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.

Playing it Safe. Or not.

Paperback Writer has an interesting post on how the new incarnation of Battlestar Galactica has inspired her. The result is that she has vowed to write one dangerous book this coming year.

By that she means, something out of the ordinary for her personally. A departure from what’s comfortable. The reason this feels risky for her is simple:   she’s got a large followship and has been very successful with  more than one series of novels, so to make any big changes in approach or topic is somewhat frightening. You don’t know if the readers will make that jump with you or not.

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I’m kind of in the middle of that experiment myself, hoping that the Sara Donati crowd will follow the Rosina me into contemporary romatic comedy. I can’t really say how it’s going to turn out in the long run, but it was a risk I took. And it was scary. It still is scary. Every once in a while  — not too often — I get a note from an irritated reader who is not happy with my departure:

Stick to historical fiction.

Don’t lecture me about gay rights.

You’re not as funny as you think you are.

I’ve had snarky comments about the Wilderness novels too. The guy who was furious when he thought a soldier had shot Treenie. He didn’t care about people being killed, but the death of the red dog had turned him off my work forever. Or the person who was very unhappy with me about Liam’s behavior in a certain barn. People who have read Lake in the Clouds will know what I mean. But that’s different. Those kinds of negative reactions I can take and consider with equanimity. It’s harder when you’re talking about a new novel in a new voice, with a new approach.

And that’s why it’s tempting to stick with what works. If you’ve put out three mysteries in three years and your readership is going up up up, it’s hard to stop. Your editor and publisher certainly want you to keep going and building on your success. The readers are eager for more, and in many cases they won’t care if the quality starts to slide. They’ll hang in there for another three or five or even ten books in the hope that you’ll get the magic back.  Some of them won’t even notice, or won’t care.

And you, you might be pulling out your hair, begging to be let lose from a stale character-author relationship. But there’s the mortgage and the orthodontist and so you sit down yet again and grind it out.

Or you take a chance. You put aside the tried and true and you write something that excites you. Sometime that gives you back that old feeling, the let-me-at-the-keyboard thrill. This is what Lynn is talking about, having the courage to take on that challenge and hope that the readers come along for the ride.

For my part, once I finish book six I have to concentrate on something I can be fairly sure will find a readership. Maybe I’ve got great ideas for another couple contemporaries, but those will have to wait for a while. At least until the mortgage is paid off. In the meantime I’ll most likely be spending my time in Rhode Island, circa 1720.

in which Alison Kent winkles a confession out of me

I guess I have to thank Alison Kent for her confession because I feel compelled to follow her example. I’m sure I’ll feel better after I admit to all the books I’ve preordered from Amazon. So here we go, in no particular order:

The Serpent’s Tale (Ariana Franklin); Change of Heart (Jodi Picoult); Evermore (Lynn Viehl); The Girl Who Stopped Swimming (Joshilyn Jackson); Duma Key (Stephen King); Dreamers of the Day  (Mary Doria Russell); Phantom Prey (John Sandford); Nothing to Lose (Lee Child); Elvis Cole untitlted (Robert Crais);  LA Outlaws (T Jefferson Parker).