Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Trying to Simplify by Melissa Clark

I suppose it is just human nature that writers get pigeonholed into certain categories. I was a "tween TV writer", then a "ChickLit" author, "Women's Fiction" author and now I'm writing a "YA novel". My resume tells of that and so much more. I've taught, tutored, ghostwritten, written nonfiction, flash fiction, a few plays, a screenplay, I've filled hundreds of journals.

Which brings me to the question: Why can't a writer just be a writer? 

As it stands, these are conversations I have had:
"What do you do?"
"I'm a writer."
"What do you write?"
"Well, I used to write short stories, then I wrote children's television and now I write fiction."
"What kind?"
"I've heard my books described as 'chick lit' or 'women's fiction', but I just like to say I write fiction."
"What's 'chick lit?'
"A term someone came up with."
"Definitely not me..."

Wouldn't it be easier as:
"What do you do?" 
"I'm a writer."
"What do you write?"

Because at the end of the day, isn't that what they all are? The play, TV shows, books, even the journals - stories written from the heart through the hand.


Melissa Clark writes stories.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

How do our lives as writers affect our children?

by Michele Young-Stone

Recently, I was reading an article in the New York Times about the memoirs of children of famous writers: William Styron, Saul Bellow, and John Cheever.  It was a fascinating article and it got me thinking about the impact my writing might have on my son.

For starters, we writers have to have extremely thick skin.  One mantra that I recently taped above my desk reads: This is my book.  This is my book.  My story.  My book.  My fucking art!!

My son, who is eight, thought it was the funniest thing he'd ever read, so he immediately shared it aloud with our house guests.  He knows that I hate the F word (fart), but I'm not so offended by the other F word, so I sat calmly by, amused at his attempt to shock the room.

My book.  My fucking art!!

Sometimes I need a reminder.  Sometimes I feel pulled in multiple directions and I have to remind myself that ultimately the buck stops with me.


My son has had a big part in my writing and publication journey.

He came with me on the day my novel debuted.  We went to see it on a bookstore shelf.  We bought a copy.  Next, we visited the library.  A month later, we saw it in Hudson News in JFK airport.  He knows that I was holding him in a Baby Bjorn, one month ol, when I graduated with my MFA in fiction writing; the early draft of my first novel was my thesis.

He was an infant when I got my first feedback from my illustrious agent, Michelle Brower.  She remembers hearing him in the background.  I was trying to breastfeed and simultaneously take revision notes.

He's been to New York a half dozen times, and even made paper towel airplanes with my genius editor in the bathroom of the French restaurant across from Random House (my former publisher).

He got on stage during my first and subsequent readings, and he sometimes says, "I might be a writer when I grow up."

I don't know if he'll be a writer.  I think that an electrician might be a good career path.  We all need light, but no matter what he decides, I hope that my profession is having a good impression on him.  The obvious difference between me, Cheever, Styron and Bellow (aside from their well-deserved fame) is that I am a woman.  I don't take a break from being my son's mother because I'm writing.  It's not
1950s America.  Domestic duties are allocated more justly, and my son knows that when I am writing, I am "not here" in the sense that I shouldn't be cooking or washing dishes because the water will boil away.  The sink will overflow.  Trust me.  It's happened more than once.

I guess that what I'm getting at is that no matter what career path a parent takes, the child is going to be affected.  My mother was a nurse and my father was an Industrial Arts teacher and Jack-of-all-trades.  They were just as capable to be neglectful terrible parents as Greg Bellow reports Saul Bellow was.  It doesn't have to do with the profession, no matter what that profession happens to be.  I think it's more about priorities and responsibility.  It's a balancing act.

Ultimately, I am grateful that my son has watched me pursue and be successful at my life's dream. That's the biggest impression I hope to impart upon him.  You can do and be anything you want in life. You just gotta work hard and go for it.

Michele Young-Stone is the author of The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors, available wherever books are sold (nearly).  She has two books under contract with Simon & Schuster.  She is a very proud mom.  Follow Michele on Facebook.    And Twitter.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

8 Tips For Writing Great Dialogue

If you're a fiction writer, great dialogue can transform your prose from bland to sublime. But it can take a lot of work to make your characters sound natural. Here are some tips from the trenches ...

1. Focus on voice
Read the dialogue out loud and listen to your characters. If their voices aren't distinct, go back and revise, keeping in mind that each character has his or her own vocabulary and verbal tics, dictated by personality, age, education level, attitude, etc.

