Broadening one’s horizons

I’ve been quite excited this week.  It’s an interesting story, and one that’s taught me a lesson;  so I thought you might like to hear about it.

Sarah Hoyt has long been a friend and an inspiration to my wife and myself. She encouraged me in my early writing days, when I was getting to the point of being ready to publish, and did me the courtesy of a cover review for my first military science fiction novel, ‘Take The Star Road‘.  She’s been a member of our extended family ever since (or we’ve been members of hers – whatever.)  Walking around Denver Zoo in her company during a recent visit proved exhausting – her enthusiasm for various and sundry fauna had my wife and I struggling to keep up!  Perhaps she sees similarities between yours truly and the elephants…

One of the more intriguing aspects of Sarah’s success is that she’s written in so many genres.  A quick scan of her current book listings reveals horror/vampires, science fiction, fantasy, historical romance and crime (sometimes mingled together in the same book).  That was an early lesson to me. Sarah refuses to limit herself to one or two genres. If she can think up a plot in any genre at all, she’ll write about it – so why shouldn’t I do the same?

In my journey to publication, I’d concentrated at first on fantasy (not yet published), and then science fiction.  As I began to put more books out there, I also began to run into more and more “writer’s blocks” – periods when my creativity seemed to vanish, and I found my work in progress to be more about frustration than fulfilment.  I began to look for ways to address the problem… and thought of Sarah.  Might her ability to flit back and forth between genres also be a way to address my creative bottlenecks? I decided to give it a try.

I began three different projects in 2014, and I’ve been working on them here and there, in dribs and drabs, ever since. They include:

  • A space detective series, set in the same universe as my Maxwell Saga (my primary SF series), and potentially involving some of the same characters from time to time in ancillary roles, but focusing on a private detective’s activities in the underworld of the future rather than military sci-fi.
  • A fantasy novel, based on some of the characters I’d developed during my years of trying to develop an effective style of fiction writing, but which had never seen publication.
  • A Western novel, trying to address some of the shortcomings I’d found in the genre over many years of reading and otherwise enjoying it. In particular, I disliked the cavalier abandonment of historical fact in many Western books and series. I wanted to see whether attention to detail and rigorous historical research could produce a Western that was both more accurate, and also fun to read.

The first two projects are ongoing, slowly but steadily. I think both may produce something publishable over time. I’m treating them as a way to get my mind into a different groove when I get stuck with my work in progress.  I’ll put the WIP aside for a few days, or even a few weeks, and knock out some more pages in those other books.  It clears my mind, forces me to think in different channels, and keeps me interested.

The Western novel has suddenly taken on a life of its own, to my (very pleased) surprise.  I’d almost finished it, and decided I’d try to get some feedback from my blog readership;  so I put up the first chapter as a ‘teaser’ last weekend, and invited readers to comment.  They did, so voluminously that I put up a second post that night, addressing some of the points they raised and going into more detail.

To my great surprise (and even greater pleasure), within 24 hours of putting up the ‘teaser’ chapter, I was approached by a small publisher to ask whether I’d be interested in a contract for not one, but three Western novels based on the sample I’d posted.  As you can imagine, I was very interested indeed.  I’ve been discussing it with them ever since, and last night I fired off the completed manuscript to them, after editing it in the light of reader feedback and writing the final chapter.  If all goes well, a contract will be signed in fairly short order (it’s already been sent to me), and publication will follow very quickly. That publisher doesn’t mess around, and moves fast.

I’m not telling you this to “blow my own trumpet“, but to highlight a very important reality.  I followed Sarah’s example and deliberately began to write in multiple genres, initially as a way to overcome “writer’s block” in my primary genre, but later as a means to develop my writing abilities in new directions. That exercise has just paid off for me, completely unexpectedly.  I couldn’t be happier, of course;  but it’s also reminded me that we all too often create our own limitations, and set boundaries around our own success.

We need to deliberately step out of our comfort zones from time to time, tackling things that might not seem intuitive at first glance, and seeking ways to stretch our minds and creative capabilities.  If we don’t, we can end up “stuck in a rut” for the rest of our creative lives;  but if we do, who knows where it may take us?  We may end up publishing something that we never seriously thought about, except as a sideline or diversion. The sky’s the limit!

(Oh – and thanks again, Sarah!  You rock!)



  1. I like your idea of keeping history real, Peter, so much so that when I wrote Veil of Time I added a short bibliography of some of the real characters I used. Sarah Winnemucca, for example; she’s been mostly forgotten by history, but shouldn’t have been. Other people haven’t been forgotten, but public perception of them has drifted far, far from the person their contemporaries knew.
    There’s a western in me too, as soon as I write four books in my three ongoing series. Maybe next year…
    But if you like reading books such as you describe, look up Michael McGarrity. He writes mostly police procedural stuff (he’s an ex-cop) but he’s also doing a western series now that’s based on New Mexico history.

