The other day, I was surprised to see an ad for a book published fairly recently regarding Kitty Genovese, a woman murdered as bystanders watched in Queens, New York, in 1964. This case was so notorious for its study of human behavior (Why would witnesses fail to act?) that people have analyzed the event for decades. Most adults know the name and reference without blinking.
But what about younger people? A Psychology 101 undergraduate may have never heard about the case. To that student, Kitty Genovese and the question of bystander apathy are fresh news.
Nothing new under the sun
As you write your book, consider that your topic may be well-tread. Most issues are. For instance, I searched Amazon for books for a “new mother” and received over 60,000 results. Searches for “car repair” books yielded the same. Apparently, Amazon tops out at around 60,000 results.
For fun, I decided to try a more narrow topic. I searched for books on “eyeshadow” and got over 1,000 hits. This search revealed a passionate hatred for blue eyeshadow. I then tried “red lipstick” and got over 1,000 hits. This search shows that red lipstick is both loved and hated. On the day of my search, one book labeled red lipstick an icon, and another called it a menace. I’ll go with iconic, of course!
A compelling new twist
Whether you’re competing against 60,000 or 1,000 books on your subject, write compellingly. If you are the first author they encounter discussing an issue, your readers will be wide-eyed, whether or not they are rocking blue eyeshadow and red lipstick!
Linda Riggs Mayfield
Your posts are always so encouraging, Tamela! Like those of my favorite author, Carrie Stuart Parks, my novels have settings that are intended to give the reader lots of new Aha! information from a time and/or place and/or profession that is highly interesting but not already totally familiar. Your post clearly presents a strong rationale for that approach. Thanks!
Remember the Lone Ranger,
and Johnny Carson, too?
To the young they’re simply strangers,
like Captain Kangaroo.
And what of Michener’s mighty tomes,
whose reading was a must?
On library shelves they still have homes,
but there just gather dust.
And what about the Concord
made by AMC?
You loved the one you could afford,
but it fades in history,
with Butch Cassidy, Sting, and Willie Mays,
lost icons of your younger days.
If you Google ‘AMC Concord’, the first thing that comes up are showtimes at the AMC multiplex in Concord, NC.
Oh my, I remember all the things you mentioned!
You’re right, Tamela. I agree that every topic under the sun has been discussed and written about. As writers, we must give our topics an added twist to keep readers interested and hope it sounds intriguing enough to sound like a new idea.
Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D.
What an interesting post, Tamela. Personally, I am a fan of green eyeshadow (it makes my eyes look green instead of light brown, which I find fascinating) but it is not available these days, so blue it is. I love the idea of offering twists that engage others. Great post!
Tamela Hancock Murray
Blue is definitely a fun color! I used to sell cosmetics at the retail level so I love a challenge.
To make this about writing I’ll say now your character can have a brand of green eye shadow to wear! ha!
You are so right; finding green eye shadow at the moment is well nigh impossible. In two years or so, we’ll likely see nothing BUT green eye shadow.
Here is a nice, neutral palette from Chanel. I’d wear this one myself:
Mac shows several shades of green here:
I’m sure you always look gorgeous no matter what shade you choose.
Tamela Hancock Murray
By the way, the Chanel set I recommend is Blurry Green.
I like your premise but I have not convinced an agent to do likewise.
Patti Jo Moore
Very interesting and encouraging post, Tamela.
And just for the record, (LOL) I’ve always liked both blue eyeshadow and red lipstick! 😉
Blessings, Patti Jo
Tamela Hancock Murray
So do I!
Thanks for the reminder that any subject needs a fresh angle, and that we must also remain mindful of younger audiences who may miss or be confused by references we remember as if they were hot off the press- that’s printing press, for you younger folks – even as we (gulp) age.
C’mon, Denise…we don’t age. It’s like Tom Petty said, “if you never slow down, you never get old”.
This is for you. Hope it gives a smile!
I see the folks around me gettin’
wrinkles, pale eyes, and grey hair,
and they like now to be a-settin’
in a porch-bound rocking chair.
Now that’s OK, must be, for them,
and I won’t argue with their pleasure
so long as they do not condemn
the stuff I choose to do for leisure,
like pumping iron very far
into the night ’till I see dawn,
and reps upon the chinning bar,
replacing brains with layered brawn,
and I’ll have last laugh, oh so merry,
most ripped abs in the cemetery.
It did, Andrew. Thank you.
Andrew, when you said Tom Petty, my first thought was the other Petty (Richard), who was a big-time winner in NASCAR races. It’s definitely true that if he didn’t slow down when he needed to, he’d never live long enough to get old.
But that just illustrates the hazard of using names and events that “everyone” knows after enough time has passed.
Tamela – great post as usual!
I read a lot of romantic suspense and after a time, they can run together because the twist is just not really there. I know that the good guy will save the damsel in distress and that the bad guy will eventually be caught and/or killed. I read the same book twice because it wasn’t until the end that I realized I’d already read the book.
Or there is a tug between cultures. They are caught between one world and another and they have to overcome the barrier of race or background, and there almost always is the same outcome. Either one or the other’s culture is abandoned or there is a middle ground.
Sometimes I find a funny twist in some but others, in worldy writing.
I try to find opposites who have a common goal. A twist of distrust even hate, lies, distraction, avoidance. A Christian and an unbeliever. A thief and a cop. A kidnapper (shock!) who is the good guy and the damsel in distress who is stronger and craftier than she looks. A slow burn where both understand how 1. good the kidnapper or the corrupt cop really is and 2. how brilliant or surprising the love interest is.
A villain that has somewhere deep inside, a heart. Confusion over why he/she is evil. A group. The whodunit’s antagonist who is the best friend of the protagonist.
Add in someone’s bushy eyebrows or a witness who is puffing on a cigarette angrily.. fun distracting things for the protag(s) to be almost distracted by. Like the near overwhelming desire to ask, “Why do you let that bush country grow over your eyes?”
Then a HUGE twist, an unthinkable twist towards the end. As one person said, if you want memorable characters, twist your readers in the wind and make them cry. Then add that awesome HEA shocker.
Nice job. You just can’t beat Google, can you? Thanks for your helpful post.
Kristen Joy Wilks
That’s so important to remember. This might be new info to them and therefore, give it the very best of your abilities to spark an interest in that new reader in your subject!
Definitely, well said, thank you.