By Sue Hinken
April 11, 2015, Front Range Community College
David Morrell, PhD, literary scholar and author of First Blood, the novel that gave rise to the brutally realistic action/thriller sub-genre with high-stakes hero, John Rambo (named after a variety of Swedish apple—really!), spoke to almost 100 writers from Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, Mystery Writers of America–Rocky Mountain Chapter, and the Colorado Author’s League. Edgar and Anthony Award finalist, Nero and Macavity winner, and recipient of the prestigious career-achievement ThrillerMaster award from the International Thriller Writers, Morrell has written twenty-nine works of fiction, which have been translated into thirty languages. Addressing the topic of “Writing Best-Selling Fiction,” he made it immediately clear that hitting the literary big time was as likely as winning the lottery. “If you’re not in it for the love of writing, you’ll end up being very disappointed,” he says. He described the dominance of the “Big 3” writers in each genre and if you’re up to try gaming the system (good luck)– seek an area that doesn’t have dominant voices, or write something unique like Nicholas Sparks who launched the “male romance”—love stories written by a man for women as in his break-out novel, The Bridges of Madison County.
Morrell shared a fascinating overview of the history of the publishing industry in the U.S. over the last 50 years. In 1970 there were few genre books on the New York Times bestseller list. Michael Creighton’s Andromeda Strain, first published in 1968, began a shake-up of the industry until today when we see that the bestseller list is almost all genre work. In 2009 the eBook revolution began. Although rare, it is actually possible to have a bestseller without a publisher. In 2014 there were 700,000 self-published books on the market. He recommended How to Market a Book, by Joanna Penn at www.thecreativepenn.com for effective tips on marketing strategies if you are a self-publisher.
Morrell sees the best writing as that in which the author is willing to put his or her personal vulnerabilities and flaws on the line. As an orphan himself, and having experienced the death of this 15-year old son and 14-year old granddaughter from a rare form of leukemia, he is no stranger to suffering. He defines his primary emotion as fear and reflected on how that directed his life and his writing. He challenged the audience to engage in self-exploration and cultivation of awareness of our own motivating emotions. Morrell uses techniques such as Neural Linguistic Programming (NLP), an approach to communication, personal development, and psychotherapy created by Richard Bandler and John Grinder, and intensive daydreaming as ways into his characters and story development.
He encourages writers not to “write for the market,” which will change in a year or less anyway. He promotes seeking the uniqueness within and writing what you love. Don’t be an imitator—be a first-rate version of yourself. Morrell tells us, “…if you chase the market, you’ll always see only its backside.” It is possible that at some point your writing, the market, and opportunity may come together to launch you into the stratosphere, but the odds are against it. If you want that level of recognition badly, you must sacrifice everything for your writing.
Thoughts for the writer:
- Ask yourself—Why do you want to write? What do you want to get out of it? What do you think getting on the bestseller list would do for you? Is this book worth several years of my life?
- Strive to do things that make you happy.
- Accept your own identity and flaws. Have a career by realizing your own uniqueness.
- Find someone in a position of experience who can help you.
- Don’t be an imitator.
- Use your daydreams as rich sources of inspiration.
- A page a day is a novel a year.
Morrell’s 2-part morning workshop was followed by break-out master classes in mystery, romance, science-fiction, short stories, young adult and children’s books. Every attendee received a copy of Morrell’s latest book, Inspector of the Dead, a page-turning story of murder, politics and early crime scene analysis set in Victorian England.