And Now for Something Completely Different

I’ve been writing fiction for nearly three years now and if I had to characterize myself as a writer, the adjective I would use is capricious. Or whimsical, if we’re being kind; fickle if we’re not.

I often have several works in progress, generally set 150 years apart. (Though oddly, I’m writing two books right now set in DC.) On a given day, I might write several hundred words on one, do some academic writing, and then pick up the other. I might read a few chapters from a small contemporary romance and then a biography of a woman born in 1862. There’s simply no through line that ties together my reading and my writing. I’m all over the place.

These fissures show up in the product, if not within a single work than certainly between them. When I read Brave in Heart and then one of my contemporary projects, the voice sounds so different to me; two different people could have written them. I feel almost like the romance writer equivalent of Monty Python. “And now for something completely different…”

I can imagine that I could spin this for you in a positive way: “I am large, I contain multitudes,” there is no contradiction here. But at a time of expectation in terms of author branding and consistency, I’m not sure how I work is a strength. The one is not like the other. If you liked Brave in Heart, you might not like The Easy Part. If you like The Easy Part, I’m not sure you’ll like Brave in Heart. Both come out of the mess that is me, but they represent different moods, impulses, and sensibilities. I don’t know which I should pursue moving forward, but doing both may not be possible.

What expectations do you have for authors in terms of brand or consistency? Do your favorite authors work in different genres or sub-genres? How do you feel about that?

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8 thoughts on “And Now for Something Completely Different

  1. I think what you’ve written is what most artists I know do. My best friend is a visual artist and she works in the same inchoate drib-and-drab fashion. I think there’s integrity in this and you just have to keep doing it ;)! Writers, artists, who are commercially driven may have plans and schedules in place, I don’t know, but the creative impulse, which I think is more what you describe, is this. It’s messy and like looking for things in a familiar yet darkened home, the territory is familiar but the task is still difficult.

    • I appreciate the note of confidence!

      Isaiah Berlin wrote an essay dividing intellectuals into two camps: hedgehogs, who know one thing deeply or who use one idea to categorize the world (like Hegel), and foxes who know a little about a lot of things and don’t categorize (like Shakespeare). Now obviously I’m not a true intellectual or a philosopher, but while I’d like to think of myself as a fox, I worry that I’m just undisciplined. I’m glad to know that others are groping for order in the dark, or some such.

  2. I’m the same kind of writer! My current list of ideas to write about ranges all over. Same for my reading habits, like yours. I think that some writers solve the reader expectations problem by taking on a pseudonym (or multiple pseudonyms), most lately JK Rowling. But I personally think that if you do a good job communicating with readers and if you have clear descriptions, readers shouldn’t fault you for writing in multiple styles under the same name. In fact, I love it when an author experiments and I can follow her/him into different genres.

    • I agree with you, but I feel like all the advice I read to authors is more like, “Establish yourself in one genre before you even think about publishing something else,” which is arggg.

  3. I expect a good book that is a good read consistently from a good author. It doesn’t have to be the same genre, period or characters; just consistently engaging, interesting attention grabing. No one is flat. We are all multi-facited with many interests. It is our life histories that make us who we are and contributes to how we interact with the world . Just be yourself and let us enjoy you so you can enjoy us.

  4. When I think on the authors I love from the old school days of romance, they were all over the place in terms of setting. (Jude Deveraux is a great example of this. She even wrote a WWII romance, way before it was a thing. As did LaVyrle Spencer.) There didn’t seem to be this expectation that they would only write contemporary, or Regency, or Medieval.
    I personally would prefer to see more variety from the authors I enjoy, a release from the straightjacket of branding, if you will. ;)

    • I saw an interview with Sherry Thomas where she said she had to change publishers in order to move into a different era and out of Europe. O.O

      It seems like the only change publishers will accept is from a less commercial genre to a more commercial one.

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