Honesty in writing

When it comes to writing, I think too many of us try to outguess the market, to look into an imaginary retail crystal ball and write to what we think will sell in one, two or three years from now.

That’s why so many bestsellers beget whole cities of stepchildren that don’t share any of the remarkable DNA of their non-biological parents.

All this determining up front what genre our novels are, trying to dissect demographics and reader habits, going onto listservs and designing our works to please readers who like dogs but hate cats, is both useless and self-defeating.

Why?

When creative people spend that much time devising the perfect strategy for success vis a vis other people’s responses, they lose sight of their own unique gifts and voices.

The seed that started this particular vine of thought came from a comment a fellow novelist made about the first few paragraphs I’ve written in a new book. This one isn’t a mystery; it’s just a project I’ve started because I want to write every day and am giving myself permission to explore different styles and ideas.

My friend said, “Pari, I think that’s the most honest piece of fiction you’ve ever written.”

She wasn’t saying this as a condemnation of my other work, but simply out of surprise at the rawness of the emotion in the piece I’d shown her.

Honesty in writing? I was so flattered, I didn’t ask her what she meant.

Last Saturday I was on a panel at a local bookstore with John Maddox Roberts, Jane Lindskold and Pati Nagle. Betsy James was in the audience too. We started talking about writer’s block and a bit about process. I said that I’d felt a change in my writing during the last five months or so since I’d come to terms with not penning more Sasha books for now.

I’ve begun to write what I want to write without worrying so much about where it “fits” into the market. (I’ll deal with that later in the editing or selling process.) And believe me, just because I’m playing with new approaches doesn’t mean I’m forgoing the hallmarks of good fiction for some kind of freeform lark. It’s also not a rejection of the idea of genre or categorization; I’m just not writing to any of those goalposts right now.

As a result, I’m working harder than I ever have, but the quality of the experience is different. I’m getting much more satisfaction from my daily effort. It feels – dare I say it? – more honest, more from the sincere heart than the analytical head.

Will my new fiction sell?
I sure hope so.

What if it doesn’t?
I’ll be very sad . . . but not defeated.

Either way, this slightly new focus is giving me a level of creative freedom that I think will serve me far better in the long run. At the very least, I’m not so damn worried about every publishing hiccup and trend.

The truth is I’m enjoying myself within the struggle of disciplined creation; the journey itself is becoming a lot more interesting.

Today, I have many questions that I’d like to discuss:

1. Writers: Should novelists write to a particular market? Should they follow the conventional wisdom of knowing where their books will go in the bookstores BEFORE they begin?

2. Here’s another bit of conventional wisdom: you should write what you’ve written so that your audience can understand and stay with you. Readers, what do you think of that?

3. Readers: do you know when you’ve found an “honest” writer? Or honesty in the fiction you’ve read? Can you give us any examples?

4. Everyone: Does honesty in writing even matter?

5. Everyone: What the heck is “honesty in writing,” anyway?

 

 

 

 

56 thoughts on “Honesty in writing

  1. Gerald So

    Hi, Pari. I think writers in the very early stages (discovering voice, exploring subject matter) shouldn’t concern themselves too much with where their books will fit in the market. I think honesty in writing is writing about something that affects you firsthand or that elicits a genuine, powerful reaction from you. You may not be able to do this while trying to write to a market.

    Novelists who’ve sold a genre book and are planning another in the same genre should keep in mind the ins and outs of the genre, yes.

    Depending on what you’re writing, honesty matters to different degrees. Memoirs are expected to be brutally honest, but for fiction it only matters that you start with a seed of honesty to ground the story in some universal human truth. As long as you keep a sense of that center, you can embellish and imagine in any direction the story takes you.

