Sunday, July 08, 2007

More Fuel for the Genre Fire

If you like debating genres, you will love this. We decided to add a bit more to the thriller/suspense/horror/etc. post by going beyond the definitions of genre and posing the question about who has and who does define genres over the years—readers or publishers? More importantly, who should?

We decided to do this because Sharene ran across an article in one of our must-read magazines in keeping up with publishing—Smithsonian. Oh, laugh if you will, but we have found more valuable information in magazines that are not dedicated to publishing or writing in any way than we have in those devoted to the industry and craft. Smithsonian is just one of those (PC World is another). In the June 2007 print issue, Sharene came across an article titled Presence of Mind: Risks and Riddles by Gregory F. Treverton, director of the RAND Corporation's Center for Global Risk and Security.

While there are many issues discussed in the article, what stuck out to us is that the author tries to define from a sociological perspective what a puzzle is and what a mystery is. The author’s premise is that a puzzle can be solved because it has an answer (like the Cold War Soviet Union), but a mystery cannot be answered in a definitive way because the solution depends on variable factors that may be known or unknown (like Al Qaeda, for example). If you translate that into publishing terms, then the sociological equivalent of a mystery is a puzzle, and the sociological equivalent of a thriller/suspense is a mystery.

Chew on that for a while…

If we go by the definitions in the article, then we can conclude that a mystery is not to be solved, only a puzzle is (a whodunit?). Did they ever find Jack the Ripper? Did the scenarios that Poe painted in his work have a solution, or were they only mysteries meant to haunt us?

The question that faces writers has recently been, is it a mystery or is it suspense? Because the lines between the two have blurred so much, it is difficult to really know. However, if we look at how people think about the two different concepts, then maybe that will help. After all, publishing is people and people drive publishing…

Don’t they?

One last thought: How do you as a writer perceive publishing? Is it a mystery to be framed, as the article suggests, or is it a puzzle to be solved? The answer may be the key to your success.


Bernita said...

To me, publishing is a puzzle to a certain point - then it becomes a mystery.

Audrey said...

Publishing is a puzzle, there is always an answer. The mystery is finding the answer! :)

You have a book and SOMEONE will want to read it. The task is to navigate that journey until you find that answer, but which road you take to reach your destination will be unknown until you travel it. The road following that will be decided upon your first road.


Red Pen Pal said...

Did Somebody Say "Poe"

I love this whole puzzle/mystery conundrum, went and read the article from the Smithsonian, thanks for the link.

Got out my old (1903) copy of Vol. II of a Poe collected works - have been reading a few stories here and there - delicious indulgence. Also it is kind of fun (in a punk/goth way) to use black electrical tape on a falling-apart copy of Poe. Tantalizing thought: Did Al Gore invent the Internet? No, Edgar Allen Poe did! [Note to self: Elaborate into mini-essay, and send out on postcards for Halloween.]

Most unfortunately, I am in the midst of my "abbreviated work week" (just about a full-time job in 3 days, sure why not? How else can I find time to write?) and can't jump with both feet into the genre fire just yet.

Genrefically Yours, (and atrociously bored at the moment, can a moment last a whole 72 hours? Apparently so...bummer)

Red Pen Pal

Wylie Merrick Literary said...

Always a pleasure, Red Pen Pal!

I know this won't set well with the Mystery Writers of America, but did Poe write mysteries or suspense?

Red Pen Pal said...

Rain on the Genre Fire

1:30 a.m. - I have been reading more Poe - definitely, in my opinion, a writer of mysteries, and not suspense. Have I got the energy at the moment to back up my opinion? Nope.

Any energy to vote democrat versus republican, er, mystery versus puzzle, re: The publishing industry? No, no way, not at the moment!

Sometimes writing a novel is like painting a house, not caring about the drips or the mess. Just slap some paint on (get the story down on paper).

Other times it's like repair of an antique pocket watch, something a Venetian doge might have carried, exquisite interior workings you hesitate to breath on, much less touch, much less take apart.

Not so much self-flattery, as that wall of self-doubt: I don't know what I'm doing. That still, small voice inside that says: Don't do it, because you can't do it.

Then you plunge in anyway with your revisions, even on day when you had to work a "day job," because you want to see how your own chapter turns out, more than you want to be a bucket of water on your own campfire - everyone standing around with marshmallows on sticks, and giving you dirty looks (except you just threw water on the campfire, so you can't see anyone's face).

The pretty image of a flower placed in a gun barrel, from the 1960s - perhaps a marshmallow pressed onto the tip of a sword, in the 1660s (when WERE marshmallows invented, I wonder? That's something Ophelia could have done, in the midst of Shakespeare's same-old, same-old sword play).

A perhaps "unapprovable" post from a very tired and off topic:

Red Pen Pal

Williebee said...

Outstanding post, my thanks.

Publishing is a puzzle that contains puzzles of its own. Each potential publisher/agent is one of those puzzles. What do they want? How do they want it? And, when? Some are obvious, some not so much.

As near as I can tell, the difference between being an author and being a published author comes down to how much you want it... how long you are willing to work on solving the puzzles.


Red Pen Pal said...

Re: Northwest Ohio Writer's Conference

I have a ridiculous question, so, I will just go ahead and ask it:

I am interested in participating in the "critique" portion of the conference. But - I would prefer (from the financial standpoint) to get my "15 minutes of critique" in the form of an email...the conference is $99 + $30 for the critique = $129 - if I could avoid the gas + lodging expenses, that would help a lot!

I'm mostly interested in an agent's perspective on the "genre question," in the context of first 20 pages + 1-page synopsis. That is, if I submit it in the "breakout literary mainstream" category, someone can give me their opinion why, yes, that IS the proper genre for it; or no, it's NOT, and here's my opinion why.

Tight-budget blues -

Red Pen Pal

Wylie Merrick Literary said...

Red Pen Pal--Please contact Robert via email about your latest post. For verification purposes, please insert your latest comment post in the body of your email. For Robert’s address, see Thanks!

whimper1823 said...

I think to go even deeper, if we as writers believe the publishing industry to be a mystery and by using the given definition, than we would never understand it. We would never be able to grasp the concept of what they are looking for, what do I need to write in order for some one to want to buy it and in the end, we would succumb to the most prominent in any writer's emotional arsenal, frustration.

I think it is a puzzle because even though we don't have a clue as to what the all to do's want or need, we can only speculate and write. I think a good writer is one who writes for him/herself first and the possibility of publishing second. I think most writers would agree they are their worst critics. Something that mabye sitting on some ones desk top labeled as pure crap might be the very thing the publisher is so desperately seeking.

As far as a Puzzle Vs. Mystery, they are one in the same. They are to the extent of each other, but there is just a few pieces missing. For example a Jig saw puzzle becomes a mystery if any one of the pieces are chewed on by a younger brother who slobbers all over it, deforming it, chewing it until it becomes piece meal and after staring at it one last time in a clenched baby fist, it is discarded as the last known piece. Where is it, don't know. Will the piece ever turn up, probably not.