Should you write the type of story that’s popular among the masses or whatever you feel, something that (just) might get published? It’s possible, of course. Neil Gaiman made a living writing strange tales of magic, monsters and ordinary people accomplishing amazing things. Caitlin Kiernan’s The Drowning Girl was all over the place with its schizophrenic protagonist, talking about the suicide forest in Japan, Red Riding Hood and mermaids, but someone thought it was cool and sent it to the printers. I could get my magic realism-slash-mystery novel out there, sure… in time.
I’m not saying it’s a hopeless cause, but the odds of breaking sales records like J.K. Rowling did with Harry Potter or George R.R. Martin with A Song of Fire and Ice, a.k.a. Game of Thrones, are so slim. Beyond slim. The slim line is a dot to most of us. That begs the question, should a person who loves fantasy, ghost stories and fairy tales comply with trends? Does it make you a sell-out? For a while now, zombies, various apocalypse scenarios, dystopias like the Hunger Games and and a fair amount of vampire stories have been all the rage. Another genre that’s popular – which has always been popular to a degree – is crime. Detective stories. Mysteries. Sherlock Holmes. Mix in some spies in there, like with that fun British TV show Foyle’s War, and you’re golden, right?
Let’s be clear, I didn’t become a writer to be rich. A couple bucks would be nice, but in terms of finances, I don’t have high hopes. However, to get a book published and read by many people – to be publicly recognized as a writer – that’s the dream. Then if I could spend my days writing books and short stories for a living, I would be a unbelievably happy woman.
Someone told me recently that one way to get there sooner is to write a crime novel, because that’s what most people like. That someone was my dad; he’s not much a reader to begin with, but he and my mom have read books by Henning Mankell, Stieg Larsson and many other Swedish crime writers. Over the years I’ve been repeatedly told that “oh, many Swedish authors write incredible criminal fiction, oh the murders and the psychos,” and people seem to expect me to write about another girl with a dragon tattoo. Apparently, murder is the road to success.
I suppose the reason I haven’t dabbled with crime stories lately is because I got this inexplicable impulse to do the opposite of what most people are doing, or expecting. Besides magic, I’ve written some historical fiction and short stories where the main character with mental illness. In regards to the latter, I believe it’s something that needs to be discussed more. Mental illness causes more problems than murderers if you ask me, especially here in the States, where they clearly have no clue whatsoever on how to handle the crazy, the depressed and the mentally challenged. Overall it’s a complex issue without an easy, singular solution, so it feels only natural for me to play it out in a fictional world.
Abiding by my dad’s advice, I started working on a crime story today. Not to win a popularity contest or get rich or live up to my Scandinavian heritage. I will never stop writing about magic. That would be possible only if a Dementor sucked the soul out of me. No, I’m doing it to get out of my comfort zone. Don’t worry about the novel I talked about last week; it’s still in the works. This crime novella is something for me to do whenever I need to take my mind off the bigger book.
I want to know if I can write something short and sweet, something mysterious and intriguing; I want to see if I can pull myself away from that world I’ve kept building in the last two years; I want to create a character “from scratch.” I can’t remember the last time I had a blank canvas in my mind’s eye so the idea of starting something new is actually pretty exciting.
And trust me, I won’t bar any queer characters just because I experimenting with a different genre.