2. Know what to leave out
In real life, conversations are filled with pauses, repetition, interruptions, interjections and all sorts of stalling tactics that may have no place in your fiction. Dialogue that reads like a transcript will leave readers cold, no matter how authentic it is.

3. Say good-bye to hellos
Don't get bogged down in greetings between your characters. Yes, in real life people say hello, how are you, nice to meet you, etc., but you will drag down your prose if you include these in your fiction. 

4. Include indirect responses
Nothing livens dialogue like having your characters respond to questions with indirect answers. For example, consider this perfectly fine exchange:
"I brought it there," he said. "The ... the lady. She asked me to."
"The small woman in a hat?"
"Yes, that's her."
          But notice how much more life it has when the question is answered indirectly:
"I brought it there," he said. "The ... the lady. She asked me to."
"The small woman in a hat?"
His eyes went wide. "You seen her?"

5. Dialectic spellin' ain't gettin' ya nowhere
Don't make the mistake of thinking dialectic spelling adds to the authenticity of your dialogue. In fact, it pulls the reader out of the story, as he or she struggles to decode the words. It slows down the experience and makes the reader more conscious of the author's presence. Instead, focus on word choice to make the point about your character's accent.

6. Don't use synonyms for "said"
Stephen King has noted that "said" is an invisible word to readers. That is, we barely notice it. But if you substitute it with one of the dozens of synonyms, such as stated, declared, intoned, exclaimed, remarked, replied, uttered, muttered, etc., your prose will sound stilted and overwritten.

7. Omit tags when possible
When only two characters are involved in the conversation, you can often omit the dialogue tags entirely.  However, don't go more than four lines without giving the reader a clue as to who's speaking.

If multiple characters are involved in a scene, you have to give some indication of who's speaking for each line of dialogue. However, you  don't have to tag every line. A bit of action can serve as a cue.  Example:

            “I mean, you can’t move in period.”
            He laughed. “Okay, I get it. I won’t pressure you about the garage anymore. At least for now.” He snapped his fingers at the waiter. “Can we see menus, please?”

8. Don't put exposition in dialogue
 If you're tempted to use dialogue to fill the reader in on backstory, ask yourself if a person would  actually say that. If not, put the exposition into the narrative, where it belongs. For instance, see if this sounds believable to you:

"Katie, the last time we saw each other you still had your arm in a cast from that terrible car accident you were in. Are you feeling better?"

Here's a possible rewrite:

She shook his hand and he was impressed by her grip. The last time they saw each other she was still in a cast, recovering from the car accident. "You look great," he said.

Do you have any special tips for writers who want to give their dialogue an extra edge? If so, please feel free to add your thoughts in the comments section. Thanks!
Ellen Meister is the author of four novels, including FAREWELL, DOROTHY PARKER, which is in stores now. She teaches creative writing at Hofstra University Continuing Education and runs a Facebook page for fans of Dorothy Parker. For more information, visit Ellen's website at ellenmeister.com.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Necessity is the Mother of Reinvention

by Marilyn Brant

While this is in no way big news to anyone who grew up with me, what I thought I wanted to do with my life when I was a kid was "to become a rock star." Clearly, I was a very original 7th grader. (And oh, yes, I am definitely mocking my sensitive, lyric-writing, junior-high self.)

There were only three tiny problems with my plan to achieve the kind of global Top 40 domination that one-name megastars like "Madonna" and "Prince" had:
1. I could carry a tune, but I was a long way from possessing anything that approached a 'rare and natural' vocal talent.
2. I had acute stagefright and actually hated performing musically in front of anyone.
3. I was too anxious and too unwilling to take the steps needed to improve #1 or manage #2.
You know, I just really liked the fantasy...

So, I did not study much music in college, despite my deep love of the subject, until it turned up as a requirement for my major. All future educators had to take this beginners' guitar class. (I think some "Sound of Music"-loving administrator in the department was secretly convinced that all elementary teachers should be able to mimic Fraulein Maria and sing "Do Re Mi" in key while strumming.) Up until then, I'd played a couple of years of viola -- horribly, by the way -- and a few years of piano -- more successfully, but that's not saying a lot. Guitar was a brand new instrument for me, and the first time I tried to tune it, I broke two strings.

