Life has a habit of throwing you curve balls. Just when you think you’ve got it all mapped out, suddenly it takes a sharp left turn and you find yourself running for your life — usually pursued by a bear.
I’ve always liked to think I’m reasonably adaptable, but actually I’ve realised that I’ve been increasingly clinging to things as a security blanket and I wonder if I’ve become too rigid, too set in my ways. When I write, I like to have certainty and structure. There’s a kind of freedom in it — knowing I can expand on an idea and let it run, but with the knowledge of the overall shape of the book still firm in my mind
The latest work-in-progress stems from an idea I had years ago. Something quite different from my current series, but that should nevertheless appeal to readers who like the qualities embodied by Charlie Fox.
The story is a supernatural thriller devoid of vampires or werewolves. It involves grief, rage, love, a breakaway sect of Buddhist ascetic monks, and a shape-shifting demonic entity. Other than that, you’ll have to wait until it’s done 🙂
The idea for this story has been hanging around in the back of my head for so long that I had a detailed outline, almost a scene-by-scene storyboard of how it was going to go. In fact, it probably had the most detailed outline of any book I’ve written to date, because it spent so long in the gestation period.
But when I actually came to sit down and put the first words on the page, it began to change. The roles of the main characters shifted, some were written out altogether, some changed gender and even sexual orientation. I tried to pare it back to the important elements of the story and write from the heart.
Of course, how well it all works when I’ve finished it is anyone’s guess.
But the more research I do, the more story elements seem to fit the facts as I uncover them, and the more the story seems ideally suited for its location, partly in London and partly in a remote region of Okayama Prefecture in the south of Japan.
And I’ve been asking myself, if I’m so caught up in this story, why haven’t I written it before?
We’re back to curve balls. In the past I’ve always been seen purely as a writer of crime thrillers. I’ve always thought of myself that way. It was my niche — my pigeonhole — and I was reluctant to venture outside it, as well as being advised not to do so.
OK, so there’s crime in this story. There’s murder, loyalty, betrayal, ties by blood, ties by tradition, ties by friendship, and a centuries-old killer with no memory or conscience.
For me, I feel that now I finally have the freedom, if I’m willing to take the risk, to swim outside the lanes. To free-dive and see how long I can hold my breath without drowning. To experience the fear and the rush of embarking on new territory. Scary, yes, but exciting too. And if I can get past that fear, the possibilities are suddenly endless.
So, ‘Rati, would you ever read outside your chosen genre if the premise sounded intriguing enough, or you liked the author’s voice enough to give it a whirl?
Or if you write in a particular genre, do you have ideas tucked away in a totally different genre?
This week’s Word of the Week is condign, an adjective meaning well-deserved or fitting, and usually used when referring to punishment. Also condignly (adv) and condignness (n). From the Latin condignus from con- intens, and dignus worthy.
And finally, for anyone interested there are still places available on the crime writing workshop I’m hosting at Derby Central Library on Saturday, May 19th — 10am–3:45pm — entitled ‘A Man Comes Into The Room With a Gun …’
Plus, of course, CrimeFest is rapidly approaching. So, I’ll be at the Bristol Marriott from May 24th–27th along with such luminaries as Lee Child, Jeffery Deaver, Frederick Forsyth, Sue Grafton, PD James and Roslund & Hellström. See you in the bar!
You know I like a good genre switch, Zoe!
Your new book sounds exciting and intriguing. Plus, I often find crime readers seem to also like supernatural stories, so maybe there are some similar elements or attractions in there. Certainly it bodes well for your switch.
And I agree changing genres is liberating! So glad you're writing a story that's been in your head for such a long time. Happy writing.
You make me want to comb my head (inside) for the ideas I've been carrying around forever.
Actually this is a timely post because the paranormal I'm outlining just turned steampunk, a genre I never thought I'd be writing in. But I saw all of these Time Travelers walking around the Renaissance Faire a few weeks ago and I couldn't get them out of my head.
A summer of period research, yike, what am I thinking?
As far as reading, I mostly read crime and suspense, but I don't mind a nice heart-warming story every or even sc-fi and fantasy. That's one of the reasons Ray Bradbury has long been a writer I admire. Yeah he's stuff is mostly sci-fi, but he's cranked out mystery as well.
When it come to writing though, I'm a bit odd. Short stories are usually all suspense/thriller etc. My poetry and plays I seem to be more flexible. I tried writing a few shorts that weren't crime and boy were they a mess. But perhaps I'll give it another go. So thanks for posting this 🙂
As a reader, I would definitely take a shot with something my favorite writer wrote that was outside her usual genre. After all, if her writing enthralled me once, why wouldn't it again? Sure, the characters and context are different — and I enjoy picking up a new book in a series and returning to spend some more time with old friends — but at the heart, I like the writers I like because I connect with their style of writing and sense of how a story should be told. That, I think, transcends genres.
