Friday, March 18, 2011

On Embracing Our Strengths

DSC01110Last year, I heard from my agent that there was an editor interested in working with me on a mystery they wanted written.

I was to come up with the characters and plot. They’d like the series set in the South and to incorporate quilting.

Of course I jumped on it. I’m no quilter, but quilting is a big part of Southern heritage. I’ve appreciated it as an art form and as a vehicle for telling stories. And the South is my chosen setting—what I know the best.

This was all I knew about what the editor wanted: the setting and the subplot.

I started reading as many novels as I could that used quilting as a subplot or hook.

After reading quite a few of these books, I came up with what I thought the editor wanted.

I wrote an outline for the first book. The characters were quieter than the characters I usually wrote. They minded their manners a little more. They were a bit more serious. There wasn't any of the loud laughter or slapstick humor that my characters are frequently fond of. I hushed them up and told them to behave.

But there was this one character, a ferocious old lady who demanded inclusion in the book.

I reluctantly included her, knowing she had a lot more in common with my Myrtles, Lulus, and Evelyns than the new characters in the new book. I killed her halfway through the book.

I submitted the outline to my agent and she sent it to the editor at Penguin/NAL.

I heard back from my agent after about a month. The editor liked it, but wanted livelier, more colorful, quirky characters. They waned more characters like the ferocious old lady…in fact, they wanted the ferocious old lady, herself.

So I raised her from the dead. :) And I knew what I should have known before I ever started sketching out the outline for that book—they wanted me to write the way I usually wrote. They wanted me to write my specialty—humorous Southern mysteries full of quirky Southerners.

Got it!

What gets me is why I'd think otherwise. If someone is contacting me, they’re looking for what I usually write. It makes sense. If I’m calling a plumber, I’m not asking him to fix my electrical problems. I won’t ask the appliance repair guy to do my interior painting. They probably do know how to do those other things—they’re handy people, in a general sense. But it’s not their specialty.

Can I write other styles and genres? Sure I can. Does it come as easily? No. I don’t know about y’all, but for me there are some things that just come naturally to me—that are second nature for me to write.

What’s your writing strength? Are you capitalizing on it by writing a story that plays to it?