Monday, November 7, 2011

Fiction vs. Reality


            I’ve been ruminating a lot lately about the market for adult thrillers.  This is something my friend, Lisa Regan, and I have talked about many times, as she also writes in the genre along with me.  Her book, Finding Claire Fletcher, has been on submission for thirteen months just waiting for a home.  And while it is still in the running with three major publishers, in the time she has been on submission, she’s seen few titles close to our genre sell besides cozy murder mysteries, which I just don’t understand.  Murder is anything but cozy.  It’s difficult to figure out why good thrillers aren’t selling when forensic TV shows are so popular and thrillers are a favorite in the movie theater.  So why aren’t adults buying and reading thrillers much any more? 
            Yeah, we have the same old, same old from the tried and true like Patterson and Cornwell, but publishers aren’t biting from newbies much these days.  A couple of editors who turned down Lisa’s book said they couldn’t believe that a young kidnapped girl wouldn’t try to escape her captor.  Uh, hello?  Ever heard of Elizabeth Smart?  Does Jaycee Dugard ring a bell?  Their true-life stories were more horrific than anyone could have ever imagined or written, and they didn’t try to escape.  That’s real life and it harkens back to that saying that life is stranger than fiction.  I’m beginning to think that it’s the selling of reality as entertainment that is desensitizing us to what might otherwise thrill us.
About a decade or so ago, the Writer’s Guild of America went on strike for better residual compensation.  That strike lasted a long time and the big TV networks had to come up with an idea to replace the scripted programs affected by the striking writers.  This is when we first started seeing a glut of reality TV programming.  And I’m not talking about shows like America’s Most Wanted or Cops.  I mean shows like Survivor, which were good ideas based on the question, “What if…?”  They were interesting and marked the first time Americans became fixated with other relatively unknown Americans, people whose lives were transformed overnight.  This was the beginning of our obsession with being famous. 
Since then, a plethora of reality programs have come onto the market, but these aren’t “What if…?” kind of shows.  They are simply tapings of average folks doing their thing, whatever that is.  It might be buying unseen junk left abandoned in a public storage unit, or maybe a mother’s consumption with getting her three-year-old daughter every pageant tiara in existence, or watching a Nazi-like dance instructor bully her students into performing better, or perhaps even following the lives of the relatively unknown, but totally spoiled step-children of former star athletes.  Whatever it is, these shows are all supposedly unscripted.  No writers had any part in the performances of the participants.  Yeah seriously, you couldn’t make that stuff up.  And frankly, would you really want to?  Quality it is not.
This fascination with reality TV has skewed the way we seek entertainment.  Gone are the days when we were fascinated by a story where dinosaurs are reanimated from DNA strands extracted from insects entombed in crystallized amber, or where an average married man is drawn into the intrigue of a long lost lover come back to haunt him.  It’s all about fame these days, about how a former Playboy bunny married a famous football star and had a baby, or the daughter of a prolific TV producer reflecting on her life as a “poor little rich girl,” or *gasp* an actual novel—yes that means fiction, baby—written by an overly indulged young woman whose drunken and promiscuous antics have proven fodder for public disdain. 
Man, do I ever crave a good, action and emotion-packed adult thriller where the protagonist has to overcome unbelievable odds to save his life and win the girl, where the woman FBI agent has to battle the misogynistic status quo just to get her boss to believe she knows what the hell she’s doing and can solve the serial murder case, where a newly-engaged, sex-addicted college professor goes head to head with her former student-lover who’s kidnapped her, or where a grief-stricken man seeks revenge on the woman who killed his pregnant wife only to discover he’s victimized the wrong woman, imperiling not only her life, but his own and his brother’s, as well.
Yes, I want reality, too.  I want real life, down and dirty and gritty.  But I also want real people.  Not homespun wannabe stars.  Real, authentic heroes who might be anything but, yet they still soldier on and at least try to save the day.           

25 comments:

Lisa L. Regan said...

Hah hah! Don't even get me started on the cozy thing. I think you really have a point here about reality TV. It's so depressing. I thought people watched TV to ESCAPE reality for awhile. Apparently not anymore. Maybe violence should not be entertaining but I've always said that stories like ours, like the prime time crime dramas allow people to explore the nasty side of life from the safety and security of their own homes. Thanks for the shout-out. We can only hope that society rediscovers their love of mysteries and thrillers (that do NOT involve a talking psychic cat or some such BS.) Great post.

Lynda R Young said...

I didn't realise that thrillers weren't selling so well. This surprised me. It's probably because the big names have a strong hold on the market and they are producing enough books to cover the demand. The publishers don't need to 'risk' taking on a new author. Just a guess. It's such a shame, though.

McKenzie McCann said...

I think I remember that strike. Is that really what started all of the reality TV crap? It makes sense, but it saddens me to think writers started it. I guess it wasn't exactly their fault, as they probably couldn't have foreseen the consequences.
Well, you learn something new everyday.

