Staying True

Katherine Longshore 4 Tuesday, October 22, 2013

This week on the blog, we’re talking about how we—as writers—can stay true to ourselves and our readers in our writing.  Which is quite timely for me, because I was recently asked if perhaps those things might be mutually exclusive.

Last week, I participated in the Humboldt County Author Festival.  I grew up with the festival—which I’ve read is one of the largest children’s author festivals in the country.  Twenty-five authors visit sixty county schools (which range in student population from eight to eight hundred) over the course of two days.  I cite the Festival and those author visits as one of the reasons I became a writer in the first place—having a author come to my school (in our isolated little county) made writing and getting published seem possible.  For me, getting the chance to give back was a dream come true.

My final school event of the week was a round table discussion at Arcata High School—my old school—with select AP English students and the student-run book club.  When I told them that the book I’m working on now is a contemporary, one of them asked, “How do you think your readers will react?  And do you feel like you have some kind of responsibility to write the books your readers have grown to love—and expect?”

For a second, I was stumped.  Because of its school-related label, historical fiction for young adults doesn’t tend to get Annie Wilkes (remember Misery?) type fans.  My readers might expect another Tudor novel from me, but circumstances prevent it.  However, the question remains—do I owe the world another historical novel?  Do I stay true to my “brand” and my history-loving readership base, or do I follow my heart and write the book that’s calling to me?

I talked with these high school students about JK Rowling, and how much I admire her for breaking out of what was expected of her and writing books very far removed from the world of Harry Potter.  As artists, we all want to be able to stretch and grow, to follow where the muses (or even the Muses) lead us. 

Where would the world be without Libba Bray’s Going Bovine?  Or Carl Hiassen’s books for kids?  What if Brian Selznick had just kept illustrating picture books and had put The Invention of Hugo Cabret in the proverbial drawer?  And how much of a loss would it be if Markus Zusak had just kept writing funny, boy-voice novels and not The Book Thief?

I’m not sure what the right answer is.  Like many people, I read certain authors because I know what to expect from their work—reading these books can be like sitting in a cushy chair in front of a fire.  Perfect.  And I would love to give that to my readers—a dash of romance, lots of rich descriptions and court intrigue and many, many beautiful gowns.  I love that world, as well, and hate to leave it.

I don’t know if my readers will like my latest WIP.  I don’t know if my editor will like it, so I’m not sure if readers will ever get a chance.  What I do know is that I love writing it.  I love the characters, and how they have lodged themselves under my skin and in my heart.  I love researching new settings and discovering surprising plot points.  I am equally thrilled and terrified to be trying a new voice, a new world, a new genre.  I am determined to write this book because I owe it to myself.

And my readers.


And now I have the words to Ricky Nelson's Garden Party stuck in my head :).
I can't wait to read your WIP, Katy!!

I am so excited to hear about your journey with this WIP, Katherine!

Your courage to break out of your "brand" is inspiring, & I think the new book will be amazeballs!

A brand, born of one series, can be a prison. Break out, widen your horizons. You will probably bring your current fans with you, but you will undoubtedly gain new ones. I also consider Neil Gaiman when thinking about brand. Although he writes wildly different projects in many mediums, he's still a recognizable brand, and his fans from one project do become curious about his other work. What they're responding to is something in the imagination of the man himself, in the way he uses language and wonder and fear to connect to something visceral and universal that we all share.

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