Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Moving Forward as a Writer

My guest is romance author Abigail Reynolds. Abigail writes The Pemerley Variations. It's a series of novels exploring the roads NOT taken in Pride and Prejudice fiction.

Regardless of what genre we write, our writing must progress and change. Part of that is a learning curve all writers go through. To remain current with the market  and not have each book we write an interchangeable carbon copy we must change and add conflicts and problems for our characters to solve on their way to their happy ending. Fans don't always like how authors change and grow. 

So how do you deal with fans that don't like the new conflict your characters face? Abigail discusses this with regards to her own writing.  

I’m starting to realize how difficult it is to evolve and change as a writer.   Not the evolving part - that happens naturally – but dealing with reader reactions. Those of us who write in the “comfort reading” genres discover quickly that many readers who love our first book(s) would really prefer that all future books stick very close to the same pattern.  Those readers end up feeling betrayed when a new book isn’t what they expected, and as an author, I have to be careful to stay clear of those angry readers so that I don’t turn into a book-manufacturing machine.  I’ve read too many books by talented authors who are afraid to move out of the reader’s comfort zone, and instead end up with interchangeable books.

I understand the readers’ position very well.  Some of my favorite writers started out with books that were light hearted and low in angst (my favorite), and when their later books become progressively darker, I didn't like it.  But as a writer, I found myself doing the same thing and noticing that most of my fellow writers followed the same path.  It seems to be part of the author’s journey to start looking into more complicated characters and situations as time goes on, but the dilemma is dealing with those reader expectations.

The expectations can be astonishingly precise.  My earliest books had 100% happy endings.  By the time I wrote Mr. Darcy’s Undoing, there were painful issues to be resolved in the course of the story, and the ending is only about 95% happy.  Darcy marries Elizabeth and they’re very contented together; all the other main characters also end up happily married and secure in life.  There are only two ever-so-slightly bittersweet notes.  One is that Darcy and Elizabeth aren’t fully accepted by London high society owing to some of their earlier struggles, but that doesn’t bother them since they don’t like to go to London during the Season anyway. Also, their wedding unexpectedly takes place a week early after they’re caught in a compromising position, but Darcy is thrilled to be marrying Elizabeth sooner, while Elizabeth would have preferred to wait, but thinks it’s probably for the best this way. 

For me, those two things are just part of life not being perfect all the time, but I’ve had several readers tell me they didn’t like the book’s unhappy ending.  The first time that happened, I was completely baffled, since at the end of the book every single character was happy, but I eventually realized that in my earlier books, there hadn’t been even a suggestion of life being less than perfect or that there could ever be lasting consequences of mistakes that were made. 

In the end, though, it all comes down to who I write for.  While it’s very difficult for me to let go of thoughts about what readers will like, I’ve learned from hard experience that trying to write anything but the stories that appear magically in my head is the surest road to writer’s block.  These days I look at my manuscripts and think uncomfortably about the readers who may not like it, and then I remind myself of the new readers who discover my later books and think those, like Baby Bear’s porridge, are just right.

What about you? 

  • As a reader, how do you feel when your favorite author changes style or adds darker or lighter conflicts?
  • As a writer, do you notice your writing changing and growing the more you write?

 **Abigail is traveling to Texas today for a writers conference but she will be checking in as she can.

MR DARCY'S UNDOING-available in e-format and print 

A passionate new Pride and Prejudice variation explores the unthinkable-Elizabeth accepts the proposal of a childhood friend before she meets Darcy again. When their paths cross, the devastated Mr. Darcy must decide how far he'll go to win the woman he loves. 
How can a man who prides himself on his honor ask the woman he loves to do something scandalous? 
And how can Elizabeth accept a loveless marriage when Mr. Darcy holds the key to her heart? As they confront family opposition and the ill-will of scandal-mongers, will Elizabeth prove to be Mr. Darcy's undoing? Chapter 1 excerpt

Abigail Reynolds is a physician and a lifelong Jane Austen enthusiast. She began writing the Pride and Prejudice Variations series in 2001, and encouragement from fellow Austen fans convinced her to continue asking "What if...?" She lives with her husband and two teenage children in Madison, Wisconsin.





