C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

Write and publish with love and fury.

Wussies! Creativity and the boneheads in the way of artful risks

Jay McInerney at Tribeca Film Festival 2010

Jay McInerney at Tribeca Film Festival 2010 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I just read something from a writing advice book that annoyed me and I have to pull this sharp and spiny burr out of my nethers. It’s about what I’m going to do with point of view in the crime novel I’m writing. I’m taking a risk with this book and I know it. It’s written in second-person, present tense. That’s right! Now you’re wondering if I’ve lost my mind or if I’m just into quirky gimmicks. You’ll soon find out, but let’s talk about why I’m annoyed and you might get that way, too.

I ran across a chapter on point of view. The upshot on using second-person was that it’s best for short books (good, mine is) and is tricky to pull off. I agree with that. It is tricky. However, I have had good experience using it and several stories in Self-help for Stoners have more punch in part because of that unorthodox choice.

Then I got really annoyed because the author warned that editors and agents would be quick to reject any such manuscript because the attempt screams: I’m a Jay McInerney knock-off! You’re trying to do Bright Lights, Big City! I’m paraphrasing rather than quoting because I didn’t buy the book. I will buy the digital edition to delve further, by the way. I don’t write off a book or conclude the author is wrong just because I disagree with one paragraph. I’m annoyed not because the author is necessarily wrong, but because he may very well be right that traditional publishing is that quick to pull the trigger on any book that challenges the status quo (as if the status quo is all that hot.)

Bright Lights, Big City is a novel I admire. I found it quite engaging and funny. I wasn’t put off by all the “You, you, you,” that got so much press and critical attention but misses the point of the novel entirely. It was considered somewhat experimental at the time (and I guess it still is if the author of the advice book is correct.) Bright Lights was different, but it didn’t really deserve the “experimental” label. Aside from the use of the second-person point of view, it’s really quite a conventional novel that reminds some of Catcher in the Rye. (Try Pygmy by Chuck Palahniuk if you want experimental fiction. That’s far more daring and demanding of readers.)

The use of the word “you” — some would say overuse — doesn’t get in the way of my enjoyment of Bright Lights because it’s the jokes, the hipster context of New York ’80s nightlife and a stab or two at the literary establishment that appealed to me. I was working in the Toronto literary establishment at the time I first read it, so it spoke to me even though I didn’t have the cash or inclination to indulge in Bolivian marching powder.

We used the word experimental because there weren’t many well-known antecedents that employed second-person point of view. Now Bright Lights, Big City is the well-known antecedent and apparently some publishing professionals have long memories but very narrow minds. Bright Lights, Big City came out in 1984! So…Jay McInerney did it once and now the use of second-person is a reason for quick  rejection? He slipped under the gate but it must never allowed again! Really? They haven’t got over the shock after 28 years?

Wussies!

When my novel comes out this June, readers will agree it’s awesome like chocolate croissants, merely palatable or they’ll decide it sucks like a Dyson vacuum cleaner powered by the fearsome gravity well of a black hole. I’m betting it works and fortunately, my imprint, Ex Parte Press, will publish it. The boss can be kind of a dick, but I’m tight with him. The only gatekeepers I have to worry about are the readers traipsing the digital forests of the Amazon. I know it’s a gamble, but I don’t write so I can sound like everyone else. As much as I respect Jay McInerney*, I’m not trying to emulate him. We write to express ourselves. This is me being me. I hope you’re being you and taking some artful and calculated risks, too.

*If you’re a martial artist, please try Jay McInerney’s Ransom. If you want a distinctive voice by a confident author, read McInerney’s Story of My Life. These, along with Bright Lights, Big City, were Mr. McInerney’s first three books. They were his least conventional and I believe they were his most successful. They were the ones that were most successful with me, anyway.

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