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  2. Jan Morrison

    Very provacative Pari! I’m writing a mystery only because it turned into one. It didn’t start out that way. I have one book finished that is a novel (how’s that for genre!) – probably not going to go anywhere but I still have a fondness for it. I started another novel that I really love and is better writing. I have some things to work out with it so I started the one I’m writing now – the one that turned into a mystery. When that happened – I must admit that I thought – hurrah – given that my biggest problem is structure why not practice my chops on a form that demands more structure than a so-called ‘literary novel’? So probably a dishonest approach if I really look at it. However, I love writing it – I read mysteries by the car load and I have two more in mind already for this particular bunch of folks. Now I’m going to look at your questions again and see if I’ve answered any of them!
    1. Writers: Should novelists write to a particular market? Should they follow the conventional wisdom of knowing where their books will go in the bookstores BEFORE they begin?
    I don’t know about all writers but I couldn’t do this but then I’m not conventionally wise!
    Question number 2 – hmmm…I don’t get it . If you have a good story and more importantly compelling characters then the rest will follow. If you like writing and reading obscure fiction then you should write that.
    3. If I don’t think about the author but dive into the story then that for me is honesty – I think it is easier to see dishonest writing than honest writing. If I’m hyper-aware that the author’s big paw is on everything then I’m not interested.
    4. & 5. Everything I write needs to be absolutely true for my characters. In the universe of their novel I would never get away with making things false. They’d beat me up – nah – they’d sulk and not tell me the next part.

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  3. toni mcgee causey

    1) Should novelists write to a particular market?

    If they’re just following a trend, then by the time they get their manuscripts out there, it will probably be on the downside of the trend. It takes a lot of luck and fairy dust to stand out from a trend, especially one sliding downhill.

    If they’re analyzing what about their own voice works and they realize that their strength is in a particular genre, then I think they can be just as honest in their writing–however it’s aimed–as the person who needs to forgo the shackles of genre for a while.

    I think "honesty in writing" is being true to your own story’s goals–whatever those are, whether they are writing within a genre’s expectations or writing something that is looser, more literary in application. Being true to one’s voice, desire. That desire may be to write the most compelling mystery or love story or thriller. That desire may be to break free of genre. Both are honest, because they’re honest about what the story IS, and are not worrying about what it "ought to be."

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  4. JD Rhoades

    Here’s another bit of conventional wisdom: you should write what you’ve written so that your audience can understand and stay with you. Readers, what do you think of that?

    If the answer to this is yes, then I am SO screwed.

    Because it takes so long to get anything actually into print (unless its the bio of a recently dead celebrity or suddenly famous person) chasing the market is impossible. Everything’s moved on. Unless it’s about freakin’ vampires.

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  5. billie

    As a reader, I can feel when an author has truly engaged in the process of the book and given something of self to the story. It’s not something I can illustrate with a quote from a particular page, but it seems quite evident – there’s a depth of feeling in the story that just isn’t there when the writing has been forced or formulaic.

    In an ermerging writer, it’s there, but perhaps a bit too much so, and in a more experienced writer that sense of self merges seamlessly into the story – it’s usually obvious from the first page.

    As a writer, I don’t feel the choice of what to write. The place where the stories come from is so mysterious to me. Right now I’m working on a long overdue nonfiction book, but this weekend I heard the first line of a song (used in a TV show) that just completely pulled me in. I spent some time tracking down the song and ended up listening to it about 20 times.

    This is how it happens for me. The song triggered something – the shadow of a character, a certain emotion – and it won’t surprise me if a little scene, fully formed, suddenly demands to be written. The thought of genre or market is not even in the picture, nor do I want it to be. I just want to find out what the story is. Who is this girl? What is it about her that begs telling?

    It’s interesting b/c I did something funky to my back a week ago and after the first (very positive re: prognosis) dr. visit last week I then came home and fell down the stairs. I have been faced with what it would be like to not be able to ride or write due to pain and lack of mobility. At this point all I care about is my body and my health and being able to get on my horse and to sit at my computer and type. Which I’m doing now, so obviously I’m on the mend.

    But it’s in the front of my mind – ride every single day that you can, write every page the way you want it to be, the way that you love writing it, and reading it. I believe that if something I write has the power to move ME, it will have the power to move other people.