As a writer…hmm, I'm a lot more uneasy stepping outside the bounds of the crime story. Part of that is because I'm comfortable with the structure of the genre and what my readers expect my story to contain. And part of it, I think, is akin to the fear that comes when one is about to abseil down a sheer rock face: That moment when you're just about to take that first step over the edge, when you'll find out if the rocks and rigging are REALLY strong enough to hold you.
I've been noodling around a book idea for several years — different enough from my usual fare, I suppose. There's still a crime at the heart of it, but it's not a mystery, per se. I've even made some half-starts at bits of it. I keep holding back, though less out of fear of crossing genres than out of that tiny nagging crumb of self-doubt which tells me I'll take the leap and then discover, dangling from that piece of braided Spectra over the side of the precipice, that I don't have the craft skills to get to the bottom after all.
If I like a writer, I'll read what they write — though sometimes a writer's voice seems better suited to some genres than others.
Whatever you write, Zoë, is sure to be miles more than dignus (which is my new favorite archaic word).
I started out, as so many do, writing fluffy unicorn stories with purple sparkly ink, went through a dragon/high fantasy phase (in dot matrix), one sci-fi alternate history (in Courier), and somehow ended up in crime/caper (Times New Roman), which I'm hoping will be my place . . .
Although I have several outlined stories for a kind of Chicago Wiseguy in King Arthur's Court (if Arthur had ruled 14th Century Spain and magic had taken the place of religion, sort of).
Tell me — does the ping-ponging really ever stop? Do writers stop themselves because of branding or reader expectations?
And Alex — PLEASE DO THE STEAMPUNK. It will be AMAZING.
I love reading other genres. I just love reading good work, wherever I can find it. One of my favorite authors is Walter Tevis, who wrote fiction and science fiction, each of his very few books very different from the others. I never knew I was a mystery/crime/thriller fan until I wrote a book that fit the genre. Now I adore it…but I also adore a well-written memoir, biography, work of fiction, whatever.
I have a series idea completely unrelated to crime fiction rolling around in my head, and have for a while. I have no idea if I'll have the chops to write it (don't really even know if I have the chops to write what I've been doing, but a few of the shorts found a home, so….). Regardless, I may finish it and put it out there at some point, but as far as your reader question, if I like the writer, I'm likely to like what they write no matter the genre. Just the way I'm wired. So yes Zoe (and Alex, too!), write that new work. We'll read it. Trust us, we'll read it.
I read what I feel like reading. I tend to follow my favorite authors where they want to go. The writing is part of the pleasure of a book for me, so explore and I will follow. Your book sounds very interesting, by the way.
I will definitely follow my favorite authors into different genres. I would be VERY interested to see what you could do with a paranormal Zoe. Sign me up!
I tend to be all over the map with both reading and writing. I think the former is good — the latter not so much. Discovering your voice can be a very long and frustrating process.
I'm totally intrigued! And, yes, I read and write basically all over the place, and am happy to follow a favorite author wherever they want to go with their writing.
Yes, you do! How’s your foray into YA going?
I was doing really well with the new book but I’ve been a bit too distracted over the last couple of weeks to do much on it. Still, I’m determined to have it done by the end of May, so fingers crossed …
Hmm, if you’re going to attempt to comb the inside of your head I think we need pictures!
Wow, steampunk? Sounds very cool. And, erm, <scuffs feet awkwardly> if you should happen to need a test reader …?
I read just about anything, depending on mood. I’ve recently discovered — and am thoroughly enjoying — the vampire erotica of CJ Ellisson. Great fun. In non-fiction I’m reading a book on Buddhism for research, and have recently finished SKUNK WORKS, about the Lockheed special projects division which built the U2 spy plane, the SR-71 Blackbird and the stealth fighter. All I ask is that the story is well told.
And I’ve just been listening to some Agatha Christie dramatisations that had lots of supernatural elements. So, go for it!
Interesting, because there are several writers who do more than one series, where I read and really enjoy one series, but am not fussed about the other. I really must sit down and try to work out why …
I love the abseiling analogy. What about rappelling instead? At least you’re not going over that cliff edge backwards. In other words, just stare the drop in the face and leap. The best place to acquire those craft skills you’re worrying about is on the way down 🙂
Glad you liked the Word of the Week and constituent parts thereof 🙂
That whole paragraph contrasting the genre with the method of print is inspired. How’s your book coming on? Can’t wait to see that on the shelves.
The ping-ponging? Erm, no, I don’t think it does ever stop. You just have to keep shuffling the cards so the ideas that speak to you the most strongly are at the front.
See, Alex. After that kind of enthusiam, you HAVE to write the steampunk book 🙂
I’m with you there, although I was reading crime/mystery/thriller books way before I started writing them. As a kid I loved horse-related stories — BLACK BEAUTY remains one of my all-time favourites. My early attempts at writing were all in that vein. Ironically, it took me until book nine in the Charlie Fox series, FIFTH VICTIM, before I managed to bring horses into the story 🙂
Congrats on the success with your short stories. It’s a tough market out there at the moment. Keeping faith with what you’re writing is always, always hard. Sometimes all it takes to make you put a project aside is that extra little uncertainty of working in an unfamiliar genre.
