Who Was That Guy?

Do you ever wonder if you’re doing the writer equivalent of typecasting? Not your characters; yourself. Do your readers look at your newest publication and say, “Oh, another book by so-and-so. It’ll have a car chase in chapter one, a bomb will go off near the middle, and the main character will fall for someone unsuitable. And the main character will have a dog, which bites the unsuitable love interest,” or something of the like?

I have a new Pride & Prejudice sequel that I put up on Amazon yesterday. It’s short, just five thousand words, and as is becoming usual for my stories, horses figure prominently.

Cute animals are usually a good addition to a story, and I know enough about horses that I know when to break the rules. This doesn’t always lead to decent plots, or writing that’s easy to read. But it is becoming sort of a signature flourish for me. I guess there are weirder personal touches that I could add to a book; horses as minor characters is pretty inoffensive.

I write a lot of popcorn fiction- mostly historical romance. And though The Mercenary Series (still only one book at the moment) is fantasy with only nods toward romance, it’s also the type of story that the reader can binge-read and not get a stomachache the next day.

This has lead to some interesting personal reflections. I won’t get into the details on a public forum, but changes in my living situation have made me wonder if I’m becoming a stereotypical suburban wine mom, sans the screaming kids. This is weird to me; I’ve always been the person who didn’t fit in with normal or odd people. My early books were similarly quirky- one of my first shorts was about a boy who adopts a swamp thing instead of getting a dog. The swamp thing eats an overzealous game warden at the end, which is a satisfying but slightly bizarre way to end a story. My only space opera series probably made everyone scratch their heads. And The Garia Cycle, my first foray into fantasy, doesn’t really fit into the genre.

Over the last couple of years, I seem to have gone in the opposite direction, and turned out a lot of bog-standard romance, historical, and fantasy. They’re not bad, just not what I expected to write. And my earnings haven’t risen as much as I’d expect; one would think that if I’m writing books that have a wider appeal, more people would buy them.

What is an author to do? Well, at the moment, I’m gearing up for more changes in my living situation, and don’t have time to completely revamp my career. So the next few books in the queue are more regency romance and medieval fantasy. But I’m interested to discover whether the change in my circumstances produces a change in my writing, and perhaps more importantly, if those changes will be for the better.

I started this post not really knowing where I was going with it- to anyone who knows me, this isn’t a surprise- but I think the point is that while your books can reflect where you are in life, they don’t have to. Sometimes it’s easier to write a book where the characters share your feelings about an issue- if you’re having family troubles, giving a character similar family troubles can be cathartic- but you certainly don’t have to write that way. And just because your books are similar in tone or plot to someone else’s books, does not mean you’re anything like that author. Believe it or not, you’re still a unique individual.

What sort of things tend to end up in your books? Do you go through cycles of writing one genre or another; do those cycles match with things that are happening in your life at the time? Have you ever wondered if you were writing the book, or the book was writing you?

7 comments

  1. The fragile nature of civilization has certainly cropped up in a few of my published stories. I suspect it will continue to do so for some time to come.

  2. Yeah, I seem to also have a lot of horse characters. A few dogs, not many cats.

    And at the age of 66, sans grandchildren, an awful lot of my characters are having babies. Literary grandchildren? Although I may be up to fictional great great grandchildren if I dared to go count generations.

  3. There have been periods where all my works (and I was writing a lot of short stories, so quite a few) had dragons or roses in them, if not both. And other times when all the happy families had at least one adopted child.

  4. I’ve found myself practicing a kind of “structural typecasting” recently: specifically, wrapping an “inner” or “main” story in an external frame, which often takes the form of a conversation between two parties of importance to the “inner” story. It’s a convenient technique for providing the reader with information, including backstory information, that it would be awkward to work directly into the “inner” story. However, I’ve begun to wonder whether it’s limiting in other ways.

  5. That also raises the problem that readers know what to expect when they buy your stuff and branching out may disappoint them.

  6. Blake, I’m just curious about you switching your “romance” books to your Anna pen-name.

    Two of them haven’t been switched, “The Secret of Seavale” and “A Small And Inconvenient Disaster”.

    Will you be switching them?

    1. I plan to switch them, but they need new covers first.

      *adds to the to-do list* Geez, this thing is almost as tall as me.

      I’ll get to it, eventually.

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