Eva Gallant said...

Most of those so-called "reality" shows are so bad....the Kardashians, Jersey Shore, the Real Housewives of where ever...Prime Suspect and Revenge are my favorite new tv shows. But there aren't a lot of good ones out there.

Cassie Mae said...

I'm having the 'thriller' cravings too!

JeffO said...

"I thought people watched TV to ESCAPE reality for awhile."

Lisa, perhaps as long as they're escaping from THEIR own life, it's good enough.

Actually, as I think about it, this 'new' kind of reality show, i.e., the 'look at me go about my day-to-day life, isn't it so interesting?' may be reflecting our desire to get paid big money for doing nothing.

Peggy Eddleman said...

I love a great thriller, too! I really like STUFF to happen in my books & movies.

Carrie Butler said...

...They couldn’t believe a young kidnapped girl wouldn’t try to escape her captor? Wow. Stockholm Syndrome, anyone?

Great post, Nancy! I wasn't much of a thriller reader before, but Jennifer Hillier converted me. Now I'm ready to try more! ;)

L.G.Smith said...

I think it comes down to pure, selfish business practice, and publishers only wanting to bet on the sure thing (in their mind, anyway). YA urban fantasy and established authors seem to be the only ones getting any serious love from agents and publishers these days. Methinks the only way to get them to change is for some self-published authors in other genres to make it big.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I am no fan of the reality show! Outside of American Idol, I don't watch any of them. I want the great thriller. I want another Jurassic Park.

Linda King said...

Couldn't agree more! And strange, because I've been scouring the bookshelves here in the UK lately and lamenting the lack of well-written, clever thrillers.

Julius Cicero said...

I don't really get into the whole reality thing, that's why I write. I don't like trends either, so I write what I want. It is disheartening what everyone else is into, but that's why it's up to us to get them to like what's new.
Julius

Bethany Elizabeth said...

Publishing is such a weird business, and it's strange when gritty reality doesn't sell as well as primped up fiction. We're weird people, weird buyers, weird writers. I agree, I want real people protagonists. :)

Joylene said...

I get together with my 3 BF once a month, and they talk about their favourite reality shows. I listen. I don't scratch my head, but I want to. For awhile I thought there was something wrong with me because I don't watch reality TV. Does House Hunters count? Almost every other person I know doesn't get it either, yet they're making new ones. Duh. I'm missing something.

I love thrillers. That may be why I write thrillers. I wrote a political thriller in the 90s that I'm going to start querying again. It's called Kiss of the Assassin and it's about Vietnam. At the end of the 90s I quit trying to market it because I kept hearing the same thing. Nobody's interested in Vietnam.

Last night they featured VN vets for the Remembrance Day celebrations next week. One of the men pleaded with the viewing public to never forget. I hope the publishers were listening.

The Golden Eagle said...

I don't watch reality TV--for the reason "quality, it is not", as you mentioned. And I agree, there should definitely be more real people.

Donna K. Weaver said...

And yet how do you get traditional publishers to see it?

Let me know if you figure it out.

Pearson Report said...

I'll second my friend The Golden Eagle - I'm just too busy with my "real" world to be wrapped up watching someone "act" at being real! Gee...now there's a day job we're all clamouring to have! (Not)

Looks like I'm lucky number 150 on your Followers roster...came by way of my excellent pal Al Penwasser!

Cheers, Jenny
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The Desert Rocks said...

Excellent post Nancy and yes after a life of reading news stories and working for newspapers full of tragedies--I crave the inane and banal reality show for laughs. A fictional story can still have the misogynistic FBI plot, but it better have some humor!

Al Penwasser said...

I may be a snob (I can be) but, whenever I hear that a family member is watching a reality program, I ask them if they plugged their brain in. I loathe the concept-I honestly feel they're a cheap way to come up with programming a chimpanzee can create. I watched "Survivor" once, ONCE. I was appalled at what I thought were whiny obnoxious Americans. Kind of embarrassing, really. As far as the others, no way.
I don't understand why a good adult thriller has difficulty selling. A young girl wouldn't try to escape her captors???? Wow.
By the way, I think Bruce Willis is severely hacked off that someone has stolen his hair.

Al Penwasser said...

By the way, that Jenny is the coolest!!

Josh Hoyt said...

I agree that reality can be more interesting and unbelievable than fiction. It is hard to hear some of the things that happen in real life.

Tony Storm said...

most people will always look for good thrillers even if they say they dont

M Pax said...

There's a market for everything. It just may not be worth a major publisher's while. I'm surprised they aren't selling well.

It's odd, but fiction has to make more sense than reality. Weird but true.

Cynthia Chapman Willis said...

I agree with Alex: Another Jurassic Park would be great. I'm not a fan of the reality shows. I get enough reality in my own life, thank you very much. And I was surprised to read that thrillers aren't selling. What is that?

Pearson Report said...

Awww, gee Al, you're the best! (re you second comment - how sweet!)

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