My review of Richard Russo’s “That Old Cape Magic” is live at Popmatters.
“…there’s fucking truth in here.”
Though the above emphatic compliment appears in, and not about, Richard Russo’s That Old Cape Magic, it is applicable. Beneath the rolling surface of Russo’s seventh novel, truths push and pull and threaten to drag one under. Like sea glass they wait for discovery. Some truths are hard, some are a bit worn to the point of cliché (though still pleasing to look at), and some are funny despite sharp edges. That they are lovely and polished and glimmer just beneath the surface is a testament to Russo’s gifts as a storyteller.
Guy LeCharles Gonzalez posted this charming video at his website, using it to illustrate how independent bookstores might approach competing with the big guns (B&N, Amazon). Depth, not breadth is the key, he argues. I think he’s right.
But I wanted to share the video for a different reason. As I watched it I found it amazingly inspirational in an artistic way. John Nese, proprietor of Galcos Soda Pop Stop in Los Angeles, is an artist, a creator. His medium is soda, and he works the medium like no one else. While Guy LeCharles Gonzalez sees a lesson for the bookstores, I see one for the writers.
Mr. Nese doesn’t sell sodas from around the world because market testing showed it was a hot property. Mr. Nese doesn’t know every bubble of every bottle because it’s what other soda sellers are doing. Mr. Nese doesn’t reveal the depth of his knowledge–bottler histories, processes, ingredients–because it’s what he read he should be doing on a blog, or in a book, magazine or highway billboard. Mr. Nese does those things because it’s where his passion lies. He loves soda. He enjoys it, and he also, clearly, enjoys people. Watch that video and tell me you wouldn’t enjoy having a root beer with him. I’d love to, and I’d love for him to pick the brand.
How does this apply to writers?
Write what you love.
Forget write what you know, because if you’re like me you don’t know much and you write to figure it out. Write where your passion lies. Don’t worry about what’s selling today. By the time you finish your book the current hot trend will be over and done, buried, and you’ll have missed it. Don’t worry about what’s not selling today. By the time you finish your book you’ll have written at the start of a new cycle, you’ll be at the head of the line for the new, never-before-seen, must-have-book trend. Don’t worry about what sort of sales figures you see in a given genre. What, you’re not going to write offbeat literary, even though it’s all you read, even though it’s how you think, even though you write it in your sleep, because it’s numbers are lower than sci-fi/fantasy? Guess what: if you write to a market because it’s hot, if you write something to sell it instead of to tell a story and to figure out how you feel/think/live, if you write something because you saw something just like it sitting for 20 weeks atop the best-seller list (why are you looking at those lists, anyway), then your writing is going to seem thin, and pale and sickly. Agents will see it, and they won’t want to represent it. Editors will see it, and won’t want to support it. And should you, by some miracle, get published writing something for the money instead of for the love you will be operating in a world that is false to you, because it will be work, not passion. And that’s when you’ll stumble, and that’s when the publishers will walk away, because you’re not repeating your first book, and you’ll be standing at the side of the road wondering how you got there.
I encourage you to make whatever you want. Just make it because you want to make it, because you love it. Make it because you have to make it or you won’t be you.