In 2015 I am welcoming a number of guests to my blog, where they discuss all manner of topics. I am sure my regular followers have seen the Fantasy and Literary Heroes in Society posts, which will be a continuing feature but today I am pleased to welcome Jacquelynn Luben who talks about the challenges of writing in multiple genres, her work in a small publishing house, research and the challenges faced by many authors. Over to you Jacquelynn…
Crossing Categories in Writing
Over the years, I’ve written both fiction and non-fiction, short and long. That is to say, I’ve written two non-fiction books and two novels (and am in the process of writing the third) and I’ve also written many short stories and published quite a few articles.
In terms of success, one of my non-fiction books was commissioned and published by a mainstream publisher, while the other was self-published, and of course, my articles were published in print magazines.
My novels, on the other hand, are published by a small publishing house, in which I am a director, with two others – so quite a small concern – which makes it more difficult to achieve the same sort of success as with a mainstream publisher. However, on-line sales through Amazon have provided me with a very satisfactory income during the last three years, and this specifically applies to my fiction work.
I have never been a professional writer, and have never had to rely on writing for an income. So from this point of view, I am happy with the way my writing has progressed. It means I write what I feel like writing and when I feel like it, and am not normally boxed into a corner where I have to produce something to a deadline.
In the past, my non-fiction writing has been praised for its clarity, and perhaps I should have concentrated on that. However, the truth of the matter is that I do not really like researching a subject. My first non-fiction book (The Fruit of the Tree) was written from the heart, as it dealt with the death of my baby daughter through cot death. Having written articles on the subject, I wanted to put the event into context, and so described a period of five years of my married life, including the births of my other children. No research was needed. At the time when I wrote it, it was all there in my memory.
I have spoken to writers who say that they love the research more than the writing. This does not apply to me. The writing is the part which is enjoyable; I like using words – as any writer should – and I like editing what I have written, moving words, sentences and paragraphs around. (Computers have made that aspect of writing so much easier.) My articles therefore, have, on the whole, been based on my personal experience, the most recent having been published in a ‘nostalgia’ magazine, and have therefore not required much in the way of research.
It was as a result of writing my first book – which in the end, I published myself – that I was commissioned to write a self-help book on the subject of cot death, and for this I had to use my head and try to be somewhat more objective about the subject. I did, of course, have to research the topic, and I interviewed a number of people, taking notes and using, at that time, a tape recorder, before going to the computer to transcribe the interviews. I tried to make them wide ranging, including as my interviewees, bereaved parents, doctors and a midwife, a funeral director, and representatives of the charity which gave support to bereaved parents. The parents, too, were diverse and included, for example, those who had had more children and those who chose not to, and religious and non-religious people.
My motivation for writing fiction is really quite different, the common factors being my enjoyment of writing, and my interest in the structure of any piece of work. I am a sucker for stories. If I turn on the radio or TV, half way through a play, I will probably get hooked and want to know what happened. So constructing a story and living in the world of that story is a different kind of escapism. Fiction comes in for criticism from my engineer husband, because it’s ‘not true’, but I believe that there is sometimes more truth in fiction than in factual stuff. In my opinion, whenever fiction writers describe events, they are remembering something that occurred in their own lives, or that they have heard about. The truth is in the emotion that was experienced, even if the fictional characters do not exist. So a piece of fiction is a tapestry of true or half remembered events or events that could happen. Even in fantasy and science fiction, (which I generally don’t write) good writers usually represent their characters with normal human emotions.
I think that writers have to recognise today that it is very difficult to make a living from writing unless you produce a best-seller. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t opportunities to get work read and even paid for, particularly in the field of ebooks. My novel, Tainted Tree, is the piece of work that has provided me with an income recently and is the most read of my current work. Initially on the Amazon discussion pages, I promoted it a great deal, though this can bring Amazon’s wrath upon your head, so after a reprimand, I made sure that I was more cautious in this respect.
I made sure that I made good use of the categories on the book’s Kindle page, and was fortunate in that another writer who had created a ‘Listomania’ of genealogical novels, added it to his list. If you are the writer of ‘literary fiction’, your book may not be too specific, but as I don’t come into that category, and prefer plot based books, it is probably easier to categorise them. Having said that, I don’t believe that any book fits into one category. Tainted Tree is a genealogical romance with a bit of mystery and history in the package. My current novel in progress is a crime thriller, which also has a romantic thread.
My books have in common one thing. I have read and reread them over and over again and made changes to numerous drafts. Even if I break the rules, I regard grammar and spelling as of great importance, and, with the help of my fellow directors at our shared publishing house and other writers at my writing circle, I try, to the best of my ability, to sift out all errors. I also try my hardest to make sure that loose ends are tied up and that there are no errors of continuity. I am not a professional writer, but I try to be professional.