Zombies are hot these days. Whether they’re the moaning, shambling kind from Night of the Living Dead, the fast-moving Rage types or the Walking Dead zombies that fall a little in between, people think zombies are cool. There are zombie walks at cons and classes on doing zombie makeup. For three years in a row there was an online zombie blogalypse called Blog Like It’s The End Of The World, in which everyone wrote entries to their blogs on a designated day as if the zombie apocalypse was occurring. There’s even a zombie marathon (and let me tell you, if I lived closer, I would SO join in. As a zombie, naturally – I can’t run well enough for a road race. I shamble much more effectively.) And, of course, there are zombie novels… World War Z, Feed, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, The Forest of Hands and Teeth, and many more. One day in the library I was chatting with a patron I knew personally, talking about how odd it was that zombies were so popular. I mean, really, they’re gooey and they smell terrible and they kind of eat you if you stand still to long, but people love them. My friend said, “Hey! You should write a zombie book! You’d make lots of money!”
As if it was that easy.
Anyone who’s been at this a while has probably had someone say something similar. It happens all the time. People who don’t really know much about the business offer advice that’s well-meaning but completely off base. My uncle, some years back, announced to the family that if I’d just write something like Harry Potter, I’d never have to work again. But sometimes that advice seems to make a little sense. Look at vampires, for example. They’ve been hot for over ten years, and the trend doesn’t appear to be slowing down. It would probably not be a bad idea to try my hand at a vampire novel. There’s a ready audience, just slavering for more stories about bloodsuckers. Except that vampires aren’t really my thing. Anything I write wouldn’t quite ring true. It’s better to try writing the stories that do rev my engines, because my excitement will imbue the story with energy. Our own Carrie Ryan talks about how she was trying to write chick lit (fiction that focuses on women’s issues, often written in a humorous tone) when the idea for her zombie book came to her and wouldn’t leave her alone. She wasn’t following a trend, or even trying to start one. She wrote what made her happy to write.
Sometimes you luck out, and the great idea you want to write also matches a rising or present trend. Faith Hunter’s Jane Yellowrock series approached the popular vampire subgenre from an unusual direction – her character was hunting vampires instead of falling for them. It was a brilliant move, too – she’s made the NYT lists twice now. She wasn’t trying to ride a trend, but writing the story that made her heart beat faster and her imagination soar.
If what you want to write matches something popular, that can be a perfect situation. But you can’t depend on it. Trends end without warning. If you write a story because such-and-such is selling right now, you’re courting heartache. The best thing to do is to write the story that’s in you, and hope that you do a good enough job that you create your own trend instead.
Has anyone ever given you wacky advice? Or do you have a crazy trend idea you think we should all jump on?