Friday, January 16, 2009

Author Know Thyself

I had to laugh when I read Lena Coburn's recent blog at my colleague Jenny Gilliam's website. In it, Lena talks about quitting her day job in order to devote herself to writing a novel, only to discover that her novel is taking an unexpectedly dark turn. This is weird, she writes, because she's normally a cheerful, upbeat sort of person. This leads her to conclude that not only do YOU not know Lena, Lena doesn't know Lena. 

To which I say, Welcome to the club, Lena! I've been writing since I was a child, and I'm still surprised and disturbed by the stuff that flows out of my pen. Once, in my angsty teens, I wrote a short story called, "Alice in Berlin," in which Lewis Carroll's Alice magically finds herself in Nazi Germany. It was not a comedy. My friends never looked at me quite the same after they read that one. But more importantly, I never looked at me the same way, either. Obviously, there were some dark and downright twisted corners of my psyche that came as a total surprise, and I tried very hard to get a grip on that pesky subconscious in future writing endeavors. 

In college, I ran with a very artsy intellectual crowd who certainly didn't read, write or even acknowledge the existence of romance novels. Although I'd read some of my mom's romances in my youth, I managed to completely bury that memory until fairly recently. I focused on writing dreary, plot-free literary fiction in college and seldom managed to finish any story I started. I realized I'd need to do something else with my writing skills, so I went into public relations and journalism.

For years, I've worked as a publicist and/or newspaper reporter. These are good jobs if you like to write but don't want to confront your own subconscious or be confused about where your story is going. Great if you have a tendency to write stories that don't fit your image of yourself or have a hard time finishing the stories you start. Usually, the ending for your newspaper story or press release is pretty obvious.

I loved working for newspapers, right up until the last one I worked for went out of business and the one before that declared bankruptcy. These days, writing for newspapers is kind of like being a buggy whip manufacturer in the first days of the automobile. The immediacy of the Internet is rapidly making newspapers obsolete, but I'd been seeing that writing on the wall for years. I knew I'd have to find something else to focus on.

Fiction had been waaaaaay in the background in my life, but I decided I'd try my hand at it again. I'd discovered (or rediscovered) romance novels while dealing with some emotionally draining issues in my life. I discovered I loved these deceptively simple stories with their alpha heroes and plucky heroines and sexual sizzle and guaranteed happy endings. No wonder I could never finish any novel I started in college, I realized! This was what I should have been writing all along! And how hard could it be to sell one? I mean, the stores are full of romance novels and everyone knows who Nora Roberts is, right? Yes, if I wrote a romance novel, I would not only get quickly published - I would be rich, too!

Well, that was about five years ago, and sometime in 2009, my first novel will finally be published by The Wild Rose Press. Thirty-Nine Again is really the third novel I've finished. The first got totally out of control - so take heart, Lena. Like me, you may just have too many ideas itching to get out of your head all at once. That first novel was an English country house mystery/erotic romance/weepy women's fiction/thriller novel. In fact, it was at least three different novels, and some day I intend to go back and write each one of them. Separately. That book confused my friends because it was dark and people died and there was sexual abuse and alcoholism and graphic steamy sex. One friend is still so embarrassed about the graphic sex, she has trouble even looking at me when I talk about writing books.

After my friends read it, they all said: But Lynn, you are an upbeat, funny person. You should write a comedy! And they sounded like they knew me better than I did, so I did just that. Or at least I tried to. But serious issues still hover around the edges of Thirty-Nine Again - which features the Mexican Mafia, a Homeland Security agent with a temper (albeit a really sexy Homeland Security agent), and a heroine who's a breast cancer survivor. 

I like to say my approach is similar to the very talented Lani Diane Rich, who manages to write sometimes uproariously funny scenes in stories that feature sizzling romance and serious underlying themes like domestic abuse or child abandonment. I like to say my approach is similar to Ms. Rich's, but that would imply I actually plan my stories in great detail in advance, something I rarely do. No, I continue to let my unruly subconscious spill out on the page when I write. Sometimes it's funny and sexy and sometimes it's dark and heavy. Whether I've managed to combine the two moods successfully is something my future readers will have to decide. But I have to admit, I've learned to enjoy being surprised by the inexplicable inner workings of my own mind - and I'll bet Lena will too.

1 comment:

  1. Loved this blog. How did you ever get your brain to function so well at 5:55 a.m.!!

    My favorite line (since my husband writes for a newspaper): "These days, writing for newspapers is kind of like being a buggy whip manufacturer in the first days of the automobile."

    Sad, but true.