Tuesday, August 13, 2013

How Does Your Garden Grow? (an Indie Life post)

I haven't spent a lot of time talking about our little mini-garden; at least, not here on the blog, I haven't. It's not really much of a garden, since it's just a planter box, but we did get a ton of tomatoes out of it last year. This year, we expanded the tomatoes into the backyard, too. But I'm not here to talk about tomatoes. Not today, anyway.

One of the things we planted last year was nasturtiums. I think it was because we had some fantasy that we
would use them in salads or something, but, mostly, we never did. I'd throw some flower petals in occasionally but not enough to really count. We skipped planting the nasturtiums this year, but that was because we didn't have to plant them. The above picture is our little nasturtium plot for this year, and, if you can see it up there in the top right corner, they didn't grow in the planter box. No, we had our own little patch of nasturtiums spring up all on their own this year, outside of the box. That's kind of cool, because they are pretty.

As you will notice, the nasturtiums are yellow and orange, which is what we planted last year, yellow and orange nasturtiums. As a big patch of flowers, they are very pretty, but... BUT none of the individual flowers stand out. It's just a bunch of yellow and orange flowers all mixed together. One flower is as good as the next. So let's say I was making a salad and I was going to throw in some flower petals for color, there wouldn't be a lot of thought involved in which nasturtiums to pick. I'd look for the ones that were more freshly bloomed and pick a few.

And that's kind of how choosing books are for a lot of people: What's newly published? What's "freshest"? But, really, it's all the same stuff, so it doesn't really matter. To a large extent, for example, fantasy written today is pretty much the same as fantasy written 30, 40, 50 years ago.

Look back up there at that picture of the flowers. Just orange and yellow nasturtiums. And that's all it was for a while. But, then, inexplicably, we had this:
That, just to be clear, is a red nasturtium. We didn't plant any red nasturtiums. It grew up all on its own. And that's kind of like when something new comes along in the book world. It really stands out against everything else that is just orange and yellow.

Harry Potter is a good example of this. Not that Harry Potter is really all that new, because it still uses many of the familiar fantasy themes: orphaned boy, who finds out he has previously unknown powers, who is the subject of a prophecy. Etc. It's a fairly standard fantasy setup, except for the setting. That's the thing that makes it different. The thing that makes it standout. The thing that makes it red. It's no longer just some apprentice wizard boy with his wizard master; it's a whole school of witches and wizards and it's set today. People stopped to look. "Ooh, look... that one's red."

Which, incidentally, is the same thing that happened with Fifty Shades of Grey. I mean, nothing has changed in romance in, like, ever, but Fifty Shades came along, and it wasn't just the same old yellow or orange flower and, whereas before, no particular book got lots of attention because of that; suddenly, Fifty Shades was the only red flower, and everyone wanted it.

Now, of course, we have lots of red flowers,

which has changed the look of the nasturtium patch somewhat (but only somewhat, as they tend to hide under the leaves more than the orange and yellow flowers), and, now, of course, we have lots of books like Harry Potter, which is not a bad thing. Adding variety is a good thing, and, although a lot of "copycats" can seem antithetical to variety, it does, actually, add variety to the overall landscape of the book world, just as it's done with our flower patch.

Then, we have these that have popped up in the planter box along with the tomatoes:
I'll call these mixing genres, which also produces some pretty flowers (and interesting books). In fact, I actually these are prettier than the red ones, though harder to see from a distance. I mean, I'm not a zombie fan, but even I have Pride and Prejudice and Zombies sitting on my teetering stack of books to read.

Often, publishers don't want to take a risk on anything but that's not yellow or orange. They look out at he flower patch and see that everything is yellow and orange and just decide that that's all people will like. But people like variety, and it doesn't always have to be good (see 50 Shades) for people to be attracted to it. The difference is all that matters. Which is not to say that you should give up on quality for being different; I'm just saying don't stick to the same old orange and yellow flowers. Or, even, red, when a lot of that comes along. Don't be... safe.

That's what I've tried to do in my own writing. I like fantasy, but I don't want my stuff to just be the same old fantasy. And, evidently, I like it to be scary, because a lot of people call what I write horror, especially Shadow Spinner, but, you know, I'm okay with that, because I don't want anyone to read this and think, "Well, this was okay, but I already read this book." [Which is what I think of anytime anyone starts talking about how great Martin is, because I already read that story except it was called The Sword of Truth and, before that, it was called The Wheel of Time, and, before that, it was called...] So, you know, write what you like, but put your own twist on it. Make it yours.

Be the red flower.

This post has been brought to you in part by Indie Life.


  1. I really like this blog and of course I agree with it. I have read "Pride and Prejudice." It is what I would consider a "chick" book and predictable but I thought the dialogue was interesting and I kind of liked the characters. The younger hated it but he hates everything so you can take what he says with a grain of salt.

  2. What if I want to be the black flower? Wait, that probably means I'm dead. Scratch that.
    You just described the American music industry as well. They just keep pumping out the generic yellow and orange. That's why I like progressive rock, especially European prog rock - it's so different and not afraid to take chances.

