Richard Wright

author of strange, dark fictions

Journal

No More Heroes

May 13, 2014 by Richard Wright in Journal, Writing

Flesh BannerAt the end of April my latest full novel The Flesh Market was given the once over by Anna McGrail over at The Edinburgh Book Review. It’s a bit of a mixed review as these things go. I’m glad Anna found stuff to enjoy, and a little sad that it missed the mark for her in other ways. I get the feeling that she would have preferred a more traditional sort of zombie novel than I provided (I hope she stumbles across Thy Fearful Symmetry someday, as I suspect the final third of that book would satisfy her much more). It’s the sort of review at which I shrug and move on out of necessity. I’m pleased and grateful that she took the time to read and review it, and a little disappointed not to have fully won her over. Hey ho. You can’t win them all.

There’s one point in there that has stuck with me though, and that’s the assumption that I’m trying to lead the author to feel pity for William Burke and so provide a hero for the novel. Anna rightly doesn’t buy it. Burke’s problems don’t in any way justify his actions. He’s no more a hero than his partner in crime. and I’m definitely not trying to set him up as one. I’m not even sure I want you to pity him. The problems he encounters, that lead him to slide into a morass of murder and fear, are almost all of his own devising. A better man would not have ended up so deep in the gutter. I find him piteous. He’s a part of me (all my characters are, in some way) that I have a huge amount of contempt for. That doesn’t mean I don’t or shouldn’t try to understand him of course. Much of the book is about his journey from being one type of man to another.

So if Burke isn’t the hero of The Flesh Market, who is?

Nobody. There are no heroes in the novel. None at all. It’s not that sort of book. I didn’t set out to write a novel about, in Anna’s words, “zombies and murder” (although I can forgive anybody for assuming so as both are present and correct). I wanted to write a book about people. In this case the people aren’t particularly nice, because beneath the hood this is a story about obsession and addiction. Both are traits that can make us monstrous, and in The Flesh Market that is exactly what happens to each of the principal characters in different ways.

Most of the positive reviews the book has had so far come from people who ‘don’t usually read that sort of thing’ and make a point of saying so on Amazon. By this, I suspect most of them are people who wouldn’t normally pick up one of the many (many, many, many) zombie novels that are currently stifling the horror genre with their repetition. Fair enough. The typical zombie story has had its day. There’s always room for something radical and new within that sub-genre, but most releases aren’t trying to provide it. Instead they’re catering to readers with an appetite for more of the same. That’s not a crime at all, but for better or worse The Flesh Market isn’t ‘more of the same’.

It puts me in an odd position when it comes to marketing. Zombie lovers might not be satisfied by the book. Zombie loathers might not pick it up in the first place. How do you market a book with zombies in for people who don’t usually read things with zombies in?

Of course, as marketing problems go that’s an adjunct to a larger one I’ve struggled with for the last nine months or so. For a long time I’ve been to all intents and purposes a horror author. But am I really?

I can’t remember the last time I wrote a story in order to scare people, or a scene because I wanted a reader to recoil. Of the novels I’ve written the only one which I consider to be a proper ‘horror novel’ is my first, Cuckoo. I don’t know whether I’ve lost track of what the genre is about, whether it’s changed into something I no longer quite match, or what. Maybe I’m wrong, and I really do fit snugly into the genre. That would be fine with me too. I’d just like to know. Given that my last three novels have included zombies, a haunted house, and an apocalypse, what am I if I’m not a horror author? Does just working with a genre’s tropes place you in that genre, or does there have to be more?

Serious question then. You’ve read some of my stuff I hope (if you haven’t… um… here it is, go and buy something). Am I a horror author? Do I write horror? I’ll be perfectly satisfied if the answer is ‘yes’. It’s a genre I’ve always loved. I just don’t know if it’s where my own stories really lie anymore.

Answers below, if you have them. I’ll come back to this on Thursday I think, when my head’s a little clearer.