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  6. MJRose

    I’m not saying this is true for anyone else but I don’ t believe in writing to market. By the time you figure out the market – its too late but more than that – something takes a year of my life has to matter to me a lot, it has to be something I care about desperately. Otherwise I’d be happy just to sit and read writers better than me.

    I do believe in what Toni said – figuring out your voice and where it fits and keeping that in mind. That’s just being aware – not writing to market.

    This is such a tough gig and the chances of success are so slight that if you aren’t writing what you love then 90% of what you get out of this business will be lost to you. I also believe every writer should have a day job so they can accomplish this goal – and only give it up when they have five years clear in the bank or contracts.

    I come from advertising where its not writing from the soul – ever – and when I started writing fiction and was doing it full time at first – I said that if I ever felt myself drifting over to writing for success I’d go back into advertising.

    David Morrell says he writes a letter to himself before he starts every book and in it he figures out why he wants to write that book – why he wants to spend a year on that topic/with those people. Why it matters to him.

    That’s similar to how I approach it. My books take a lot of research and I need to know i I’ll learn from it and grow from it and figure out something from it or else – quite frankly – I’d rather be writing ads – they take a lot less out of you and pay much better if you figure time/output/income.

    And I felt it start to happen to me around year five of being a published novelist – I was worried about contracts and sales and my agent started talking to me about what would sell better that the cross genre mess that I write and I agreed to try something that would fit the market better. Sounds pretty harmless but it didn’t feel harmless. It felt inauthentic – which is what I’d substitute for honesty. I started my marketing company that month, threw out that miserable manuscript and started planning what I call – the book of my heart.

    Funny thing – the only time I ever got accused of writing to market turned out to be that book – in a major newspaper the reviewer decided she "knew" that I had made the choice to follow a trend and wrote a vitriolic article about how reprehensible I was. Ironic of course.

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  7. PK the Bookeemonster

    I’m a reader, not a writer. I don’t think I could pinpoint "honesty" in what I read, but I have a couple examples to share.
    I read a lot of crime fiction, but my favorite sub-genre is historical mysteries. I attended a panel at a convention in which one of the authors, a new one whose book was on the verge of being released, stated he/she had studied the market and chose the historical mystery one for a reason I now can’t remember but it was calculated. It seemed so mercenary and the author’s manner turned me off but I gave the book a try. Perhaps I was influenced by my experience with the author but the book just didn’t grab me and I have not read any subsequent books. I think (and this will be blatent personal opinion) that in historical mysteries, honesty or passion is particularly evident in the "world building" of the chosen historical period. It is difficult to fake — it is either a mystery set in a historical period with as much "truth" as possible (honesty/passion) or a costume drama (lacking).
    Another example comes to mind regarding trends — making the trend fit the book — similar to movies which lately seem so bad because they’re following a statistic or polls rather than telling a good story. What comes to mind is a books set around a craft or hobby and then building a person who happens to solve crimes around it.

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  8. Wilfred Bereswill

    Good stuff, Pari. I certainly haven’t ventured far outside my comfort zone, which, I guess, would be classified as Thriller. I have tried a few things on a very limited basis,

    Poetry. I discovered I have PDD. Poetry Defiecit Disorder. Unless it’s classifed as a Limerick, I don’t get it. Although I did try to write a poem about watching my daughters grow.

    Literary short story. I won 3rd in a local writers guild contest, but I’m not convinced I have what it takes.

    Other than that, with a day job demanding most of my time, I stay focused on what I do best and like the most. Thrillers.

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  9. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Fantastic post, Pari, and the questions themselves are honest and provocative. To me, honesty in writing is the entire reason to write. Writing is the exploration of honesty, if it is to appeal to anyone. What excites me most in a novel is how a character deals with a critical life situation, what moral line is he willing to cross in order to "do the right thing." Although action and tempo keep me turning pages, it is the character’s honest, moral dilemma that keeps the book in my hands. And, as a writer, I try not to consider my readers’ expectations of what genre I’m writing. I’m writing about the choices my character will make in a dire situation and, since my character is on shaky moral ground to begin with, he’s going to do things that turn off a lot of readers. I hope that I don’t make genre considerations the reason for writing future novels. But I want this to be my career, and I have a family to support, so I’ll have to approach this question carefully.