However, my classmates and my instructors did not know about my childhood daydreams of rock stardom or the lingering sadness that washes routinely over such a dreamer whenever she realizes she's given up on a passion without ever really trying. So, I decided I'd do my absolute best in this class. Give it my full effort. Pretend I wasn't scared to the point of nausea at the mere thought of singing/playing in front of everybody. Besides, I had no choice. I wouldn't graduate without those 3 effing credits.

The results were pretty gratifying. I picked up the basics of the instrument in just a few weeks. Delighted in the calluses on my fingertips, much as it hurt to develop them at first. Sped through learning the required songs and had the assistant professor listen to me play so I could get them checked off the list. Most of all, I was shocked to discover that the assistant thought I was one of the best guitarists in the class (though, keep in mind, this was a group of all beginners), and other students were starting to ask me questions like, "Hey, have you ever played before?" I did not say, "Only when I was imagining myself onstage as Pat Benatar." But I did feel that warm, inexpressible joy inside at getting to -- in a very small way -- acknowledge a dream I'd once had, confront a longstanding fear, and reinvent my self image. Not as a future rock star, of course, but as someone who could, in fact, play and sing in public. At least when necessary.

My final performance piece -- in front of the professor, the assistant, and a bunch of classmates -- rocked. Well, rocked in a country music sort of way (it was a John Denver song, LOL), but I not only got my required class credits, I managed to work up just enough courage to audition for our university's musical not long afterward. And I even got a part. A small chorus role in our college's summer production of "Li'l Abner." The rare and natural vocal talent I heard from some of my castmates during the show convinced me that I'd truly be out of my depth if I tried to compete with any of them professionally, but the gift I received was in getting a taste of the reality of singing onstage, not just the fantasy of it.

I thought about that whole experience a lot during my years as an aspiring writer. Sometimes being in a circumstance where we just don't have a choice in doing something or are limited in our options can be an odd blessing, particularly when it comes to figuring out who we are, what we really want, and what we're genuinely capable of doing. The reward is the confidence and courage that come from meeting an unforeseen challenge...and the knowledge that in some new, similarly unexpected circumstance, we could probably do it again.

p.s. What's a song or two that you love? Any that you wished you could sing onstage? If so, did you ever do it?!

Marilyn Brant is a national bestselling and award-winning author of contemporary women's fiction and romantic comedy. Her novel A Summer in Europe (Kensington 2011) was a Rhapsody Book Club top 20 bestselling title in "Fiction & Lit," and the Polish-language version was just released last month. Her next story, a coming-of-age romantic mystery called The Road to You, will be out in early October. It features the road-trip music of the 1970s, so there was much (private) jamming to Led Zeppelin, Boston and Bad Company while writing it. Also some Bee Gees, but don't tell anyone. ;)

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

You Aren't One Person, Anyway (Writing IS Reinvention)

by Samantha Wilde

Once upon a time, I had an incredible career as a ballerina. But then, the teachers at my dance school measured my bones and decided I simply did not have the genetic connective tissue to hit the big time. I was thirteen.

Once upon a time, I worked at factory in Indiana pressing RV decals onto their backings. Except I kept coming in late for my five a.m. shift and they fired me. I was nineteen.

In the middle, I worked as a chamber maid, a babysitter, a cashier at the pharmacy, at a chocolate store, at a bookstore, at a music store, for a cleaning company, as a personal assistant to an elderly professor, in end-of-life care, at a flower farm, as as staff writer for a newspaper, as an ad exec for a newspaper, (as a babysitter again, as a cleaner, again), as a hostess at Chi Chi's, at a florist, as a nanny, for a Jewish newspaper, as an exotic dancer (just kidding. I wanted to see if you were still reading).

But I wrote my first book at age six and never stopped. I wrote books through each of my jobs, I kept writing through seminary and my yoga training, writing what I learned, what I cared about, what I didn't understand, my best ideas, my worst ideas.

In my unpublished life, I am a poet and a short story writer, a memoirist as well as a novelist. I'm an incredible essayist. And I can even craft a sexy Zen koan.

How does anyone do just one thing? Or write one thing? I have so many hats, my family chipped in and bought me a few more heads so I wouldn't have to keep changing them. When my husband and I argue, he hopes I'm wearing the minister hat (she's super loving and patient and if you get mad at you, she'll say, "Let's pray about this!). When my kids mess up, they hope I'm wearing my yoga teacher hat. "Breathe, relax, feel, watch, allow." They like that last one best.
I ALWAYS wanted to be a mother.

