Call it a Ken-ism, but I think it’s a philosophy that can work. Granted, it hasn’t worked, yet, but it helps me stay true to what drives me while thinking of things that might actually sell.
It’s not even my own philosophy. I stole it from somewhere, I’m sure.
First: your money-maker.
Second: your art.
I’ve been following this pretty well for a while.
A couple of years ago, I wrote No More Blue Roses: a Ken book with Ken characters, vile people doing funny things. It was a return to form for me, very “old skool”. Too bad nobody liked it.
I followed that up with Love of Your Life: an honest to God, sincerely told love story. It was my attempt at something new and commercial. Vicky gave it to one of her friend’s reading groups and they later chased me down with pitchforks, because they’re never going to get those hours of their lives back again. Then, when Blanche told me it was the best thing of mine she’d ever read… I was conflicted. Vicky hasn’t read it, yet, but my faith in it has kinda sank.
When I lost my job at IMC, I decided to write something different and completely non-commercial. This was the book on success, Climbing Maya. So far, everyone who reads it… wait, everyone who finishes it, loves it. (Jenn’s been choking it down at an achingly slow pace so I don’t dare guess what she thinks.) I never thought it would sell and I haven’t been disappointed.
I followed that up with my zombie book. Vicky read most of that in one sitting so I guessing it’s as commercial as I figured.
Next, came my fable for adults, Daughter of a One-Armed Man. It is decidedly not commercial. Nobody’s read that one, yet. In fact, I haven’t had a chance to work on the rewrites. (This summer, maybe?)
Then, I started the book I’m writing now, my “serial killer marries into a family of psychos worse than him” book. Very commercial horror/thriller… and I’m almost done. I hit 53,000 words today and I’m aiming short: somewhere between 70-75,000. I’m heading into the final scenes and getting ready to start thinking about what comes next.
What I thought was going to come next was going to be another big departure for me, a globe-trotting spy adventure about a kidnapped model and the nerd who stalks her. (Think Jerry Lewis meets Charlie’s Angels.) It’s a comedy adventure, then, and very commercial. But… here’s the thing, the book I’m writing now is commercial. It’s time to take a break and write something I will enjoy.
The important part about writing what you love and not just what you think will sell is simple: nobody knows what will sell. You can take a wild guess but, in the end, nobody – not even the experts – really knows. So, you have to balance intuition with the artist within; at least, I think so. Not only does it keep my work diverse, it does something far more important as well. I realized this when I saw some of my brother’s recent video work. He’s gotten into making travel videos and, watching his last one, it was more polished, more professional than anything that came before – and it made me think, “I hope he’s not doing this just to make money.”
You see, it’s easy to make money if you just want to make money, but that is not why we create art. Sure, the money is nice, too. But we become writers and artists and film-makers because of a need that is inside of us, that money can’t touch. You're doing something that you love, passionately. That’s why it’s so important to think of yourself on occasion and create something that is important to you.
So, what comes next? This commercial horror novel gave me the idea – the horror novel is dead. It can’t scare us any more. Swear to Dog. You know why? Because we have created a world that is far scarier on a variety of levels. Serial killers are a joke when compared to the wars we wage. Unstoppable slashers are nothing compared to terrorists. Zombies pale in comparison to our toxic diet. Vampires are nothing against a determined gang. Killer diseases are real. And global warming is the card that trumps them all. The things we do to each other in real life are scarier by far than anything we can imagine.
And, as I mentioned, this book gave me the idea. After all, the serial killer is the good guy – the good guy! My friend, Rob, was offended by that notion but then I asked, “Who’s worse? Someone who kills a few dozen or Dick Cheney, who has killed, tortured, maimed, and wounded thousands upon thousands?” The scope is inescapably huge. Humanity is fucking scary.
You might say that’s pessimistic. After all, Climbing Maya defined success and proved how it is possible. Daughter of a One-Armed Man showed that human beings really are capable of love. Something’s got to balance that. So, there you are – my “fuck you” to the world. And, honestly, it’s been a long time coming.