Something has happened since I published Alex, something both wonderful and terrifying. It’s something I had hoped for in my wildest dreams but couldn’t really imagine happening.
I have fans.
I don’t think I have a ton of fans. I don’t think they’re the kind who’re going to hound me around town or anything. They seem like enthusiastic but reasonable people who really liked the first book I wrote. Fair enough. I can appreciate that standpoint. Every time I hear from one of them it’s pretty much guaranteed to make my whole day.
So why would I say it’s terrifying?
Well, before, the only person I really had to impress was myself. I had my own personal standards and my own personal viewpoint on how things should be, and I strove to live up to them. That’s all still true. But now I want to make sure people who loved Alex will also like Rebecca (and, hopefully, everything else I write). That shouldn’t create conflict, but it does. Because of course I can’t just write something identical to Alex. But anything that’s different risks alienating fans.
(I have fans!?)
This isn’t a new problem. I’m not the first person to have it, I’m sure. But the question “Will my fans like this?” has crept up often enough during my writing sessions that I’m forced to deal with it, one way or another, because I think it has the potential to be very destructive if I let it.
I want to write about a lot of things – it’s part of the reason I chose to self-publish in the longer term. I’m starting with horror/suspense, but even by Rebecca, that delineation is going to start to blur. I’ll be pivoting to fantasy with Children and its sequels, and I have an idea for a sci-fi novel that I think is really, really cool which is quickly climbing the charts of book ideas jockeying for the “next write.” I want to sprawl all over the map on genres, and I also want to explore some key themes – GLBT, atheism, religion – that don’t get a lot of coverage in mainstream literature. At least, not in the way I want to look at them.
Some of this stuff was hinted at in Alex, some of it wasn’t, so for any given theme or idea I want to explore, a given reader may or may not enjoy it. There are plenty of authors out there (*coughPattersoncough*) who just write the same thing more or less over and over and sell a hojillion copies. That’s always an option. But I think people liked Alex because it was fairly deep. It made you think and feel. And I don’t think that can be churned out. To repeat that kind of experience, I think I have to take risks and I have to go with my gut.
If I do that, the answer to that question “Will all of my fans like this?” for any given piece of work will almost certainly be, “No.” No, my fans may not like this. A lot of people don’t like fantasy/sci-fi. A lot of people like nothing but. A lot of people aren’t looking for someone to preach to them (and, in fairness, that is a fine line for me too – I want to explore themes, not preach them, but for some people, even having a lesbian main character could constitute preaching).
But after a lot of soul-searching, I’ve concluded that the best route is to just write what I want to write, explore what I want to explore, and if I hit some notes that don’t hold everyone’s interest, hopefully those folks will give me another shot when the next book rolls around. The thought of writing something bad because I’m trying to fit a mold is much worse to me than the thought of writing something bad because I took a risk and it didn’t pan out.
One thing I will say about this conundrum, though: it’s a wonderful conundrum to have. And I will promise this much. While I may bounce around in genres and plot lines, I think you’ll always be able to recognize my writing. I’m writing because I love it and because I have a lot of places my brain needs to go. Hopefully, a lot of you will come along for the journey.