Wednesday, April 13, 2011

And now for something completely different...

Now that the semester is winding to a close, I’m finally able to get back to reading through submissions for Echo Ink. The past few months have been crazy (surgery, finishing my master’s project, kids, kids, kids…you get the idea) and I haven’t had enough time to devote to reading your submissions. For that, I am truly sorry. I’m a writer first and I know what it is to wait to hear back on submissions. Not. Fun.

Anyway, I want to do two things with today’s post. Bear with me, they are connected. First, I want to tell you what type of short story I DON’T want to see. Then, I’m going to tie that into a brief review of Stephen Leigh’s, The Woods. Remember a few posts back when I mentioned Steve’s adventures in self publishing? Well, here’s the follow up!

So, this morning I read through several short stories for EIR. They were good. Well written. No big grammar, spelling or tense issues. But I’m going to pass on all of them. Why? Because there wasn’t anything at stake for the main characters. For some reason, everything I read this morning centered around teen angst. You know what I’m talking about. A Miserable Teen who’s parents don’t understand him/her. Blah.

Maybe it’s because I have my own Miserable Teen right now, but really haven’t we all read this story before? If you’re going to write about teen angst, make sure you have a unique perspective. Don’t just jot down a slice of life where we see a teenager moping around and his/her parents ignoring their pain.

I’m not sure why this story line is big right now. Maybe it’s due to the popularity of YA literature. Maybe it’s something else. Whatever it is, it really doesn’t matter. Unless your story presents a different perspective on the whole Teen Angst thing, put it on the shelf and come back to it in a few years when you can make it unique.

Of course, what I’m saying here flies in the face of traditional publishing. What I’m saying is send me a story that doesn’t fit neatly in a traditional category. Sort of like Steve Leigh’s, The Woods. (You see what I did there? You thought I couldn’t tie the things together didn’t you? Cool, huh?)

Simply put, The Woods doesn’t fit. That’s why Steve self published it. His publisher didn’t know where to put it. After reading the book, I can see why. The main character is a teen boy (yet his adult self narrates the story). The book itself is about those in-between places. Between childhood and adulthood. Reality and Fantasy. There are some delightfully creepy scenes in the book. (My favorite involve a dead dachshund named, Kitty, Kitty.) Yet, in spite of the creepiness & fantasy, The Woods is also a coming of age story. Sort of The Body (movie title: Stand by Me) meets Bridge to Terabithia. Sort of.

I loved it because it didn’t fit. Because it was different. Recently, I read an article about Laurell K. Hamilton and why her books were successful. In the article, the author said it was because at the time, Hamilton did something no other writer in fantasy was doing. She created a strong female character who grapples with real life issues in addition to hunting vampires, etc. Hamilton reached a new group of readers this way. Women who grew up reading fantasy but who turned to other genres when fantasy didn’t seem relevant to their lives.

The Woods does the same thing—not with female vampire hunters, but with breaking the mold.

Thinking about this and Steve’s novel and the short story submissions I read has me wondering if publishers aren’t missing the boat. I grew up reading fantasy, yet as an adult, I’ve turned to genres that feel more relevant to my life. I want more stories like Steve’s. More stories that step outside of the “traditional” publishing boxes. I think we’re leaving an entire generation of readers behind when our writing doesn’t evolve as we mature. Let’s look outside of the box and create something new. Who knows what we’ll find.

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