Totally Random Bullcrap

by Rob Gregory Browne

I’m still trying to finish my third book (yeah, yeah, I know).  Hope to finish it tonight.  I’m in the last few pages and things are looking good, but you never know.  So I’m once again taking the lazy route and throwing down some random b.s. for folks to chew on:

DO YOU LIKE WHAT YOU WRITE?

William Goldman claims to hate his own work. Says he never thinks it’s any good.

Anyone who has read Goldman knows he’s delusional in that regard. And it’s no secret that I think he’s a brilliant writer.

A few years back, I was working as a staff writer on an animated television show called DIABOLIK (Hey, it was a hit in France!), and was partnered up with a very talented writer/producer who quickly became a good friend.

One day, as he and I were riding in his F150 along the bumpy road leading to his ranch, he told me that of all the writers he knows, the ones who think they’re good, the ones who love their own work, usually stink. And the ones who believe — like Goldman — that they’re mediocre or worse, are usually great.

I didn’t respond. Was he trying to tell me something?

I don’t generally brag about the quality of my work, but I have always taken great pride in my writing. Like anyone else, I bounce back and forth between loving it and loathing it — at least when I’m working on a project — but I generally think I’m a damn good writer.

I’ve told the story before about the friend who thought he’d written a masterpiece that turned out to be one of the worst things I’ve ever read.

But I think most of us have to have a certain confidence in our work. Otherwise, why on earth would we keep writing?

And I tend to think that Goldman secretly knows he’s a heckuva writer.

So was my producer friend wrong? Or are those of us who believe we may have something special a victim of our own egos?

DO YOU READ THE LABEL?

Suspense, Romantic Suspense, Thrillers, Mysteries…

I see all these labels and wonder what they really mean. Take Romantic Suspense, for example. It seems to indicate that you’re about to read a romance novel with an underlying thriller plot. Yet I’ve read a number of Romantic Suspense novels that put the romance on the back burner.

I’ve also written a thriller that has a romance in it. True, the romance is a minor part of the story, but it’s there and I think it works and LIKE the fact that it’s there. It gives the book an extra little kick. So have I written Romantic Suspense? If I went under the name Roberta Browne, do you think the publishers would use that label?

Then there are the mysteries that have a touch of thriller in them and the thrillers that have a touch of mystery. What do we label them?

I understand the need for some kind of label. Readers want to be able to head straight to their favorite section of the book store and find what they’re looking for. But since there often doesn’t seem to be any particular rhyme or reason for these “sub” labels, I’m not quite sure why publishers bother.

Isn’t it a mistake to market a book as, again, Romantic Suspense, filling readers with certain expectations, only to let them down when the book strays from the conventions of the genre?

How many times have you seen a movie advertised as a flat-out comedy, only to discover that it’s a drama with comedy overtones? How many times have you seen trailers feature a specific plotline that turns out to be a minor part of the story, and the movie is not even close to what you expected when you bought your ticket.

But maybe that’s what it boils down to: you’ve already bought your ticket. You’ve already paid for the book.

I think, however, that this kind of deception is not only misleading to the reader, but a disservice to the writer. Imagine the number of fans who might be turned off to a writer simply because he or she didn’t deliver what the label on the spine of the book promised?

Or maybe I’m making a big deal out of nothing. I’m no marketing expert.

What do you more seasoned writers in the crowd think?

DO YOU HAVE TROUBLE NAMING NAMES?

I have a helluva time naming names. I sit for hours trying to come up with names that suit my characters and, I’ll tell you, it never fails that I wind up changing them.

And I’m never fully satisfied with the ones I settle on.

I always worry that they’re too generic. But at the same time, straying too far in the other direction gets a little silly.

John Sandford, who happens to be one of my favorite crime writers, goes a little overboard with his character names. Lucas Davenport is wonderful, but he’s had a number that momentarily threw me out of the story. Doesn’t ever hurt the story for me, but it does give me pause.

And I don’t hear anyone else complaining.

Like anyone else, I keep a baby names book at my desk. I also check the phone book a lot, looking for interesting surnames. But, like I said, I usually wind up with something that sounds a bit generic. They grow on me after awhile, but, still, I worry.

When I was wading through my email this morning, I came across an interesting source for names:

SPAM.

Yes, that’s right. Maybe spam is good for something after all. Have you ever looked at some of the names they use on email spam? Here’s a sampling of this morning’s:

Bringing L. Strengthen
Harems H. Hewett
Lazy McWriterpants
Kidney Crane
Waller Pendanglis

Now those are NAMES. Not a generic one in the bunch. Most of them accompanied by promises of penis enlargement and endless erections.