  3. Very pretty flowers and I like the analogies. Try as I may, try as I might all I can grow are weeds. Kinda like my blog. LOL

  4. You have escapee nasturtiums! Fugitive flowers!

    But, yes, great analogy, and something we should all strive for. Some days it feels like everything has been written already, and yet I know no one could write the story I'm writing but me. No one could write the Shadow Spinner stories but you. That's why it's so important to understand your unique perspective and then bring it to the page. :)

  5. Hahha, I love the flower to story analogy! I like hybrids/blends myself--in plants and in novels

  6. That's a good analogy you created there. I think my flower is pretty brown by now.

  7. Nicely put Andrew. I think that many people try to be the red (or the black) flower, but most don't succeed. Of course you're right about 50 Shades,(and a bunch of other crappy stuff that's out there) a book doesn't have to be good to be successful.
    Publishers go with what they're sure will sell, and don't want to risk much on a red flower...until, that is, everyone becomes a red flower.
    There's a quote from some old author, I can't remember who it was, (Somerset Maughm?) but he said, "There are only two stories ever written, someone goes on an adventure, or a stranger comes to town."
    Here's to red (and black) flowers.

  8. This is actually a fantastic analogy. Seriously! Now, to figure out how to make a red flower with bits of yellow and orange that really stands out ...

  9. David: I liked Pride and Prejudice, although it's been a long time since I read it. I'm hoping the zombie version will help me remember it.

    Alex: I think a black flower is okay if you can pull that off. Are there any actual black flowers? Bah, now I will have to check on that.

    JKIR,F!: Well, I do have another place in the yard that is full of weeds that need to be pulled up. If your blog is full of weeds, it must be dandelions.

    L.G.: That's the thing, no one else can write the story you're writing. People should more often remember that.

    Catherine: Thanks!

    PT: Plant new ones?

    Eve: You know, although I would like to think that, I really don't. Most people see the yellow flowers and just try to write a better yellow flower. Or orange. I don't think many people try to be different. I see too many people talking about how they're trying to write to the market to think otherwise.

    Rachel: Thank you!

  10. I want to be a blue nasturtium. I just wish I could write a book, I have just never had an idea, so I will stay with the weeds and envy the flowers as I see what happens to them. At least I won't get eaten.

  11. Love your analogy. ANd those flowers are gorgeous! I totally agree with you--it's about putting a new spin on an old formula, and although thats what publishers want, they're afraid to take risks a lot of time. After all, they're just people, and they don't always know what other people want til an indie gets out there and proves it. All the more reason to take chances on ourselves. Thanks for the motivation, Andrew!

  12. A rogue red flower. It's appearance can be analyzed, maybe even figured out, but not predicted. Well, metaphorically.

  13. Jo: People do eat dandelions, which are, technically, a weed, so I don't think that would save you.

    Pk: I wouldn't mind them being just people if they would like they were just people. But, yes, we have no reasons not to take chances.

    Jeanne: Maybe once we figure out the bees, we'll be able to predict that sort of thing... but probably not.

  14. Dandelion wine maybe, much better.

  15. I think there are black orchids…

    Oh, and dandelions (and most of our yard weeds) were transplants from Europe. The peasants brought their salad greens with them, you see. So if you stopped dumping chemicals on your yard & let the weeds take over, you wouldn't even need a garden. ;-)

    What that has to do with writing… well, I guess I could relate it to my own Indie Life post about Extreme Pantsing. But I really did enjoy your analogy, and flowers (and stories) do often spring up unbidden.

  16. It's a delicate balance, really. You should always strive to be unique, but don't be so unique (i.e. weird, out there) that it'll be impossible to sell/market. Be they red, black, or orange, people want flowers. If you're selling rocks, that's a much tougher sell on the flower market.

  17. What annoys me is when something is red (and gains all the glory) not because it is any better than the orange or yellow or pink for that matter, but because of word of mouth, timing, going viral. Shades of Grey was unworthy of the hysteria it created or success it earned. It's not the best book of it's kind or of it's time. But hey, it was red. *Groan. Personally I love red. Great post!

    Shah X


  18. Jo: I've never had that. Or read it. I should do that.

    Larry: I'm not sure black orchids are actually black, though. Darn you! Now, I will have to look that up.

    And we don't dump chemicals in our yard, because our actual yard, what there is of it, is rocks, so we don't have enough dandelions to subsist off of.

    ABftS: But if everyone started eating rocks, would you?

    Shah: Yeah, well, that's the thing. If you can't actually be better, then you have to try to stand out in other ways. And you can't blame Ms. James for how popular her books became whether it was worthy or not. Of course, I'm still not going to read them, but, then, she doesn't need me to at this point.

  19. Great analogy! I love watching my sunflowers morph and cross pollinate over the years. You never know what you're going to get! I planted a blood red variety this year which is really awesome. Plus I have red tomatoes and red peppers, too. So yes, I'm trying to be as red as I can.
    I think my book is too...
    Tina @ Life is Good

  20. ...let's try that AGAIN...damn, I need to wake up...

  21. Tina: I've never seen a red sunflower. In fact, I don't think I've seen any color other than yellow. I had an uncle that used to grow sunflowers. That's where I learned that I really didn't like sunflower seeds.