Sometimes I think I should have been a stand-up comedian. And when I don't feel that way, I'm absolutely convinced I ought to have become a nun (Episcopal until I became Buddhist). I would so long to join the Amish and spend my life in anonymity, farming, birthing children and wearing an apron. But then I'd also like to be the world's most famous liberal TV evangelist. If I could sing, I'd be a folk singer. If I was rich, I'd adopt a hundred children.If I was famous, I'd have my own talk show.

For the record, I've never wanted to be a hairdresser. (But see, I never said, I'm every woman.)

Choosing to become a minister and choosing to become a yoga teacher and choosing to become a full-time at-home mother and choosing to become the writer of humorous women's fiction drew me into a constant and fluid dance of reinvention. In yoga, every breath is a new beginning! In ministry, you get to be born again! You can;t find anything more reinvented than that. As a mother, every morning with my children presents a chance to try anew, with fresh ideas I learned about while reading another parenting book at night. As a humorous women's fiction writer...

Well, here is the smallest box I live in. Why do writers have to change names to become new again? Our we so attached to our novelists that we don't recognize how nobody is only one person, anyway? Every writer I know, without exception, can write in several genres, has secret books in them different than their working "voice." The scandal is not the drive and desire to reinvent (or the necessity), but the surprise it generates from others.

One of the best things about writing is the infinity of directions any sentence can take you, how with a word, the plot changes. Writing is reinvention. Sometimes we reinvent ourselves when we write. Sometimes we reinvent our pasts. Sometimes we reinvent an old story. Sometimes we reinvent an old idea.

Sometimes, I sit at my computer with that wanting to write like a song on my lips and it doesn't matter one bit what comes out. It's the writing that urges me on. When I slip into it, I have a hundred careers and I am all those people--and it is freeing to at once be me and not me. Well, I'm not one person, anyway. Are you?

You really get reinvented when you let your four year old choose your outfit!
Samantha Wilde is the author of I'll Take What She Has and This Little Mommy Stayed Home. She is an ordained minister and a yoga teacher, and the at-home mother of three young children. She really wants you to like her--or one version of her anyhow. You can also check out her Wilde Mama blog or follow her on Twitter: @whatshehas.

Friday, July 19, 2013

What's in a Name? Just Ask J.K. Rowling

No it's not You Know Who. It's Robert Galbraith
by Saralee Rosenberg

Will the real Robert Galbraith, please stand up? He could. Just not in a men’s room. For as we all now know, he is a she. A pseudonym for the master of reinvention, J.K. Rowling. 
Why did the most famous female author on the planet decide to publish a detective novel and then hide behind a fictitious, Scottish man’s name? One with fake credentials as a civilian security expert?

She claims to have needed liberation from the tyranny of unfathomable success. Technically I put those words in her mouth but you get the gist. It would be like if Julia Robert’s character in Pretty Woman got bored being Richard Gere’s designer-shopper girlfriend and decided to return to the streets because she missed being a hooker.

Totally understandable. It’s rough out there for the King Arthur of novelists. Before penning a mystery novel, I bet she was wiling away her days in her castle/condo singing, “What do the simple writers do? To help them escape when they’re blue? However do they manage to shed their weary lot? Oh whattttt do the simple writers do? To forget… when their Visa bills come… and the rejection letters are piling high… and their agents don’t return their calls…

Actually what she said was this. “It has been wonderful to publish without hype or expectation and the pure pleasure of getting feedback under a different name."

Frankly I’ve been surprised by the outrage that she duped readers and booksellers alike. Let’s not forget that she began her novel writing career by using initials rather than her name, Joanne. She did so because she was convinced that men authors got bigger, better deals than women authors, and earned far greater respect from readers and editors.

Duh. Can you think of any male authors who have used a woman’s name as a pseudonym?

And let’s also not forget that Ms. Rowling has been the mother of reinvention in terms of appearances, too. Check out her evolution since her early Harry Potter Days. She went from Muggle to Magnificent!

Not that I judge her for having work done. She looks stunning, even with her Anna Wintour-Botox pout.

I guess what bothers me most is the idea that she has no finish line. It’s not that she should ever stop growing as a writer. It’s just disheartening that beneath the cosmetic surgery and billions in assets must still be the insecure waitress at London pubs who scribbled story ideas on soggy napkins. So maybe we should let her know that it's okay if she stops reinventing herself. We love her. Admire her. Wish we were her.

