Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Risky business

Risk is a major element in your writing and when the writing energy loses its fizz, the probable culprit is lack of the presence of risk.  Work that plays to safety is likely to be read then forgotten, read for the smoothness, forgotten for that very quality.  Work that plays to risk plays to the edges of breakthrough or abject failure, accordingly memorable for at least two possible reasons beyond mere technique.

You first encounter risk by taking on conflicts that teeter along the cusp of cliche, both in the creation of characters and the goals they act upon.  The risk accelerates when you take sides, pushing the characters you tend to like into mistakes of judgement or the moral  wrong turn.  In similar fashion, you stir the pot of risk by injecting characters you've brought out of a base of distrust or outright dislike, modeling them in the first place after individuals whose behavior has in some way offended you (not always for appropriate reasons; in fact some of your taking of offense comes from your envy), then taking them down appropriate paths of combustion with the characters you like, then causing these individuals to have what Joyce called agenbite of inwit, the remorse of conscience or some form of moral awakening.

In life as in story, you seem eager to buy tickets for the lottery of risk although you hold no such affection for the lottery tickets you could purchase from machines or vendors, hopeful of some astronomical payoff.  When you lived in Mexico City, the lottery ticket sellers hounded you for just one small purchase, thinking to make enough for a meal from the transaction.  "Contra me fe," you'd say, with just the right amount of moral high ground.  Crazy gringo.  Against his faith to purchase a lottery ticket.  What kind of life is that?

Well, it is now the life of having taken another risk.  Big New York house or brand new publishing venture?  In many ways, the risks with the big New York house are greater, especially now, with what is best described as a front list mentality (the book must earn back production costs, overhead, and the repayment of the advance within the first year of publication) or forget all about back list support and promotion.  Forget about having anyone know who you are when you phone in, asking to speak to someone in promotion.

The new guy comes along with an editor who has been pointed in her wish for your book, thus you not only have a friend in court, she is bringing your work with her to the new court as an indication of how good her taste is.  You phone in and they know who you are, but more important, they know what your project is and their vision for it already exceeds yours.

Okay, new guys.

1 comment:

Sarah said...

Good call.

Regarding risk- I wonder sometimes, having risked so much in my own life, worn out as I am from my own consequences, if I can truly bring myself to put my characters at risk- Yet, to write at all is risk, and once a risk-taker always a risk-taker...