Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Whomper

I have a new metaphor for writing success. And, as with all my extended metaphors, I am totally in love with it. It's sailing! Grab hold of a mizzenmast and brace yourself, y'all. There's some awesomeness slicing across the waves toward you.

See, as a sailor, you can't control the wind, but you can control how you react to the natural conditions. The right sail, the right tack at the right moment, the right hull shape and rudder length... you face what nature gives you with the skill you develop and the equipment you choose.

You are just as much a sailor in a one man craft on a lake or a Hobie-Cat in a bay as you are on an IACC yacht trying to kick the defender's ass in the America's Cup. There's no shame in being a weekend sailor just as there is no shame in being a hobbyist writer - we aren't all going to be John Grisham and Stephen King - but I think it's important to realize what type of craft you're sailing.

The hobbyist in that lake dinghy is going to get his ass rolled to hell and back on the open ocean. If you want to sail with the big boys, you need to have a big boy boat - or in this case, a big boy book. Not all books have the broad, mainstream market appeal. A niche novel is a lake boat and can sail beautifully there, the NYT best-seller is an IACC yacht. But even a NYT best-seller doesn't get there without the right crew (editorial/art/publicity) and being launched in the right waters (distribution).

And even with that beautiful yacht, the right crew and the right seas, you need the wind. Those glorious gusts are unpredictable and will determine how fast and far your yacht can fly across the waves. Public opinion, word of mouth, reader reactions, a magical chemistry of timing and luck - all those little things that take a good story and make it into a popular one. That's the wind, and when it isn't there for you, no amount of perfect craftsmanship or well-trained crews can fill your sails.

In her post-Dirty Dancing days, Jennifer Grey appeared in a movie all about sailboat racing called Wind. Her character is in love with the science and the mystique of the sport, addicted to it, helpless to fight the way it gets into your blood. There's no cure for that passion, even when it's knocked you around some. At one point, she sews a giant sail and then at a pivotal moment in a race, talks her team into deploying the "Whomper", a massive big-daddy of a spinnaker that, as advertised by Ms. Grey, catches the wind, goes whomp and their boat rockets forward to win the race.

I feel like Harry Potter was a Whomper. Twilight. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. The Help. Those big-daddy books, deployed just right, catching the wind and flying.

For the last few years, I'd say I've been writing Hobie-Cat books. Learning the feel of the sails and how to read the wind, having a great time as a bright-eyed young sailor, but now I'm starting to want something bigger, faster. I want to get into the big race. That means a bigger boat, more high tech sails. A book with a broader audience, one that pushes me to apply everything I've learned so far.

I love my Hobie-Cat books and have no intention of giving them up, but I want to try an IACC race or two. So I'd better get sewing. And then pray for wind in my sails.

(Random note: I come by my sailing metaphors naturally, with a genetic tendency for throwing money into those holes in the water we call boats. There's nothing like the wind and the sea.)

How 'bout you? Do you see yourself as more a Hobie Cat or a IACC yacht? Or do you have no flippin' idea what I'm jabbering on about in the first place?


Kali said...

I'm still working on model boats, hoping they'll float when I give them a shove away from shore. So far they've all sunk. But I'm always back at the work bench trying another one. Someday one will float and then I'll get up the courage to put my feet in one of those holes.

Vivi Andrews said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Vivi Andrews said...

I spent a lot of years tangled up in the rigging. A hull with a plot hole or two letting the water rush in is a learning experience, right? :) Good luck staying afloat!