But just in case she decides it's too risky to write under the name J.K. Rowling anymore, I’ll be all too happy to borrow it.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

A Reinvention Rant by Leslie Lehr

A Reinvention Rant

With What A Mother Knows in the bookstores, people ask what I’m working on now. I’m tempted to say: answering this question!

The truth is, I have a lot of ideas, but I’m not sure which one is worth a few more years of my life. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer last August and realized might be my last book, I couldn’t help but smile. If you read between the lines of this novel you’ll find a message about what really matters. For me, it’s a love story about mothers and daughters.

A woman who recovers from a fatal car accident only to be accused of murder must risk everything to find her missing daughter, the only one who might know the what happened that day.

But you won’t find it under love or romance. At Barnes & Noble, What A Mother Knows is in Fiction & Literature; at Target, it’s in Women’s Fiction; in a bookstore in Delaware, it was spotted in Thrills and Chills; and in the airport bookstores, it’s a Mystery. It’s all of these things…and more. It’s the culmination of all of my work about the challenges of contemporary women.

I often wonder if I should reinvent myself by writing a series or sticking to one bookstore shelf. Some say genre is merely marketing, but marketing is important when determining our “brand.” I wish I could find a formula and stick to it, but for me, the story determines the form.

When my New York Times "Modern Love" column came out on June 23, I got an email from a childhood friend. We hadn’t spoken in years, but she knew I’d written it before she read my byline. She said it sounded as if I was there telling her the story in person. I was thrilled – not only because she called, but also why she did. The hard part of writing that piece wasn’t shaping the story or exposing a personal experience, but finding the right words through the chemo fog. Having a voice, a distinctive cry amid the chorus, is why I write.

Yesterday, the manager of my favorite yogurt shop commented on how I used to be “all sporty” with a ponytail and sweat pants, but now I’m “so elegant” with a half inch of hair and coordinated clothing. Maybe she didn’t recognize me during all those months of chemo when I only ventured out with a wig or a scarf. But if she thinks I reinvented myself, she’s wrong. I am still in treatment and I am still me. I may choose chocolate or vanilla, but I will always put sprinkles on top.

Will my next book redefine my brand? Force me to pick a major? If only it felt that easy.  No matter what I write next, there is only one requirement: it has to be good.

Leslie Lehr is the prize-winning author of six books, including the nonfiction Welcome to Club Mom and the book club hit Wife Goes On. She is a screenwriter and an essayist featured in Mommy Wars. Her new novel, What A Mother Knows, is her favorite.
 For a Book Club guide and more, go to www.leslielehr.com

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Summer Writing with Dogs

by Cindy Jones

Evening in the foothills of the Appalachians
 You know you are a novelist when your ideal vacation is solitary confinement in a remote location without phone or internet, where although your itinerary consists of venturing no further than your chair for ten hours, your trek takes you far into the uncharted reaches of your imagination where you entertain yourself by obsessing over fictional progeny, and where, if you don't make some small effort, you could exist entirely on coffee, diet coke, and chardonnay.  Take me away...  

Under cover of driving two dogs to the vacation destination, the old family farm in the foothills of the Appalachians purchased with great great grandfather's mustering out money from the Civil War, I arrived a week ahead of family and won myself six (yes, six!) days of Summer Writing Vacation.  I figured my dogs would frisk in hay fields, track small animals through the woods, or frolic in the stream while I enjoyed prolific solitude.  I was so wrong.

At 6 AM on Day One, after having laid in bed for 30 minutes contemplating revisions to my protagonist's emotional arc, I dressed and set off for my Writing Room.  The dogs followed me outside, but rather than part ways at the hay field, they displayed great enthusiasm for being inside the Writing Room with me.  Noses in the crack where the door would open, they raced ahead and assumed the position they would occupy for the next six days--on my late grandmother's antique Jenny Lind daybed.  Although I was skeptical, the dogs turned out to be perfect writing companions.  The tapping of the keyboard lulled them to sleep and their repose calmed me.

Mornings were the best part of our writing day.  Never did my prose sound so brilliant, never did the sun warm the daybed's cushions so perfectly.  Although it probably looked as if we spent a lot of time gazing out the windows, me plotting characters, Eva and Sophie tracking a hummingbird, our industry tempted us to skip lunch.  Diet Coke for me and a chew for them, we dug back into the heart of the project, blissful hours stretching into the afternoon.

