Friday, December 28, 2007

The Year of Writing Dangerously

One unexpected Christmas gift I received this year was from a SF writer friend, who sent me the first two seasons of Battlestar Galactica, the updated series (technically it was a swap; I sent him my P.D. James/BBC movie collection. The idea was to give each other something we loved that we knew the other person hadn't watched.)

I admit, I had serious reservations on my end, but he convinced me to give it a go. I think my hesitancy came from remembering what I didn't like about the original series with Lorne Greene. Back then the Cylons were pretty cool, but the rest of it was very family-oriented, made-for-TV stuff.

Not so with the updated BG series. It's probably, no, it is the best SF I've seen since the Sci-Fi channel updated The Children of Dune. I rarely recommend watching anything on TV because I think too much of it rots your brain, but this series is actually worth the potential cell damage.

Whoever took on Battlestar Galactica and decided to update it did some dangerous things. Starbuck is now played by a woman, Katee Sackoff, who blows the lid off the role in just about every episode. Richard Hatch, the original Apollo from the old series, now plays a cagey criminal dissident. Adama is played by the not-very-pretty Edward James Olmos (who is beyond brilliant, btw.) Even the Cylons, who were the ultimate tin-can villains of TV back in the eighties, have been updated in a very scary way. The most audacious change is the storytelling, which is no longer humans-good Cylons-bad black and white. You see the fairy dust and the warts on both sides, in all the shades of gray you can imagine.

A few of you writers out there have been pursuing publication or have worked in the biz as long if not longer than I have. I was shocked the first time someone referred to me as "being around forever" -- how is ten years forever? -- but in the released-today remaindered-tomorrow world of publishing, I guess I have been.

We dusty old-timers may not be as glam or exciting as the latest flavor of the month, but we do gain an advantage. We are around long enough to see how the industry adapts, shifts and changes, both in the short-term and long-term. Those of us who survive what my friend Holly Lisle calls "the three-book death spiral" do so only because we adapt, shift and change with it.

I do have one more resolution for 2008, other than that list of things I'm not going to do. Along with the work I have already sold, I'm going to write one dangerous book this year.

I've done this a few times before, but never when something I'd already written was working well on the market. It's not a safe thing to do. This book has such a strong, demanding concept that I'm not sure I can do it justice. I'm also fairly certain it may not sell because, like other dangerous books I've pitched in the past, it has nothing to do with I've already done (and when what you're doing is selling like hot cakes, the last thing publishers want to see is something that won't fit on the griddle.)

I need to do this. Because the only thing worse than failing to sell is to sell oneself into complacency. And if it doesn't work, I'll blame it on Battlestar Galactica.

What do you guys think of writing dangerously? Is it worth the time, effort and trouble, or is it better to play it safe?

37 comments:

  1. I'll join you on the one dangerous book this year. WhoooHooo!

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  2. It's only dangerous of you're uncomfortable with the potential results.

    If you like writing in your own little groove, and you've assembled an audience, changing will cause you to lose readers, and you may not gain enough new readers to make up the difference.

    If you stay in your genre and writing style, you may be discomforted. You've kicked over the traces and liked what you saw. Now, you're back behind the plow, going over the same ground as before. And that dissatisfaction will show up in your writing.

    But "dangerous" books can be, oh, so much fun, recapturing that freedom to do anything you want, only you're more experienced in getting what you want. It's like being a experienced virgin.

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  3. I am a huge fan of Battlestar Galactica - it's the best show on television. I have to admit, though, that I didn't watch it when the "re-imagined" mini-series came out in 2003, despite my love for Edward James Olmos--mainly because of what I remembered about the original series. Wow, was I wrong! I'm glad that BSG has inspired you to write dangerously, I think that's a fabulous idea.

    Happy New Year!

    Michelle (a lurker on your blog, btw -- it took BSG to cause me to comment! :-)

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  4. You can't succeed without taking risks. Whether they are small risks or dangerous ones. Personally, I'd rather read a book that is "dangerous" rather than one written to sell. A lot of stuff written for the market (and yes I am thinking of the paranormal market)is boring. Been there, done that and yes vampires do suck blood. I am a jaded reader. Please feel free to shock me out of my complacency. (I should add that I don't want to be shocked with erotica. I want to be shocked with plot, character, setting, etc.)

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  5. Anonymous1:24 PM

    On the contrary, I think that the worst thing a successful author can do is to bask in complacency. Why throw away inspiration? If there's a story you're challenged to write, then take advantage of your muse and "boldly go where no man has gone before..." lol couldn't resist, sorry.

    MZ

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  6. I always thought having the chance to write dangerously was the reason to bother writing at all. Otherwise, isn't it just another day job?

