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A writer’s decision October 10, 2012

Posted by Jenny in fiction, professional editing and writing, serial fiction.
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Many of you know that I am the author of a murder mystery, “Murder at the Jumpoff,” that was published this past spring. I have been working on a sequel, or at least some other novel, since around that time.

“Jumpoff” was conceived in a moment of inspiration and completed within about seven months. It was fun to write and went fairly painlessly—I only mention that because I am a person who can make easy, simple things into complicated, tortured affairs.

The sequel didn’t come so readily. At first I tried for a very straightforward followup to the first book. Its title was to be “Murder at Tricorner Knob,” involving the major characters of the first book and intended to be the next installment of any number of mysteries set in remote corners of the Smokies.

Somehow, as I went along, I felt I was pulling marionette strings—making things happen artificially to fit a formula. I decided to keep some of the material but do something deeper. I would keep those characters but shift them to the background and explore themes of grief and the often awkward development of relationships.

I’m not even mentioning some other totally different things I tried out along the way—a historical novel set at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair (a longstanding interest of mine), and something unrelated, an account of a one-night experience inspired by Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach (except mine was set on the Chesapeake Bay). None of these flounderings seemed to work.

In the meantime, I was getting involved in the promotion of  “Jumpoff.” I had quite a few book signings, book readings, and discussions about off-trail hiking from around April through June. I attended writer’s festivals. I will say, quite simply, that overall I hated the experience, although I did have some rewarding moments, such as the group talk at Highland Books in Brevard, a discussion at Union Ave. Books in Knoxville, and a reading and talk at City Lights Bookstore in Sylva. I am truly grateful to the folks who showed up for those and other events and participated. Thank you!

At the same time as these relatively positive experiences with some of the  independent bookstores, I was trying to get the “CRMs” (community relation managers) at the chain bookstores to schedule signings for my books. I met with huge indifference. I would call back again, and again, and again—figuring this was normal for this situation—only to have nothing come out of it. I’m not crying for sympathy—this is just the name of the game. The major exceptions were Books-A-Million in Pigeon Forge/Sevierville and Hastings Books in Maryville.

Another part of my experience was becoming better acquainted with the literary scene in western North Carolina. “The Read on WNC” is a widely read blog, affiliated with the Asheville Citizen-Times, that covers that world—for example, Ron Rash (author of Serena) is a star. I established a page on the blog but quickly sank without a trace. I hope this doesn’t come across as whining. I intend it not as a complaint but just as a description of the actual circumstances of being a first-time novelist in a saturated market.

My publisher, Canterbury House, was always very pleasant and supportive. Their main concept is to produce mystery novels in a regional setting, creating a series and building a loyal readership. Nothing wrong with that, but I began to see a divergence between this sort of readership and the readership for “Jumpoff,” which was hikers as much or more than mystery followers. Also, I could see that I had unfortunate literary ambitions that clashed with the concept of workmanlike writing that would appeal to a specific group. I do not scorn that concept. I respect the ability to write for a certain market in a way that will win those loyal fans. That is certainly better than a failed literary effort that no one will enjoy.

I estimate that I’ve spent close to 1500 hours working on what was originally a straightforward sequel to “Jumpoff” and morphed into what I started thinking of as merely a “linked novel.” I am very satisfied with parts of it and not at all with others. Today, something crystallized—I realized that I had three distinct, significant problems relating to the plot. This was clearly symptomatic of a deeper problem, which is that I’m not convinced that I’m a novelist, and I’m not sure anyway that I want to add another tome to the groaning, bloated output of the literary world.

I mark the fourth anniversary of “Endless Streams and Forests” this month. Every day, I look at my statistics. I generally get more than 200 visits a day from countries ranging from Argentina to Zimbabwe. This seems valuable to me. I have made some contacts through this blog incredibly important to me, the most notable going from here around the Smokies over to South Africa.

I’ve gotten some feedback about this via email and comments, so I’m going to add a few words of explanation: The majority of views come from Google searches that lead people to past articles. Over time, blog posts I’ve done about, say, a certain place in the Smokies or a certain battle in the Boer War have risen sufficiently in the Google analytics that people see my post listed. Some of my items are specific and obscure enough in their topic that my post is right at the top of the search results. Posts that do not have an obvious factual topic, such as my current series based on my grandmother’s memoirs, do not get Google search results.

There is no financial benefit for me in this (although I’ve had a few offers involving ties to companies that I opted not to do). But I have decided that this is my best future, not to load yet another novel onto the teetering stack of the literary world, but just to continue what I do here, and have been doing here for a few years, and try to do it better. And try out a few new ideas as well. Pieces of what I created in those 1500 hours may appear in different form.
Thank you, blog readers.

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Comments»

1. Thomas Stazyk - October 10, 2012

Congratulations on Endless Streams and Forests anniversary! I’ve very much enjoyed your stories and pictures and history.

The decision to change course must have been difficult–but as the saying goes, never say never and who knows what may come of it. Best of luck with your pursuits and I look forward to more vicarious hikes!

Jenny - October 10, 2012

Thank you! I’ve always enjoyed your comments on my blog items, and I appreciate your understanding and support.

2. Clyde Austin - October 10, 2012

Well, shoot, I was looking forward to the next novel. But you have to write what you feel comfortable doing and what you want to do. I am a big Jenny fan, both blogging and hiking! I wish you the best wherever your desires take you. Just have fun doing it,

Jenny - October 10, 2012

Thanks, Clyde. I like your idea of having fun doing things, and I think I will pursue that.

3. kaslkaos - October 11, 2012

Congrats! I’m happy to get a few hits/day, so counting hits in 100’s is MARVELOUS!
As for your journey as a writer, oh how it resonates with my own as an artist. With a world population getting upwards of 8 billion, there are just so many of us out there, for your novel, how do you find the readers to match the words. That is always the question–keep looking while enjoying your blog readers.

Jenny - October 11, 2012

Thank you! The reason I get all those views has to do with Google search. I’m going to add some information about that to the piece above.

4. Gary - October 11, 2012

I do enjoy the blog. Selling the books sounds quite a pain. Myself I have trouble organising any writing longer than a few pages. I keep getting new ideas not consistent with the old ones, so a long piece of fiction would not be too feasible for me. Music is good because I can do it a bit differently every time. Maybe you’ll put the pieces together and get a new book sometime (but then you might have to sell it again !)
Best, Gary

Jenny - October 11, 2012

Thanks, Gary, I like the comparison of music with writing. Some essential differences.


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