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.

my druthers

In response to my question (a couple posts ago) about what you’d like to see me write next, someone asked what I really want to write, what I would write if marketing and mortgages and tuitions were not an issue.

First, let me try to wrap my head around that idea.

Okay. Here’s the thing. Historicals take a long time to write, and the research — which I love — is a drain. It took me about a year to write Tied to the Tracks and then another year for Pajama Girls, because they are (a) shorter; (b) less research intensive. Note also that I was working on those novels part time while I kept banging away at the historicals.  I don’t remember ever bogging down while I was writing either of the contemporaries.

So for the present, if I didn’t have to think about sales, I would write another contemporary. I have a pretty good outline for one in my head, and it already has a title: The Swing of Things. I do hope to write it, some day, but probably I’ll have to write it without a contract up front.

I’m not done with historicals. I am very enamored of my plot outline for the Rhode Island novel (good thing, too, or why would I write it?). But I’ve been working on these big fat historicals for 10+ years, and I could use a change of pace.

a very odd (but not bad) day

First, I wrote a lot of words. A whole lot. More, I think, than I have ever written in one day before. Gone a gusher would not be too much said.

How many words and more information on this I cannot provide, as my superstitious Italian self will not allow me to put such things out there for the Evil Eye to jinx. But it was good.

Then Laura Vivanco, an academic in Great Britain whose area of specialization is the study of the socio-cultural and literary context of the romance novel, wrote a long post at Teach Me Tonight called “A Case Study on Genre: Rosina Lippi’s Tied to the Tracks and The Pajama Girls of Lambert Square in which she takes both novels under her microscope and comes up with a couple dozen very interesting observations. I was surprised and happy, because hey, I am a recovering academic and I spent my adult life from age 27 to 47 immersed in it up to my neck, and I know what effort went into it.  So a public thanks to Laura, and an acknowledgment: I know my two most recent novels are not exactly romance, or romantic comedy, or anything else, for that matter. I know that I don’t fit into any genre. That fact has made things pretty difficult for me, marketing wise. Laura’s solution:

If I had to choose a label for these novels, I’d make up a new one. I think they’re contemporary romantic emotional-mystery fiction.

Which she admits needs to be shorter. So if somebody could (1) come up with a catchy term that gets the same idea across and (2) magically insert that term into the group consciousness, that would be really helpful. I’d be thrilled. I actually quite like emotional-mystery, though I fear it won’t catch on.

Finally (and this is the real oddity). Paperback Writer has a post up about the one-sentence story website that I wrote about last week, and she links back here. Nothing odd about that, the normal tip of the hat to another weblog author who has pointed you in an interesting direction. What is odd, however, is that Lynn’s post was picked up — I still find it hard to believe this — by Andrew Sullivan on his Daily Dish weblog.

I have great respect and admiration for Paperback Writer, but Andrew Sullivan? Yikes. Rather than go into a long explanation of why I stay away from everything having to do with Andrew Sullivan, I point you to Mickey Kaus at Slate, who managed to sum up my feelings about A.S. concisely:

Andrew Sullivan has decided to give out a Nancy Grace Award. Criteria (suggested by Sullivan’s readers) include “a nauseating level of absolutist self-righteousness,” an “unflappable self-assurance that [the nominee’s] outrage represents the true moral high ground on any issue” despite a propensity to “flip flop”–and a habit of “excessive personal attacks.” [Emphasis added]… You mean like righteously bullying anyone who fails to support a war in Iraq, then turning around and righteously attacking the people who are prosecuting it? … Can you think of any nominees? I’m stumped. source

I hope S.L. gets a ton of traffic due to the link, but it did take me aback. The only parallel I can think of would be if Laura Bush or (even worse) Ann Coulter announced publically that Tied to the Tracks was her favorite all time novel. Nightmare material.

Pajamarama Photographers, your prizes (Jacqui & Elias are up):

(post moved up top by r — AND I need addresses from y’all. I know, you’ve probably given your address to me before, but I need them anyway. Pronto.)

The stuff to pick from:

  1. signed copy of Pajama Girls Patty & Heather
  2. signed copy of Pajama Girls Wilma
  3. signed hardcover copy of Homestead Malbrec82
  4. signed softcovers of Fire Along the Sky AND Queen of Swords Beth
  5. signed softcovers of Fire Along the Sky AND Queen of Swords Soup
  6. signed hardcover of Queen of Swords
  7. signed hardcover of Queen of Swords
  8. signed hardcover of Tied to the Tracks Judy
  9. signed hardcover of Tied to the Tracks
  10. grabbag pile o’ really good romances Wolfy
  11. grabbag pile o’ really good novels, some romances Jennifer M.
  12. LibraryThing lifetime membership