    Not that I always practice what I preach, of course...

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  7. You know, I think dangerous books are good things. Writing what works is bread and butter, but it's the dangerous books that actually start the trends.

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  8. I spend more time than I sometimes like at a nursing home. Without exception the seniors I've met who played it safe are very unhappy and the ones who took chances--even when they didn't work out so well--are happier.

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  9. If it's a story worth being told, then I'd at least make the attempt.

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  10. What a wonderful post, and something weighing heavily on my mind, too as we move into the new year.

    Yes, there are a couple dangerous storylines milling their way through my overpacked brain. And I want to tackle them next year, even if they end up going nowhere. Because the alternative is regret and complacency and I hate them both.

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  11. Write the hot cakes and write the dangerous book, then you cover the bread-and-butter and satisfy that creative need. I don't think it's ever a waste of time and effort to create something you believe in, even if it's not profitable. Besides, wouldn't the not knowing eat you alive?

    Write it.

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  12. definite thumbs-up for the dangerous book! I wish I had something brewing that I'd consider dangerous, but I'm not there yet w/ my writing. Go for it!

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  13. Dangerous books are the most fun to write. You're doing something you've never done before, you're not sure what others will think, but you love it, and you're having a blast. I wish you lots of luck, and let you know I'll definitely read it anyway.

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  14. I say go for it. Life is an adventure.

    The new BSG was filmed, in great part, a few blocks from where i lived. I can still name the streets and buildings. Now...why i missed noticing an intergalactic war and cylons in my backyard is a story, i suppose. (yes, the film crews are good about being unobtrusive but i watch it now and thing "HEY! how did i miss all that?")

    So watching the series is a massive dose of homesickness for me ( for vancouver ala new caprica. sigh. it gets weirder yet when Stargate atlantis is filmed there too. I've got cylons and wraith in my midst!)

    Anyway....run with it, because if nothing else, it'll be very interesting.

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  15. I personally have no business smarts. Which probably shows in my writing...

    (My first book was non-fiction about humor and the christian faith, my second was a collection of short stories inhabited by vegan vampires, religious monsters and ghost poultry. My third seems to be a historical novel.)

    I have also changed publishers for every one of my books. So they are more interested in me giving them the new, big thing, rather than copying that last success ;)

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  16. SandyW3:57 PM

    I think people ought to make room to do the ‘dangerous’ thing every once in a while. It could stretch you in a good way. You could learn new things or set new trends. Besides, if you don’t get it out of your head, it’ll bang around like a poltergeist, throwing things and messing up the safe book you’re trying to write.

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  17. Ok, I'm new enough in this to NOT know what a dangerous book IS. Although as a reader I've been bored out of my genre (which is not alltogether bad). I keep my head in the sand enough to just write. It has it's disadvantages-I have NO idea if what I've just written has been done, but it's advantages are that I have no rules except for a HEA. As a reader I prefer some fiercely flawed people, (Megan Hart's Dirty comes to mind) and those are the books that stick with me and what I hope to write.

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  18. Not sure I'm the person to ask this question :). But I suspect that if you ignore this story that wants to be written, it'll keep bugging you until you give in.

    I'm dead curious to know what's so dangerous about it :D.

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  19. Write dangerously my friend. I did this last year (we'll see how it turns out LOL) and I'm all up for doing it again. I think stepping outside our comfort zone helps keep our writing chops sharp!

    As for BSG I HART that show! The guy who redid it also redid The Bionic Woman--and Katee Sackoff was in the first few episodes! okay, I'll stop gushing now LOL

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  20. I say go for it. You're more likely to regret what you didn't do, than what you did. :)

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  21. I'm too new to this to be in a rut - but every character has a story and every character's story is different.

    Too many of my favorite authors abdicated that position by becomeing complascent and *shudder* redundant. I may never be comfortable writing "dangerously", but I hope I never get that far into a rut.

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  22. I think "being around forever" really only includes the years since we all got online. Before the Internet, we didn't have all this communication with writers!

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  23. This book has such a strong, demanding concept that I'm not sure I can do it justice.

    I have such a premise sitting on my hard drive right now. It's completely different than anything I've tried so far, and I'd almost prefer to leave it undone than screw it up.
    But lately I've been thinking I will try it. Inspiration like that doesn't come every day.

    I say go for it. You could always use a pseudonym. And if you don't, it'll probably feel like an itch you never scratched...and then you'll find out you should've, because there was a tiny splinter of something just under the skin, and it festers, becomes infected, and next thing you know you're on antibiotics that don't work, and then they're rushing you to the hospital, where they discover that 'hey, lady, you've got a flesh-eating bacteria', and...and...