On the subject of reviews, I have a request. If you’ve read one of my books then please pop along to Amazon and leave a short review and rating. It doesn’t have to be much, but it helps the book along in all sorts of ways. Firstly, other customers will read it. You might be the one that convinces them to buy a copy for themselves. Secondly, Amazon keeps count of these things. If a book has a few reviews, it sometimes recommends it to other people who might like it. Thirdly, behind the scenes, a book needs reviews in order to qualify for various promotional things that help it to find readers. The Flesh Remembers doesn’t currently have enough reviews for those alas, so if you can add one more then you will be helping me out enormously. The same goes for any of my books that you read. Some of you do this as a matter of course, for me and other authors too – thank you! Everybody else, please join in…

Buy The Flesh Remembers. Read The Flesh Remembers. Rate The Flesh Remembers.

*musings end*

 

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7 Comments

  1. Jackie BMay 13, 2014 at 7:00 pm

    I disagree that Burke is a weakly written character or that we were supposed to feel pity for him or think he’s a hero. I think I got what you intended, although I would say that throughout Burke appeared to be the only person that could change things so rather than being a hero I would say he could be ‘hope’ (if that makes sense?). In all honesty I would say that it’s Anna that got it wrong through her assumption that because the novel had zombies, there should be more action and a hero. The zombies were secondary to the real aim of the novel IMHO. In short I don’t think you should be concerned by this review. She didn’t enjoy the book as much as she could have, because she had different expectations and I think it is unfair to blame the book for not being what SHE expected. Also because she was looking for her own ‘expectations’ she’s perhaps kind of missed the point in that regard. I think. You’re right about TFS though. I reckon she would like it too.

    Your point about genre and who would be likely to enjoy The Flesh Market is valid and something I have thought about myself. I haven’t read Cuckoo but I would class your other books as being maybe Supernatural but probably not horror. I don’t read horror though and I think I might not like your work if it were completely horror. There are definitely strong horror elements in your writing though and it is difficult to pigeon hole you. Not least because the most common theme in your writing is characterisation. Your stories have been VERY different. Perhaps from a making money perspective it makes sense to write something that fits snugly into a genre. From there, you make more people aware of your work and can afford to write cross genre stuff…

    Craven Place fits more into a specific genre; although you had it in mystery and detective (I think) and it was more successful. My gut feeling is that perhaps more people found it because of this.

    TFM could be described as historical (but the horror element is likely to put off many readers of that genre). Having not read much horror, the only comparison I can think of is Anno Dracula but that is obviously very far removed from being historical, despite being in the past and there being countless historical references.

    Just some initial ramblings which have got me more confused. I may be back with more when my head is reeling less. 🙂 Perhaps someone else can help us get to an answer?

  2. Richard WrightMay 13, 2014 at 8:27 pmAuthor

    Crikey. You give FANTASTIC blog comment. That’s practically a blog post all your own 😉

    While Anna’s opinion has been shaped by her expectations, that does come FROM something. Thinking about it, the first proper chapter deliberately tries to deliver a ‘typical’ zombie uprising before the novel goes in a different direction, so I can see why she might have had her hopes up for a more usual sort of treatment. I’m never inclined to blame a reader for not liking a story. Although I think I stole the idea from other storytellers before me, I think any written story is a mix of stuff the author provides, and details the reader fills in. A proper collaboration. Alas, not all collaborations work as you hope going in! I remember the English teacher at Amble Middle, whose name honestly escapes me (annoyingly, as he’s a big part of where my live of literature began), asking the class who had read The Lord of the Rings (and I loved his expectation that we probably had). Then he asked those who had to describe an orc. Then he sat back and watched us argue for a bit before pointing out that no two people’s orcs could ever be the same because we all invented them for ourselves, unless Peter Jackson made a movie about them.

    Well, not the last bit, obviously.

