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I am a writer, editor, reviewer and dance teacher based in Perth, Western Australia.

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The first two novels of my trilogy, The Talismans, are available as e-books from Smashwords. I do have paperbacks of The Dagger of Dresnia at the low price of $AU25 including postage within Australia. I also have a short story, 'La Belle Dame', in print - see Mythic Resonance below. The best way to contact me is via Facebook!

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The first two books of The Talismans trilogy were published by Satalyte Publications, which, sadly, has gone out of business. I hope to see my books back on Amazon under a new publisher in the near future.

The Dagger of Dresnia

The Dagger of Dresnia
Want a copy? Contact me at satimafn(at)gmail.com

The Cloak of Challiver

The Cloak of Challiver
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Mythic Resonance is an excellent anthology that includes my short story 'La Belle Dame', together with great stories from Alan Baxter, Donna Maree Hanson, Sue Burstynski, Nike Sulway and nine more fantastic authors! Just $US3.99 from Amazon. Got a Kindle? Check out Mythic Resonance.

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Sunday, 20 January 2008

The Artist's Conflict

Last week I was complaining about a quandary that arose from my writing. This is becoming a regular feature of my bloglife: in fact, it’s starting to look to me as though writing a book is a journey through a multitude of quandaries, each treading on the heels of the one in front so that the writer is hard pressed to find a way through. Every week a different problem – no wonder we have a reputation for eccentricity. And, perhaps, for egocentricity, too, since these dilemmas can pull us into a lot of rather fruitless navel-gazing that leaves little room for outer concerns.

You might remember that last week my turmoil was about whether or not it is acceptable to leave one set of characters behind and bring in another lot once the novel is well underway. It was a double worry, because in this case I’m not only abandoning a cast of characters that many of my readers were already engaged with but I'm also skipping a decade and half before continuing – or, rather, starting afresh: a new place, a new time, all new characters apart from the main one. Time jumps are another thing that many readers do not like.

The nature of the current problem is not what brought me to write today, but rather the annoying frequency of such problems in a writer’s life. As I’ve pointed out already, they are all too common.

Every artist, whatever his or her field, must constantly deal with a certain kind of inner conflict, unique, I think, to the arts – the conflict between “what I need to do” and “what I feel”. In this case, my feelings are for the new situation. The early characters have done their jobs and I want to press on. But if we write what we want to write, the burning question is – will it sell? I know that if an author were to play such a nasty trick on me I would, very probably, be just as unforgiving as my critics.

There are writers, I know, who are able to churn out novels to order. They learn a formula: they know what people want. And they are able to produce it, again and again. This must, I believe, mean that the writer cannot engage emotionally with the work, because if he or she did, the aforementioned conflict would surely arise. The other side of the coin is the tortured writer: the one who takes ten years to write a novel; one who is constantly starting anew because his or her emotional engagement will not permit moving on until some set of unconscious parameters has been filled. I see the signs in myself and want to pull back from that road.

Perhaps the first kind of writer – the hack novelist – finds other things in life that satisfy the urge to engage deeply with something. It’s the sort of engagement we have with our partners, friends and children, and indeed most of the “hack” writers I’ve met seem to have satisfying outer lives that must fill that need for engagement. For the tortured writer, there is not only no such outlet apart from the work-in-progress, but neither is there anyone to point to the outside world and pull the writer back to it. So the inner life takes over, leading the writer in ever decreasing circles, and we all know what happens to people who do that. (In this country, rumour has it that they will disappear up their own backsides.)

Is there a Middle Way? My Buddhist training has taught me always to seek that elusive track, but it is not easy in any area of life and least of all in this. How much of an eye for the commercial market is too much? How much emotional investment in the work is too much?

Perhaps the Middle Way always involves some compromise. I hope that by the end of the month – when I’ve promised to get back to the WIP – my unconscious will have figured out just what that compromise needs to be.

Wish us luck, the WIP and me:-)

11 comments:

Patty said...

I think you can do both - write engaging stories that conform to a publishable formula, and engage with your characters. I would, for example, never dare call either Karen Miller or Glenda Larke disengaged writers, yet they produce work according to a publishable formula. The same thing applies for other writers I have met. 'What engages you' and 'what is publishable' are not mutually exclusive at all.

Satima Flavell said...

I wouldn't call Glenda or Karen formulaic in their writing at all! Certainly they use the genre's established tropes, but they use them in an original way. I'm talking more about the "formula" plot, where boy meets girl in chapter one, they separate chapter three etc. Some writers who do this kind of thing just write the same story over and over again - and they sell!

Patty said...

Note I said 'Publishable formula' not 'cardboard cut-out formula'. There is much that can be published that is not standrd in its plotting approach, but it usually conforms to certain plotting rules nevertheless. You remember that book we both hated so much because of the dreadful ending? That's the sort of stuff I mean. Basic human-expectation stuff. By enlarge, readers want happy endings, readers don't like it when you switch characters mid-novel, readers hate skipping large swathes of time, readers don't like it is the guy doesn't get the girl, readers expect a thread of the plot to manifest by chapter 3 and carry through, and be resolved by the end. That sort of stuff, which is kinda formulaic.

Satima Flavell said...

Sure, but that's not what I was talking about in the post under question. I'm talking about plots so formulaic they are predictable. They frequently overuse stock characters, too, and yet it's obviously possible to go on producing book after book in like vein - and get them published!

Marilyn Z. Tomlins said...

Satima -- I feel for you, but I am sure that you will work this one out. I always say that whatever we do, we should do it as best we can, and not to please anyone else. I don't believe that there is a *norm* as far as writing (or anything else) is concerned. What works for one doesn't work for the other. So follow your own feelings. Best luck anyway.
Marilyn

Jo said...

I agree with Marilyn, Shakespeare said it best "to thine own self be true". I am a reader, not a writer, but I would think write what you want to write as well as you can and the way that it wants to go. Once you have the full story on paper (or PC) you can then worry about who will read it and whether it will sell. If you spend your time worrying about its saleability then you will never finish the story. That happened to me with the one book I tried to write, so I never finished.

Satima Flavell said...

Thanks guys:-) Nice bit of moral support. I've promised myself I'll get back to the WIP at the beginning of February but I'm biting my nails at the thought!

Sonia said...

The mind boggles at the thought of a write disappearing up their own backside with their WIP! What kind of impending explosion is to come!!!!!

The middle way... for me is having fun. If it is all commercial it can't be about fun. So if writing stops being about having fun I promise to stop doing it! That's why I'm kicking Jarri out the door after this round of editing. It will be about 7th draft. And that's a record for me :)

Satima Flavell said...

Ah, but I think those seven drafts have been worthwhile, Sonia! When you set Jarri free, he will fly:-)

genevieve said...

Satima, is it possible that the new storyline may splinter off into something new? in any case it will still be there if you flesh bits of it out quickly now, so you can get back to it another time.
Just a thought.

Satima Flavell said...

That's pretty much what I've done, Genevieve - I'm taking time out while the story "gels" but whenever I think of a new idea I make a note of it. It might be possible to turn the ideas into two books but it worries me that the series is already four books long and no publisher will sign a new writer up for a series that long, so I have to think of each book as a discrete story. Decisions, decisions...

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