Thanks for the vote of confidence, by the way!
Glad it’s intrigued you at least a little bit 🙂
At the heart of things I think we all write what we’d like to read, and we just have to hope there are other readers out there just like us.
Thank you! I’ll keep scribbling, honest. As soon as I’ve worked out which way round my head should be …
Voice comes with practice. You start off by imitating your favourite authors, but gradually your own distinctive style will emerge.
Meantime, though, yes, it can be bloody frustrating 🙂
Great — another vote in favour. Thank you. I’m having a lot of fun writing this, and I hope that will come across to the reader.
"The best place to acquire those craft skills you’re worrying about is on the way down" sounds suspiciously like the old advice about how the best way to survive a 1,000 meter foot fall is to jump from an 1,100 meter-tall cliff. As they say, it's only that last inch and the sudden stop that kill you.
Still and all, I think you're right, Zoë – once the second book in my series is done, it'll be time to muster up my courage and take that leap. The end result may not be what I envision in my head, but it'll be an interesting ride at least.
Yeah, LOL, it does sound a bit glib when you put it like that, doesn't it? Apologies 🙁
But all my life I've tended to jump into things without training — photojournalism being a case in point. So give it a whirl and see what happens. Who knows, the ride might be a lot of fun!
Zoë, no apologies needed…I was actually appreciating the way that came across. Sort of a devil-may-care, look-before-you-leap kind of attitude. I wish I could have that kind of confidence more often…some days I pull it off, but others I find all those old voices striking up their chorus of "you can't…" and "you shouldn't" in my head.
Still, nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? And the one time I DID actually have the opportunity to actually harness up, clip onto the rope, and take that backwards leap off the precipice, I did it – and made it to the bottom intact. Climbing back up was a bit harder than going down, but them's the breaks. And I had the same experience as you with taking those flyers – I had no professional training in most of the things I've done for the past 20 years, and it always seems to work out.
If only that first step off the rock wasn't so difficult…get past that, and it's (relatively) smooth sailing.
The other way of dealing with it is to develop a 'sod it' attitude so that if someone tells you that you can't/shouldn't do something, that's exactly what you go for.
It's all back to that old Sun Tzu saying, "Every journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step." Of course, I don't think he was standing on the edge of a precipice when he said it …
I'm enjoying the exchange between you and Tammy. I like the sound of your 'sod it' attitude and will look forward to this new venture of yours. How dare anyone advise you against following your creative direction!
I tend to prefer crime fiction and love a good mystery but do venture in other directions if I hear about an interesting new book. Author interviews have influenced me this way. There were some on Blackwell's site and NPR here in the States that grabbed my attention enough to get me to order books that I might not have tried.
You sound pretty excited to be moving outside the safe boundaries of your successful series. I love the way you develop characters and story and can only believe that your skills will go with you whatever the genre!
Hey, Zoë, sorry to chime in so late (or early, in your case). Been a crazy day, busy week.
Yes yes yes! Of course you should write this story, and of course I will read it. There are very few things I won't read, if they're well written. There's no doubt of that, with you.
I said this over here quite a while back, but will say it again: I think the emergence of self-publishing as a viable option — with the implicit lack of editorial/corporate reining in of our imaginations — is going to usher in an explosion of creativity and productivity among writers. In a very real way, I think this will herald a renaissance in writing. And, hopefully, in reading.
So take a deep breath and shake off the fear. And write it. (You too, Alex!)
My different genres are going well! I changed by 'YA' one to a middle grade novel and it went up on Amazon yesterday! Very exciting. So now The Wanderer by Pippa Dee is out there.
Good luck with your May deadline. Hope it's still in your sights (but don't beat yourself up too much if you miss it by a week or two!)
Thanks, Reine, that’s really nice of you.
At the moment this feels a little like a change of exercise regime. I’m discovering writing muscles I didn’t know I had, and they’re aching a bit 🙂
I’ve been trying to think where I get my book recommendations, but I’m very leery of excessive hype, but if a title comes to my attention for whatever reason, and the premise intrigues me, I’ll look for the sample to see if I like the voice and give it a try. I have THE BOOK THIEF on my TBR pile at the moment, after hearing it mentioned by Pari, I think it was. The style is very unusual and I’m looking forward to reading the whole thing.
Thanks for stopping by when you have so much else going on. And thank you for the encouragement. 🙂
I agree with you on the explosion of creativity. And the lack of traditional production schedules does prompt a writer to get on with it just that little bit faster. Work does have a tendency to expand to fill the time available. If you know you’re only required to produce one book a year, that’s all you tend to do.
Right, deep breath …
Glad to hear it! And congrats on the new publication. Come on, we need details ― and a link!
Thanks, too, about the deadline. But other work is piling up well into the rest of the year, and if I let things slide a week here, a week there, I’ll need a lot more leap years to get everything done!