Monday, November 22, 2010

"A Book Like that Would Never Sell"

When I heard about the Vestal Virgins, I knew instantly I had to write about them. I didn’t look forward to researching Rome, though. I don't like writing about violence and corrupt politicians, personally.

To my surprise, my research didn’t reveal the same culture we see depicted in the movies. I read stories of courage, religious devotion, and self-sacrifice. I grew to admire the Romans, and I decided to be the first to depict them in a positive light.

I spoke to three Roman professors at BYU, and they agreed that there is a lot of good to say.

I had a fascinating discussion on this subject in a forum that you can read here.

Another professor spoke at my college about modern depictions of ancient cultures. After the lecture, I approached him and shared my idea for my novel. I said (and I quote) “I want to write about Romans the way they really were.”

He looked me straight in the eye and said, “A book like that would never sell.”

Geez, mister, tell me how you really feel.

He wasn’t the only person who listened to my idea with trepidation. In my post “The Blessing of Mean Readers,” I talked about a critiquer who agreed to review my whole manuscript. I was so excited – until I explained to her my vision for the project. She felt my depiction was one-sided. After reading only two chapters, she said she didn’t want to continue because she didn't agree with my premise. That cut me pretty deep.

Why did I continue? It’s not just that I believed in the project. My whole purpose in writing is to speak to people, and if no one’s interested in my ideas, writing loses its purpose. I continued with the book because I liked it. I enjoy reading it. I believe firmly that if I like reading a book, other people will enjoy it too.

Some of us spend a lot of time trying to write popular books. Instead, we should write likable books. 

5 comments:

  1. If you want some extra background, I would highly recommend the books below.

    Reference book about sacrifices in ancient history:
    Blood Rites; Origins and History of the Passions of War (Barbara Ehrenreich)
    This fascinating book delves into mankind's ancient fears of predators, the meaning of animal and/or human sacrifices in the context of rituals, the drive to war and violence. This book is absolutely worth reading.

    The absolute reference book about Roman emperors:
    - The Twelve Caesars (Robert Graves)

    A great novel about one emperor who lived in tumultuous times:
    - Julian (Gore Vidal)

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  2. I saw a beautiful sculpture of a vestal virgin today in an English estate. I shall send it to you this weekend.

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  3. I agree that one shouldn't write the book people expect to read but write one that is good.

    I've been learning about Roman art lately (along with Greek art, and 'other'). It is interesting.

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  4. Ardis, that would be great! When I was in Rome, I ran into statues and pictures of Vestal Virgins on accident. They're easy to spot because they tie their hair in six ropes. It was pretty incredible.

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  5. That's amazing that someone would actually say that! How do these people know these things? Are they in the publishing industry? Are they plugged in to every mind in the world? I'm quite sure that even if they were, they still couldn't tell. I believe that most readers don't know what they would or wouldn't read. When I read the summary of The Hunger Games, I was completely turned off to it. I thought it would be aweful. I would never want to read it. But I read it anyways because someone suggest it to me, and now it is one of my favorite books. There are also plenty of books I'll read a summary of and say, "That sounds great! I'll read it," and end up hating the book. People just don't know, and that's both a terrifying and amazing part of publishing.

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