By late afternoon each day, my story would arrive at a fork in the road--or a ditch--and the three of us would set off to hike in the woods.  Although good for what ails stories as well as necessary exercise for those who sit on chairs or daybeds all day long, hiking sapped precious writing energy, and by the time we got back to work, the sun would have abandoned the day bed, birds would have called it a day, and my writing would begin to sound awful and hopeless.  Rather than cutting without mercy, I looked into the eyes of my writing companions and saw two things:  1.  tomorrow would be another Brilliant Writing Day, and, 2.  it was time to feed the dogs.

Indeed, family arrived, ending our Writing Vacation, calling us back to reality, which, after six days unleashed, was probably a good thing.  The dogs became dogs again, sniffing crotches and barking at relatives, and I resumed being wife, mother, daughter, sister, aunt, niece, and cousin, catching up on news, and helping feed the masses gathered for our family celebration.      

Even though the dogs and I never returned to the Writing Room, we did share one last Writing Event around the back of my car.  Days of rain, flooding, and high winds had knocked out the electricity, disabling, among other things, my printer.  Although it looked as if I would not have a hard copy of my manuscript to revise during the very long drive home, my husband suggested plugging my gear into the car's electrical outlet, and, as you can see from the picture below, we enjoyed an Appalachian Printing Party with Dogs.  

My car office.  Sitting near the exhaust pipe is not recommended.

Cindy Jones is the author of My Jane Austen Summer.  


Monday, July 15, 2013

"Throws Like a Girl, Writes Like a Boy" by Jess Riley

Hey look, a box-o-books!
“Write what you like, then imbue it with life and make it unique by blending in your own personal knowledge of life, friendship, relationships, sex, and work. Especially work. People love to read about work. God knows why, but they do.” –Stephen King, On Writing

I once read in a writing guidebook that you should avoid writing about certain settings, because they’re a turn-off to readers.  Guess where they said you should never set a story? A prison.

So it’s just my luck that: a) I taught part-time in a prison in college and stumbled over so many story threads on a daily basis that b) I had to write a novel loosely inspired by my experiences, which finally releases today.

Mandatory Release. And yes, it is one, fourteen years in the making. I’m banking more on Mr. King’s insight than on that espoused in that long-ago guidebook, and we’ll see where the dust settles in the weeks to come.  (This doesn’t even get into the fact that I wrote half of the novel from a first-person male perspective, oh and did I mention I gave this poor guy a spinal cord injury?) 

Here's the scoop: Lad lit meets chick lit in this dark comedy about broken people who work in a dangerous place, finding hope where they least expect it. Because no matter what you lock up—a person, secrets, or your heart—sooner or later, everything must be released.

People have asked some fun questions about this one, and here are a few tidbits:

1) Yes, my parents did meet in prison. My mom was a secretary, my dad a unit sergeant. They continued to work there together for years, which made dinner table conversation interesting, to say the least.

2) My dad is also a writer, and his desk is a gorgeous behemoth that was actually made by inmates registered in a carpentry program. I only have a set of decorative wooden reindeer made by inmates, and I display them every Christmas.

3) Most people who work in an institutional setting have a terrific sense of humor, because you’re exposed to the infinite capacity of humanity for weirdness, evil, good, and even hope in the face of incredible loss.

4) When my father worked as a DOC social worker, I remember him bringing home a prop he used during staff training events: a suitcase like one a traveling salesman might use, filled with confiscated shanks and shivs.

5) I did have to remove my underwire bra when I passed through the metal detector for my interview, and a few of the interesting inmate anecdotes in the novel are real, but beyond that? Everything’s fiction. Sadly, Joe, Drew, and Graham don’t exist anywhere but on the page. Or in the pixel, whatever the case may be.
A Thank You card signed by the inmate students I worked with.

So what happens if you’re compelled to write a story that bends your typical genre? If you’re passionate about the characters and their journey, if sitting in front of the blank page every day feels more like a trip to an amusement park than a chore, you’re in great shape. Write a book that YOU would want to read.  Write it honestly, from the heart, breathe life into even your secondary characters, and then either put it in a drawer or release it into the world.

This one’s been with me so long it’s starting to feel like an adult child living in my basement, so it’s time to push it out of the nest and hope it flies.

What do you think? Are there settings or subjects to avoid if you’re aiming for commercial success? CAN commercial books get away with handling “literary” subjects?  Or do you write the story that demands attention and let the chips fall where they may (and get eaten by the dog)?

