote it under the pen name, but later decided to include his name.
Anyone who has read a Richard Price novel (The Wanderers, Clockers, The Lush Life) knows that his character development and setting are intricately detailed. A two day period can take 600 pages. It’s real writing, in depth writing, the type of writing that a movie can never do justice. Most of his novels turned movies have seen only moderate success.
What’s the point you ask? His latest novel conforms to publisher’s standards of today. I would guess that he put a pen name on it because he knew he had to write to someone else’s defined standards―possibly sub-standard by his own measures― in order to meet the publisher’s, and perhaps the current market conditions.
Today we live in a world of writing contests where we pay to write a story in one sentence, or six words, or ten words, or 350 words and then we are reminded of the famous Hemingway story “For Sale baby shoes, never worn” to seemingly justify that we should be able to tell a great story in one sentence.
It seems a complete story must now be something we can tweet or text. On the rare occasion I watch television, I see about 5 minutes of 30 second scenes followed by 10 minutes of 30 second ads. The scenes seem to be getting shorter, as if they fear we may change channels if our mind doesn’t’ see a flash, or a change of scenery.
But this about literature and stories like Moby Dick, and Lord Jim, and contemporary novels like The Bonfire of the Vanities and Clockers. Stories that challenge your beliefs as to what is right and wrong and moral and immoral, and who should pay for what. I’m talking about the stories that were written by an author with some balls―one that didn’t give a rat’s ass about market realities, agents, and publishers. I want a journey damn it. I want my disappointment to come when the story is over, and I have to wrench myself back into reality and accept that this world I was in was not real. I want to scratch my head for weeks while I try to decide why I liked the asshole in the story, and tell myself I’d rather hate him for what he did, but I just can’t.
Plastered all over the internet on writing web sites, blogs, and “How to” books are the rules to get published. 90 to a 100 thousand words, one to three points of view, conflict, short scenes and most importantly action on every other page. A simple plot with a couple twists and turns, but action, and more action, and there you have it, a story. I really wonder sometimes how the market took this turn away from creative literature.
Have the web sites with pop-up ads, and videos and stars floating out at us changed our media needs, or is it perhaps the desire to cram as many rapid advertisements as possible into the twelve minutes of the thirty minute television program that go to ads? Or worse yet, is it the agent’s paranoia that they will bring a story to a publisher that doesn’t fit the formula? Or perhaps, it’s the publishers who can count exactly how many dollars they will turn before they publish Miley Cyrus’s memoirs, or start ghost writing the President’s memoirs and taking pre-orders before he leaves office, or maybe shelf space is too expensive. I don’t know, but if you do please tell me. I’m afraid we may be letting publishing costs and publishers profits define how we write.
We must not let publishers define what we as authors write regardless of whether we get published or not. How can I say it? If you’re an author and you’re a guy grow some balls. If you’re a gal let your inner bitch out. Forget the formulas, forget the agents, and the publishers, Writer’s Digest and write a f—-‘ing real novel. If nobody buys it, I’ll pay for postage and handling just so I can read it. It better be good though.