Today’s guest post is acclaimed multi-published author Marilyn Brant. Marilyn is not only a USA Today best-selling author of contemporary fiction, she was recently named the 2013 Author of the Year by the Illinois Association of Teachers of English. Her most recent book, THE ROAD TO YOU, was published on September 18, 2013. It’s a coming-of-age romantic mystery that takes place, in part, along historic Route 66.
Says The Reading Frenzy:
Marilyn Brant’s beautifully written new novel takes her talent to a new and darker level. It’s a heartrending tale of loss and of love, a masterful mix of mystery and romance with a good dose of a coming of age tale thrown in. Her meticulous and descriptive narrative paints a perfect picture of landscapes and scenes and gives a realistic look at a crime drama from the 70s…and a road-trip on the historic Route 66 that will keep readers on the nail-biting edge of their seats until she decides to solve the puzzle and let her audience breathe again.
Marilyn lives in the northern suburbs of Chicago with her family and is deeply passionate about Jane Austen, ’70s & ’80s music, travel, and all kinds of chocolate. Follow her on her blog, Facebook, and Twitter.
Following Our Passions: A Dance of Love, Fear, and Change
[pullquote]There are those who dance to the rhythm that is played to them, those who only dance to their own rhythm, and those who don’t dance at all. ~José Bergamín[/pullquote]
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of being asked to speak at the annual conference of the Illinois Association of Teachers of English (IATE). It was a major honor for me because they’d selected me as their 2013 Illinois Author of the Year, and they’d wanted me to give a luncheon talk on the subject of their conference theme: “Remembering to Follow Our Bliss and Teaching Our Students to Do the Same.”
I interpreted that phrase to mean finding our passions, following where they lead, and sharing them with others so they’ll be encouraged by our example. Essentially, so those we interact with will strive to be honest with themselves, open to experience, and willing to face challenges worthy of their time and talents.
As writers, though, I think we live this without reminders. That the need to be passionate and to share those passions is inexorably entwined with our author DNA; it’s as if we have a third strand added to that original double helix. After all, we are driven to write. It takes a powerful force to create the kind of drive needed to sustain the drafting of an entire novel (let alone multiple projects), the seemingly endless revisions, the anxiety-provoking critique process, and the part bravado/part sheer terror of submissions. This publishing game isn’t for weenies. And there are a lot of very successful, smart, and creative individuals out there who are good at composing literate papers but who still don’t get anywhere close to fully drafting a novel. We all know people who claim to want to be novelists who don’t get beyond the writing of the first chapter, if that.
So, in my opinion, the passion to write is fueled by something much more primal than mere aptitude. We don’t write novels just because we are capable of stringing sentences together for 350+ pages or even because we intuitively understand—or have learned through the study of writing craft—how to structure a scene, develop a character arc, or create rising tension.
I believe the passion necessary to write a book comes from great love…and great fear. Sometimes simultaneously. We need to understand the sources of our personal passions so we can harness them and channel their power into something we feel is beautiful and meaningful. Likewise, as writers we’re not just required to face our fears, we have to fully immerse ourselves in that deep river where our secrets hide. We have to drag or charm those cagy demons to the surface, hold them up to the light for examination, and give a voice to what was once only a muted cry, so others—who might recognize the sound—will know they’re not alone.
When Therese and I were first chatting about my writing a blog post for Writer Unboxed this month, we were talking in the context of publishing and all of the industry changes we’ve witnessed. I’ve had several novels that were traditionally published and have also become more involved with indie publishing in recent years. I’d hoped to offer some useful information about possible publishing paths. But the more closely I looked at what I wanted to convey about the options available to today’s writers, the less I was able to untangle it from passion. From both love and fear.
I can’t speak for anyone else but, for me, because I started writing seriously back when the idea of an “ebook” was akin to science fiction (i.e., something you might find in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy but not exactly in everyday life on Earth) and the only self-publishing models I knew about were vanity presses, traditional New York publishing was the only path I’d originally considered. I pursued it with a relentless commitment for nearly eight years until I got my first book contract. I’d entered a slew of contests, queried scores of reputable literary agents, and wrote a half-dozen manuscripts before I finally got “the call” that According to Jane had sold. I then entered this hallowed world of big dreams (and frequently small advances) and got a front-row seat for one of the most significant industry shifts since the invention of the printing press…
And it was a fascinating experience—sometimes frustrating, sometimes gratifying, but never boring and, likewise, never constant.