Jess Riley is the author of Driving Sideways, All the Lonely People, and Mandatory Release. Now available on all platforms: amazon, BN, iTunes, and Kobo. She lives in Oshkosh, Wisconsin with her husband and crazy terrier. Find her on Facebook, Twitter, or her own blog, where she'll be featuring some awesome authors in the weeks to come.

If you live in the Oshkosh area, help Jess celebrate her book launch at Becket's Restaurant on Tuesday, July 16 at 5 pm. There will be snacks, drinks, and a photo op involving fake jail bars. Wear your favorite jumpsuit and ankle bracelets!

A Helluva Authorial Reinvention by Christa Allan

My husband thinks I should try writing erotica. For someone whose books have been published by Christian publishing houses, that’s one hell of an authorial reinvention.

I tried to explain to him that the problem isn’t the genre. It’s my aptitude for writing it.  Just working out the logistics of two people kissing when I write can be a challenge. Erotica? I’d have body parts flying all over the place.  Not to mention the paradigm shift in our personal sex life. Making love with writer’s brain (this goes there, he does this, she does that, oops…that didn’t work), and thinking one of those speech recognition software programs would be useful at the time.

I have given serious thought to introducing erotica in Christian fiction. Rumor has it that there are Christians who are actually having married-to-one-another sex and enjoying it. And, have you read “Song of Solomon” in the Bible lately?  Clearly, a study in metaphoric sex: “his abdomen is carved in ivory” and her “orchard” blossoms, and he’s attracted to her “garden”?  Then there’s this illustration of the Song of Solomon, which serves to demonstrate some of the inherent problems with literal interpretations.

Even J.K. Rowling is reinventing herself as evidenced by the outing of her as Robert Galbraith, author of The Cuckoo's Calling, a crime novel released in April "praised by critics," according to NBC News. She called the pseudonym a "liberating experience," because of not having to endure the hype or pressure of being always Harry Potter author, J.K. Rowling. Not many seemed to mind that she published the Harry Potter series using the gender-neutal J.K. as opposed to her first name, Joanne. 

But some think she may have pushed the boundaries of fabrication by claiming to be a married father-of-two and a former undercover police investigator.  The author bio on Amazon states, "After several years with the Royal Military Police, Robert Galbraith was attached to the SIB (Special Investigative Branch), the plain-clothes branch of the RMP. He left the military in 2003 and has been working since then in the civilian security industry. The idea for Cormoran Strike grew directly out of his own experiences and those of his military friends who returned to the civilian world."

Does that mean there are boundaries to reinvention? You can assume a false name, but you can't assume a false history related to your new identity? But, if fiction is, as Merriam-Webster defines it, "something invented by our imaginations," are we going to restrict our reinventions? So, people are upset that she wasn't honest about her alias? Seems rather oxymoronic or, at the very least, headache-inducing.

Female writers have hidden themselves under gender neutral or male names for centuries, even as recently as our own with Nora Roberts reinventing herself as J.D. Robb. Mary Ann Evans used George Eliot so that her work would be taken more seriously, Amantine Lucile Dupin published as George Sand, and even Harper Lee dropped her first name, Nellie. The author of The Outsiders, Susan Eliose Hinton, preceded Rowling as an author using only her initials, S.E.  Publisher's Weekly wrote an article about male writers using women's or gender-neutral names when writing romance.

It seems writers reinvent themselves because of reader perceptions, pre-conceived notions of males writing erotica or females writing grisly crime and detective stories. Or, as in centuries ago, readers not embracing women as writers. Sometimes its self-preseveration with publishing houses or even careers. When I taught high school, I don't think parent conferences would have gone well if my name had been on the cover of Fifty Shades of Gray. Then again, if it had been, I wouldn't need to be sitting in parent conferences...

I wonder, though, what our perceptions as writers are of readers that cause us to want to reinvent ourselves. 

What happens when I decide to write outside of the genre that's defined me for the five novels I've already written?

I'll let you know.

In the meantime, do you feel duped by author pseudonyms? Would you follow a favorite author into any genre?

Christa Allan's newest novel, under her very own real name, A Test of Faith, will release in March of 2014. You can track her down atwww.christaallan.comFacebook, and Twitter. She and her husband recently moved to New Orleans with their three neurotic cats. You can find her other novels here.