I met guest blogger David Mark Brown at the 2010 Flathead River Writers Conference in Kalispell, Montana, and it will take someone more talented than me to accurately describe him. He marches to his own drum, trumpet, fiddle... Here he posts on Writing Niche vs Blockbuster.
Like all of us, I have made infamous decisions in my life which have long outlived their immediate effects. For instance, dropping off the football team to try out for cheerleader -- in a small, Texas town.
One such decision I have made more recently has been to deep six my long held dreams of being a New York Times best selling author in exchange for pursuing a more attainable, double-digit salary as a professional niche-genre writer. When I say, "niche-genre" I don't mean science fiction or romance. I don't even mean paranormal urban fantasy or steampunk, the shooting stars of sub-genre genre fiction. Nope. In my case I'm referring to dieselpunk weird western alternate history pulp, with a twist of granola. (And yes, you saw the word western in the mix, otherwise known as the kiss of death).
I call it Reeferpunk, and it was what leapt from the fire once I finally developed the cojones to ask myself the million dollar question -- "What were you born to write?" Screw market forces. Forget the critics, the agents, the gatekeepers, Oprah. Throw away all the lectures given by snooty professors on how the short story is the only true form of American literature. Lose the personal desire to impress and mold society. Push Henry Thoreau off the docks at Walden Pond. And finally fly the double bird in the face of reason.
What can I write that no one else can? It's a matter of calling. I don't suspect that I've perfected the answer yet, but I'm closer than I've ever been. And it feels good. But a series of preliminary questions rattled around my brain before I could answer the big one: What do I enjoy reading? When I first asked myself this simple question I was in the midst of my fifth rewrite on a novel that I would've never picked off the shelf (unless my reading club had dictated it). I like thrilling and speculative stories based on real human desires and characteristics put to the test in outlandish situations or alternate realities -- human stories in sensational environs. I like fast-moving yet brain-punishing fiction. I like Frank Herbert's DUNE and Orson Scott Card's ENDER'S SHADOW.
What do I know? I'm no scientist. I'm a liberal arts slacker through and through, but history and political science felt doable. Who am I? And what has made me what I am? Born and raised in rural Texas, I grew up working on a ranch. I attended university in the midst of the Rocky Mountains at the U of Montana (the Berkeley of the Rockies) where the police were on record saying about marijuana, "it's so common we hardly try to stop it anymore," and the school paper published editorials on how to weatherstrip your dorm room so your R.A. would never know. I'm the Redneck Granola.
Now all I needed were the яичка ("eggs" in Russian) to put the answers together and write the royally whacked-out speculative fiction I've been called to write -- invent the niche-genre that is David Mark Brown. Maybe later in my career I'll be talented enough to write what others want me too. But for now I'm writing refried alternate-history about what could have become of the southern half of North America if cheap oil never got cheap (due to the birth of the evil nation of Texicas), and instead brilliant minds devised an early cellulosic ethanol from the wondrous cannabis plant. Mein Hanf! (Spanish, Russian and German in the same post!)
As for reality? Well, thank God for ebooks, the digital wrecking ball of the publishing industry. Current conditions seem perfectly suited for the self-published, super-niche ebook. Forums, facebook groups and hashtags on twitter make it easier than ever before to participate in cultural and literary ghettos of our liking. To survive as a professional writer of super-niche genre fiction all I need are the enthusiastic downloads of 15,000 fans.
New York Times? Not a chance. But at 70% of $2.99 for two books a year I'd rather have my 15,000 fans for fiction I was born to write, than a pipe dream and a job at Home Depot. Will it work? It'll probably take a miracle. You could always download FISTFUL OF REEFER from an ebook distributor near you and find out for yourself.
David Mark Brown blogs at www.davidmarkbrownwrites.com or you may find him skulking around the FB group Writers Etc.