As the sands shifted under our feet, ebooks gained momentum, print runs for midlist authors like me got halved, and I realized that my passions were changing…not only when it came to what I longed to write about but, also, what I worried about the most in regards to my career and my future as a novelist.
I suspect one of the reasons arguments between traditional vs. indie published authors can get so heated is because everyone has a tendency to project their own dreams and anxieties on each other. I’ve heard some traditional-only pubbed authors ask an indie author with confusion and alarm, “Don’t you want to be respected?” To which the indies would reply with matching tones of confusion and alarm, “Don’t you want to be paid?”
Of course, the truth is that there’s no guarantee of respect or money, no matter which publishing path we choose to take, and there’s no saying a writer won’t get both by going on either type of journey or by becoming a “hybrid” author and combining traditional releases with independent ones. The magic combination of a well-written book that’s released at the right time and utilizes an excellent marketing strategy can create publishing miracles. But, regardless of the writing dreams we hold dearest to our heart, there’s still the very real possibility that what we want and need most passionately this very second could change a few years down the road. Or that we might start to pursue that new avenue, only to have it change again a few years later.
It’s really important to me to openly acknowledge this because we can’t forget that we ourselves are as dynamic and as changeable as our industry.
Where I am personally in my career right now—not to mention where I am in my family life and with my particular constellation of desires/anxieties/etc.—is noticeably different from where I was just a few years ago.
Back in 2008, just before I got that first contract, my greatest desire was to hold a print copy of my book in my hands, see it sitting on a library or bookstore shelf, and get invited to local book clubs to chat with readers face to face about a story. And my greatest fear was that an editor at a NY publishing house might never consider a manuscript of mine strong enough to publish. I wasn’t willing to let go of any of these things then. Nor should I have. We’re all entitled to the dreams and fears we possess, and no one has the right to tell us that we should wish for something different or that we ought to force our anxieties to manifest themselves elsewhere.
But now my career-related fears aren’t about editorial acceptance. They involve the distribution of my work. In this age of one-click purchasing, I wonder…are my books reaching their intended audience? Getting into the hands of their right readers? Am I doing enough to help make that connection happen, especially since I write across genres? I worry about this all the time.
And, on the side of storytelling desires, I started my career writing contemporary women’s fiction, then added in romantic comedy and, most recently, YA/new adult mystery. My passion for what, specifically, I wanted to write about is changing, too. I hadn’t anticipated that. The books I’m willing to fight for like mad are different now, and I’m craving the freedom to take bigger narrative risks with them. To write much more out of the box than I ever have.
I recently released a novel that I knew conclusively—even while I was drafting it—that New York wouldn’t publish. The Road to You crossed too many genre lines and presented too much of a marketing challenge, especially in this risk-averse climate. I’d spent three years writing and revising, revising, revising a manuscript that blithely hopped between young adult, new adult, romance, mystery/suspense and historical fiction (that is, if you consider the 1970s an “historical” time period—but if you do, please don’t rub it in). I was willing to edit for as long as it took to strengthen the narrative, but I wasn’t willing to compromise on the storytelling… From the very beginning, I’d wanted to tell this tale my way, and I was willing to deal with the fallout if it didn’t work. A traditional publisher wouldn’t have been as able to take that risk, but that’s all right. That’s why today’s publishing options are so freeing.
So far, I’m happy to say my book is holding its own. Readers I’ve heard from have appreciated that I was able to give them a more unique reading experience than I would have been able to if I’d allowed this novel to be hemmed into just one or two genres. And this freedom has meant a lot to me. It is, without question, where my passions have led me for now—to the crazy joy of writing stories that cannot be easily stamped with a genre label. Doesn’t mean that’s where I’ll want to be forever, though.
And, of course, your passions, may lead you to a very different place. But I think the important thing for all of us to remember is that we need to stay true to those things we love, try to see with our clearest vision those things we fear, and fully accept all the facets of our passion and its changeable nature. There’s simply no one right way to do this dance…
With a nod to Henry David Thoreau, we can only step to the music we hear—however measured or far away—and trust in that.
What are some of your favorite passions—either as a reader/writer or outside of the writing life altogether?