So I no longer have to worry. If I’m stuck for that perfect character moniker, all I have to do is open up my spam folder. Easy as Tommy McPie.

What about you? How do you name names?

DO YOU EVER HOLD CONTESTS AND FORGET TO DECLARE A WINNER?

It has come to my attention that I held a caption writing contest awhile back and never picked a winner.  I blame it on age.  Or drugs.  Take your choice.

Anyway, the winner of the caption contest with WHITE MEN CAN JUMP, is Naomi Hirahara.  Congratulations Naomi.  I don’t remember what you won, but as long as it doesn’t cost me an arm and a leg, you’ll get it soon.

16 thoughts on “Totally Random Bullcrap

  1. pari noskin taichert

    Oh, yeah, Rob,I know what you’re going through right now.

    Writer’s ego?I’m curious to read what others have to say on this. I fall into the “always could be better” crowd. Louise’s post yesterday shows that there are writers, fine writers, who absolutely don’t.

    Bottom line: whatever works to keep the quality up, I guess.

    Labels?Blech! Argh! Aughrrrryuck!But they’re convenient for booksellers I think. They’re shorthand for readers who want something like the last book they read. They’re an absolute device and I feel mighty constricted by them since people still call my work “cozy” when it doesn’t have an ounce of sweetness.

    Names?I liked the ones you came up with from Spam. Maybe I’ll try that. I have a heck of a time finding the right names for the main characters AND a wonderful time coming up with the minor ones.

    Congrats on nearing the end of book 3. It’s a heck of an accomplishment.

    Reply
  2. ArkansasCyndi

    Thanks for the morning chuckles. After sitting up late last night watching primary results, I needed it.

    Roberta Brown, Huh? You might want to rethink that one. Roberta Brown is a well know agent who’s know in the romance writers circles as a heck of an agent, especially if you write erotica. BUT I do know there is some prejudge against male writers writing romance. The man in my local chapter uses “Lynn” as his first name…gender neutral.

    And in anything that’s “romantic suspense”, my understanding was that the romance had to play a major role in the story, not just a minor subplot.

    Spam – I threaten just last night to do a blog just listing the subject lines of the spam I get, but I have to admit, Mr. McWriterPants hasn’t contacted me! But there are some “girls in my area who want to meet me.” Husband always thinks that’s funny.

    Reply
  3. toni

    on egos:

    I think (like Zoë said yesterday) that it takes a certain amount of confidence (or maybe insanity) to believe that people will want to pay for these things we make up. That’s a certain amount of ego.

    Do the truly bad writers ever even recognize themselves as such? Would they even think it was ego that was getting in their way?

    on sub genres… I think you nailed a big ol’ chunk of the problem when you wondered about the name change. More and more thriller writers seem to be including romance–at least as a subplot–and yet, as a whole, there seems to still be a bias against the label.

    on names… sometimes, the exact name will pop up and stay forever. Sometimes (like for the main character of the new book), I will try out a dozen before the right one clicks. (well, I hope it clicks soon, or I’m resorting to the SPAM method)

    Reply
  4. JT Ellison

    Rob, congrats on nearing the end of book 3!!!Names: I use random name generators and create cast lists before I do a book so I have fresh names for each manuscript.

    Labels: definite misnomers. And I think we drive away readers by being forced to box ourselves in.

    Ego: Gotta have it, but learning how to be gracious is helpful too. If you don’t believe in your work at all, you’ll never be brave enough to share it. If you think your God’s gift, well, that’s a problem too. Balance, as in all things.

    And thanks to everyone for checking in — we had three very close calls last night but only lost a bit of roof and are all fine here.

    Reply
  5. Allison Brennan

    1) I don’t hate my books, but I know that they could be better. But sometimes it’s knowing HOW, which comes with experience and practice. But then, you realize how much you don’t know about what you’re doing . . .

    2) Labels are for marketing. As a romantic suspense author, I can tell you that you can get any level of romance and any level of suspense. And yes, I think that if you’re female and have a romance as part of your plot, whether it is the primary part, that you will be shelved as romantic suspense. This is not a bad thing. Romance readers read across all genres and are more willing to try different “flavors.” Romance makes up over half the paperback market. I think that some mystery/thriller fans turn their nose up at RS, but they’re missing some good books.

    3) Names. Sometimes names pop into my head, sometimes I name a character and they REFUSE TO TALK until I figure out what their real name is. Why can’t they just tell me? Geez . . .

