Saturday, April 2, 2011

Go write this

I can't remember if I made this up, or if Nicholas Sparks already did.   I am pretty sure I stole the idea from The Notebook, so I would have to change the Alzheimer's angle to something else, like a stroke or Parkinson's.  I also think I stole this idea from Nora Ephron's weirdly popular Heartburn,  into which she wove recipes, long before that became a "thing."  Or anyone had the money to travel around the world eating and praying and Tuscany-ing.

If you want to turn me off of a movie, put "bride" or "wedding" in the title.  Turn me off of a book by putting anything foodie in the title.

But I remember being at a reading.... somewhere... I can picture the room, but I don't know where it was who who I am with.  If you were there, don't be hurt.  Maybe it is my memory that is going.  But the idea I had, listening to this reading of foodie books by foodie people (starting to narrow down how I might have happened to be there) was of a character who has Alzheimer's (or some other reason for not being able to communicate) and what opens her "window" is looking at her old recipe pages.  Her daughters (or granddaughters or whatever) realize that the ones with the most food stains are the ones she used the most, so they will have the most memories.  Then it turns into 1001 Nights.  Or The English Patient.  Or How to Make an American Quilt.  I am starting to also remember why I didn't write  it.

When I was in grad school, I spent some time trying to figure out what "sold."  It seemed like there was plenty of money to be made --  if one could figure out the formula.  I went to a lot of readings (a. they are free, and b. I lived in Boston, so c. they were everywhere) I read a lot of first novels, and I actually tried to pay attention to the Lists and the Revenues.

This memory drove me just now to pull an NYT list from 1989, just to see what it was.   I chose April 16, and am fascinated to see it is a true microcosm of what sells, none of it I have ever been able to figure out how to write, and general can't stand to read.
1 controversial global must-read book club contender
1 same, but less risky
2 pot-boiler franchises
1 hot new sensation - in this case, it was Amy Tan
1 old-school literary mainstay
1 edgy alt-lit of limited, but devoted followers
2 mystery/murder/mayhem
2 grand dames of modern womyn's perspective
1 short story collection from a guy on the radio
2 ill-fated  romances
1 espionage

May I also point out that The Non-Fiction #1 that week was Everything I Needed to Know....  When you start romanticizing American culture as one that used to be well-read, you can prove yourself wrong pretty quickly.

List of people who might be syndicates.  Add Jodi Picoult.

The perfectly engineered best-seller today might involve an autistic pathologist/medical examiner, who solves horrific sexual murders by day and belongs to a secret religious society/vampire coven by night.  And he has an adorable golden retriever puppy he brought back with him from his tour in Khandahar.

This is today's hardcover fiction list.  The NYT has so many lists now, you can hardly trust the numbers.  They've turned into the Grammys.
1 controversial global must-read book club contender
1 for mainstream ladies bookclubs
4  mystery/murder/mayhem
2 espionage
1 grand dame of modern women's perspective, who also has the fortune of being the Picoult factory
1 wartime operations
1 pot-boiler franchise which is also known for its murder and mayhem
1 ill-fated romance, against a backdrop of murder and mayhem
1 fictionalized account of a literary mainstay
1 fantasy/lost manuscript DaVinci type affair
1 fan-lit of limited, but devoted followers

Its plot is, true story, and emphasis mine...
The second novel set in the Old Republic era and based on the “Star Wars” videogame from BioWare and LucasArts.

David Foster Wallace (which at least 1 website thinks I write like) is about to have a posthumous novel.
Which just proves the first theorem in the formula for success at writing.  You have to actually do it.  And probably read more fiction.


  1. I used to read James Patterson but since he has added collabrotive authors to the by-line, I believe he, too, might be a syndicate. M

  2. And I can only read one Jodi Picoult a year. While they are well written, they tend to be depressing by the time you get to the end. Give me a good old mystery or mystery/love story and I'm good. M


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