Jennifer Hillier

I yam what I yam

Jan 31, 2010 | Uncategorized

Starting this new novel has really got me thinking about the kind of writer I want to be.  And I don’t know that it jives with the kind of writer I actually am.

In the last few years, there have only been a handful of books that have gotten under my skin. The Kite Runner is one.  The Art of Racing in the Rain is another.  In fact, I loved Racing so much that I quote from it, and Steve does too!  John Marks’ Fangland, which I read on vacation last month, creeped me out so much I would go to bed thinking about it and have nightmares.  Some books just do that.  Movies, too.  When I saw The Changeling (with Angelina Jolie), I couldn’t stop thinking about it for days, twisting the scenes around in my mind to make sense of it.

Thrillers, for the most part, don’t get under my skin.  They’re great reads, usually fast, but they fade pretty quickly afterward, leaving no aftertaste and nothing to digest. I always thought I’d be a thriller writer, and I guess I am, but now I’m not entirely sure I want to be.

I used to think it would be cool to write a book a year, which is what most thriller writers do, and just write and write until forty years have passed and I have forty books to my name.  (Assuming I ever get published.  If I don’t, I’m pretty sure I’ll stop writing books long before that and do something I’m actually good at.)  I used to wonder how a writer could work on the same novel for five years, or ten.  How do you not lose interest?  And why the hell should it take so long?

But then I read a book like The Art of Racing in the Rain, and I get it.  I get why a writer would spend so much time on a book like that, and even leave his nay-saying agent to find another agent who believes passionately in the book (and who subsequently goes on to sell it for $1.2 million).  I would love to write a book like that.  And it’s not about the money.  It’s about creating something timeless, that you still find yourself digesting two months after you’ve read it.  Something you’ll probably read another twenty times before you die.  Something you’ll recommend and talk about to anybody who asks (or doesn’t ask) for a book recommendation.  Something that’s selected for book clubs and is a “Heather’s Pick” at Chapters.

Something that’s remembered.

Maybe I’m feeling this way because I’m three chapters into my new novel and I already know this a thriller (and I don’t always know that when I start).  I already know I’ll have to research FBI agents and profilers and victimology.  And I hate doing research.  I did a lot of research on antisocial personality disorder for Creep, and it was the least fun part of writing that book.

It might be nice to write a simple romance for a change.  Like The Notebook, which is really just about two people who fall in love, get separated, and find their way back to each other, otherwise known as the Romantic Plot That’s Been Done A Hundred Thousand Times Before (and that’s not a knock – I love The Notebook, and there’s a reason plots like that work).  How much research could Nicholas Sparks have done for that?  Probably none.  And romance novels currently comprise 50% of fiction sales.  Fifty percent, people!

I could be a romance writer.  Hmmm… maybe I could take that classic plot and make Noah into a Special Forces marine and make Allie into the local village girl he meets in some southeast Asian jungle…

Oh crap.   That’s already been done.  It’s called Rambo II.

Or maybe I should just stop fighting it and just let myself be what I am.  Whatever that is.