Squawk Radio

Saturday, June 24, 2006

WRITING WRONG: JENNIE KLASSEL, AUTHOR OF IT HAPPENED IN SOUTH BEACH, OUTS HERSELF

I confess, I confess! I’ve been in the “show” for five years now, and I’m still as green as a newbie when she gets The Call. Perhaps if I confess my shortcomings before this distinguished audience, I can find peace and closure, and get on with my writing life.

Let’s begin before I lose my nerve.

For starters, I write backwards. I don’t mean I write the ending of the story, where everything is neatly tied up, and make my way back to the beginning, the upshot of which is that my editor shoots me an e-mail saying that she can’t make heads or tails out of any of it. Oh no, it’s far worse than that. I come up with a title first. A title will pop into my head, and then I have to think up a story to go with it. There’s not a craft seminar at a romance conference anywhere in the known universe that would condone this approach, which leads me to my next sin of Writing Wrong.

My heart doesn’t have a book. I’m supposed to write books of my heart, and I try, really I do, but they always come out of my fingers. I rest my fingers on their proper keys, and they skip and scramble left, right, up and down, pausing often to stab the delete button. The rest of me might just as well be out in the garden trimming the roses. Unfortunately, my fingers and I are attached at the wrist, so I’m stuck in the stupid chair for hours as my tush creeps sludge-like over the cushion, and I pray for the little ping that announces incoming mail to save me from myself.

So, my fingers are all revved up for the story, and it’s time for me to select a genre. Here is where the road to madness begins. I discover to my horror that genres have been madly reproducing since my last contract, and new little sub-genres are toddling around in search of those six or seven special sub-genres so that together they can create one gigantic, mutant Mega-Genre that could very well wipe out the romance industry altogether. A dismaying scenario, I’m sure you will agree.

I know what I have to do. Choose a genre that “speaks” to me. Kevin Costner riding across the prairie buck-naked certainly speaks to me, but no, Western romances aren’t selling. Western romances have never sold. Western romances will never sell. If no other romance genre existed, Western romances would not sell. Everyone knows that.


And then there’s the problem of the publication date. Say, I choose to write a Western against the earnest advice of every writer, agent, and editor in the business. What do they know, anyhow? My fingers dutifully pound out an exhilarating saga set in the 1860s about a family of bank robbers in Abilene. My editor is not amused. Perhaps if I add some other element (read “genre”) she might take another look. I like to think I’m a cooperative person; I’ll concede and throw in a paranormal element. My fingers race over the keys, and a family of bank-robbing vampires takes the stage. My editor buys the book, a production slot frees up, and my career staggers on.

But wait! By the time the book hits the shelves a year later, banks in Abilene are being cleaned out by fourteenth-century Scottish knights taking a time-travel detour on the way to rid the Holy Land of a plague of vampire-eating aliens. I get one star in Romantic Times, my editor resigns, an eerie silence envelops friends and colleagues. The ping of the e-mail alert is not heard in the land. I am, for the moment, an embarrassment, an object of pity, the writer who Wrote Wrong and got precisely what she deserved.

One last Writing Wrong, and I’ll have most everything off my chest.

I can’t hear my own “voice.” I know I have one because other people hear it. Would I throw myself off a cliff if I could hear it, as I almost did the first (and last) time I heard what I sound like on the telephone?

To sum up, if I’m not writing from my heart, if I don’t write stories that speak to me, if I let my fingers do the writing, if I’m deaf to my own voice, what in the name of all that’s holy am I doing with my life?

Writing Wrong, that’s what, and loving it. And since I Write Wrong according to the rules and perceived wisdom, but I somehow managed to get four books into print, then I guess I must be Writing Right as far as my readers are concerned.

I bet most writers indulge in Writing Wrong, but they’re smart enough to keep it to themselves. They might fool their colleagues, they might fool their agents and editors on occasion, but you can be sure the one group they can never fool is their readers.

Perhaps other writers will come out of the closet and share their Writing Wrongs with us? Writers and readers are a forgiving lot.

Readers, does the current genre-bending craze (sorry, I couldn’t resist) affect what you buy? Does the title of your favorite author’s latest release -- for example, SLUT WEREWOLVES FROM THE DELTA SECTOR DO MANHATTAN -- send you stomping out of Barnes & Noble in a snit? I’d really like to know (it’s part of my therapy), so pop on over to my web site at www.jennieklassel.com, enter the title contest, and you could win some cool stuff.

Thanks, Teresa. I feel ever so much better now!
Teresa Medeiros, 12:11 PM
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