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  10. Alli

    As an unpubbed, I’m still trying to find my niche. I like to have an idea where my book may be placed, but I write cross-genre so that makes it a little harder for me to figure out where my book fits in. I had angst over this MS, trying to work out where my book would fit, but then decided I was doing myself, and my MS, a disservice. My job was to write the best MS I could and everything else would fall into place when the time came (hopefully!).

    The current MS I’m working is definitely my favourite (the first two were my training wheels, for sure). I feel I have found a subject that inspires me to try harder, work harder, do more research. Basically, I wouldn’t be upset if I found myself writing more cross-genre books that dealt with the same subject (it has a wide scope).

    Honestly matters very much, in my opinion. As a reader, I have been known to put a book down if I felt the work wasn’t done with passion, love. A fake is easy to spot most times, I believe. I would much rather read a book that doesn’t fit into any trend and know the writer has put the soul into it than read a market knock-off.

    M.J. that must have felt horrible to be accused to writing to market when you had actually written the book of your heart. Which book was it, I’d love to know. πŸ™‚

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  11. pari noskin taichert

    Holy cow!
    I looked at the post before I walked the dogs and there were five good comments that I wanted to take time to read and think about. Next thing I know, there are five more.

    This must be a topic of interest to us all.

    Gerald,
    Thank you for that thoughtful comment. I agree with all of your points but wonder if a writer who has written a particular series SHOULD continue in that vein because of audience expectations?

    Reply
  12. pari noskin taichert

    Jan,
    I like that the genre sort of found you. That’s cool.

    It’s interesting that both you and Gerald are thinking in terms of honesty within the characters’ world. I think that’s one approach. And, maybe, your comment about sensing dishonesty is actually more accurate . . .

    So is dishonesty when the author’s voice takes over when it’s NOT supposed to for the real story?

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  13. pari noskin taichert

    Ka-boom, Toni!

    I think you may have hit it on the head about "honesty in writing."

    Now, I hope people understand that I’m not accusing anyone — including myself — of being dishonest; I just found my friend’s comment incredibly provocative and wanted to find out what others in our ‘Rati community thought about it.

    I know I didn’t sit down before that conversation with her and ask myself if I was ready to be honest in my writing session that day. But I’m starting to do it now.

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  14. pari noskin taichert

    Yeah, JD,
    I know what you mean. I’m screwed too. I think for the people who are on a book (or three)/year schedule, there is a consistency of style/feel expectation of some sort. For those of us who might be on a different time line, perhaps it’s not as much of an issue because people forget <g>.

    As to chasing current trends, to me that’s an exercise in utter futility.

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  15. pari noskin taichert

    Billie,
    I am so sorry to hear about your back. I’ll light a candle for you today. May it heal quickly and completely.

    Your comment about sensing if the author has put some of his or herself in the work seems to be more of what I think my friend was after. I know I can sense it too — even if it’s a work set in a different world full of space goobers. In some works, you can just sense the truth of them.

    A book that comes to mind is To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s not just a compelling story; it’s compelling because of the voice and the depth of that voice. The Secret Life of Bees is similar in that way.

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  16. Fran

    If you like your work, if you threw your heart into it, it shows and that’s honesty, to me.

    If you phoned it in because you had a contract and a deadline, but you didn’t really care about the story, that shows too. Yawn.

    I think every author has a book they like less than others, and for the most part, I think it shows in the writing.

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  17. pari noskin taichert

    MJ,
    Good to see you here today.

    You know, I’ve tried to write books to what I thought would sell — rather than something I wanted to write — and couldn’t ever finish them because I disliked the entire process so much.

    Your experience with the one that was "strategic" is pretty damn powerful, though isn’t is astounding that the book of your heart got that response? Amazing.

    The whole concept of writing a letter to oneself is wonderful. Alex mentioned it the other day and I think it might be a good way of keep a writer on track emotionally — of reminding her/him of the seed, the desire that prompted the idea and pushed it up through the soil . . .

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  18. pari noskin taichert

    PK,
    You’ve answered a hunch of mine. I feel like I can tell when someone is being solely calculating. But . . . an acquaintance of mine did just that with a mainstream novel and did such a good job of writing it that her manuscript went to auction and commanded nearly 1/2 million dollars (first novel, no less).

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  19. pari noskin taichert

    PDD, Will? I love it.

    See, you’re doing what you need to be doing. There’s no doubt about that. Sticking with what you like and do best has to be the BEST formula of all, doesn’t it?

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  20. pari noskin taichert

    Stephen,
    I think your response is very honest (sorry, but it’s the best word for it). It’s powerful that you start out with a question that demands an internal integrity for your character, one that may not be the standard or expected impetus of others.

    I’m glad you’re considering my questions. I don’t think they’re bad ones to ask yourself as you continue on this career path.

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  21. pari noskin taichert

    Alli, do I dare say that I think you’re doing all the right things?
    I do.

    Knowing where your book might fit on a bookcase, I think, is a good thing.

    Your comments from a reader’s perspective give me hope. I believe the majority of people who love to read are far less bound by marketing categorization than by the works themselves. (At least I continue to hope so.)

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  22. Doug Riddle

    Pari,

    Great post, as usual.

    This may be a little off post, but it speaks to the idea of writers with series and doing what their readers expect.

    I honestly think that when a writer gets that three book deal from a publishers, when the writer is asked to take a lead character and turn them in to a series, that there should be a clause in the deal that says one of the three books should/could be a standalone. I think it is important that a writer have the that chance to explore their abilites and grow…..to stretch out.

    And as a reader of several series, I have seen more then one writer start to go stale on the series only to write a standalone, a then come back to their series and write one books in the series. Also, sometimes that standalone will be so good and reach so many people, that it brings a whole new group of readers to the author…..i.e. The Poet, by Michael Connelly. A lot of readers came to the Bosch series after reading The Poet. Connelly has also spoken about his need to do standalones in order to keep Bosch fresh.

    Bottom line is, writers need that room to stretch, and the readers should respect that. You may not like every book a writer writes anymore then you may not like every movie an actor does, but that doesn’t mean you quit enjoying their work.

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  23. Gerald So

    Pari, re your comment about series, I think all series should continue to deliver on reader expectations. The trick, of course, is to deliver the expected while maintaining the sense that anything can happen to series characters. Characters who are well-rounded enough can plausibly have all kinds of experiences that sustain a series.

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  24. Doug Riddle

    sorry for the fractured sentences….hammered the post out while balancing several business phone calls……lol

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  25. Louise Ure

    Pari, for me it’s all about passion. Write something you’re passionate about. And then write passionately. From passion comes the honesty.

    And it sounds like your new work is all that.

    Reply
  26. Gerald So

    Along the lines of Doug’s comment, I put aside series expectations when an author writes a standalone or new series. In fact, the more different a standalone or new series is from the author’s previous work, the more I like it.

    I know there are many readers who want authors to stick with what has worked best for them, but ultimately, as Doug wrote, that stalls creativity.

    Reply
  27. JT Ellison

    All I can say is write what you love. I’m writing the books that I like to read, and there’s a great freedom in that. I’m writing a series because I wanted to explore the lives of my characters more fully, to expand them, and my skills as a writer. Writing to the market, while it may be lucrative at some point, can really screw with your creative juices. It strikes me that this is more prevalent in genre fiction too – because literary fiction runs away from anything conformist.

    Write what you love. The authenticity will shine through and your readers will never have to question your honesty. Besides, don’t you want to be the author who makes the trends, not follows the trends?

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  28. wendy roberts

    I think there is only so long an author can go chasing trends/market before they realize they no longer enjoy writing. Wrtie what you want to read and the rest will follow.

    Reply
  29. pari noskin taichert

    Doug,
    What an elegant idea. That standalone clause would, I’m sure, help many writers.

    On Saturday, when I was talking with John, he said that he was really enjoying writing other stories more than his Roman one simply because they were more of a challenge. He knows he’ll have success with that 13-book wonder, but it’s more fun to stretch as a writer. Of course John has been very prolific and has let himself stretch in different subgenres and genres. I have a lot of respect for him.

    Gerald,
    You’re right. It would be almost a betrayal to write a series and change the protag — or that world — hugely just because the writer got tired of writing a particular thing. Keeping true to the previous works and keeping it fresh — it’s a challenge.

    It’s one of the reasons I gave Sasha so many flaws and, also, why I had her focus on small towns in NM; there are so many of them!

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  30. pari noskin taichert

    JT,
    That idea of making trends rather than following them really intrigues me. I wonder what would happen to a writer’s creativity if he or she set out to do just that?

    It strikes me that that might stifle as well?

    Reply
  31. pari noskin taichert

    Wendy,
    I think we writers want to believe that with all of our hearts — at least when we’re doing it. But, to play the Devil’s Advocate, coattails sometimes do yield wondrous results.

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  32. Allison Brennan

    I love romantic suspense and I’ve always written some sort of mystery/romance/suspense/thriller kind of story even before I "got serious" about writing. My first four books–the ones that didn’t sell–were variations on the same romantic suspense theme. I never thought about "writing for the market" because when I first started, I didn’t have a critique group, I hadn’t joined RWA or any writer’s organization, I didn’t know what I was doing or if I was doing it "right"–I just wrote a book I thought I would like to write. (And yes, Toni is probably laughing her head off because she knows about the first book I wrote, of which all copies have been destroyed . . . )

    As JT says, you have to write what you love. In that, there is honesty. And I completely agree with Toni and MJ that there is some need to discover your voice and where your voice fits. It’s not being dishonest, it’s actually being extremely honest with yourself and not lying about what you think you’re doing.

    However, once you’re published, especially when you have had a modicum of success, you do need to consider the market–YOUR market. You have readers who expect a certain type of book from you, and you need to consistently deliver what they expect, or know that there will be backlash and be willing to accept it. However, I think that authors have one true, natural voice and that voice can be consistent no matter what the author writes. Some readers may not like a switch in genre (such as a romantic suspense author writing straight suspense, or switching to another romance subgenre) but if you’re true to your voice, your core readership will follow.

    I’ll admit, I feel a lot more pressure now to write what I’ve been writing because there are expectations that weren’t there when I first sold. But at the same time, I’m changing it up a bit with the supernatural, and that’s scary. I know I’ll lose some readers. I just have hope that the books is strong enough to gain readers. That’s why I have to repeat myself: write what you love. When you sell, if you do well, you’ll be writing that for most of your career (whether you write three books a year or one a year or one every three years.)

    (As an aside, I know authors who don’t want to be "pigeonholed" in a genre so write whatever strikes them as interesting, switching from historical to contemporary to mystery to science fiction to humor–but I’d argue their inconsistency will–most of the time–prevent them from building a decent audience.)

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  33. Alexandra Sokoloff

    I don’t mind writers who lie in their writing, actually. You can lie to tell the truth.

    But for pure honesty, no one comes near Ken Bruen these days. Maybe honesty isn’t the word. Soul is the word.

    (I wish someone would pigeonhole me in a genre. My problem is I’m NOT. And it is a problem.)

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  34. pari noskin taichert

    Allison,
    There’s so much that’s absolutely right about your post. Your last point is, I think, critically important for those of us who want to really build a career.

    The piece that I want to explore though is this idea of an author’s one true voice that can carry through all the works.

    I’d never thought of it quite that way, but it makes tremendous sense.

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  35. Allison Brennan

    Alex, you’re writing classic supernatural thrillers. There isn’t a genre for it, per se, because people want to classify it as horror, but it’s not horror. We need to create our own genre, and maybe like romantic suspense became it’s own genre out of the blending of romance and suspense, supernatural thrillers will be their own genre out of the blending of paranormal romance and horror. Sort of . . . horror with happy(ish) endings! πŸ™‚

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  36. Allison Brennan

    Oh, and I meant to add Alex that you’re right–being pigeonholed ISN’T a bad thing, provided that you love what you’re writing. It helps, in fact, because people know what to expect from you, and if you’re consistent and give them what they expect, they love you for it. It’s a comfort thing, even if they are scared.

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  37. Allison Brennan

    Pari, maybe I’ll write about voice on Sunday. I recently talked to my editor about my voice, and it might make an interesting blog post . . . and Toni and I talked about it on the phone the other day. Toni has one of my favorite voices in fiction, it’s exceptionally strong.

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  38. Derek Nikitas

    This will probably sound nutty, though I’m certainly not the first writer to say this. For me, honesty in writing is a matter of listening to my subconscious instead of my conscious mind. Rarely do I assign myself ideas consciously. I wait until my subconscious tells me what to write–actually, insists.

    It’s like a compulsion that has to be satisfied, or, more positively, a passion. This is true from the broad stroke plot level all the way down to individual sentences. I’ve found that when I "push" my writing–when I try to consciously control it with my logical mind–is when I start to feel like a liar, bending the truth as my creative mind sees is. I only feel honest when I listen to the quiet voice behind all the "thinking."

    But, that’s borderline crazy and has several bad repercussions for me. Lately, the ideas my subconscious has given me are not the sort of ideas my publisher thinks will "push me to the next level" (for one thing, I have a very fatalistic, noir subconscious, and all I keep hearing is how that sort of thing won’t win new readers).

    I’m also envious of writers who write series characters. My instinct has never wanted to do that, so I’d have to push things out of whack to make it happen. I’d have to impose my will on the process. Though, truthfully, few can write a book from the subconscious alone–certainly not me. I have to fudge things now and then, especially in revision. I’m taking mainly about the very early stages of writing a novel.

    And writers who can write a book a year or more–darn you! My subconsciously doesn’t offer great ideas that frequently, unfortunately. If anyone has any ideas…

    Interesting issue, and one on the forefront of my mind as I think about book three. As a genre writer, I worry that my subconscious will decide it doesn’t want to do a mystery or even a thriller. Then what? Luckily, I also think one’s subconscious is built out of what you feed it. So as long as I keep reading great mysteries, I’m hoping what floats up out of the darkness will remain along those lines.

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  39. pari noskin taichert

    Allison,
    I think that would be a great post. I know that after three published novels and several that never made it (and don’t deserve to now), my "true" voice is leaking out all over the place in my current works. It’s very present in the manuscript I sent my agent a month ago and the two I’m toying with right now — and they’re very, very different.

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  40. JT Ellison

    About trendsetting:

    Those who set trends aren’t the ones who set out to start a trend. Does that make any sense at all? They’re doing something new and different and exciting, and the industry seizes upon that and runs with it, and it spawns imitators. Some of the imitators exceed the trendsetter, and some fall short. But I don’t think you can consciously start a trend, not if you’re being at all real or honest about your work.

    I have to say, I still find myself bucking the "rules" for my specific genre. It’s one of the reasons I didn’t care for the Vogler book so much. Yes, it’s smart, and right on, but I hated the idea that I was writing to someone else’s idea of the correct formula, and being told that every story conforms to this structure. Drives me nuts. I think it’s dangerous to get new writers started on formula, rather than their own inventiveness.

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  41. pari noskin taichert

    Derek,
    Maybe an interesting discussion would be this whole concept of "Pushing to the next level." I know I’ve been thinking about that for quite a while, especially since I decided to put my current series into hibernation.

    It almost gets back to Dusty’s brilliant post about what deal a writer would make with the devil: fame, wealth, reaching the most readers (Dusty, if you’re reading this comment, can you give me the darn link?????).

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  42. Karen in Ohio

    What a fascinating conversation today!

    JT, you’re so right about imitators. Anne Rice started the vampire fiction craze, years and years ago, and did it well. I’m not so sure about some of the latest versions, and it has become to feel very tired to me. My youngest daughter has read a lot of them, including Stephenie Meyers, Katie MacAllister, and several others’, and she’s passed them onto me. If I never read another one it will be fine and dandy, but good fiction? I will search that out, regardless of genre.

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  43. MJRose

    Doug – great comments about stand alones.
    Ali – the book was The Reincarnationist.

    And Alex – sit on my bench – I don’t fit somewhere between historical/parnormal/suspense/thriller and sometimes erotic fits in there and its been the bane of all my publishers. Allison is right (great post Allison) – I have written what I wanted for 11 books and I know its hurt my sales but not my soul -hence my day jog. But I wouldn’t go back and change.

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  44. Kate Goodman

    As a reader, I have followed authors across genre with some doubts, only to find that the best authors still have the indefinable something that I love, no matter where I found it in the bookstore. It’s probably best defined as "voice."

    To me, that’s where the honesty lives – do I believe this voice? If so, I will venture into the most ridiculous scenarios just for the fun of it. If not, the most pedestrian conversation will be unbelievable to me.

    As for trends, they are shortening, right? The internet and instant content means that what is hot right now is gone tomorrow. Good luck trying to hit that moving target!

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  45. pari noskin taichert

    Karen,
    It’s funny about the whole vampire craze. Someone asked what was next? Zombies? I wonder.

    And now, television is taking the whole thing and repopularizing it. I’ve heard that Dark Shadows might be coming back in some form too. Barnabas was the first vampire of which I was truly conscious.

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  46. pari noskin taichert

    Kate,
    I love your comment about voice. I wonder if that’s going to be the new paradigm precisely because of the speed to which you refer. I hope it is since I’m exploring these different ways to express my ideas . . . .

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  47. Alli

    M.J., I thought it might have been THE REINCARNATIONIST! I have read your previous books, too, loved them, of course, but The Reincarnationis (and The Memorist, for that matter) do appear to be the books of your heart (so far!).

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  48. MJRose

    Yes, Pari and Ali – The Reincarnationist and The Memorist. were the best and most widely reviewed of all my books.

    And it proves this whole argument.

    No one wanted these books b/c they didn’t fit any genre – the idea/proposal had been rejected by quite a few editors over quite a few years. After I turned the third Butterfield Institute book my agent started talking about me trying one more time to write more to market – that’s the moment I was refferring to above. What Pari’s post is about – writing to market.

    Instead I showed Margaret Marbury, my editor at the time, the old proposal for the Reincarnationist series anyway. I figured I had nothing to lose. I’d always wanted to write the books and I’d given up on the idea of ever being main stream but feeling fine about being on the fringes of who knows what.

    It was one of those miracle moments for me. Margaret didn’t laugh or reject it – instead we had a meeting and she told me how she saw the books and even though I didn’t think I could pull off the expansiveness she wanted me to add to the books – when I said I’d try – she offered a three book deal. It wasn’t a lot of money at all. But it was a chance to finally write these books.

    All of that is why I was so shocked and upset by the reviewer who was so certain I’d written a paint by numbers book completely to take advantage of the market. It was a really long review too – in an "important" newspaper. Of course its the one I remember word for word:)

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  49. pari noskin taichert

    MJ,
    More important is that you wrote those books. That’s critical, because in the end all the money and superb reviews in the world won’t matter when we look back on our lives.

    To me, that’s the ultimate message I’ve gotten today. Be true to your own art. That doesn’t mean BE STUPID or throw your career away or anything like that. But if you’ve got a book you want to write, do it.

    Period.

    Reply

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