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Write What Scares You.

February 10th, 2007 12 comments

Hi. I’m T.L. Hines. No, you probably don’t know me, but that’s okay–by my estimates, roughly 6.5999 billion people on earth don’t know me. So you’re in a large and inclusive group.

That said, I’m honored to be part of Storytellers Unplugged; I love the interactions and observations I’ve read in this community. And hey, maybe I can start to bring that figure down to 6.5998 billion people.

When I was asked to join this group, my immediate reply was, “It will be a little bit like a Sesame Street episode: One of these things is not like the other, one of these things does not belong.…” After all, this is a blog community consisting of some great dark fantasy/spec fiction folks. My kind of folks, yes (I’ve read many of the people who post on this very blog), but still…different. The response? “We want a diverse group of people.” Well hey, I can be part of a diverse group, so here I am.

Although my work is definitely spec fiction, it’s primarily sold in CBA markets (Christian Booksellers Association) vs. ABA markets (American Booksellers Association). Oh, you’ll still find me in ABA bookstores such as B&N, Borders and even great indies such as the Tattered Cover in Denver or Powell’s in Portland. But most of the time, you’ll find me in the “religious fiction” section.

That revelation frightens some people more than any Cthulhu-inspired monster ever could. I think, in part, this is due to the long coattails of the “Left Behind” series; I’m guessing the only CBA book many folks have cracked open is one of the 9,327 works in said series.

Which has given them certain expectations about CBA novels in general.

Which aren’t entirely unfounded.

But I digress. CBA vs. ABA may be a good topic for one or more future posts, and I’m happy to discuss the differences with anyone who might be interested. Let’s just say, like everything else, it’s a mix of good and bad. The real reason I’m writing this, my first official post at Storytellers Unplugged, is to tell you how I sold my first novel.

I wrote a book that scared me.

I’m not talking about the story itself. I’m talking about writing a book I was convinced would never sell. That book, “Waking Lazarus,” tells the tale of a man who has died and returned to life three times…and who must unravel the mysteries of those deaths to stop a child abductor.

Maybe you see the conundrum. I’d written a book–and followed a story–I felt was too dark for most readers of CBA fiction (trust me: there aren’t many books about child abductors at your local Bible Book Store), and too “religious” (for lack of a better word) for most readers of ABA dark fiction. In short, I’d written a book without a definable market. If I’d listened to the inner voice that always advises me–one of the many–I would have never started. If I’d asked other folks what they thought of the book’s chances, I’m guessing they would have given me solid advice and told me to find a different, more marketable idea.

But I wrote it anyway, because it was a story that haunted me.

It wasn’t a story I crafted to meet the needs of a particular market or imprint or editor. In fact, it was the exact opposite. But it was a story uniquely mine. Not coincidentally, it was also a story that helped me get contracts for five more books.

Would that have happened if I’d tried to be the next Dan Brown, or the next J.K. Rowling, or the next Neil Gaiman? I don’t think so. I think it only happened because I tried to be the first T.L. Hines. And call me crazy, but being the first T.L. Hines specifically required I tackle the subject matter I was most afraid of tackling.

I’m convinced we should be scared of our subject matter, scared of our technique, scared, in some small way, of how our books will be received. Because the moment we produce something that doesn’t make us uncomfortable in any way…is the moment we’ve started phoning it in. Fear is a necessary part of the magic.

So when I admit to you that my second book scares me even more than my first did, maybe I should say it with a smile.

My question, then, is this: what are you afraid of writing? Is it something you’re convinced has no audience? Something that feels too experimental? Too disturbing? Too old school? Too farfetched? If so, it’s precisely the thing you should be writing. I guarantee you: it’s something no one else can write.

Thanks for having me.

Categories: ABA, CBA, Fiction, novel, Publishing, Writing Tags: