As soon as I found out about it, I become a fan of the blog Shrinking Violets. It bills itself as “Marketing for Introverts.” Just what I need. I’m sure all the teenagers and felons who watched me do condom demonstrations over the years wouldn’t believe that I’m an introvert, but I am. The condom lady–that was just a role to play. Me, the real me, is a quiet, reserved person.
Shrinking Violets recently had a guest blogger, C.J. Lyons, who writes medical suspense novels. She also has some interesting observations about identifying and solidifying your “brand” as an author.
We’ve all watched commercial properties go through branding changes with varying degress of success and failure. Remember when Phillip Morris changed their name or when Coke changed their recipe?
It’s strange to think of my writing in this light, but it is a product. I am trying to sell it. It has left me wondering what my brand is.
Obviously, I’m not flashy, as you can tell from the plain design I picked for my website. Nor is my writing flashy. On occasion I engage in verbal pyrotechnics, but those darlings usually end up drowned in the bathtub of revision. I like my prose to be solid, practical, and easy to understand. Primarily, I think that’s because I want people to think about the ideas behind the writing instead of the writing.
My website design reveals another aspect to my “brand” that I haven’t given much thought to. Apparently I’m a “regional writer.” I’ve written plenty of stories that take place outside of Kansas and Oklahoma, but I do find that my best short stories develop out of the rather narrow locales of my childhood.
Even when I step outside of Kansas, as I do when I write fantasy, I find that the dry pragmatism and deep passions of the place sneak into the cultures I make up. The abolitionists who fought in the border wars and the people who stayed through the Dust Bowl crop up in places I never expected.
Also, I love intimacy. (And by intimacy I don’t just mean sex. Although I don’t shy away from including it where it fits and where it develops the characters.) It’s more that I like stories told in close-up, to use a camera analogy. I quickly lose interest in stories, reading and writing them, that are told in the long view. Although I prefer third person to first, I like a very close third. In stories of grand scale, I want the main action to play out in a narrow room with two or three people intensely interested in that moment.
There’s a dark element in my writing, too, that surprises a lot of people. Betrayal, isolation, disappointment, and cruelty all make their way into my stories. It’s what I always think of as the Peyton Place Factor. In isolated places, people become dark, strange, secretive, and intent on their desires. Yes, even the wholesome young men who stop to help when you have car trouble, and the little old ladies who cook at church suppers, and the nice neat Christian families who eat across from you at those same church suppers. They’re all hoarding secrets: meth addictions, shameful lust, decades-old jealousies, crushing disappointment, daily revenges on petty slights.
In some ways, it all comes together in the novel I currently have out with a few agents. I call it Ugly and the Beast on the days I love it. Blackneck on the days I hate it. Depending on who reads it, the book is perhaps urban fantasy that takes place in rural Oklahoma. Or it’s literary with elements of magical realism. Cormac McCarthy smokes a bong with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Despite my original intentions, it has a deep vein of politics on the issue of the death penalty and a parallel track of folkloric whimsy. The Executioner’s Song meets Snow White.
Its main character, Axyl, could be my half-brother: a boy who grew up isolated among well-meaning people, with a basic notion of decency that hasn’t stopped him from killing people. Carrying secrets and longing to find someone to tell them to. Trapped in a cycle of betrayal and always looking for the joke that will make it okay.
Austere, dark, funny, in close-up.
What’s your brand?