Our Guest Blogger is Marilyn Brant, an award-winning women’s fiction writer who won’t start writing a new manuscript until she’s used Blake Snyder’s beat sheet for it first. Her debut novel, According to Jane, won the RWA prestigious Golden Heart Award and the Booksellers’ Best Award. It was also named one of Buzzle.com’s Best Romances of All Time. Her second women’s fiction book, Friday Mornings at Nine, was a Doubleday Book Club pick last year, and her third novel for Kensington, A Summer in Europe, will be released on November 29th. She’s also a #1 Kindle Bestseller and has two ebook romantic comedies out now—Double Dipping and On Any Given Sundae, which was an Amazon Top 100 Bestseller in Humor. She loves ice cream, music, and traveling… and she spends way too much time online. Please visit her website: www.marilynbrant.com.
When it comes to the current state of the publishing industry, we’re living in the midst of a Chinese curse, aka “interesting times.” I’m sure it would come as no surprise to anyone reading this if I said we were in a period of great transition from print to digital—and that being a writer today presents some new choices and challenges, which can be difficult to navigate. And, yet, despite the confusion that tends to come with change, I believe every transition holds an extra-special gift in its hands and that these sweeping changes surrounding us are no exception.
Back in the mid-1990s, I was in graduate school for educational psychology, working on a thesis I’d rivetingly entitled Creativity and Culture: Perception, Interaction, Opposition and Marginality. (Yeah, I know. You’re wondering how you can possibly get your hands on this entertaining document. Lotsa laughs in it, I tell you.) After upwards of two years of research, I’d pieced together a model that I hoped would show how certain forces in society influenced creativity and the ways the act of being creative left its mark on our culture. I presented my paper to the committee, confident in my 106 primary and secondary sources and delighted by the sheer academic-ness (sure, it’s a word) of my creation. I’m still proud of it… but…
But it’s one thing to understand a concept intellectually and it’s altogether another to live with it daily—online and off—because the industry that surrounds your passion, your calling, is shifting under your feet like a hot tectonic plate. Reality like that is kind of frightening, even when it presents all kinds of new writing/publishing opportunities. It is at this point, though, where my research from long ago greets the current changes in the industry with a smile. And, knowing what I do about creativity and culture, it’s that insight I find reassuring when this Brave New Digital World is scaring the bejeezus out of me.
See, if someone were to distill the findings of my laboriously written thesis, it would be this: That creativity is most likely to occur at the margins of a society, and that people on the edge of two cultures (whatever those two cultures might be) have the ability to peek into both worlds and make connections that those people fully immersed in either one side or the other cannot necessarily see.
Guess what? That’s us, folks!
No matter how mainstream you might think you are as far as race or ethnicity or religion, when it comes to publishing culture, we’re the ones standing on the edge between two worlds, dancing on the cusp of change. We’ve lived long enough to remember the “old” ways (c’mon, raise your hand if you ever used an electric typewriter or maybe a manual one… or a card catalog at a library… or even a mimeograph machine), but we’re also young and adventurous enough to have learned to use Microsoft Word, attach a doc.file to an email, publish a blog post, and possibly even convert a manuscript to a mobi or an epub format and upload it for sale online.
Programmers are unleashing new technology on us with the rapid fire of an automated weapon, but we continue to learn it, adapt to it and, maybe, even come to love it… all without ever having forgotten what it was like to dab whiteout on a mistake when we mistyped something or what it felt like to get blue ink on our fingers from the carbon copy paper we once used.
What this unique time period in publishing history means for those of us who are writers now—unlike the former writers who stopped publishing a few years ago or those future writers who are in grade school at the moment and have been born into a world with ebooks and digital media—is that we’re really and truly able to reap the gifts of our marginal experience. We can see deeply into both “cultures,” make connections between them that others might miss, revel in our multilayered understanding and perspective and, best of all, enjoy a boost of creative potential as a result.
This is where those of us who loved Blake’s Save the Cat!®Goes to the Movies can get all excited about writing that next novel or screenplay and merging our own on-the-edge experiences with new plotlines across the genres. Just think of the possibilities. What would our particular “Monster in the House” be? For some it might be a technological demon sent from the future. For others, it’s an ancient menace that thwarts our modern weaponry. Or how about all of the ideas we can build on with an “Out of the Bottle” story? So many times in the past, advances in technology were seen as magical. That could be the basis for a new tale, or it could be the reverse. How many times have we heard movie trailers that began with “In a world where…” (fill in your own unusual circumstances)?
I write both romantic comedies for the ebook market and contemporary women’s fiction for Kensington trade paperback, so I not only straddle the digital and print worlds and care deeply about both, but my stories are a mix, too—usually some combination of “Buddy Love” plus “Rites of Passage.” But I noticed in the manuscript I’m working on now that, while the various relationship themes I love writing about haven’t changed, I’ve needed to make some alterations to my draft based on the advances in technology. So much so that I actually decided to move the decade where I’d set a large part of my story to an earlier one so the electronic world couldn’t factor into those scenes, thus making the appearance of technology all the more dramatic and significant to the plot when the scenes moved to the present again. That revision of the time period brought about all kinds of new and interesting twists that wouldn’t have been there if I hadn’t been so aware of living between two technological worlds myself, and it’s my hope that the final novel will be richer for this perspective.
What about you? Do you find yourself using your knowledge of life before cell phones or MP3 players to enhance your stories in some way or develop a more complex range of characters? Has technology—or the lack of it—played a key role in any of your manuscripts? Are you tapping in to the creativity that an awareness of more than one worldview can inspire? I’d love to hear your thoughts and I wish you all the best with your writing!