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  24. I don't think it's ever safe to be complacent. *g* I have a dangerous book I'd like to fit in somewhere this year.

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  25. I have no illusions of ever being able to make a living out of my writing. I just don't write fast enough for that. So I'll write what I want. If it sells, the better, and I'd be willing to use several pen names for different genres, but I'm not going to write for the market if the market doesn't look for what I want to write. And if I can't sell something, I can always put it up on my website or at Lulu.

    Not a professional attitude, I admit, but I want to remain a happy writer. :)

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  26. My most currently finished book is a complete and total deviation from my norm. I usually write horror, sci fi, fantasy. Comedy. Sarcasm. I've even thrown in an anime flair every now and then.

    The current one is a contemporary sort-of romance. It's too racy for Romancelandia, unfortunately, and it will be almost impossible to sell on its own because it is so different from my usual forte. Worse, I don't think I can ever write anything like it again. So yeah. Kiss of Death, there. I have no idea how/if I'll sell it.

    Of course, I will read absolutely anything you put out, PBW, so if you can sell it, I will most certainly buy it. You'll sell at least two copies, because I know Joely will pick it up, too. Woot!

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  27. I think writing dangerously is essential. Of course, I can say that -- I don't have a writing career that feeds my family, nor, at this point, do I appear to have to worry about that aspect of writing.

    On the other hand, you've made a career of writing something not quite expected, so I wonder what dangerous writing constitutes. The closer to "tame" your writing has been, the less I've valued it. It's your "not exactly what the formula calls for" work that's been valuable to me as a reader and what I'd love to be able to capture as a writer. If that's "writing dangerously," there's no other way to write.

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  28. The dangerous book is usually the one you *have* to write, and it can be the one that takes your writing to a new level.
    Go for it. If the passion for the idea is there, it won't leave you alone anyway!

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  29. I can't imagine writing a 'safe' book, my brain just isn't wired that way. Here's hoping I see you soon on the wild side. ;)

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  30. I’m currently Netflix-ing my way through Battlestar Galactica. I agree that it’s good, but not as good as the dear, departed Firefly. (Oh, Firefly, you were too beautiful for this world.)

    When I was shopping my first manuscript around, I got an offer for representation from a big-time agent who wanted to make a lot of changes to the book, and another offer from a smaller, less well-connected agent who really loved my book, and what’s more, loved it for the same reasons I did.

    I spent a couple days trying to decide if I should play it safe or take a risk, then in a flash, I realized, I’ve been trying to be a writer for ten years now. Why should I start acting reasonably now?

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  31. I think you should write it. The idea will pick at you and distract you until you let it have its way.

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  32. I'd say, go for it. Why is it, (so they say), that all the fun things in life are either illegal, immoral, or fattening??? I guess that is why writing a dangerous book will be fun.

    I love science fiction, but most of the TV implementations are really bad. Two of my favorites though, are Babylon 5 and Battlestar Galactica. I wish that the Sci-Fi channel would rerun B5. I guess that I will need to get the dvd's.

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  33. Anonymous4:26 PM

    I found it! I found it! I go to my local B&N to check what is out and found EVERMORE!!!!! I couldn't believe it. I have it in my pretty little hands. I feel like Christmas and New Year's together. It's out!

    MZ

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  34. Bibliophile8:50 PM

    BSG rocks my world!! Oh and as to writing dangerously...if your not.. your not really writing at all.. writing is all about exploring every facet of the human and other worldly conditions.. Keep doing what you have been doing, pushing boundaries and perceptions and we will all keep reading!!

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  35. I agree with you about BSG. It is by far the best thing on TV. I started watching years ago with the first season. I was hooked after the first show. I adore Starbuck. I want to be her. Katee Sackhoff I think is brilliant. I also love Six played by Tricia Helfers. Strong, fierce, dangerous. She rocks. I love everything about the show, the writing is out of this world, and if I could ever write anything with half the depth I would be truly happy.

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  36. I write dangerously myself, I think, which is why I've failed to land an agent. I've had several agents tell me that they love my work, but decide to stick with "what is currently selling." I guess that would be dangerous writing.

    But if I try to deviate too far from myself to fit the mold of what is currently selling, my stuff sucks big time. I think I can adapt, but I can't totally change. I do realize that's bad for me and will hold me back.

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  37. Had to pop back in to agree wholeheartedly with Kristopher. Firefly was entirely too beautiful for this world. Thus, it was ended in its infancy, jolted momentarily into childhood, and then murdered most foul before becoming old enough to see the true evils of public television and the silver screen.

    Oh, Firefly, we barely knew you.

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