All the books about writing I ever read stressed the importance of genre. The books recommended choosing a readily recognizable genre and sticking to it. Apparently, readers like to know what kind of book they are reading and don’t take well to authors who hop from one genre to another (and if readers do accept it, agents and editors sure don’t). The books also suggested developing a series character in that specific genre, one who is so compelling people will be waiting for the next book. And readers who come late to the series go back to read earlier books, so sales take on a life of their own, each book helping to sell the others.
Seems simple enough, but I ignored the advice. Each of my books is a stand-alone novel without a series character, and each straddles a shadowy line between genres. Since I didn’t create a series that helps promote me and my oeuvre, I have to start over each time a new book of mine is published, promoting each book individually, finding a new readership.
I’ve experienced all the setbacks that bedevil authors — too little support, too many rejections, too much time dedicated to writing-related activities, such as editing and promotion, and not enough time dedicated to writing. But the most disheartening of all is the difficulty of generating momentum with non-genre, non-series books.
And yet . . .
We can only write what we are compelled to write. We each have a vision, and we must be true to that vision, true to ourselves, true to our stories.
Diane Arbus, noted American photographer, said, “I really believe there are things nobody would see if I didn’t photograph them.” And so it is true with writers. We see things, either in the world or in the world of our imagination, that nobody would see if we didn’t photograph them with our words.
Each of my books shows a particular vision of the world as I know it. A Spark of Heavenly Fire shows the horror of an all-too-possible pandemic, the even more horrific steps the government is ready to take, and the various ways, both heroic and craven, people might react to such an eventuality. More Deaths Than One shows the unthinkable results of mind control experiments, experiments that have actually been perpetrated without our knowledge. Daughter Am I is a more light-hearted romp, a treasure-hunting tale of finding oneself in a most unlikely way. And Light Bringer, my latest novel, hints at a world where the Sumerian myth of a tenth planet — a planet of doom — is fact.
The disheartening aspects of writing without the scaffolding of a genre are more than offset by the joy of having created four unique visions of the world, dozens of characters who would not have life without me, vivid word pictures that exist only in my books. Like my lake of flowers from Light Bringer:
At first a faint red trumpeting, the music swelled into a full orchestra: orange church bells, yellow bugles, green violins, blue flutes, indigo cellos, violet woodwinds.
Beneath it all, she could hear the grasses murmuring, “Hurry, hurry.”
And then there it was, spread out before her in a shallow thirty-foot bowl. A lake of flowers— chrysanthemums and tulips, daisies and daffodils, lilies and columbines and fuchsia—all blooming brightly, all singing their song of welcome.
What things would people be deprived of seeing if you didn’t photograph them with your words?
Pat Bertram is the author of the conspiracy novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+