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Living on the Edge

Award-winning Author Marilyn Brant

Award-winning Author Marilyn Brant

Our Guest Blogger is Marilyn Brant, an award-winning women’s fiction writer who won’t start writing a new manuscript until she’s used Blake Snyder’s beat sheet for it first. Her debut novel, According to Jane, won the RWA prestigious Golden Heart Award and the Booksellers’ Best Award. It was also named one of Buzzle.com’s Best Romances of All Time. Her second women’s fiction book, Friday Mornings at Nine, was a Doubleday Book Club pick last year, and her third novel for Kensington, A Summer in Europe, will be released on November 29th. She’s also a #1 Kindle Bestseller and has two ebook romantic comedies out now—Double Dipping and On Any Given Sundae, which was an Amazon Top 100 Bestseller in Humor. She loves ice cream, music, and traveling… and she spends way too much time online. Please visit her website: www.marilynbrant.com.

Cover of "A Summer in Europe" - a current Kindle bestseller

Cover of “A Summer in Europe” – due for release on November 29 of this year

When it comes to the current state of the publishing industry, we’re living in the midst of a Chinese curse, aka “interesting times.” I’m sure it would come as no surprise to anyone reading this if I said we were in a period of great transition from print to digitaland that being a writer today presents some new choices and challenges, which can be difficult to navigate. And, yet, despite the confusion that tends to come with change, I believe every transition holds an extra-special gift in its hands and that these sweeping changes surrounding us are no exception.

Back in the mid-1990s, I was in graduate school for educational psychology, working on a thesis I’d rivetingly entitled Creativity and Culture: Perception, Interaction, Opposition and Marginality. (Yeah, I know. You’re wondering how you can possibly get your hands on this entertaining document. Lotsa laughs in it, I tell you.) After upwards of two years of research, I’d pieced together a model that I hoped would show how certain forces in society influenced creativity and the ways the act of being creative left its mark on our culture. I presented my paper to the committee, confident in my 106 primary and secondary sources and delighted by the sheer academic-ness (sure, it’s a word) of my creation. I’m still proud of it… but…

But it’s one thing to understand a concept intellectually and it’s altogether another to live with it daily—online and off—because the industry that surrounds your passion, your calling, is shifting under your feet like a hot tectonic plate. Reality like that is kind of frightening, even when it presents all kinds of new writing/publishing opportunities. It is at this point, though, where my research from long ago greets the current changes in the industry with a smile. And, knowing what I do about creativity and culture, it’s that insight I find reassuring when this Brave New Digital World is scaring the bejeezus out of me.

See, if someone were to distill the findings of my laboriously written thesis, it would be this: That creativity is most likely to occur at the margins of a society, and that people on the edge of two cultures (whatever those two cultures might be) have the ability to peek into both worlds and make connections that those people fully immersed in either one side or the other cannot necessarily see.

Guess what? That’s us, folks!

No matter how mainstream you might think you are as far as race or ethnicity or religion, when it comes to publishing culture, we’re the ones standing on the edge between two worlds, dancing on the cusp of change. We’ve lived long enough to remember the “old” ways (c’mon, raise your hand if you ever used an electric typewriter or maybe a manual one… or a card catalog at a library… or even a mimeograph machine), but we’re also young and adventurous enough to have learned to use Microsoft Word, attach a doc.file to an email, publish a blog post, and possibly even convert a manuscript to a mobi or an epub format and upload it for sale online.

Programmers are unleashing new technology on us with the rapid fire of an automated weapon, but we continue to learn it, adapt to it and, maybe, even come to love it… all without ever having forgotten what it was like to dab whiteout on a mistake when we mistyped something or what it felt like to get blue ink on our fingers from the carbon copy paper we once used.

Cover of "Double Dipping" - a current Amazon Top 100 ebook in the Humor category

Cover of “Double Dipping” – a current Amazon Top 100 ebook in the Humor category

What this unique time period in publishing history means for those of us who are writers now—unlike the former writers who stopped publishing a few years ago or those future writers who are in grade school at the moment and have been born into a world with ebooks and digital media—is that we’re really and truly able to reap the gifts of our marginal experience. We can see deeply into both “cultures,” make connections between them that others might miss, revel in our multilayered understanding and perspective and, best of all, enjoy a boost of creative potential as a result.

This is where those of us who loved Blake’s Save the Cat!®Goes to the Movies can get all excited about writing that next novel or screenplay and merging our own on-the-edge experiences with new plotlines across the genres. Just think of the possibilities. What would our particular “Monster in the House” be? For some it might be a technological demon sent from the future. For others, it’s an ancient menace that thwarts our modern weaponry. Or how about all of the ideas we can build on with an “Out of the Bottle” story? So many times in the past, advances in technology were seen as magical. That could be the basis for a new tale, or it could be the reverse. How many times have we heard movie trailers that began with “In a world where…” (fill in your own unusual circumstances)?

I write both romantic comedies for the ebook market and contemporary women’s fiction for Kensington trade paperback, so I not only straddle the digital and print worlds and care deeply about both, but my stories are a mix, too—usually some combination of “Buddy Love” plus “Rites of Passage.” But I noticed in the manuscript I’m working on now that, while the various relationship themes I love writing about haven’t changed, I’ve needed to make some alterations to my draft based on the advances in technology. So much so that I actually decided to move the decade where I’d set a large part of my story to an earlier one so the electronic world couldn’t factor into those scenes, thus making the appearance of technology all the more dramatic and significant to the plot when the scenes moved to the present again. That revision of the time period brought about all kinds of new and interesting twists that wouldn’t have been there if I hadn’t been so aware of living between two technological worlds myself, and it’s my hope that the final novel will be richer for this perspective.