    Reply
  6. Louise Ure

    I’m the Queen of Self-Doubt, so I rarely think anything I’ve written is worthwhile. As a consequence, I disbelief the good reviews as easily as the bad ones.

    And names? I have a membership list for the Sports Car Club of America, since my husband and I race Shelby Cobras. Thousands of names. Men, women, all ethnicities, all ages. So I’ll pick at random, whatever first name shows up in Excel’s C143 box and then whatever last name is in D812. It makes for wonderful combinations sometimes.

    Reply
  7. Zoe Sharp

    I love the idea of picking character names from spam, but considering the kind of stuff I mostly receive, it would only really work if I was writing hard-core erotica.

    I use a random name generator, or for villains I occasionally ask people for part of a name of someone they really don’t like, and incorporate that. At least then somebody somewhere gets a good deal of satisfaction out of seeing that particular character get their just desserts.

    And no, I always think I’m a crap writer, so I utterly believe bad reviews and totally disbelief praise. I respond very badly to chat-up lines for the same reason – I always think that as the person involved cannot possibly be seriously interested, they must be taking the rip. Oh, and I’m married, of course 😉

    As for labels – in the UK bookstores tend to just have ‘Crime’ and ‘True Crime’ and it makes life so much easier. I heard a great description recently – cutting-edge cozy. What on earth is that, for heaven’s sake? My husband suggested they use titanium knitting needles.

    And, Louise, one day we are going to have to sit down and talk seriously about cars …

    Reply
  8. Rob Gregory Browne

    Actually, I know how at least one other writer, besides those of us here, gets his names.

    I was reading one of Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch mysteries and imagine my surprise when I saw one of the characters named Paul Guyot.

    I can’t remember if he turned out to be the bad guy or not, but if it had been MY book…

    Didn’t Guyot and Connelly used to spend a lot of time together, in the dark. Singing Mandy?

    Or maybe I’m thinking of someone else.

    Reply
  9. runliarun

    I think the producer’s view – the good ones doubt themselves, the confident ones suck – is simplistic.

    We all have doubts from time to time, simply because we have an ego. But in the end writing without believing in what we write defeats its own purpose.

    And then, a good writer needs a dose of realism. I know when my writing falls flat, veers off the mark, or is pedestrian. Much too often, hmmm… But it’s a good internal compass to have, since it points to the parts that need work and re-work.

    I also know when something I write is good – it rings true.

    Reply
  10. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Allison, I WISH my books were being filed under romantic suspense! Right now I have to go out and get those readers myself. My cross-genreness is being a pain right now. I feel uncomfortable being filed in horror just because I have supernatural going on. I’m starting to get calls from librarians asking – “Where do YOU want us to put these?”

    (Wherever people can FIND them, of course…)

    Reply
  11. Allison Brennan

    Alex, it’s all up to the publisher.

    Romantic suspense is, by MY definition, any book that has a strong suspense element and where there are two protagonists, a hero and heroine, who both LIVE and are TOGETHER (i.e. a couple) by the end of the book. Oh, and they usually get to have sex, too. Using that definition, you can have any other element in there–paranormal, thriller, mysteries, whatever. I mean, JD Robb is classified as romantic suspense and those are essentially mysteries.

    So, Alex, let your characters have sex and live and then talk to your publisher . . .

    Reply
  12. John S

    Names! There’s an interesting article linked on Pub Rants about things noticed a little too often in middle-grade and young adult fiction, and one is an author who clearly was born in the 50s or 60s giving him or herself away by choices of character names. A handy way to combat this is browse high school athletic team rosters on the web. It’s a good snapshot of what names people actually have these days.

    Rob, I fear I may have brought up this suggestion once before on your old blog…!

    Reply
  13. Fran

    When people come into the shop and ask, “Is this really all mysteries?”, we respond with, “Broadly defined. We have whodunnits, cozies, noir, suspense, thriller, romantic suspense, urban fantasy and science ficiton in very small doses, true crime…” and their eyes glaze over.

    Yes, labels sometimes help us, and sometimes they hinder, especially when we know there’s an author someone will like but they balk because of the labelling. But people are comfy with their pigeonholes, so we work with what marketing sends us.

    I can’t speak to y’all’s egos, but I must say I am in a state of ongoing delight with the names you come up with, however you do it!

    Reply
  14. Dave Arnold

    I think the coolest part about getting names from SPAM postings is that you’re not likely to nicked for plagiarism or libel.

    And Zoe, you really do need to sit down with Louise to talk about cars – seriously…

    Reply

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