Flexibility and Growth as an Artist

Hiromi Masuda: Let's play the Glass 2I am a fan of Gretchen Rubin, whose books on happiness and habits offer a lot of insight into how we can live the best life for ourselves. (She doesn’t get the Rebel personality, but I forgive her for that.) This morning, her Facebook post let me to this blog:

The Dangers of Typecasting

As most of you know, I made a choice a couple of years ago to explore the world of New Adult romance. I had written straight romances, contemporary and historical, in the past, but hadn’t done if for nearly ten years when I was mobbed by a new idea. By a character, Jess Donovan, age 19, poor and struggling and trying to make her way.  She awakened me one morning in mud season in Breckenridge and by the end of the day, I had mapped out the entire book.  In my world, we call that a “gift book” and foolish indeed is the writer who ignores such an offering from the gods.

However, It was a risky choice, and I knew it–women’s fiction readers don’t like to be lumped with romance readers (although many are both) and my romance readers might not want to go with me into this much younger world. To keep things branded cleanly, I knew I would have to take a pen name, and that meant starting from ground zero–not always the easiest thing for a writer with an audience gained over ten years.

That’s the visible stuff. The less visible aspect was that I didn’t know the market of New Adult that well–I read it and I loved it, but that’s different from the marketing angles. Which meant I had to take my middle aged self into groups of younger writers and ask for information. I had to be a beginner, and not mind if they thought I was irrelevant or odd or whatever for wading into these waters. It was not always easy. In the romance writing world, I have a reputation and that was something that had to be left at the door.  (It was harder when many of them had no idea who I was, frankly, but also good for me.) All ego and pride had to be abandoned.

It also meant that my women’s fiction readers would be waiting awhile for the next book. That my publisher would be waiting, and my agent, and my editor.

But again–woe be to the artist who ignores a gift from the gods. Gulping down my terror, I focused instead on my excitement and settled firmly into beginner’s mind and followed the book where it wanted to go. I wrote it in a white hot heat, the fastest I’ve ever written a book, I’m pretty sure, and by October, Random was self-published under a new name, Lark O’Neal.

2-1/2 years later, what has come of it?

First of all, those young writers? So awesome. Welcomed me completely, showed me the ropes, gave me so much advice and insight. I couldn’t have done it without NAUU. At all. And that group led to others, led to others….I found a whole new community of bright, fresh, passionate writers, and that alone has been worth the price of admission. Passion is energizing to any artist.

Random continues to do quite well in the market, too. I’ve sold and given away more than 150,000 copies. It has more than 400 5-star reviews. It led to writing the Going the Distance series, which has been quite a lucrative undertaking.

epic-240It led to writing EPIC, which I think is one of the best romances I’ve ever written, a book I absolutely adore.

There are the readers. Who write the very best letters I have ever had in my entire career. They are passionate and effusive and they are not jaded by ten thousand other books and they like my voice and my stories and they want me to keep writing them.

But the best part about all of this is what the books have done for me. Turns out there was a 19-year-old me who has been asking for a voice for a long time. I kept telling her to hush, go away, leave me alone. I had a fairly painful late adolescence and early twenties, and until I wrote this book, I didn’t realize how often I told the story of my life and left those years out completely. It was 19-year-old me who poured out that morning in Breckenridge, full of anger and fear and a wish to live a bigger life. Jess became herself, as characters do, but they’re all born of us somehow.

Turns out that young me has a lot to say. No wonder. I hadn’t let the emotions and confusion and excitement and passion of self-discovery and mistakes of that young self out to say a word in all those years between.

Turns out she has a lot to express. Turns out these books mean a lot to me.

It also turns out that something interesting is evolving in my women’s fiction. A bigger book, one that has been more challenging to birth, and has some teeth in it. I hope to have some version of it ready by the first part of the summer, and I am as eager to explore that landscape as I am to explore these. At an age when some might be slowing down, I am only gearing up more, more eager to work, more fascinated by the ways writers communicate with readers (of all ages!), more energized to keep learning and bettering my craft.

What kind of risks have you taken in your work, or in your life? Have you ever struck out for the horizon, not knowing what you would find? What happened? Share your story in the comments and I’ll choose one and I’ll send you one of my books. Your choice. 

 

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8 thoughts on “Flexibility and Growth as an Artist

  1. aida alberto

    So realistically we won’t see a women’s fiction book for more than a year.

    • Barbara Samuel

      At least a year, Aida. I know you are disappointed.

      • aida alberto

        I am very happy that you are happy in the direction that you’ve taken but you need to know I’ve give up on your books. I wish you nothing but the best. I hope you have great success in everything you wish and work for.

        • Barbara Samuel

          Maybe keep an eye out for the new one next year. I suspect it will really be your cup of tea.

  2. Suzanne

    I love reading this, Barbara! I love that you took that chance, and it worked out so well. In some ways, I think I took the opposite path as you. Because I was a stay-at-home mom, I wrote for myself. So I could write on a whim–and it was fun, for sure, but not terribly rewarding because I mostly shoved all those books under the bed. But then as my kids turned to young adults I heard the clock ticking, and I wanted to be sure I had something to do once I ushered them out the door. So that meant I had to choose a genre and stick with it. That’s not a rhythm I’m familiar with–that’s an effort, much like learning about the NA genre was for you. So, the other night, when a story came to me fully formed–and it wasn’t the genre I chose–I took furious notes but put it on a shelf way up high so I wouldn’t get distracted. Long way of saying I think my risk is focusing my efforts on one genre and seeing where it leads.

    • Barbara Samuel

      Suzanne, that’s you being authentic to your writer self, too. It’s really hard to listen to that inner voice when the world is clamoring for whatever it wants.

      I’m so happy you decided to publish your work at last!

  3. Lorelei L

    Back in 2007 when budget cuts gave me the opportunity to be a Stay at home mom after many years, I found myself wondering what other “job” I could pursue to make me happy . After attempting to go back to school to get another degree, my dad had heart surgery right before starting, so I withdrew. He Was fine after, so I planned to enroll again. Right after I did, I had to withdraw again to care for mom who broke her leg. The following year, just as I thought all was safe to take on school, mom fell again and broke her knee. While they say it’s never too late, I think life is telling me my mission at the moment is to be a caretaker. In between free time on my hands since 2007 I started reading, and reading until I discovered the wonderful world of writers. It will be close to 10 years now, I haven’t found that “job” yet, but I have something more rewarding. I’m inspired, I have made friends around the world, I help others and support causes and care for my loved ones. I have now a better vision of what I want to do, but the right time will come.

  4. Oh Barbara, just write. You are the ONLY author that I will read anything you write. I don’t read historicals, but have read yours. I am 55 and can’t imagine being 19 (altho’ I have teen sons), but I loved Going the Distance, except the final choice. I’m a Tyler fan. :) I’ve read The Lost Recipe for Happiness so many times I could recite it, and I rarely re-read books. I even love the ones I didn’t love. That is, they were still better than most. The ONLY problem with your writing, is that when I read it I think, “I could never write like this.” So, I don’t mess with fiction much, even though ideas of stories tease me at times. My problem, of course. That said, write what you want to write, and don’t be tethered by reader expectations. I know you have to make a living. And I understand that fan bases can be fickle and creating a new author persona is tough. But you are the artist, my dear. The beauty is in your head and through your fingers and no one is forcing us to read at the end of gun. Much admiration for you.

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