    You’re right about the differences in the books. Apart from the fact that they all have some sort of supernatural aspect, they don’t supply the same things at all. If Cuckoo had been published by a mass market publisher, I think it’s unlikely that I would have been allowed to follow up with something like Thy Fearful Symmetry, and DEFINITELY not with something like Craven Place. I wonder if the three novels that followed would ever have happened if I was writing things more in the vein of the first?

  3. Jackie BMay 13, 2014 at 9:26 pm

    Mr Cowan?

  4. protovicarMay 20, 2014 at 6:53 pm

    I’ve been procrastinating about posting a comment – and a review on THE FLESH MARKET – because I don’t think you’re going to like everything I write. But let me preface by stating that you are A Writer; one who has received payment for some piece of writing and then gone on to use that money to pay the electricity bill. Or buy cheap Indian cigarettes. In any event, Stephen King would define you as a writer, but would not so define me, so please take the following comments with that acknowledgement in mind 😉

    I stumbled on your blog as a Writer friend of mine (Linda Gillard) posted a link to it and then I read CRAVEN PLACE, which on the whole I rather enjoyed. And I felt it worthwhile downloading THE FLESH MARKET, although I have to say it didn’t particularly appeal to me. I read it, dutifully, and I’m afraid it felt like duty at times. I found it hard work in places, largely I think because of the pacing, a point Anna McGrail made with which I concur. But I also concur with Jackie B’s comments that characterisation is a strong constant throughout your writing. I note you have some experience of scriptwriting and IMO that shows in the way you write, when I most enjoy your writing; strong characters, true dialogue, lots of space (Pinteresque pauses) for the reader to collaborate as you describe it. I also found the plotting in CRAVEN PLACE to be excellent.

    I wonder if, before fixating about genre, you need to take a step back and think about why you’re writing? Linda’s often written about her writing being a need within her and she writes stories linearly because she wants to find out how they end. I know you’re on a one year experiment to make a living from writing and perhaps that requires a very different, more calculating approach. One has to start writing for Stephen King’s Ideal Reader, perhaps.

    From reading those two works of yours – and several of THE 52 as you’ve produced them – I think you write in a way that pleases you, and I suspect all Writers must do that if they are ever to finish anything. But what pleases you may not always please many potential readers. I think my clearest impression of this comes from the highly literary style of your prose. I’m pretty well educated but you often use words I’ve never come across. Whilst I’m not suggesting for a second that a dumbed down vocabulary is what the Ideal Reader looks for, I do think your style exacerbates the risk of mixing genres into a volatile and possibly unpalatable cocktail. So, with THE FLESH MARKET, we have a fictionalised, true crime, (sort of) zombie novel written in a literary style. I’m not sure why you’re doing this, and I’m not averse to genre-busting per se, but the very fact that you’re asking the question about genre indicates it’s something you may need to reflect upon further.

    In simple answer to your question, I don’t think you’re a horror writer. Or at least, what I’ve read of your work doesn’t conform with what I’ve come to expect from mainstream, successful horror writers. But I do believe you are A Writer, I believe you have a strong voice and I think you have potentially interesting stories to tell. I think I’ve already spelled out my opinions about your writing: great characterisation, believable dialogue, strong plotting, intriguing stories, patchy pacing and occasionally over-flowery prose. That’s all just my opinion and you can tell me to go forth and multiply with it!

    One point I will stand by though is this: I am a firm believer that A Writer has a responsibility to ensure that their product for sale is as good as they can make it, whether it is to Ideal Reader’s taste or not. The Kindle edition of THE FLESH MARKET was absolutely riddled with typos. I quickly lost count but I’m certain there were over a hundred. I understand why; you finished the novel very quickly, published quickly, didn’t have time to proof, didn’t have resources to pay for a proof reader. I beg of you, don’t do that again if you want your work to be taken seriously. I’m not a professional proof reader, but I’d be happy to do a free non-professional proof for you if you can spare a week in the publishing schedule for your next work.

