I’m No Jodi Picoult and I’m OK with That
by: Thea Atkinson
I have a friend who keeps asking me to write a book for her. Let’s call her Alicia. Alicia keeps saying things to me like, “Write me a romance, Thea. Write a good relationship book with lots of romance. Write me a good love story.”
I keep having to answer her back in ways she doesn’t want to hear. I keep saying things like, “That’s not the style I write; I don’t have a romantic bone in my body. I don’t even remember my own wedding anniversary.”
She’s persistent. It’s one of the things I like about her. So a few years ago, while I was bemoaning the fact that my agent hadn’t found a publisher who wanted to take a chance on a new literary writer, she piped up again: “You need to write a romance. A good story like Jodi Picoult.”
I’m not sure what genre she thinks Jodi Picoult writes in; heck, I thought it was chicklit with a romantic slant myself. I wasn’t so sure I could pull a Jodi tale out of the li’l twisted muse who visits me off and on.
Still, I told her I would try a short story first, see if I could do it before investing the many months it took to write a novel. I was excited. Maybe if I tried hard enough, I could write something that people all over the world would want to read; no, would want to PAY for.
I settled down to write, then filled my mind with Alicia’s encouraging words: “You’re a good writer, Thea. Surely you can write a love story.”
I could. Of course, I could.
Imagine my discomfort a few days later when I had to admit to Alicia of the path that this little “romance” actually took. There I was, sipping tea, feeling sheepish as I confessed that the couple in the story were both octogenarians and that he accidentally broke a few of her bones while being romantic. Worse yet, that she ended up dying during the encounter of a heart attack. I titled it “Like Breaking Crystal.” I loved it. I was proud of it. It focused on all the psychological things I loved about fiction. I thought the characters were flawed, but human; sensitive, but also a little bit selfish. Ah. Just the ticket.
Alicia did not share my enthusiasm.
I think she might have blinked once or twice the way they do in cartoons when they’ve experienced a major shock. I think I might have shrugged comically, helplessly.
OK. I thought, so I’m no Jodi Picoult. I did try, after all. As much as I might like to believe that I could write a mass appeal novel and sell multiple copies, enough to buy me a new laptop, a brand-new thesaurus, and maybe a little trip to Petra, I have had to make my peace with the fact that I write dark literary fiction: a genre that by some descriptions is: that which does not sell.
Then imagine my surprise further when I, galled by my failure to find a market with my agent, started to research exactly what genre Ms. Picoult wrote in: Not chicklit romance, like I originally thought. (Sue me, I’ve not actually READ a Jodi Picoult novel….I thought it was chicklit, remember? And I like, well, edgier stuff than chicklit provides.)
Psychological thriller, it was labeled. I tasted the genre on my tongue. Sounded about right for me, too, I figured. I immediately put the novel she’d written (Sing Me Home) that most closely resembled my own, (Anomaly) onto my TBR to see if we do indeed write in the same vein. Until then, I’m content to call myself a psychological thriller author.
Every now and then, Alicia still brings the subject up. She still persists, God bless her. She says I’m capable of writing the kind of story she loves to read and I feel so humbled every time she tries to support the writer in me by believing in me.
Now, I just remind her that the tale will end up in some very strange places. It will travel through some dark and brutal roads but end up with some wonderful sense of peace. It won’t have mass appeal, it won’t sell a million copies, but despite the fact that I can’t write romance, it will be an honest-to-goodness Thea made story.
And then I ask her if she’s ready to read that.
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