The Big Idea: Lila Bowen
Posted on October 27, 2015 Posted by John Scalzi 24 Comments
The author of Wake of Vultures, Lila Bowen, does whatever the hell she wants (so does Delilah S. Dawson, who is Lila Bowen when she’s not being Delilah Dawson). And what the hell does she want to do now? Tell you her big idea for her book.
Did you ever see that episode of South Park in which Eric Cartman shouted, “WHATEVA. I’M AN OUT OF CONTROL TEEN. I DO WHAT I WANT!” while wearing a tube top on the Maury Povich show? That’s basically the Big Idea behind Wake of Vultures. Not just for the characters, though. For me, too. I spent most of my life pretending to be normal, playing it safe, and afraid to offend anyone, but this book demanded noncompliance.
See, I’ve always been the do-bee. The good girl. The Valedictorian. The polite, responsible kid who’s never smoked a cigarette. I’ve always wanted to do the right thing, to please the people in charge. That goes for writing, too. But Wake of Vultures taught me that you can still write a great book while taking enormous risks, having tons of fun, and shaking your butt in the face of the status quo.
The thing about publishing is that right up until your first book sells, you have enormous freedom. But once you’re under contract and making a career out of your writing, you’re expected to adhere to certain rules. Your books are edited and marketed and sometimes neutered to appeal to readers according to the current publishing climate, and your agent and editor are invested in your continued compliance. Suddenly, there are all these guidelines you have to follow—what genres are selling well, what’s good for your brand, what the reading populace will find pleasant.
So when I told my agent that I wanted to write a Weird West adventure with a half black, half native, cross-dressing, bisexual heroine, she had a lot of reservations.
Westerns aren’t selling. Paranormal isn’t selling. What genre is this? Is it YA or adult? Your main character has a lot going on and can be pretty rude. This reads like an episodic monster hunt. And did she really cut off that werewolf’s dong?
My answer? YEAH SHE DID. WHATEVA. I DO WHAT I WANT.
Wake of Vultures is the first book that I wrote knowing it probably wouldn’t sell. It’s the book that made me decide that if I was going to flip one table, I might as well flip ALL THE TABLES. It’s the only book for which I got the tattoo BEFORE the book sold.
That tattoo inspired the book cover, by the way.
It was exceptionally freeing and exciting, writing something that was actively discouraged. It felt less like an acquiescence and more like a dare. At any juncture where I stopped to consider, “Is this too much? Is this too weird? Will people get it? Will it sell?”, I went with my gut, muttering WHATEVA; I DO WHAT I WANT. And my freedom allowed my main character, Nettie Lonesome, to take risks, too. She doesn’t follow the rules, and she doesn’t care if people like her or not. She’s here to kill what needs to die, not get a gold star for manners.
I was recently at an industry event, and a bookseller asked me what Wake was about. I gave my biggest smile and my elevator pitch: It’s Lonesome Dove meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer with a biracial, genderqueer heroine. The bookseller made a face—a face suggesting she wanted to vomit—and walked away. And I shrugged and muttered that same refrain in my head: YOU DON’T LIKE IT? WHATEVA; I DO WHAT I WANT.
I believe in this story enough to offend people and risk failure, and that’s enormously empowering. If you recognize that the world is full of heroes who don’t fit into neat, normal little boxes, you’ll dig it. If you love Westerns but wish women in that era could be more than slaves and whores, you’ll dig it. If you’ve ever had someone look at you and tell you that you don’t deserve the destiny you crave because of what you look like or how you dress or who you love, and you’ve wanted to flip a table on them and ride off into the sunset, you’ll dig it. Wake of Vultures is all about bucking the binary.
That vomit-miming bookseller didn’t pick up a copy, but plenty of other people have. It has stars from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and Library Journal, not to mention 4.5 stars and a Top Pick rating from RT Book Reviews. My editor and publishing team believe in it. And it’s currently being passed around the band Gangstagrass, the creative geniuses behind the Justified theme song and the playlist I listened to writing and revising.
I always tell my writing students at LitReactor that they need to learn the rules before they break them. I’m glad I finally found a story worthy of my rebellion.
My suggestion: Find something you love enough to risk breaking the rules. Do it, hard. Then shake your butt and shout WHATEVA; I DO WHAT I WANT. I tell you now: It feels damn good.
Wake of Vultures: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s
Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow her on Twitter.
Refusal to be a cooperative cowardly careerist is how real books, as opposed to processed book product, get loose in the world.
This Big Idea was such a pleasure to read early in the morning, and you sold one to me, anyway.
That Eric Cartman opening is a thing of beauty. Will definitely be looking into Brown’s work.
How can I not read this? Just put a hold on it at my local library and will pick it up tonight.
“It’s Lonesome Dove meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer with a biracial, genderqueer heroine. ”
This book was on my list to read at some point but after reading just the first two paragraphs above I stopped and went to order a copy.
Me too re “It’s Lonesome Dove meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer with a biracial, genderqueer heroine. ” and it’s sold, sold, sold!
Bonus points for Table Flipping – my fantasy on many an occasion.
And this … “Maybe that was why she’d not been taught her sums: Then she’d know her own damn worth, to the penny.”
I read it, I dug it. I love what the author did with the ending.
We have reserves on our library copies. Fly, “Wake of Vultures,” fly!
I enjoyed the excerpt – now off to get the book. So Lila/Delilah, do you commemeorate each book with a tattoo? Excellent. And thanks for the call out on Gangstagrass, totally didn’t know about them.
I just downloaded the sample to my Nook and will be buying it if the sample grabs me as hard as this post did.
The book which doesn’t sell: SOLD
I can’t wait to read it.
“That tattoo inspired the book cover, by the way.” Pics or it didn’t happen. <> BTW. Buying it this week at Powell’s after reading this post.
That was supposed to have ‘chortle’ in the middle of it. *sigh*
Here’s a pic of the tattoo: http://www.whimsydark.com/blog/2015/1/26/good-news-wake-of-vultures-sold-to-orbit-books It totally happened. ;) Thanks so much for reading, y’all!
I am buying the everloving shit out of this book.
That’s one awesome tattoo, Lila!
I bought it yesterday, after having it on pre-order since I first heard about it. So clearly the bit about this book not selling is wrong.
This sounds coooooool.
OK, I’m gonna have to read this. Sounds awesome.
And yes, I’ve avoided or minimized certain genres because honestly, I get tired of women constantly being cast as victims or whores. (Not saying those aren’t legitimate characters, but it’s disempowering when those are the only roles for women).
I write with different pen names for this reason. I feel like I’m doing a lot of safe shit right now, but. Thanks for the inspiration!
I hit enter too soon. What I meant to say was: One day I’m not going to care anymore and I’ll write that “I DO WHAT I WANT” story and I’ll put my real name on that bitch and be proud of it. I haven’t found that book in me yet, but I keep looking
Reading it right now, loving it. You really know how to make words sing and scream and shout and kiss and kill.
Bought it and heard it (yes Audible) – very good – can’t wait for next installment.