5. I write what I want to write because I want to write it
One of the many Commandments I’ve seen about how Thou Shalt Be an Indie Author is the one about how, in order to build an audience, you need to pick a genre and stick to it. If you write romance, then you must write romances. If you write mysteries, thrillers, science fiction, whatever it is, it becomes part of your author platform, part of your public persona, and if you write something else you’re flirting with disaster while you watch your readers evaporate into cyberspace.
Now here I am, having some success with the Loving Husband Trilogy, a paranormal/historical love story. All three books have been best sellers with great reviews and devoted readers from all over the world. To follow the accepted wisdom of indie publishing, I knew I should stick with paranormal/historical stories because that’s what my readers expect of me now. So what did I write next? A contemporary gay love story. Why? Because that’s the way I roll.
I could hear the indie author gods fall in a thud to the ground when I published That You Are Here as my next book after the Loving Husband Trilogy. I’m not being difficult on purpose. Truly. It just so happens I was visiting my cousin in Portland, Oregon when the Supreme Court decision overturning DOMA was announced. The idea for That You Are Here came to me shortly afterwards in some random daydream, and I saw the two romantic leads, Andrew Whittaker and Mark Bryce, so clearly. I saw their deep love for each other, and I saw the obstacles they had to overcome. I decided to write the book because that was the story that was in my heart to write. I knew it wasn’t the “right” thing to do, and I knew that fans of my Loving Husband Trilogy wouldn’t necessarily be interested in reading That You Are Here. But you know what? It’s all good. It’s true, I have to find a new audience for That You Are Here—not an entirely new audience because some of my Loving Husband fans have open minds and they’ve read and liked That You Are Here. The truth is, I don’t mind the extra work. I’d rather write what I want to write and work to find new readers than write something I’m not excited about because that’s what’s expected of me.
I wasn’t always willing to listen to my heart about what to write. This was yet another lesson I had to learn the hard way. For a while, I was so obsessed with sales ranking and copies sold that I seriously considered writing books in a genre–romance–that might sell more than the books I had already written, which, let’s face it, are primarily literary fiction within their appropriate subgenres. I decided to write romances when I remembered a classmate of mine when I was in grad school, a romance novelist who had been published by Harlequin many times. She was a very nice lady and I enjoyed talking to her, but looking at her she was the last person in the world you’d expect to write sexy-time romances. She was in her early 50s, wore her gray-streaked blond hair in a short ponytail, and she wore lumberjack shirts, mom jeans, and black Doc Martin boots. Her face was well-lined, and she had the husky voice of a chain smoker. If you couldn’t tell she was a smoker by her deep voice, then you could tell by the sour stench of nicotine that followed her everywhere, like the dust cloud around Pig-Pen from the Peanuts cartoons. She told me then that I should write romances. They’re easy to write, she said, and they sell well. All these years later, and after seeing the success of so many indie romance authors, I decided that maybe I should write romances after all.
To get ready, I read books about writing romances, I read a few romances, and I had a basic plot outline for the first book. I even had a pen name picked out. But when it came down to writing it, I realized that I just didn’t want to do it. It felt fake to me, and writing fiction is the only time I feel real. There are many writers, like my friend from college, for whom writing is a business and they write books geared toward a specific market so they will sell a lot of copies. I envy them. I wish I could approach writing fiction in such a business-like manner. I tried, I swear I did, but I couldn’t do it. Writing is my creative expression. It’s how I make sense of this crazy world of ours. For me, the right decision was to write what I want to write because I want to write it, because that’s the story that keeps tugging at my heart strings until I write it down and set it free.
So then, following my logic, what’s my next book? You guessed it…an historical love story set in Victorian England inspired by Downton Abbey and the early life of Charles Dickens. After that…who knows? Maybe a space western featuring Billy the Kid and Darth Vader.