Monday, January 10, 2011

The Search For The Universal Specific

Suppose you were a physician about to leave for a country where there were no pharmacies, no source of medications. Everything you needed would have to be in your bag. Wouldn't it be wonderful to have a single drug that would handle the whole spectrum of illnesses you might encounter? Just toss it into your bag along with your stethoscope, and you're ready for anything. No worries, because you have what I've sometimes called the "universal specific"--something that works in every situation.

Sorry, but the universal specific doesn't exist, either in medicine or in any other area of life that I can envision at this point. The tools we have will work in some situations, not in others. That's why there are so many options available to us (and aren't we fortunate to have them?) Yet some of us, at some point or other, still look for the elusive universal specific.

Not too many years ago, I traded in my head mirror and prescription pad for a computer and the label "writer." It's a frustrating profession, and the journey to publication is long and arduous. Some reach it, others don't. And even after you're published, success isn't guaranteed. People have to buy your books, read them, and then--here's the hard part--like them. If they don't...no, when they don't, there's a great temptation to wonder what can be done so that everyone will like what we write. We're looking for the universal specific of writing. And it doesn't exist.

I've faced this recently, since the availability of my debut novel, Code Blue, as a free ebook download on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, put it in the hands of a number of people who were more interested in the "free" part than the subject matter. Many of them were apparently turned off by a book that fell into the category of "Christian fiction," and like getting olives out of a bottle, once the first negative review was posted, a number of others followed. I agonized over these reviews, wondering what I could do to make these people like my writing. I was searching for the universal specific. And it was a fruitless search.

I pay attention to reviews, and if there's something I can do to make my next book better, I try to do it. But I write Christian fiction. My novels may not contain conversion scenes and hard sells of the Gospel, but they do show how Christians face trials and crises. I'm not going to change that. So, I guess I'll continue to get bad reviews from readers who don't like that subject matter. I'll just have to trust other readers to post good reviews.

Are there areas of your life where you continue to search for that elusive something that will make everyone like you, make you a success in your endeavors, remove the clouds of disapproval that crop up on the horizon from time to time? What you're looking for is a universal specific. And it doesn't exist.

6 comments:

BJ Hoff said...

You will face this as long as you remain a Christian writer, Richard, especially one who writes out of his faith and deeply held beliefs.

Look aside. It doesn't matter.

Carol J. Garvin said...

I don't read reviews all that often so wasn't aware that your new titles weren't getting great ones from everyone. I went to check out some of the reviews and must admit I wouldn't describe either book as a 'thriller', which is what the disgruntled readers seemed to expect (and that expectation might be reinforced by Colleen's comment that compares you to Robin Cook). And neither cover mentions the Christian aspect, which they obviously didn't expect or want. But both are wonderful Christian medical suspenses and I thoroughly enjoyed them. Maybe future editions could clearly note that the stories are Christian fiction so readers will understand what they are getting.

As you've said, you just can't please every reader and I don't think any writer can. As BJ has said, it doesn't matter. Just move on. I know I'm impatiently waiting for the next one in the series.

Richard Mabry said...

BJ, Thanks for your comment. As always, you give wise counself.

Carol, I realize that finding a book is Christian fiction can be a disappointment for some people and a joy for others. However, I look upon my novels not so much as typical "Christian fiction" as portraying Christians in tough situations and following their lives as God works in them, much as happens in our own lives. Can the novels be a witness? I should hope so.

As for my writing thrillers a la Robin Cook, I have no such aspirations. I like to characterize my work as "sleep with the light off" thrillers--you wonder what's next, but you don't lose sleep over it. And so far, I think it's worked. Thanks so much for your comment and your support.

BJ Hoff said...

You will face this as long as you remain a Christian writer, Richard, especially one who writes out of his faith and deeply held beliefs.

Look aside. It doesn't matter.

Anonymous said...

I can't comment on the Christian aspects of your writing. I actually came here looking for a good definition of "universal specific" since I use that phrase and no one ever knows what I mean. However, just in terms of writing - you're writing what you know, and love, and from both a professional and spiritual perspective that's bound to make your writing stronger than it would be if you tried to write to please a larger audience. I'm quite sure there are a large number of Christians who wish to read what you are writing. I'll hope that you can find better, more effective ways to market to them, so they can find your work and enjoy it. Writing is a hard business. I wish you every success in it, and I hope you keep writing. You can certainly ask everyone you've met who has read your books to post positive reviews reflecting what they liked about them, and hope to counteract some of the negative reviews in that manner. I'll start to ramble momentarily, so let me again just wish you well, and wish you success doing something you enjoy.

Richard Mabry said...

Thanks. So glad you found me and this post, and although you say you can't comment on the Christian aspect of the post, I hope you'll think about what was said. Come back often. And thanks for your kind wishes.