“You Put Your Left Hand In . . .”

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What song/dance did you think of immediately when you read the title of the post? It’s considered a novelty/fad dance because of its popularity for a time at wedding receptions and large gatherings of kids. (If you still aren’t sure what that song is, I’ll whisper it to you in the comments if you ask.) I didn’t notice anyone suggesting it at any wedding reception I’ve attended in the last few years. The “Chicken Dance” is still hanging in there as a wedding reception staple.

img_4151Connie Willis’s 1996 science fiction novel, Bellwether, is all about fads and trends. Dr. Sandra Foster, the main character, is a sociologist who studies them. Like this one:

dance marathon (1923—33) Endurance fad in which the object was to dance the longest to earn money. Couples pinched and kicked each other to stay awake, and when that failed, took turns sleeping on their partner’s shoulder for as long as 150 days. (Willis 105)

And yes, Barbie herself (pictured above) has endured past her early fad-dom. (If that’s even a word, which I suspect it isn’t.)

This is not a review of Bellwether, by the way, though I loved the book. (Which I guess is kind of a mini-review.) I’m more interested in the central concept of the book: the bellwether. (Maybe now you’re thinking of the Bellwether character in Zootopia.)

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Assistant Mayor Bellwether

According to Merriam-Webster.com, a bellwether is

one that takes the lead or initiative : leader; also : an indicator of trends

States can be bellwethers too. You can check out Wikipedia (click here) for more information on the bellwether’s antecedents. Willis’s book addresses the notion of the bellwether in a very creative way.

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I’ll be bahhh-ck. (A sheep’s impression of Ah-nold Schwarzenegger)

We can’t always predict what will become a fad, thanks to the fickle nature of humans. Even if we’re contemptuous of the fads others follow (especially if they seem dangerous or dumb), if we’re being honest, we’ll probably admit to having followed a few fads at some point in our lives.

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Blue hair on a dude is not uncommon nowadays.
Is this a passing trend? Who knows?

Bellwethers set the trends, sometimes inadvertently. Think of the artists who are simply being true to themselves, but who wind up starting fads, thanks to the adoration of fans.

Maybe we don’t think of ourselves as trendsetting bellwethers. But sometimes, for good or ill, we are bellwethers in the lives of someone impressionable. I can’t help thinking of some children I’ve babysat, who use some of the same exclamations I’ve used. “Oh good grief!” a three-year-old said in frustration, using the same inflection I used. This taught me to keep a careful watch on what I say around him.

What fads or trends have you noticed lately that you like or wish would go away? Do you know who started them? Have you ever started a fad? What was the result?

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Willis, Connie. Bellwether. New York: Bantam Books, 1996.

Assistant Mayor Bellwether image from thefandomnet.tumblr. Bellwether sheep found at Goodreads.com. Other photos by L. Marie. Barbie and Kris dolls by Mattel for the movie Barbie Video Game Hero.

Write from the Heart

crossroadEver find yourself at a crossroads? Sure you have. I didn’t have to ask. (Silly me.) But I don’t mean the literal fork in the road you reach by car, bike, or on foot. I mean the point where life could go in one direction or another.

I’m at a crossroads now as I contemplate my writing thus far and current publishing trends.

twilight-coverBack when the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer had become the in thing and I’d heard that agents and editors searched for books of that ilk, I decided to jump on the bandwagon and write a young adult vampire novel. After all, I’d read several. I could do this, right? Well, after four dismal pages and no discernible plot—just a scene in which the characters sat on a couch watching a horror movie for some reason—I called it quits. My heart simply wasn’t it in.

200px-Hunger_gamesAnd when Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games trilogy hit the bestseller lists, I considered revamping my stalled science fiction novel into a dystopian novel. Sure, my plot was full of holes and my system of government threadbare, but I just needed to work harder at ironing out the kinks. Or so I thought. I lasted until page 107 before putting it aside. Couldn’t make the plot work. Again, my heart wasn’t in it.

So where is my heart? Where it always has been: tucked away in a fantasy land sprinkled with magic and populated by elves, dragons, and quirky humans. I love a fantasy world steeped in mythology and dripping with tropes. I have six fantasy novels in various states: two complete; four others in the works.

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Yet when I hear that more and more humorous, contemporary middle grade books (which I enjoy) are being acquired at publishing houses, I have to ask myself: Write to the trend or not?

There are all sorts of practical reasons for doing so—lucrative ones. Yet as I consider ideas for crafting a humorous, middle grade story, the only ideas that come to mind are those that will mean yet more high fantasy novels.

Must I abandon my elves to go trendy?

9781582970523_p0_v1_s260x420A quote from a craft book by Nancy Lamb helped me gain perspective:

Produce the best story you can. Write it, craft it, rewrite it, hone it, edit it and love it. (25)

“Love it.” That’s the key. Do I love the world I developed and the characters that populate it? Yes. Am I producing the best stories I can? I think so. And judging by the abandoned novels versus the finished novels on my computer, getting to the finish line on a novel is not as much of a hurdle when I’m writing from the heart.

So, I think I’ll keep going in the direction that I’m already going. An enchanted forest waits up ahead.

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Do you write to trends? I’d love to hear about that. Are you also at a crossroads? What brought you to this point? Where does your heart lie?

Lamb, Nancy. The Writer’s Guide to Crafting Stories for Children. Cincinnati, OH: Writer’s Digest Books, 2001. Print.

Images from amersrour.blog.com, sodahead.com, and freewallpapers4desktop.com.