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Thursday, November 22, 2012

More Author Insight: Iconic Tales

What makes a book iconic and elevates it to be more than just a story? Can you think of a book that accomplishes this?

"For me, iconic books always contain outstanding characters that burst off the page. Characters like Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind, Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice, and Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings." - Sara Walsh, author of The Dark Light.

"I'm guessing a book has to resonate on a deeper level than just entertainment to be iconic, and at the same time it has to be super entertaining. Which is really hard to do. Also, wish-fulfillment books seem to get icon-status all the time. It's the secret to success, I've heard." - Stefan Bachmann, author of The Peculiar.

"Characters that linger long after you’ve finished reading their story. Characters that find their way into our cultural subconscious, like Harry Potter." - Robin Bridges, author of The Unfailing Light.

"Great characters that readers truly connect with is, to me, the main thing that elevates a book and turns it into more than just a story. That combined with a Hollywood movie really turns it iconic. Sure, lots of books get turned into movies, but it is the ones with the characters worth cheering for that have the staying power. The Hunger Games is a great example of a fabulous book turned movie that got the recognition it deserved." - P.J. Hoover, author of Solstice.

"A fine balance of a lot of things. Characters that exhibit a combination of qualities to which all humans relate and simultaneously aspire. A well- constructed, colorful world different but not so different from our own. Lastly, lessons learned, inspiration for action or change in the readers’ life. There are many that accomplish this, but most recently, Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games excites and encourages readers to have strength in these hard times." - Lara Avery, author of Anything But Ordinary.

"It reifies the ineffable. Which means it turns what cannot be said into a thing--in this case, a story. There are countless iconic tales. Harry Potter, Cinderella, Matilda, Abraham and Isaac, The Jungle Book. They take the intimate experiences of our lives and turn them into stories we want to read." - Adam Gidwitz, author of In a Glass Grimmly.

"Lord of the Rings, not just because it is unique and deeply imaginative, incredibly crafted and well-thought out, but because the emotional truths in the book –good vs. evil, the weak becoming strong, and the idea of self-sacrifice– are human truths that will never go stale. Lord of the Rings shows us things that will always be true about ourselves, and that makes it a great rather than just a good story." - Sharon Cameron, author of The Dark Unwinding.

"Characters! It's always characters who make a book more than just a story. All my favorite books are my favorites because of the characters in them. From childhood, my favorites included Anne of Green Gables because of the irrepressible Anne Shirley, and Little Women because of Jo March. And I think so many people love the Harry Potter series because of Harry, Ron and Hermione." - Malinda Lo, author of Adaptation

"First off, I’m taking 'iconic' to mean that it’s spread like wildfire and has possibly inspired skits on SNL so I apologize in advance if it’s wrong definition of iconic.

A lot of books become iconic when they cross genres. When grandma AND the grandkids are reading it such as with Harry Potter and The Hunger Games. It’s hard to say what elements make this happen. I think if publishers could answer that question they would find writers to create those books and not have to guess or take chances on what might become the next Hunger Games. Sometimes it’s a great hook or a high concept…a compelling plot that can be explained in a single sentence. Hunger Games accomplishes the hook element. It’s also a very readable, fast-paced novel.

Twilight is also a very readable series. As much as people like to criticize this series, I have heard so many stories of moms who pick up Twilight and read it in a day and they haven’t read a book in ten years…or teens who have turned off their cell phones and facebook, just to finish the final Hunger Games book. So, I guess, in order to be iconic, its important to appeal to the Average Joe who occasionally skims the book section at Wal-Mart but may rarely step foot in a library or bookstore and has no idea what’s on the NYT Bestseller list nor could they define the term Literary Fiction or even Young Adult Fiction. The book has to reach out so far it gets to people who don’t even know they want to read any book let alone one about a boy who goes to wizard school or a girl who falls in love with a vampire.

Controversy can also help launch a book into iconic status. Twilight came with a good amount of controversy…a love/hate relationship with readers…lots of one star review and lots of five star reviews and not a whole lot in between. Fifty Shades of Grey definitely tows a huge amount of controversy behind it and it’s exploding from every possible Orpheus. But all in all, I doubt anyone, not even the publishers, can set out to make a book iconic, it’s the readers who do that part. It’s completely out of writers, editors, marketing directors, and agents’ hands." - Julie Cross, author of Tempest.

"I think there are several factors at play here. Books are published by publishers and are backed by those publishers in a certain way. So when talking about books (vs. stories) one must remember that books are products and often people buy products because of the marketing that is done by the producer of the product. Sales numbers can make a book iconic. I am pretty sure that is not what you’re asking. But I wanted to draw that distinction. I am a non-consumerist, so I am very aware of the “people will buy what they think they should buy” phenomenon and I don’t want to overlook that.

But what makes a story iconic? For me, it can be any of the main parts of the machinery: the character (Atticus Finch), the plot (The Great Gatsby), or the theme (Catch-22). I think we have come to an interesting time in publishing where icons are often made of sales numbers because it’s an easier news story to draw readers. Who wants to read about Joseph Heller’s struggles with Yossarian? Why not read about how someone made five million dollars last week on their book? I guess I think that the media’s definition of 'icon' is changing." - A.S. King, author of Ask the Passengers.

Find out Tuesday if there is anything the authors aren't willing to bend on when it comes to their novels. 

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