why contemporary instead of historical?

I had a short email from Joel, with a good question. It’s a good question because it keeps coming up, so I had better answer it.

Joel asked:

I’m confused about something and I’ll be honest… sometimes it doesn’t take a lot to make me confused.

Where does  Tied to the Tracks fit into your writing.

The two stand-alone contemporary novels I have out there (Tied to the Tracks and Pajama Girls of Lambert Square) are a departure from those novels I am best known for — the Wilderness series — in a whole slew of ways. In fact, it’s hard to think of things they have in common.

Lemme see if I can tease out the questions within the question.

1. why the change from historical series to contemporary stand-alone?

I’ve been writing the Wilderness series for 10+ years, and while I’m not tired of my characters, I still need a change of pace. And I have other stories I’d like to tell.

2. why Tied to the Tracks in particular?

The idea behind TTTT simmered in the back of my brain for years. Many years. I wanted to set a novel on a college campus, in part I think to deal with a lot of my own unresolved issues about my twelve years as an academic (or twenty years, if you count my education post high school). I wanted to tell a story about a couple who don’t fit the traditional mold.  That is, if you were to rewrite the book and switch gender on the characters (John as Angie, Angie as John) it would be a pretty standard approach to telling  a love story. Or at least, that’s how it feels to me. I wanted to set a story at least partially in Hoboken, a city I really like. And I wanted to be able to use my cousin Tom as a model for a character. He says no way is he like Tony Russo, but trust me, he is.

2. why the Pajama Girls of Lambert Square?

One of the things I like about writing fiction is the way it allows me to explore things I chose not to do with my life. I have always been interested in retail sales. I still think all the time about opening a shop of my own. There’s even a space I have my eye on.  This is a shop I would love to frequent if it really existed, and my guess is that if I had the time and money to get it started, it would in fact do very well.

So I’m a frustrated retail person. Here’s an example. Our grocery store is fairly small. It has a little cafe with about a dozen tables set into the middle of the deli area. I’ve had this idea for a long time so I finally approached the store manager about it. I said, You know, if you invested in six or ten general cookbooks and left them in the cafe area for people to use (along with paper and pencil for making lists), I think people would really take advantage of that. And you’d sell more groceries. She said, wow, that IS a good idea. I’ll bring it up to my supervisor (this is a local chain of about six stores).

That was over a year ago, and so far, nothing. I doubt it will ever happen, but I don’t understand why it won’t. We’re talking about an investment of (tops) $150. Is that not worth a try? It seems not.

To the same manager I said, you know, if you put one sm all section of your books/magazines aisle aside for local authors, you’d get a lot of appreciation and attention for that. Because there are a lot of local authors, and not everybody makes it to the local independent bookstore, so they just wouldn’t know.

Again, nothing.

So to get back to the original question, Pajama Girls was a way for me to explore all the various ideas I have had over the years about retail sales.

The other, more important impetus for PG was my interest in writing a novel about people with phobias that restrict the way they live their lifes. I wanted to really explore Julia’s mindset and her understanding of what she had to do to keep herself safe. The same was true of John, of course, but Julia was the most interesting phobia to me. I think because I worked through all of those issues with Julia I have a special affection for her in the long list of characters born out of my subconscious.

3. why not stick with historicals?

I love writing historicals, but they take a lot out of a person. The research is rewarding but demanding. And I need to pick up my pace and put more books out there if I want to keep writing full time.

Have I missed any nuances of the original question? Please let me know.

One Reply to “why contemporary instead of historical?”

  1. For me – the range of one’s writing is the range of artistry available to you. How many artists, launching a new career line, are quoted as saying they are expanding their horizons and getting tired of the same old work – many, I think. Not to say this is how Joel was thinking, but when I wonder why a favoured artist of mine switches genre in music, art or writing, it’s because something in the current work struck such a chord deep inside me that I don’t want the nature of the works to change. I think it’s delightful when the one you love exhibits a different facet that shines as bright as the tried but true facet. There’s definitely a transition to be made on the audience’s part, despite the artist having done all the hard work to change. But I tend to oversimplify. Market demands are a huge consideration, understandably.

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