A Question of Genre, Part 2

Instead of making my word count this morning with A Memory of Ice, I found myself writing a dialog between Huckster and Editor, two of my authorial personalities.

Raise curtain.

HUCKSTER [a terrifying creature with big hair wearing a realtor’s jacket and a label reading, “HI! I’m an author”. She carries a monstrous shoulder bag decorated with buttons and ribbons from writing conferences. She approaches a door guarded by EDITOR, who sits at an old school desk, reading Proust]: So, she’s finished the first draft. About time. When did she originally promise it?

EDITOR [everybody’s sophomore English teacher, who once published a story in her college literary magazine and never forgot it]: two months ago. But you know she doesn’t have the best sense of time. If I didn’t program reminders into her phone, she’d forget to feed the dog.

HUCKSTER: She needs to remember this is business, not art. There are opportunities that only exist for a blink. Trends that come and go. Today, gargoyle romance, tomorrow circus porn–although that one’s kinda eternal, you know what I mean?

EDITOR: No. No I don’t.

HUCKSTER: Liar. But back to our timid little friend. If she can’t produce on schedule, like this [snaps fingers repeatedly] she might as well get out of the business.

EDITOR: We’ve had this discussion before. She can’t produce on schedule. She’s doing a bit better on her word count, but of course, the moment anyone notices how much–or how little–she’s produced, she hides under a pile of leaves. I have to lure her out with the latest volume of Dengeki Daisy.

HUCKSTER: Oh, God, no, what’s she reading that manga fluff for? How many units does it sell? She should be reading that newest porn thing–it’s not circus porn, but it’s selling a million copies. She could see what people–who am I kidding? Women–really want to read.

EDITOR: I wouldn’t let her read it. She’d pick up horrendous writing habits. Besides, it’s not her thing.

HUCKSTER: Not her thing, eh? I’ll bet it’s yours, though. Go on, admit it. It’s just us girls, here.

EDITOR [going a bit pink, but maintaining her dignity]: I read a chapter, until I realized I had read it before.

HUCKSTER: Yeah, that vampire thing. Another huge seller.

EDITOR: No, I never finished that one either. I’m referring to an even older book. The Sheik, by E. M. Hull.

HUCSKTER: And a huge seller in its time. Both prove my point. If you’re going to steal, steal from the bestsellers.

EDITOR: In defense of that bestselling author, all writers borrow unconsciously from the things they read and love. She was a little more conscious in her borrowing than most, but she made an old story hers.

HUCKSTER: Which proves my point yet again. There has to be some bestseller our timid little friend could enjoy reading. Then she could write her own version. Change a few names, add sex scenes–

EDITOR: If you think I’ll allow her to plagiarize–

HUCKSTER: You mean, make an old story hers.

EDITOR: Look, you want to make money off her imagination, you have to accept what her imagination produces.

HUCKSTER: Yeah, yeah, so we’ll work with what we got. That’s our job, right? To shape what she writes into something people will buy? So tell me how many sex scenes this one’s got. Any weird kinks I can use in the publicity?

EDITOR: sorry, no kinks. But there are two sex scenes.

HUCKSTER: All right! It’s with that policeman character, right? Wait [a look of suspicion]. You don’t look embarrassed. Just how far do they go?

EDITOR: In my youth, they would have called it second base.

HUCKSTER: Not again! Look, she’s gotta realize—I mean, you gotta realize–romance readers expect characters to go all the way, with every bump, grind, and drop of sweat described for at least a full paragraph. They get mad otherwise.

EDITOR: I don’t think–

HUCKSTER: I know it’s not her strength, so I brought along a bit of help. [roots through her bag, pulls out a tattered paperback with a discreet cover.]

EDITOR: What is that?

HUCKSTER: Victorian porn. All public domain, incredibly descriptive, without a swear word in it. When she turns the draft over to you, you can cut and paste a bunch of scenes into it.

EDITOR: It’s still plagiarism, even if it’s public domain.

HUCSKSTER: But not copyright infringement, and that’s the one that gets you into court.

EDITOR: Gets you into court, you mean. You’re our business persona. But this is all irrelevant. Not only would graphic sex scenes be completely inappropriate for the story, they’re unnecessary. This won’t be a romance.

HUCKSTER: Not again! What about that policeman character? I saw you blushing when you first talked about him. Hot, right?

EDITOR: He and the main character have a . . . complex dance.

HUCKSTER: Complex. Right. Another word for all talk, no action. What else you got? What genre will this be? You have to give me something to work with.

EDITOR: I would call it an alt-hist Bourne Identity with fantastic elements.

HUCKSTER: [staggers back, clutching her huge bag to herself like a shield and moaning] No, no, no. She’s mixing genres again.

EDITOR: It’s what she likes to do. She’s always preferred borders to settled territory.

HUCKSTER: Yeah? Well, why can’t she lurk on the borders of romance?

EDITOR: Because.

HUCKSTER: That’s it? “Because”? I thought you were the fancy, erudite one with the big vocabulary. I mean, you tried to put semi-colons in her last book until I yelled at you.

EDITOR: Look, this is what we have to shape and sell. Are you going to work with me on this or not?
HUCKSTER: If I could, I would attach myself to some other writer.

EDITOR: But you can’t.

HUCKSTER: [big sigh] Can you at least chose one genre when you start editing? You can emphasize it and downplay the other bits. Because, and this is the cold, hard truth, you can’t mess with readers’ expectations. They get pissed off if they’re reading about Nazis and cold-eyed spies and then you stick fairies in the garden.

EDITOR: Congratulations! You have now made the Nazi-fairies comparison for the hundredth time.

HUCKSTER: Strange. It almost sounds normal, now. Like a genre.

EDITOR: There you go. With enough repetition, anything can sound normal. So why don’t you spend your time thinking up a new genre, one that fits what our author likes to write, and push it out into the public eye.

HUCKSTER: Hmmm. A challenge. You know, this could be interesting. Fairy-Nazis. Clown porn. Greasepaint fantasy. Greasepaint fairy-Nazis [wanders off, muttering to herself]

EDITOR: My God, what have I done?
Lower Curtain.