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Day 19: Beck and a Paranormal Romance

Day 19:  Beck and a Paranormal Romance


# of pages written: 4

# of times I’ve checked email/facebook: 3

# of days left to write 1st draft: 144


When I first arrived on Cape Cod, Nikki threw me a dinner party. “What’s your favorite food?” she demanded. “I’ll serve it.”

That was a very difficult question, and fiinally I said, “uhhh…goat cheese?”

A few days later, Nate and I talked about how difficult it is to answer when someone asks about your favorite something. I have stock answers I give automatically, but I rarely stop to think, wait, is green really my favorite color? Is The House of Yes still, after all these years, my favorite movie? My tastes and interests change, and sometimes I forget to reevaluate my own preferences.

“Do you have an answer for your favorite band?” Nate asked.

“I always say Beck,” I told him. “It’s still sort of true. I do like him a lot, and I’ve liked him since I was fourteen, which should count for something.”

“What do you like about him?” Nate asked.

“Oh, man. Where to begin? He’s adorable and eccentric and a good dancer, and he likes to read.”

“About his music, I mean.”

“I like that he’s all over the place,” I said. “His early stuff is folksy – just a man and his guitar. But on other albums the songs are bluesy or pop-rock or have elements of hip-hop and R&B.” I started to get very animated, the way I do when I’m talking about Beck. “And his lyrics seem random, but they’re actually quite clever. They’re can be funny, or sexy, or weird, or melancholy. Or all of the above at the same time.”

“Hmm,” Nate said.

“In some of his songs there’s just a lot going on – a lot of instruments or electronic sounds or different styles melding. His music fills your ears to the brim.”

“That sounds confusing.”

And I guess that’s why some people have trouble with Beck. He’s hard to pin down. What genre is it if he plays a little bit of everything, and sometimes all at once? Because of his experimental style, he hasn’t been as commercially successful as some of his peers, but it’s this eclectic, always-changing quality that makes him my favorite.

All week I’ve been attending evening readings at the Cape Cod Writers’ Conference, and most people have read from their genre pieces: sci-fi, crime, romance, historical. One man read from his “paranormal-romance” novel: “He saw the witch standing naked by the bonfire,” he read in a thick Boston accent. “She was dancing in an erotic manner.”

On Tuesday there was a panel before the reading, and some of the published authors spoke – they had all signed contracts with small, genre-based houses.

One woman, who has published two romance novels with the same company, told us, “my house has very strict rules about what they publish. The couple cannot be married, unless it’s a marriage of convenience. And there has to be a happy ending. The couple must end up together.”

At the end of the session, I talked to a girl who had read from her sci-fi novel.

“What do you write?” she asked me.

“Fiction,” I answered promptly.

“What genre?”

“Uhhh…” I hate this question. What do I say? Literary fiction? That sounds snobby. I’ve written realistic fiction, but I’ve also written stories with elements of horror or the paranormal. My thesis was modern renditions of fairy tales, but I wouldn’t actually consider them fantasy, and recently I wrote a story in which a girl falls into an alternate dimension, but I wouldn’t really consider it sci-fi. “Just fiction,” I said finally. “But I dabble in all of the genres.”

Last night was my turn to read. We were supposed to announce our genre before we started, but I ignored that instruction and just started reading two of my “fairy tale monologues,” which really sort of defy categorization. When I was done, everyone sort of stared at me. “Wow,” the moderator said. “What, uh… What genre was that?”

I shrugged. “I’m not really sure.”

“I’d never heard anything like that before,” the romance-lady told me. “I really liked it.”

When I sat down, the old man to my right held out his hand. “Can I see that?” he asked. “I just want to read it again.”

The Conference has made me think about the commercial aspects of writing, and I know that there is a market for genre writing. People naturally like to categorize their world, and publishers like to know how they can market a book. It reminds me of when I lived in LA, and my acting teacher told me to lose ten pounds. “Look,” she said, “in this business, you’re either fat, or you’re skinny. There’s no place for in-between. You either market yourself as the young, pretty ingenue, or you market yourself as the fat, ugly loser. You have to be a type that already exists.”

I didn’t like that idea in the acting world, and I don’t like it in the writing world either. I don’t want to commit myself to one genre. I don’t want to follow rules and fit into a pre-made mold. I aspire to be a literary version of Beck and do a little bit of everything. I want to write a gothic horror novel followed by a funny, upbeat beach read. I want to dabble in speculative fiction and the paranormal without being labeled a “genre” writer.

I know that being eclectic might make my fiction harder to market, but when I think about who I am, I realize that my interests are all over the map, and they always have been. Just look at my education: I have an undergraduate degree in psychology and math, and a Master’s degree in creative writing. Just look at my clothes: some days I dress like a Tim Burton character, and some days I dress like an eight-year-old from the 80’s. I like to read all types of books and watch all types of movies, and my favorite musician is one who plays every type of music. I guess I always thought that I was flirting with different genres of writing until I found my true style, but now I’m wondering if, like Beck, it’s this dabbling experimentation that is my style. Maybe I’ll always be playing footsie in another dimension

P.S.  I just saw this article.  I’m not sure how I feel about this, but I will say:   Oh, my dear Beck.  Always trotting down that crazy, unknown path towards something new and different.  P.S.  The answer to yesterday’s trivia question was The Wall Street Journal.  For my show I was planning on playing The Flying Lizard’s “Money,” as a hint.


About evalangston

Eva Langston is a writer, among other things.

2 responses »

  1. James Woolwine

    Hi Eva,
    I’m glad to hear you are making progress and receiving good feedback. This posting resonated with me because it describes the dilemma I have faced trying to be a professional musician. How does one market themselves as an artist? The public, and the powers who would sell you to them, need an easily digestible label to identify you with. But, what if your art is really to eclectic to be so easily categorized? I have wondered many times, is it better to be versatile or a specialist? We’re often taught that more skills make us more valuable, but it usually seems that the specialists are the ones who rise to the top of their field, especially in the arts.
    I’ve begun to think that there is no right answer to that question. Rather, we each have to find our own unique answer depending on how we want to express ourselves artistically. If someone has a passion for one thing only, they should focus on being the best practitioner of that thing. Conversely, if your passions go in many directions don’t deny any of them for just one. You would be doing yourself a disservice. You may find it harder to build a career than if you specialized, but there are plenty of Eclectics who build successful careers too. And, if you can’t find a suitable role model, become the first.
    Good luck.

  2. Pingback: My Beck Obsession & His New Morning Phase | In the Garden of Eva

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