A Traitor in Our Midst


I’m a traitor, that’s what some of the hardcores are going to say. But a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.

What am I talking about? Well, brace yourself–the book I’m currently writing is not a mystery.

I didn’t train to be a mystery writer. So I was unaware of the requirements of the genre until, well, I received my first mystery book contract in 2003.

Rule #1:

If you write a mystery series, you need to produce at least a book a year.

Imagine my naivete. Before getting published, I had no idea of the required annual output. I read mystery series, but often out of order, and never bothered to check the publication date.

Rule #2:

You write five or six mysteries in a series, and then you can write a standalone–and that should also be a mystery, preferably a thriller.

My response: I’ve never been that good with rules.

I’ve only done three in my Mas Arai mystery series–and they all have been trade paperback originals. I guess my goal should be to get a book in the series in hardback before I go out and strike it out in another genre.

But the publishing industry is more cutthroat than ever, and there’s less time to make your mark. Some of my readers are not necessarily mystery fans–a number are more likely to pick up Lisa See’s Snow Flower and the Secret Fan or Cynthia Kadohata’s Kira-Kira before Janet Evanovich or James Patterson. I’ve been itching to write from a woman’s point of view and not necessarily in the context of a standard mystery. So here I go.

I should be scared, but I’m exhilarated. Cut off all the safety lines and jump.

Getting that first contract does change you, and many things have been lost along the way. Just as spirituality needs to be cultivated on a regular basis, so does the art of writing. The risk of it. Entering new territory and not knowing really how you and your work are going to be transformed.

I do plan to return to the mystery series, fully refreshed. In addition to this nonmystery novel, I have an idea for a mystery standalone, so it may be two books before I return to my crusty protagonist Mas.

I wish that I could tell you the next episode in this writing story. Show you some teasers–perhaps of a small band of Mas Arai fans in revolt or me rotting away in the corner of my office, spider webs stretching from my head to the ceiling.

But there are no signs of the future.

I just jump.


Definition: dangerous, risky, perilous. Abunai, Will Robinson, abunai. Enough said.

8 thoughts on “A Traitor in Our Midst

  1. Troy Cook

    Good for you! Publishers want what they want, but if your drive is to write something else than you have to do that. When you’re writing, passion is key. What pubs don’t say is how tired a series can get. All my favorites tend to wane after a few books. I think the author probably needs to get refreshed before they tackle it again.

    Then we’re all happy.

  2. Pari

    Naomi,You’re no traitor. You’re a writer.

    I applaud your sense of adventure and desire to write fresh and from deep within.

    Rather than writing out of the genre to stretch, I’m taking another approach and beginning a different series (though I’ll still write Sasha, too) within the mystery context. This new series has a very different edge to it and I’m so looking forward to writing a new protag — getting to know her.

    Although I’ve struggled with this latest manuscript, I’d kind of like the once-a-year deadline–it’d keep me focussed. Since we have to sell every Sasha book individually, this hasn’t been a problem. Though I worry a bit about momentum being lost because SOCORRO won’t be out (if it sells) until 2008ish. argh

  3. JT Ellison

    Naomi,I agree with Pari. Not a traitor in sight. Having fun with your writing is often more important that shooting a novel out every year. I can’t wait to read this new one!”Just as spirituality needs to be cultivated on a regular basis, so does the art of writing.”What a beautiful observation.

  4. Eric Mayer

    I say good for you too. The first mystery story Mary and I sold was the first I ever wrote and suddenly I was a “mystery writer,” but with no more attachment to the genre than any other. But, of course, that was the door that was open. It’s hard to go and knock on doors that are still closed when there’s one that’s open.

  5. Naomi

    Thanks for all the support, guys. But the decision was very difficult. The door was open to do at least one more Mas Arai in succession, but for various reasons, I wanted to explore something new.

    I’ve always known that getting your first book published was one thing and sustaining your career over the long haul is another. And it isn’t only about promotion. You also need to figure out the timing on when to write and release certain manuscripts. It’s like actors and actresses–you may have two who are equally talented during the same time period, but one rises and the other stagnates later. How come?

    I wanted to blog about managing a writing career, but I discovered that I don’t have enough real world experiences in novel publishing to tackle that topic. Maybe in another 12 years!

  6. Beatrice Brooks

    I applaud your decision, Naomi. And well I should :::grin::: My next book, due out Aug 2007 – stars a 1790s gothic romance writer. “The Landlord’s Black-Eyed Daughter” was inspired by the poem “The Highwayman,” and even though there’s a paranormal-mystery thread running throughout,along with a murder, Landlord can’t, by any stretch of the imagination, be called “crime fiction.” There’s too much emphasis on “adventure” and “romance.”

    Did I enjoy writing it? Did I want to wake up every morning very early, pour my first cup of coffee, and sit down in front of the computer? Did I :::gasp::: avoid email?

    You betcha’.

    And isn’t that the whole point? Loving what you do? I’m firmly convinced that if I enjoy writing a book, the joy [spirit] will shine through to my readers. Caveat: Joy alone won’t do it. First, you have to learn your craft.


  7. Naomi

    Typepad had bit of a meltdown, so all of Wednesday’s comments got zapped! So for those who posted comments, it’s nothing personal.

    Thanks for stopping by and talk to you next week.


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