Tuesday, May 3, 2011


Sometimes as an author I just wish I had a boss – somebody who would tell me “do it this way”. But that’s no good to anybody. It’s my job to know what way to do things – or just take a risk and dive in. But I still want someone, ANYONE to tell me what the right answer is.

Right now I’m struggling with the tone of my new book – a romantic rescue story set in the Belgian Congo in the 1960s, featuring: Mercenaries, missionaries, Communists, Cannibals, Diamonds, Uranium, horrifying wildlife, the United Nations, and a country the size of Europe to set the story in. So what book is this? Is it a pulp adventure similar to Raiders of the Lost Ark or The Mummy? A romance with dangerous elements similar to Titanic or Pearl Harbor? Is it a socially-relevant tale of Africa like Blood Diamond or Tears of the Sun? A frightening survival thriller about exotic creatures like Jurassic Park or The Ghost and the Darkness? A study in 1960s culture and norms? Or a romantic, nostalgic adventure of cynical idealism like Casablanca or The African Queen?

The answer is all of them. Unfortunately.

So the real question isn’t what this book can be, or even what I want it to be. The real question is narrowing the dramatic focus in such a way that I enjoy the writing process and the reader has an awesome time reading. Elevator pitch: “A mercenary in 1960s Congo is hired to rescue a missionary who turns out to be a woman he once loved and lost.” That’s PRIME real estate for adventure, danger, romance, epic history, and even some witty, bantering humor. To not touch on any of those bases would be a crime – yet trying to cram it all into one book is, honestly, impossible.

So, I will spend the next week of my life hashing through what this book should be, what the most readers will enjoy most, and what I am willing to let go of for the sake of writing a coherent book.

Meanwhile, I encourage all of you to comment and tell me exactly what to do, because I’m going crazy. And who doesn't want to be my boss for the day?


Greg Mitchell said...

This is a very appropriate post for one of the novels I'm writing right now. It's a road movie (yes, even though I write novels I *still* think in movie terms) with two young lovers traversing the multiverse encountering aliens, parrallel realities, and a growing demonic presence stalking them. Each world they visit brings new "genres" and the trick is trying to keep their relationship consistent and realistic despite the unrealism they find themselves in. But trying to keep an even tone as they go through this journey over the course of a year of their lives is difficult. The Reader's got to be able to follow along.

It also reminds me of Stephen King's "Dark Tower" series. That has no genre. It's fantasy, it's sci-fi, it's horror, it's a western, it's metafiction--it's everything! I think it's a Western concept that things have to fall into specific genres. I say write the story that needs to be told, regardless of what to call it, and let it find its audience.

Jillian Kent said...

I'm sooooooooooo glad I'm not alone. Very timely post. My easy answer for you Conlan is make it a series! Then you can spend more time with all of the aspects you love most. Of course you'll have to figure out how to do that, but I bet you can. Love the romance aspect. :)

Lena Nelson Dooley said...

Conlan, I lived through the 60's as a teenager and young adult if you need any historical information.

Beth Shriver said...

With a book like you're writing I can see why it's so hard to pick one genre. There are so many subgenres that just confuse the reader. The good thing is you will reach a wider group of readers with the great variety your books has to offer:)