Wednesday, September 19, 2012

I want to be a spark plug...

Note: Despite the title and the picture below, today’s post is not about spark plugs.

But it IS a fitting analogy for an epiphany I had early on in my writer’s journey. And now it's really hitting home, since my debut, Splintered, is being offered to reviewers on netgalley and in hard copy ARC form. I'm starting to get reviews, be they positive or negative, and the spark plug analogy is keeping me sane.

Here’s the definition of a spark plug taken from Wikipedia: A spark plug is an electrical device that fits into the cylinder head of some internal combustion engines and ignites compressed aerosol gasoline by means of an electric spark.

In other words … it magically brings the engine to life. Vroom vroom. But there’s more than one kind of spark plug. So you have to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for choosing the right one to ensure it’s a good fit, or it won’t work. A bad fit means the spark won’t ignite, and there will be no vroom vroom.

A couple of years ago, when I was in the submission trenches with my first agent and my adult literary romance, we received feedback from an editor: I enjoyed the unique storyline and heroine, and I thought the author put a fresh twist on paranormal romance. But as I read, I just didn’t feel a strong emotional connection with the story, so it’s with sincere regret that I’m stepping aside.

I could whittle that entire explanation down into one phrase. No vroom vroom. I wasn’t the right fit for her, and there was no magical spark.

Ouch! That started me second guessing. Where did I go wrong? Why can’t I make everyone connect with my story? Surely, if my characters or storyline can’t capture every single reader’s affections, I have no hope of being a best seller or of winning a loyal fan base. Right?

Well, shortly thereafter I read a best-selling book at the time — one that I’d been chewing on for several weeks — and something clicked into place for me. The book had tons of sales, was well liked according to the majority of the reviews, and the publishers promoted it relentlessly (quite possibly the very reason why it had such great sales).

But upon closing that last page, I shrugged my shoulders and said, “Meh”. I mentally gave the book a 2 star rating out of 5. I liked the concept, and enjoyed the author’s writing style. But for some reason … and I could never put my finger on why … I didn’t connect emotionally with the MC. Actually, with any of the characters.

Yet I read that book front to back, just because the premise and writing style drew me in and held my attention. So I guess there’s hope; even without the vroom, sometimes people are willing to shift it into neutral and push on to the end of the road, if only to take in the scenery.

Some readers may not like my fantasy worlds or my plots, or they may not like my characters for their decisions or actions. My characters are flawed and human; sometimes they make mistakes, or don't think things through and act impulsively like real people do. If I write them in such a way to try to fit everyone's ideal, they become nothing more than cardboard cutouts. So, I have to stay true to my characters and my story, although it will mean losing some readers.

But even if someone doesn't like one element of my book, maybe they'll like another enough to read it to the very last line. That's an accomplishment in and of itself.

Maybe the science of writing isn’t quite as precise as the science of automobiles. But it occurred to me that subjectivity can be compared to finding the right spark plug (book) to fit the right engine (reader). Not everyone will love my stories, or my characters, or even my writing style. But all three WILL appeal to some and I will be a perfect fit for them. There’s just too many people with differing opinions and interests for it not to.

So, my hope now that my debut novel is finally getting read? That most readers will like at least one thing about it enough to push through to the end. But even more, I hope to be the spark plug some reader has been looking high and low for, that they'll connect to the story in everyway, and it will ignite their imagination.

And then: Vroom vroom … let the magic begin.