We wannabe authors—“author” meaning published writer—who are on the web are constantly assaulted by reports and opinions on what sells.
We hear that zombies are the new vampires . . . no, wait, angels are the new vampires . . . or are they the new zombies?
Mysteries are up, and so is YA and Christian fiction. Thrillers are down, and so is science fiction.
And there we sit, wanting to write OUR stories. Those of us who are compelled to write hear an inner voice—probably Frank Sinatra’s—singing My Way. But then there are all those other voices clamoring no, this way and no, that way. Are we nuts to go our way?
And then there are people like me, who don’t seem to have a single “way.” To wit:
- my first novel is a speculative social thriller.
- the second novel is a Western mystery.
- third came a coming-of-age-laced-with-mystery set in the 1950s (just sent out a query).
- the fourth is, arguably, a speculative thriller—or maybe literary fantasy, as one reader called it; it does have a paranormal element, but in the strict meaning of the word as “beyond the range of scientifically known or recognizable phenomena,” not vampires and werewolves and demons.
- And my most recent novel is satire/humor, a vampire story narrated by a cat protagonist.
So maybe I’m still looking for my “way.”
Or maybe I’ve found it—exploration may be my way. I am pretty certain that writing novels that are fresh in one way or another, and by that I mean don’t fit tidily into a genre, is another symptom of my way.
My way, so far, has not resulted in publication. I’ve had literary representation, and had agents really like my writing. Even then, they don’t see sales in the future for my particular brands of stories.
There is an alternative to my way. I’m a good enough writer, and creative enough, I think, to ape a genre well enough to write something competitive. And I can tell you that if a publisher offered me a contract for a work-for-hire, I’d jump at it.
So, with all the marketing jabber about what’s hot and what’s not, should I stay true?
But to devote the time and energy it takes to write a novel—and you know all about that—in what would amount to faking it is just something I can’t do. (Maybe I’m not just desperate enough.)
But staying true isn’t locking in
It seems to me that evolution—through learning and writing, writing, writing—is key to the eventual success of any writer. To lock in to just one way of telling a story, one way of writing, seems sure to turn my way into a dead end.
Our esteemed blogmistress, Therese Walsh, shows us that with the success of The Last Will of Moira Leahy. It’s a story she told more than one way and more than one time, a story that changed and shifted and lost and gained parts as she worked on it for years, absorbing insightful input into what worked and what didn’t for readers. She stayed true to her vision—but also had the restless, undeniable drive to keep working it until she arrived at its final, successful form. Teri had two blessings on her journey—a shining talent for writing and excellent, expert insights from other writing pros—but still, she had to stay true.
Staying true means “listening” to your story, too. I started out trying to tell what is perhaps my favorite of my novels so far, Finding Magic, from the male protagonist’s point of view. I could never get further than the first chapter. It wasn’t until I realized that it was Annie’s story that it would come out.
Staying true to my vision of that character gave her first-person narrative a formal, distant tone—even though the story is told in the present, she is a child of the 1700s, when many spoke and wrote in a “high-falutin’” way. My beta readers let me know that she was too cold and off-putting that way. So I’ve softened her way of speaking—but there’s still a little of that original flavor, and yet she’s more approachable. I think.
I also told the story in first-person present tense, and people told me that they didn’t like that. So I rewrote the whole novel in third-person. It no longer sounded like her. Her “person” didn’t seem to come through. So I rewrote it again, back to the original form. Staying true.
It may never sell because of that, but I know it works. One beta reader emailed me with the subject line of “Damn you.” He was emailing at 7:00 on a Sunday night, and it turned out that he’d gotten up that morning with a to-do list that included reading some of the manuscript. The “damn you” came from the fact that all he’d done all day was read that story. It was not an unhappy damnation.
Finding Magic is one that has had evolutionary stages like Teri’s Moira, though it hasn’t reached publication, yet. I feel certain that if I could just get an agent to read the whole thing, I might get there. But, so far, whatever I put in my queries hasn’t gotten that result.
Wanna read it? I could use some fresh eyes. If you want to know more about it, let me know in comments or email me: ray (at) ftqpress (dot) com. Those who know me know that I like to design, too, so here’s the cover concept.
What about you?
Have you had to wrestle with finding your way? Have you had that inner sense of “no, this is the right thing to do, no matter what?” Had any luck with that?
Are you lucky enough to have found your groove in a particular genre so you can just concentrate on making it better, or are you a flibberty-gidget like me?
You know, even if eventually my only readers are those who empty my desk drawers after I’ve gone to that great Library in the sky, I think I want them to read my stories, told my way.