Doubt

I’m re-reading Zero Day by David Baldacci, which is the introduction of his John Puller character. As I get into the story, one overwhelming thought continues to loom:

Why can’t I write like this?

My next Bastille novel is not progressing as I’d like, though I am loathe to admit it. I can tell because I’m finding too many other distractions. When a book is flowing for me, I focus on it and little can detract me from getting the words on the pages. Nowadays? I’m obsessing over tracing my family tree and going through boxes of old books, and thinking about whipping up a homemade batch of eggnog (’tis the season!). This effortless distraction is a clear sign that all is not well in the Tiffverse.

Why can’t I write like Baldacci?

I’m in awe of the way his words flow across the page, how he brings John Puller (and even Puller’s cat, named AWOL) to life, how even the scenery of the book leaps off the page. And I wonder how I can get to that level, or even a fraction of it, within the next month or so. Granted, Baldacci has been writing for almost half of my lifetime, and has many more books published to his credit. I’m a rookie author, he’s a veteran, and thus I should not really expect myself to be on his level right now. But I’m an overachiever, so of course I expect that of myself. 😀 Seriously, I don’t know how to be a rookie because I’m used to being around veterans. That being said…

Why can’t I write like that?

I am beginning to wonder, especially in light of feedback on my first novel, The Bastille Family Chronicles: Camille, if I am forcing myself to write in the romance genre; by that, I mean forcing myself to write within the carefully proscribed parameters/formula of the romance genre. Which would explain why I am having such a problem making progress on this installment of the Bastille Family Chronicles. My writing tends to naturally cross genres, so it’s difficult for me to stick to one or the other–which really irritates me when it comes time to classify my book for sales purposes (although at least most sellers offer the options of choosing different categories at once, so as not to pigeonhole in one genre). Still, I may be trying too hard to be one thing, instead of letting my writing be what it is. And that’s where I’m getting hung up.

That may be why I’m writing different books in different genres so early in my writing career; I don’t want to be pigeonholed, since the stories I write aren’t always about love and romance. My writing style is as eclectic as my reading selections, and I want to represent that to the fullest. I enjoy writing thrillers and suspenseful novels, and commercial fiction; more, dare I say, than writing romances. Then why am I writing romances? Simple: I like those too, and I read those, and that was the first book that I completed that was ready for publication. Plus, I’d already planned a six-book series around the Bastilles and their love lives. However, I am not solely or primarily defined as a romance author, as authors such as Nora Roberts or Brenda Jackson are.

Perhaps if I focus less on the “romance” label  (e.g., The Bastille Family Chronicles) and just write the story (e.g., A Bastille Family novel), it will take care of itself.

I will ponder that as I embark on yet another session of procrastination.

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From “Like” to “Legend”: The transformative power of literary fame

Acclaimed poet and activist Nikki Giovanni recently celebrated her 71st birthday. This was the same day of the funeral service for the late, great, Maya Angelou (Ms. Giovanni even wrote a lovely poem in memory of Ms. Angelou).  While updating my Facebook page with a link to Ms. Giovanni performing one of her most famous poems, “Ego Tripping (There May Be a Reason Why)”, I went to bookmark it so that I can revisit it later on. My dilemma came when I went to select the appropriate folder for the bookmark; I hesitated on “Authors” before deciding on “People”.

My choice gave me pause. Yes, Ms. Giovanni is an author. She has penned many critically acclaimed collections of poetry, the most recent being Chasing Utopia: A Hybrid. She is a contemporary of poet activist Sonia Sanchez and literary novelists Toni Morrison and Alice Walker. Yet she is also a Person. By dint of the popularity of her writing among fans and critics alike, she has gone beyond being just an author. Indeed, her name is spoken with the same reverence as those of Angelou, Morrison, Walker, Sanchez.  She is no longer Nikki Giovanni, poet and activist. She has become NikkiGiovanni (one word), or sometimes just Nikki, literary icon.

What is it about our literary folks that propels them from the pool of mere mortal authors into the stratosphere of literary royalty? What gets them to the level of one-name-only recognition? Much as those who are familiar with movies and TV automatically know to whom is referred when the names Oprah, Denzel, Gwyneth, Charlize, Angelina, Brad (other than their occasional uniqueness) are uttered. So does this occur in the literary realm, except there are few first-name-basis authors. Instead, we meld their first and last names into a litany of fervor, to be repeated ad infinitum–or until they fall off in their writing quality.

NikkiGiovanni. SoniaSanchez. MayaAngelou. AliceWalker. ToniMorrison. StephenKIng. JamesPatterson. DavidBaldacci. NoraRoberts. ChimamandaAdichie. EricJeromeDickey (okay, he has three names).

What these authors all have in common is not only reign on the New York Times best seller list, among others, but also lots of sales in general. And book awards: Pulitzer, National Book, National Book Critics Circle, PEN . These writers are practically guaranteed to hit the NYTBL upon publication. Their advances are gleefully handed over by their respective publishers, because the publishers will earn it all back within the first week of sales.

Perhaps it is the lot of writers that we have to rely on first and last names due to relative lack of visibility; when was the last time you saw an author’s face splashed across promotional material as a focal point? Most marketing tools showcase the book cover (because that’s what the reader is most interested in), and leave the author pics to websites and the like. That being said, readers are much more likely to remember the book rather than the person who wrote it. No one usually geeks out and says, “Oooh! XYZ is releasing their latest book today!” Since book titles are promoted months in advance of publication, it’s more common for readers to say, “Ooh! This New Title is being released on this date!” Supplantation of the author by his or her work is the nature of the beast, and lends to the reinforcement of identity via the use of whole names. We’re glad that you like our work, but authors are people too: check out the person behind the curtain. This requires authors to have personality. For those on all-one-word basis, they also have the persona that engages readers during book signings, and this in turn encourages readers to keep up the fandom (people buy from people that they like).

Perhaps that’s the magic ticket: sales plus sparkle. It’s a good start for those seeking to transcend the boundaries of mere book sales.

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