  2. congrats to you on your sell.
    and congrats to sarah on her mentoring.
    personal note … before visiting the zoo, you should listen to simon and garfunkles zoo song. (which tone I can’t find, and the name I can’t remember). time for bed

  3. be interesting to find out if someone told them “you should check this out” or what

  4. > Western

    It is my opinion that there’s a good market for Westerns out there. Not bestseller-size, but “1000 True Fans” style at the very least.

    There are still a handful of used book stores within a 60-mile driving range. Most of them will pay full cover price for a used Western, and they’ll sell it for 2x or more of that price. And the three or four foot shelf of Westerns is right up front in a place of honor. Or perhaps where the clerk can keep a better watch for shoplifters.

    Tradpub says Westerns are defunct. I wonder about cause and effect there…

    Scanning the Romance titles, there’s a very noticeable set of “Western” titles there, too.

    1. The one super specialty used book store here in town specializes in westerns, romances, and sci-fi (classics). Their wall-o-westerns seems to change monthly as people come in, snap up a bunch, and cart their treasure home.

    2. My local bookstore’s Western section is almost 50% L’Amour these days. Even the endless paperback series seem to be disappearing.

    3. Part of it is the whole section of ‘romances pretending to be westerns’. I tend to be very cautious about westerns that aren’t L’amour westerns because of getting trashy romances when I wanted westerns. Now, Peter Grant does westerns and I know I won’t have that problem. 🙂

  5. Oh, yes indeed – there is a market for traditional westerns. At a stretch some of mine can be considered such, although I’ve always thought of them as historical novels set on the 19th century American frontier.

    It’s a very underserved market, and part of that is that most of the big trad-pub agencies were so very damn snotty about how they didn’t ‘do’ Westerns.

    1. I don’t *do* Westerns, but I like your writing. So either my definition of Western is off, or it’s like Johnny Cash. (I don’t *do* country either, but who doesn’t love The Man in Black?)

    2. Stupid question: What sort of author’s list would serve as a Western primer? There’s Louis L’Amour, and Zane Grey. Who else? More to the point, are there good primers for those of us who’ve never really cared for Western novels?

      1. Hmm … I’m very personally very fond of Robert Lewis Taylor – Travels of Jaimie Mcpheeters, Two Roads to Guadalupe. Then A,B. Guthrie, with The Big Sky and The Way West. I’ll take a look at my own shelves ….

        Ohh Benjamin Capps – a Woman of the People.

        1. “The Big Country” by Donald Hamilton is pretty good, even if Westerns aren’t your thing.

      2. Elmer Kelton’s Comanche books. “The Time it Never Rained” is not exactly a Western, but it is a very human-wave story of survival during the drought of the ’50s down around San Angelo.

      3. Robert Parker, known mostly for his detective mysteries, also had a western series about a western marshall and his deputy, Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch. Successful enough that when Parker died his estate chose to continue the series, as they also did with his two best known detective stories.
        William Johnstone has dozens upon dozens of westerns out under his name. IMHO quality between series varies from quite good to meh.
        Still for historical accuracy one cannot do better than Louis L’Amour.

        1. And Max Brand another old school author. I tried the Longarm series but too much like romance novels for me. Same for the Lone Star? I think. When I was a teenager it was Louis A’mour, Zane Gray, Luke Short and Max Brand, maybe a few others but those were the prolific and popular ones. Looking forward to this one.

  6. PETER!!!
    You MUST compare and contrast your experience with the small pub with your indie experience. We almost always get the other story, written after the author has dumped trad pub & gone indie. You can tell us what the road is like on the other side of the median.

  7. If you don’t want to go “blowing your own horn” would you consider “tooting your own horn”?

  8. Peter, here’s hoping you can fill the void left in my reading habits these many years by the death of Louis L’Amour! Best thing about Louis L’Amour is the accuracy of the settings. If he describes a tinaja or a waterhole or a river, you can bet it is where he said it was and pretty much as he described it. I love westerns done right, but since reading Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour, I have pretty much given them up.

  9. So, my ears were burning. Peter, credit where it’s due: Dean Wesley Smith told me there is no block there is only “need to get away from this project for a while.” Part of why I hate being under contract is that I feel I can’t rotate to something else without defrauding the publisher paying me. And then I silence myself.

    1. Question: Do you think you’re ADD? I know a lot of folk with attention deficit who work around the problem by having multiple projects going. If they can fast-switch between them, they can be productive while still jumping all over the place.

      (I think it’s a matter of degree; I’m not ADD and I still find it useful to have multiple projects.)

      1. I KNOW I’m ADD. In my day there was no such thing, so my mother told it to the teachers as a character defect “you have to keep your eye on this one. She gets distracted easily.” I’m not as bad as husband, older son or Amanda Green, all of whom work while watching movies, but I NEED music to give me that additional distraction that allows me to concentrate.

        1. I need music as well to work at my best. I tend to get too fixated and fail to be creative (innovative?) whichever, I do a better job of engineering when I have music in the background.

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