Switching Gears

Guest post
by Deb Borys

You’re driving a manual shift vehicle up a steep incline. The engine is laboring in high gear, choking and sputtering. If you don’t do something soon, you’re going to stall out. So you press down the clutch, flip the shifter knob into first gear, and slowly ease the pedal up to engage the engine once again. If you do it right, you’re home free, but if you miss the gear, if your foot slips or moves too quickly or slowly, you’re dead in the—well, on the hill.

Wait, you thought this post was going to be about writing? You have an automatic transmission, right, or take the bus? You don’t need driving lessons, but inspiration or insights into the mysteries of a writer’s world.

If you write, though, you’ve probably stalled or come close to it many times. They call it writer’s block sometimes, but it’s more than that. We are all complicated, layered personalities, like the best characters ever created in fiction. Sometimes we even contradict our own inclinations. I am a country girl at heart, for instance, who learned later in life to love the grit and energy that can only be found in the bustle of city life.

I pour my love of the city into my Street Stories suspense novels. When I was writing and editing the recently released second novel in the series, Bend Me, Shape Me, I was in high gear, flat out and fully immersed in that world I was creating. I sent it off to my publisher with high hopes. Then I hit the hill.

I wasn’t blocked. I could still write, still chugging along even if there were a few fits and starts along the way. My internal engine, the complicated, many-valved, pieced-together heart of me that makes me unique, was signaling it was time to switch gears. My country girl needed her share of traction as well.

No problem, I thought. I’m a writer. I write. Ideas, both good ones and really stupid ones, abound in my head. I have had a cozy mystery idea in mind for years, based on the farmstead I once lived on in rural Illinois. My small mother-in-law house resided across the driveway from a huge farmhouse that had been the home of a family who raised twelve close-knit children who were friends of mine. Think The Waltons on the open prairie.

In real life, I always thought it would be cool to buy the larger house and turn the place into an artist and writers retreat. Real life can be pretty expensive, though, and a lot of work. So I decided to live my idea virtually by writing a series of books instead. Since I am a lover of mystery and suspense, of course I had to murder someone to make it even more fun.

Writing A Bull by the Horns is a fun but scary ride. I love being able to give full throttle to a sense of humor that is shades lighter than the dark cynicism of my protagonist in the Street Stories novels. I also worry. I am proud of the intricate characterizations and weighty themes in my first two published books. Is this new book just a lot of useless fluff?

Will readers of one series be put off when they find I also write another that is completely different? I have chosen to write my lighter books using my maiden name of Deb Donahue in order to differentiate between the two. Do I need to keep up a pretense that they are two real people instead of just different gears in the complicated vehicle of my personality?

What do you think? Would you be willing to travel along with an author who switches gears occasionally? Or do you prefer a cruising along in drive, knowing ahead of time what the scenery will be like?

Debra R. Borys is the author of the STREET STORIES suspense novel series. A freelance writer and editor, she spent four years volunteering with Emmaus Ministries and the Night Ministry in Chicago, and eight years doing similar work at Teen Feed, New Horizons and Street Links in Seattle. Her publication credits include short fiction in Red Herring Mystery Magazine, Downstate Story and City Slab. Learn more about Debra from her Amazon author page and her website.

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17 thoughts on “Switching Gears”

  1. It’s a question I will face soon as the conclusion of my trilogy comes to a close. Dare I try something different? Can I pull it off? Will my fans k=like it? Will they still like me?

    1. I hope you will feed that part of you when the time comes if you feel so inclined. I think that is when we are at our best, when we follow our own internal dialogue. If we do that, I believe our work will find the right readers. Good luck.

  2. I write romance, historical romance under Jacqueline Hopkins, mysteries I’m writing under J R Hopkins, I will try psychological thriller and non fiction under J R Walton, children’s under Jacqueline Walton and I write erotica under … well another name. We’ll see if anyone travels with me on my vast writing journey that is so far just in my mind. Great post, Deb.

    1. Thank you Jacqueline. As long as we enjoy the journey, it won’t really matter how many people come along for the ride, though we always hope to bring along a whole bus load, don’t we. 🙂

  3. I read a number of authors who write within multiple genres. One way it can be handled is on covers include (aka your main author name… See how Jayne castle is handling her 3 pen names as she began combing/mentionin her main/most well known name on the other books a couple years ago). In bios include your different pen names & the kind of books written under each. BUT keep in mind the possible extra work – 3 websites, 3 personas on each social media… It may be easier to have one website that covers all & same for social media but having people find you might be harder.

    Over the last 5-10 years the trend is moving towards using one name for all writing (unless you write erotica & kids books). But to brand each genre/line/imprint. So covers for romance would follow one style & use certain fonts, for a different genre it would be a different style and fonts. Just be clear on book blurbs/descriptions for which genre & series a book falls into.

    1. That’s a good point: build a brand around the name which can be recognized from the covers. Maybe readers might even marvel at the idea that the author masters multiple genres… okie, if s/he masters them…

      1. We now know Nora Roberts writes under the pen name J.D. Robb, Stephen King has multiple pen name, but if you look at released work or new released work you’ll see they incorporate the name Nora Roberts writing as J.D. Robb. Same I think with Stephen Kings work.

        I once had a list of over 20 well known authors & their pen names & how they’ve either begun merging them or doing the “writing as”.

        Indies need to learn more about book branding as its a good idea even if you write in just one genre. Pick a font that is appropriate to you genre for your titles and name (can be different) and make sure placement on covers is the same. Two of the best examples of branding I can think of right now are J.A. Konrath (ohh and his multiple pen names) and Barry Eisler with his backlist now under his control he rereleased and clearly thought about branding.

        1. A helpful and interesting discussion–thank you. I wonder how well the multiple pen names works, though, when you are not yet an established writer? If I remember correctly, Stephen King was not widely known to be Richard Bachman until after the King name gained a reputation, then the idea to connect the two made sense to bring increased notice to the Bachman books.

          1. My point is that pen names are on there way out… And yes one reason why a number of authors who used pen names in the past are coming out & linking them is to tap into their existing audience. So save yourself the trouble and stick with one name. Unless writing erotica & children’s books…

  4. I drive a manual and loved that analogy. 😀 For what it’s worth I think you might find that readers appreciate the quality of your writing rather than the genre. Sometimes they need to change gears as well. Write what you want, when you want and be proud. 🙂

  5. I’m with Meeks on this one: write what you want, when you want. I have two memoirs, one adventure thriller, one speculative fiction and an historical fiction out there, with a sci-fi close to release and another historical fiction due out by the end of the year. I believe if you love what you write the readers will eventually catch up.

    Good thought provoking post, Debra.

    1. Thank you. It’s good to know I am in such good company. I also have some sci-fi-ish short stories I’m working on and have had literary short stories published, but I have yet to take on the historical genre, though I love it. Maybe someday. Variety is the spice of life, after all.

  6. I’ve published three cozies, two suspense novels, an espionage novel set in World War II, and two short story collections, all using my real name. I love the challenge of writing in a variety of genres.

  7. I often find readers of my series trying out my other books, too. Their comment are almost always positive. I love knowing I have romances, sagas and other mysteries out there for them to try. It’s lovely knowing that they enjoy what you do enough to hunt out other works by me. I just love my readers…period!

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