When I wrote the novel that landed me an agent, The Girl and the Clockwork Cat, it wasn’t an attempt to cash in on a new trend. In fact, when I came up with the idea, I refused to write it because it was a trend. I went on to write the first draft of another novel that I had planned. Throughout that process, the main character for Clockwork Cat pestered me relentlessly, giving me an endless flood of ideas for the book while I tried desperately to cling to the manuscript I was writing.
Eventually she won, but not before I stubbornly finished the first draft of the other book (which needs major editing as a result). From the moment I started writing Clockwork Cat I found myself on a roller coaster ride with the main protagonist dragging me along by my throat. She’s easily the most determined character I’ve ever worked with and not one to take no for an answer. I love working with her, even if it is exhausting as hell. Here’s a small excerpt from the book to give you a glimpse of her.
The steamcycles rumbled to life and she heard them pulling out of the alley. With fierce will, she managed to stay still until the sound of the engines faded in the distance. Then she scrambled like a startled rabbit, throwing disgruntled cockroaches in all directions in her desperate charge for the open air beyond the edge of the ashbin. One bony elbow smacked into the brick wall and she bit down on her lip to stifle a cry.
Sound is the killer. Silence carries one through the night alive.
Now I sit back and wonder. I know the book is good, it’s gotten too much attention to be anything less, but is it good enough to make it in the world of big publishing. My agent seems to believe so and I love her for that. Sometimes I wonder if it wouldn’t have sold already if I had just slipped a vampire in there somewhere like Cassandra Clare’s Infernal Devices books. (I actually love these books. I already have book three pre-ordered and it doesn’t come out until March of next year.) If I had made the steampunk element more of a character in itself as it is in the fantastic Leviathan trilogy by Scott Westerfeld rather than a more subtle environmental aspect à la The Difference Engine, would it be on shelves already?
In the end, I always come to the same conclusion. I wrote the book the way it needed to be written. It wasn’t supposed to be about steampunk or magic or the supernatural. It’s a story about a young woman who, despite her lowly origins and the questionable means by which she has learned to survive, discovers that she is capable of great things. It is her story.
Clockwork Cat is the book that got me my agent. I hope it gets me a publisher too, but there are no guarantees. That’s why I’m still writing and editing like a fiend to get more out there.
I guess this is just to say that you should always write the story the way it needs to be written. I think we need to recognize that telling the story that is in us rather than trying to make it conform to, or avoid conforming to, some trend will make that story shine. It will feel authentic, not forced. The passion that we put into it will come through.
In this new age, with all of the small presses popping up, it is much easier to find a home for a good book that crosses genres or doesn’t quite fit the ideals of a specific trend. In the world of big publishing, it can still be a challenge to find a place for such work (though I’m giving it a go anyway). Break the rules of the genres if that’s what your story calls for. Ignore trends and popular gimmicks if they don’t fit your story. Write the book you want to read and enjoy it.