    Which is probably fair penance for being so candid in my opinions about your writing!

    Amanda

  5. Richard WrightMay 21, 2014 at 8:29 amAuthor

    Hello Amanda – thank you for taking the time to go through that. Don’t worry, I’m not offended at all. All writers have some readers who follow them through various books, but you and Jackie are right in pointing out that I make this a bit of a challenge by so far stubbornly refusing to stay in the same broad zone. Your response to The Flesh Market after Craven Place is, I imagine, something people who try and like one of my books experience quite a lot. It can happen as easily in the other direction. There’s been a lot of wonderful feedback about The Flesh Market, and some of those new readers are going to look at Craven Place, realise it’s not their sort of thing, but buy it on the off chance that it’s actually going to be more like Market than they expect. Their instincts are right, of course – it’s nothing like The Flesh Market, and they may end up stuck in a style of novel they’ve no interest in.

    You’re points on the pacing through the plot – Anna’s too – are noted. It’s not something I hear with any consistency, so I shall park that and move on. You may be the first who are pointing out something I need to look at in the broader scheme of things, or it may at this stage just be a more subjective thing. Either way, thanks for raising it. You sweeten the pill wonderfully with your notes on characterisation! Like Linda, I’ve a background in theatre as an actor, so that may be helpful when I approach dialogue and characters.

    Why do I write? There are many answers to that, probably a blog post in itself (which is what this comment is turning into!). However, the fact that I write stories and the fact that I’m seeing what happens during this freelance year are two different things. I’ve been a writer for almost two decades, because for various reasons telling stories makes me happy. The freelance year is just an opportunity that’s come up. While I’ve tried to plan it out a little to get the most out of what is a rare chance, it hasn’t touched the actual writing in the slightest. If it had, then I would have made very different decisions about what to write and publish to appeal to the broadest possible readership (I did consider this – especially after the success of Craven Place). Instead, I’m writing the stories that appeal most urgently to me. Publishing them is a second, different step at which point I work with what I’ve got. That’s limiting, as far as the freelance experiment goes, but I’m resistant to a more calculating approach to what my fiction should ‘be’. Your point about King’s ‘Ideal Reader’ is a very good one though. I’ve never really had one of these before – one person (other than me) who I hope will like each story I write, and write therefore to please. I think I do now – though I don’t think they know it.

    The question about genre arose not in order to shape new things that I write, but because I then sell it. What I was interested in was whether I was selling it to the wrong people, and whether perhaps there was an existing genre I was missing that I should be sitting in. After a few days reflection on what I’ve written and published to date, I don’t think there is. Craven Place and Hiram Grange are never going to be easy bedfellows, and that’s something I’ll have to work around.

    As for the high literary style – that’s the nicest criticism I’ve ever had 😉 I’ve never been taken to task for that before, so it’s another one I’ll park. I wonder if this might be skewed by the particular books you’ve read. For different reasons both The Flesh Market and Craven Place are written in a slightly arch, archaic voice (as I wanted to reflect the era in The Flesh Market, and a sort of bygone age of mysteries in Craven Place). I don’t THINK the other novels and novellas carry that across. Or perhaps they do? I’ll keep this in the back of my mind – thanks!

  6. Richard WrightMay 21, 2014 at 8:36 amAuthor

    As for editing, I did in fact hire a professional editor (who earns his keep doing this for some very respectable publishers) for The Flesh Market. The same one who handled Craven Place. However, something clearly went wrong on this occasion – I’ve had to apply various retroactive fixes to the ebook, and am going to have to start over with the paperback soon. I don’t know whether the timescale was too tight for them, or whether the final draft somehow got mixed up with an earlier draft at the layout stage. I promise you though, this was through error rather than a lack of consideration for the most effective process (which is indeed to bring in a skilled editor!).

    Regardless the cause, I agree with you entirely, and this has been a source of considerable personal frustration with this book.

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