By Amy MacKinnon
Don't mess with success. Write what you know. Stay within your genre. Focus on one project at a time.
I am a fool. I'm a scared fool. A bit of a wreck even. I'm doing everything wrong, I know this, and yet I keep doing it.
Right now, I'm writing two books. One is so dark, I'm not sure there's a market for it, though Jon Clinch assures me there is, right there alongside him and Cormac McCarthy. Have you read Finn, Blood Meridian? Brilliant books written by brilliant writers. Already I'm being warned not to go too dark, to be careful.
The other I have no business writing at all. None. It is an homage to a classic, one I've read countless times over the years, a story I know in my bones because I've lived it firsthand. But the author of the classic is a literary titan. When I told a close friend what I was attempting, he was aghast. Be careful, he said.
But it's not my job to be careful, to play it safe and write the same book over and over again. It's my duty to myself and my writing to reach beyond whatever skillset I have today, to stretch, and then follow my instincts.
Last week at Writers Read for Twain, I was talking to one of my favorites, Stewart O'Nan. He's the author of many, many books including the little gem Last Night at the Lobster. I say little, not because of the story, it's bigger than the jacket can contain, but because I doubt it's more than 40,000 words. I asked if his publisher worried that it was too short, if people along the way urged him to flesh it out. He nodded vigorously.
But you refused, I said.
Yes, he said (and I'm paraphrasing here), I believed in it.
He was right to do so. Lobster represents a return to simple elegance in storytelling. Stewart O'Nan broke all the rules and won; his book was both a commercial and literary success. He took a magnificent risk.
I hope I'll be able to say the same some day.