Some of you have asked for some insight into where I think the market might be going. It's a bit early for my conclusions, but I thought I would share part of an email discussion Alicia and I have been having over the last few days.
People tend to think of stories as light or dark, but there's another element that comes into play, which is, for lack of a better term, bigness. A big story can be funny or gloomy. The size stems from things like the shock factor in the plot events, the severity of the characters' reactions, and similar. You can have a big funny story, and a small dark paranormal. Big stories provide better escapes. They demand attention. They're cathartic.
In any event, Alicia and I were talking about movies because movie attendance stayed high during the depression. Books and movies were the most common forms of commercial entertainment back then. I've had several people comment to me recently about Depression-era publishing, and in particular, about the success of Gone With the Wind during that time. People seem to think this is evidence of why publishing will be recession-proof this time around. But, in fact, for whatever reasons -- the Borders situation, the severity of the economic climate, more variety in commercial entertainment options, whatever -- we're not recession-proof this time.
What movies became popular against the setting of the depression? The screwball comedies, and also all the movies about rich people in ballgowns drinking champagne. All the Fred and Ginger movies, and Philadelphia Story, Bringing Up Baby, and so on -- people wanted to forget about money trouble and be high-spirited. Not carefree, but something else, something that would allow them to experience a real belly laugh and a new set of problems. That's not the same as "light." Something can be deeply funny rather than light and funny.
I think the key to the screwball comedies was their outrageousness. They really pushed the envelope. Every scene would introduce some new complication, usually something so inventive as to be almost unbelievable, but that was what audiences wanted. They wanted the bigness of the guy who thinks he's Teddy Roosevelt charging up the staircase while two little old maiden aunts quietly poison every man who wanders up their sidewalk.
It's cathartic. And I really think that's the key. Whatever the emotion, it will have to be big enough to be cathartic.
And don't forget, Scarlett O'Hara was obsessed with money and fighting against the demon poverty. The book was big in number of pages, but also big in plot and character and emotion, and her struggles were something readers could relate to -- lost affluence, crushing poverty and hunger, and reputation as a function of wealth.
eyeball-deep in work