What about you? Do you find yourself using your knowledge of life before cell phones or MP3 players to enhance your stories in some way or develop a more complex range of characters? Has technology—or the lack of it—played a key role in any of your manuscripts? Are you tapping in to the creativity that an awareness of more than one worldview can inspire? I’d love to hear your thoughts and I wish you all the best with your writing!

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About the Author

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  1. Laura Moore says:

    An excellent post, Marilyn. I’ve begun to introduce certain aspects of modern culture into my stories–FaceBook and Photoshopping and cell phones and the like–but I find myself wishing that I could set my stories in a place where there are no cellphone towers and absolutely lousy internet connection. The Badlands, perhaps?

    Congratulations on your upcoming release! I can’t wait to read it.

    -Laura

  2. Edie Ramer says:

    About 6 years ago, a friend and I co-wrote a book based mostly on emails. We plan on putting it online soon, and had to add tweets, texts, etc. It’s been interesting.

    I wonder if that will be out of date in 6 months. lol

  3. Laura, thank you! I know I’ve been struggling with that, too. Immediate phone connections and easy access to internet information make it more complicated when we want our characters to have a hard time reaching each other! If we want to write a scene where there’s a difficulty like that, we have to explain it away somehow — i.e., her cell phone wasn’t charged or he accidentally left it at home, etc.

    Edie, I’m looking forward to reading that! How wonderful that you both created a novel that way. I know what you mean about adding in tweets and texts, though! That wasn’t something even on my radar until a couple of years ago but, now, it’s such a part of many of our lives. I’m going to be interested to see what’ll be the next big thing in the coming year or two…

  4. Jacqueline Smillie says:

    Years ago I realized that my California born and raised children were missing a vital Midwestern experience that played a key part in my development, a canoe trip in the Boundary Waters, of Minnesota. Imagine a chain lakes, thousands of them, traveled only by canoe. No roads, no telephone wires or cell phone access, no motor boats, or even sail boats. When we portaged from lake to lake we tread upon old Indian trails.

    One night, a full moon lit the sky. I paddled out to the middle of a lake, solo. I silently floated for hours, enthralled not by the supernatural silence, not by the sky, but by the vibration of the earth. Its vibration shivered through my body. I’d never been as keenly aware of the earth energy as a child. Intuitively, I received the message that if ever gravely ill, I could float on these lakes, and let the earth’s vibration recalibrate my cells to wholeness.

    Did my children feel the earth? Not sure. And perhaps a trip into the wilderness is no longer necessary. Today, one can purchase an “earth grounding” pad, for under $200, plug it into a wall socket, rest one’s bare feet upon it to connect to our Mother planet’s energy. Really? Really.

  5. Pamela Cayne says:

    Great post, Marilyn! Right now I love my historicals because I don’t have to worry about the changing face of technology and that suits me fine, but on the other hand, I’m trying a thriller and am having a ball throwing all kinds of technology in there and letting the gadgets land where they may. The rapid (and sometimes violent) change of publishing tends to scare the bejeezus out of me, too, but like all change, I’m focusing on the creation rather than the messy birth of it. Bottom line–lots more opportunities, and that is worth some mess. I love writing and regardless of what happens in the world outside of my brain telling my hands what to write, I’m going to keep doing it.

  6. Excellent and thought-provoking post, Marilyn! I love putting characters in places where the things they’ve relied upon (technology) doesn’t exist and they have to figure things out on their own. Don’t get me wrong, I love gadgets (so SHINY) and all the possibilities that they present for characters in the modern world, but it’s really fun to challenge myself to world build without the familiar.

  7. Jacqueline, I loved reading your story! I’m from WI, so I’m familiar with the Boundary Waters — beautiful and remote. So fascinating, too, all those devices we can now buy to simulate “nature,” LOL. And the earth grounding pad?! Wow… I do wonder who comes up with these things and if they really, truly believe it can replicate the actual experience. Definitely loved the perspective you brought to this — thank you so much for sharing it!

    Pamela, thank you! You said it so brilliantly: “focusing on the creation rather than the messy birth.” Yeah. There’s nothing like the thrill of that, is there? Those are the moments that are the most magical to me about being a writer — not any of the public stuff, not even when it’s exciting, but those really private, often late-night hours when it’s just me playing with the threads of a story and having faith that it’ll develop into something that will eventually make sense ;). I don’t think anything tops the joy of creating like that.

  8. Pamala, I just saw your comment pop up!! Thanks so much ;). And I think that’s an expecially interesting challenge as a writer — to create a character who’s ensconced in a particular world and, then, yank him or her out of it and see what happens. It’s wonderful when we get to the point where we know our characters so well that we can write them in any setting or any circumstance and still be true to their essence. I love reading stories like that as well!

  9. I’m commenting late. But I wanted to add to Edie’s concern about the book becoming out of date with the technology we put in it. I have cell phones and GPS devises in my books, but I don’t like to rely on them for major plot points for fear of dating my “contemporary” book before it hits the market. In this respect, I’m finding children’s books easier to write because my stories in that genre aren’t tied to any technology, so they are “timeless.” It’s ironic then, that these children’s books are what I am taking with me into the digital age and uploading for sale online where they are entirely dependent on the latest technology to bring the story to life for the reader.

  10. Sara, you’re right — that’s such a fascinating situation to find yourself in, having the less-technological tale be the one you’re leading with into the digital marketplace ;). And I know what you mean about not wanting to rely on the current technology in other books for fear of it quickly being outdated. I find myself having to do a lot of revision along those lines whenever I pick up a manuscript I wrote more than 2 years ago. The devices we use change so fast…certainly much faster than it took me to get my early manuscripts published, LOL. Thanks!!

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