Friday, September 28, 2012

Fess Up Friday: I Tried Writing to a Trend Once

Back when I was a 'tween/teen, I was on the prowl for books to read that would take me out of the sweet and safe realm of Ramona Quimby or Peter Hatcher or Encyclopedia Brown. My growing interest in the world around me naturally brought me to the Teen reading section of my library. (I don't think they even called it YA back then.)

While I was growing up, V.C. Andrews books were in.  Girls were reading it at my junior high and high school during class, during lunch, on the school buses. Their noses hid behind the  books with the dark cover of the heroine's face enclosed under the cutout that, upon opening the cover, would bring you to a painted portrait of a family with secrets and skeletons. Oftentimes, one person is smirking at the reader, inviting us to dive in for a scandalous read.

Wanting to see what the hype was all about, I started reading V.C. Andrews books too.

The FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC series was super popular. It seemed like all the girls were reading about Chris and Cathy, the brother and sister who had fallen in lust with each other after years of being locked in an attic by their mother and grandmother. While I was captivated by the unusual premise of the story, what also appealed to me then was the feeling that I was reading "grown-up" books. So after reading the FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC series, I read through the HEAVEN series, the DAWN series, the RUBY series, and so on.   

The recurring plot lines of incest, especially when it involved sexual abuse, sometimes made me a teeny bit uncomfortable. 
(Update: I'm NOT saying I can't handle a book with incest. But I did feel the emotional consequences of incest in some of these stories were not addressed as thoroughly as I felt it could've been. And that's where the occasional uneasiness from my reading came from.)

This is absolutely not a post knocking on V.C. Andrews and her books. Her and her ghost writer's books have sold over 100 million copies- that's what you call a huge publishing success. And in spite of what the literary folk say, I feel fine sharing I'd read a number of V.C. Andrews' older books when I was younger. So while I wasn't exactly reading for the stories of sex and/or romance among relatives and family members, other aspects of V.C. Andrews' books drew me in. The pretty but sometimes helpless heroines, the big houses, the family secrets, and the melodramatic back stories were some of the soap opera-like elements of the novels that grabbed me as a young reader. 

Being that romantic incest seemed to be a hot teen reading trend, I wondered how I could capitalize on this trend, being the naive adolescent wannabe writer that I once was. And this takes me to another revelation.... Now I'm going to run and hide under my desk while you read the next few lines...

I confess... Many many years ago, I wrote a short story about two step-siblings who kiss.  I'd thought to myself, if V.C. Andrews and her ghost writer could pull it off, so could I. I was wrong about that. 

Upon retrospect, it was not a good use of time to write about a topic I wasn't really enthusiastic about. But I saw what I thought was a publishing trend, and I wondered where I could go with this... 

Years later, when I skim through my story, all I could think is EW EW EW! And to think I'd actually made copies of this catastrophe of words and shared it with a bunch of my peers. Another round of EWs!

Don't write to a trend. You'll see what you'd written years later and feel utterly embarrassed.

Did any of you read V.C. Andrews books while growing up? Or, have any of you ever taken a stab at writing to a trend? How did it go?


S.P. Bowers said...

I read Flowers in the Attic and found it fairly disturbing (I was young and sheltered). I've never tried writing to a trend. Unless you count when I was five and wrote a bunch of books (fully illustrated) about princes and princesses getting married because that was what I liked to read.

David P. King said...

I don't remember reading any of her books, but I remember seeing them. :)

Lionel said...

I never read V.C. Andrews either, but I do remember those covers. I am actually kind of shocked at the content. Not in a bad way, as you say there is a lot to these books, but I would have never guessed what all those girls in my junior high school were reading about. Very memorable covers. Thanks so much for posting.

Paul R. Hewlett

Caryn Caldwell said...

Yes! I read SO MANY V.C. Andrews books when I was in high school. They were deliciously scandalous, and they completely drew me in, even though I, too, got completely icked out at the incest thing. And, yes, I tried to write like her, too, though not with incest. Just with the tragedy and the seriousness and the family secrets. Didn't fit my voice at all. (And don't even get me started on trying to write like Christopher Pike! Ack!)

Glad you found where you want to be, writing-wise -- or at least where you DON'T want to be!

Cynthia said...

Sara: I'm pretty sure I've written a princess story or two when I was younger too!

David: When I was in junior high and high school, I saw them everywhere.

Paul: I remember being intrigued by the cover art too.

Caryn: I think many of us have to try out different writing styles until we find one that fits!

Jennifer R. Hubbard said...

I don't think of VCA's book as YA books, even though the reality is that teens (and even pre-teens) were reading them. We also read John Saul and Stephen King. Which is why, when people ask if today's YA books are too dark, I shake my head. We read books that were really adult because the YA books of our own day weren't dark enough.

I never thought of trying to write a VCA-type book, though. And to me, the incest wasn't the chief attraction (I was squicked out when Cathy became her adoptive father's lover in PETALS ON THE WIND). To me, those books were mostly about revenge fantasies, because they involved children who had been mistreated and then got back at their abusers in big ways. Cathy became beautiful and famous, and got revenge on her mother and grandmother. And the deaths of Carrie and Cory fell into the "they'll be sorry when I'm gone" category.

Tara Tyler said...

totally loved & had mixed feelings about those books as a compelling and desperate, couldnt stop reading!

Lynn Proctor said...

no i have never read any of these and i am shocked at what they were about---kinda weird but interesting!

Cynthia said...

Jennifer: I like your interpretation of these books as being revenge fantasies. The incest was totally never the chief attraction for me either, but having read these when I was rather young, I'd thought that the "forbidden romance" element was why others liked reading them.

Tara: I think having mixed feelings about the material could have been part of the appeal for some readers.

Lynn: Back then, I did find the melodramatic aspects of the stories interesting.

Lexa Cain said...

You're probably right. I've written a few things that I wasn't enthused about just 'cause I knew it was popular (writing Fantasy instead of Horror that I really love, but is less easy to sell). One thing though. When the Fantasy didn't get too many requests, I wasn't devastated. But I love my Horror novel so much that every rejection is so painful. I guess there are pros and cons about everything...
Great post! :-)

Lexa Cain said...

P.S. Your comment on my blog cracked me up! No, there may not be any "documented cases" of people exploding from too much chocolate, but there's a first time for everything, and with my luck, I'll be the one who goes Boom! :-D

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