Sophia Rose said...

I don't mind either light romps or dark angst depending on my mood so a writer can be versatile for me. Negative reviews based on the mood of the book are very subjective and should be ignored since that is merely a matter of preference (Wuthering Heights ring a bell?)
I have not read this particular book, but I know that for Lizzy and Darcy to be together she must break an engagement. That was a huge no-no back then so if they do not have the place in society then that would be historically accurate. Thanks for the posting.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Abigail, it's good to have you and your cat visiting Over Coffee again!

~Sia McKye~ said...


Abigail will be traveling to writer's conference and she will check as wii-fi allows. :-)

~Sia McKye~ said...

Sophia, thanks for stopping by. Yes, that was a big no-no back then. So the author must carefully give a legitimate reason and show the consequences of those choices.

Jill Lynn said...

I think change is good for the writer AND the reader (whether he knows it or not). I have eclectic reading taste, which I attribute to working at a library in my early twenties. Being inundated with books, I craved originality or twists in the conventional. Still do. So I say, keep shaking things up, Abigail!

Anonymous said...

When I was younger they used to call books with virtually the same story re-hashed "potboilers" not bad for light reading if you don't need to concentrate too hard.

Personally, although I haven't read any of these books, I am not too keen on the idea of mucking around with Jane Austen's story and charcters.

Kat Sheridan said...

Writers can grow and evolve so long as the basic premise of the style isn't warped beyond all recognition. Judi Fennell writes lighthearted paranormal. I would be horrified if one of her books suddenly had dead bodies strewn all over it, just as I would if JD Robb suddenly had genies popping out of a bottle to solve crimes.

If a writer wants to go in a completely new direction, it's best done with a name change (i.e. the Nora Roberts works are entirely different than the JD Robb works). Writers can urge readers in different directions so long as you don't completely run them off the expeted road.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I worked in reverse - my first book was a little heavier I think than the upcoming sequel. And while I did have an idea for a story, I listened to what my readers wanted. I enjoyed creating it - now I just hope fans enjoy reading it.
And Sia, I approve of your "Fast Five" screen shot in the sidebar. Awesome movie!

Abigail Reynolds said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Kat, I think you're right that Nora Roberts did a smart thing by taking on a new pen name, though I'm not sure how that would work for a lesser known writer. Sophia Rose, that's how I felt about the broken engagement - if I made it a non-issue, I'd be destroying any pretence of historical realism, and as it is, I minimized it substantially.

Jill and jowake, I'm glad to know there are some people out there who like changes in writing. Jowake, there are plenty of people like you out there who don't want Austen's characters messed with, and there are plenty who can't get enough of it. Good thing we all get to choose what we read!

Alex, it's interesting to hear about someone who does the heavier book first. Best of luck with your new sequel.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Abigail, glad you could stop in. Hope traveling was good for you today.

I've been gone all day myself and had only a very short peep in around 11. After that--forget it.

I have to say I like your tag line: ...variations of roads not taken in Pride and Prejudice. From this standpoint in history and given today's mores we can and do take some liberties with history. Granted, we have to be true to the times, but if we were to remain totally true to the Austen era, we'd have little or no touching or kissing. That would be true regardless if the couple was married or not.

They simply did not show demonstrations of affections in polite society and most of the time even married couples used designations of respect--Mrs Bennett referred to her husband as Mr. and no doubt had he been a baron or Duke, she would have used his title in her addressing of him. So, some leeway must be allowed in our telling of historical stories.

Of course, this is only my opinion. ;)

~Sia McKye~ said...

Alex, Fast Five absolutely fabulous! I want to see it again and I just watched on Sunday. Of course, many of Vin Diesels movies are a multi-view for me. His movies usually have several layers and you don't notice them all, among all the action on the first view.

Plus, he's kinda pleasing to the eye. I loved this particular scene--'this is Brazil' and Hobs was eating major crow in it...