Since this is the day after Easter and I’m traveling home after Easter revels, I probably ought to be writing about the history of Easter eggs and rabbits, but we all know the celebration stems from the Teutonic goddess Eastre’s fertility rites on the vernal equinox, right? And that bunnies were originally hares, which can conceive while still pregnant and thus are the ultimate in fertility. And to celebrate the end of Lent, German children made rabbit nests out of their hats and caps that magically filled with plant-dyed eggs. And by the early 1800’s, sugary candies were added and then they finally got the formula right for chocolate and whammo, Easter bunnies deliver chocolate eggs. And chocolate is now good for you, so go ahead and finish off that basket!
But I haven’t been writing historicals lately and can’t think of an interesting theme for Easter bunnies, so I’ll go off on what’s really bothering me—which is the concept of “high concept.”
First off—I am not talking about “writing what’s hot.” That’s a fool’s journey. I could write the next greatest vampire story in history and not sell it tomorrow because NYC will have decided the “vampire market is saturated.” I could invent a whole new brilliant genre untapped by anyone and NYC will decide “it’s too different, we don’t know where to market it.” So forget the flavor of the month. I’m not going there.
High concept is another critter altogether, one that apparently brings together popular themes/icons/whathaveyou into conflict with each other or reality, usually the latter in my not so humble opinion.
High concept doesn’t work well in historicals, unless it’s something along the order of “Prince of Wales kidnaps Arab Sheik’s Daughter.” Essentially, everything in history has already been recorded, so we have to stretch ourselves pretty danged far to make a historical romance into high concept. Eloisa James’ Duke and fairy tale series probably come closest, but she deliberately stretches reality since there were very definitely not six handsome, single, wealthy dukes running around Regency England. The mamas wouldn’t have allowed it. So for historical high concept, one has to pretty much write fantasy concepts and six handsome dukes will do it.
I don’t totally grasp “high concept” so feel free to correct me, but I assume Wizard Kid Conquers Evil and Boring Bankrupt Writer Solves Murder fall under that term or Harry Potter and Girl with the Dragon Tattoo wouldn’t have done so well. Again, a decided clash with reality, so maybe that’s the key.
But as much as I like fantasy, high concept irritates me. Whatever happened to “quiet fiction”? Reality, if you must be literal.
When was the last time you read about REAL people instead of demon slayers? Why can’t we write about people who worry about their weight or lose their jobs or who get the job they’ve always wanted and hate it? Why shouldn’t we write about people who save trees or cities by doing something normal like writing petitions and protesting or even running for office? Normal people. Normal situations. Not out-there-on-a-limb-so-far-its-gonna-break high concepts. If anyone has any recommendations along the “quiet fiction” line, let me know!
But as of this moment, most romance editors seem to be after Navy Seals, Werewolves meet Frankenstein, Billionaire Buys Waitress (or better yet, Waitress Rejects Billionaire, but then it wouldn’t be romance <G>), complete with over-the-top sex and violence. I can’t blame fantasy editors for wanting sex, violence, and monsters, but must everything be apocalyptic and dystopian? Or is that fantasy’s high concept du jour?
The problem is that publishers have to SELL quiet books, and it’s not easy without a great hook shouting pickup lines to readers. We have to pimp the cover with smoke and mirrors and hunks, and whisper come hither promises in the back copy, before a book even lands on a bookstore shelf. Once it’s on the shelf, it has to make another big leap into the customer’s hands. What are the chances of MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON leaping into anyone’s hands when DANGEROUS DECEPTIONS is sitting next to it? (and my apologies to anyone with that title—I count half a dozen on Amazon—I mean no offense. It’s a great title, which makes my point.) We can’t even sell quiet titles anymore.
So I’m throwing this rant over to our readers—prove me wrong. Name some great quiet fiction you’ve read recently.
Or tell me why you’d rather read monsters and serial killers and superheroes and royalty than about the boy next door. I really want to know.
Small Town Girl high concept: Two musicians don’t kill each other? Waitress meets Hunk, Dreams versus Reality…