So, is that an oxymoron, or what?
A (very) brief conversation broke out in the comments here recently, which basically wound up with me opining that this writing gig really doesn't pay well enough for anybody to write books they don't like to try to make a living at it. And I stand by that.
You see, the thing is, I am a commercial artist. I prefer to think that the emphasis is on artist, but then again, this is the way I make my living. And I do that by pleasing readers, which means I have to be aware of the impact, both positive and negative, that my books have on people. I write to communicate; I write to tell stories; I write because I love to be read.
Which means that writing for the trunk, or for myself, is pointless for me. Which is why I consider accessibility to be a literary value, as I've said here and there.
But it's also pointless for me to write stories strictly for their commercial value. I could make more money as an office manager, in that case, and have a hell of a lot more time to watch TV. So there's that issue too, and tied up in it is the issue that I write stories because something is bugging me and it won't go away.
The problem is that sometimes the thing that's bugging me is something that maybe isn't all that commercially viable. And I don't get a choice about taking it out of the story. It's not even artistic integrity, really; it's artistic incapacity. We can only write the stories we get, and my stories grow out of an irritation like a pearl around a grain of sand. Without the grain of sand, you don't get the pearl to begin with, andif you try to take it out later, you get gouge marks all over a hollow bit of nacre.
I dunno. This is something I'm going to have to deal with one of these years, because it's the sort of problem that could tank a career. Because the books have to, as they say, stay commercial enough to sell, and to reach readers--but they also need to have the things that satisfy me--what Akira Kurosawa described, if I recall correctly, as the artist's refusal to look away--or I might as well go find a real job.
And then there's the other thing. I think, as an artist, commercial or otherwise, one can't ever afford to stop caring about one's work, or what one's left with is
appreciably hollow. If the passion goes out of it, what then? There's a certain pressure, of course, to be as commercial as possible; it's not limited to publishing industry professionals. You see it in amateur and semipro workshops too--people wield phrases like "Editors don't like first-person narratives" or "This is too weird to sell" as whips.
And on one level, that's foolishness. If you write like everybody else, nobody's going to be interested in your work. Because, as stwish
once wrote, "You know that you're one in a million / but this city got a dozen more like you." A voice and some cool innovative ideas are good things to have. That mysterious thing they call "freshness."
On another level, that stuff that is a little weird, or cross-genre, or boundary-pushing? It is a bit harder to sell. It's riskier.
So, what do you do?
You pays your money and you takes your chances.
Of course, my agent tells me I'm more commercial than I think I am. Which is a good thing, I guess, because I'm maybe a bit too addicted to undermining tropes.
It's a challenging line to walk, I tell you what. And boy would I love to figure out how the heck I could conceal my real intentions under a surface of exceeding commercial slickness, with cool shinies and whizz bangs, because I would love not to have to worry about the price of heating oil. I'm working on this trick; I figure Mark Twain can't be that
much smarter than me, can he?
I foresee a long ongoing border skirmish between me and the market forces of commercial fantasy, anyway, no matter what else the future holds.