Wednesday, March 2, 2016

#IWSG - 3 Questions I Had to Answer Before . . .

The Insecure Writer’s Support Group
Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

Posting: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer - aim for a dozen new people each time.

His awesome co-host for March 2 posting of the IWSG are
My #IWSG post for March 2016

Before I could think of publishing my next Pepper Bibeau mystery, there were 3 questions I had to answer about my purpose in writing novels.

After writing and publishing three novels in my planned Pepper Bibeau mystery series, I allowed “second thoughts” to erode my confidence in writing a fourth. My marketing for the third novel never really got off the ground. I lost faith in my writing, in the worth of the stories, and in myself as a writer. It was easier to promote authors more imaginative than myself and novels containing "more important" characters than mine. 

A lot of soul-searching followed the publication of my third novel. 
And 3 questions plagued me!

* Why had I chosen to set my stories in the near-past (beginning with the late 60s and early 70s) after reading advice that said such novels didn’t sell? Maybe it would be better to write stories occurring in the present. 

* Why was my protagonist a female with a backstory of service as a nurse in the Vietnam War? I had never been in the military, and current bestselling novels focused on action in Afghanistan or other parts of the Middle East. 

* Why did I think the life of an insurance investigator would play well in the Mystery genre? Such a career could never carry a series (or so I had been informed by a well-meaning publisher.) 

Once I formed concrete questions to get a handle on my concerns, I considered the answers.  For question one, my original plan was to look back on those years in my life when I was too busy to absorb life's pleasures. I relished the research required in developing a character whose story spanned the years missed while I was “too busy living.” Once I indulged that need, I could change direction.

This insight resolved my concerns about why to write something “they” say won’t sell.
I wasn't ready to writing for a specific audience yet.
This decision had also offered me the freedom to write the next novel in the series. 

The answer to the second question, about using a female protagonist with a backstory as a nurse in the Vietnam War, was quickly obvious. The first novel is set in 1968. Nurses returning from field hospitals were expected to resume the life they left as though they had never been gone. Emotions of war were concealed and experiences locked away.
I wanted to explore this unrealistic expectation.
Unexplained changes in personality, such as nervous reactions or more subdued personality, were treated with the expectation that things would return to "normal" soon. This was the conflicting personality I wanted to portray in my protagonist: someone who was more introverted after the experience of war, having a slight nervousness exhibited by a startle-reflex, but generally happy about life.

Until questioned about my protagonist's career as an insurance investigator, I was convinced this was the perfect job for an amateur sleuth. It took some digging to determine that the objection arose from a misinterpretation of the job responsibilities, due to my less than illustrious descriptions

Having satisfied my concerns over my protagonist's era, career choice, and sex (gender, not proclivity), I am eager to tackle my next Pepper Bibeau mystery.
Did you ever have misgivings about your choice of genre, protagonist, or story line?



  1. This post really touched a nerve with me. I have been asking myself similar questions. I've written two books set in the 70's and had similar concerns. Finally, I decided that that timeframe was the right choice because it was a unique moment in women's history and I wanted to show the protagonist's story against that backdrop. Another decision I got some blowback about from my early readers was the age of my protagonist. I've been told that no one wants to read about middle-aged women. I don't agree. Mid-life can be a turning point in many mom's lives (especially in the 70's).
    It sounds like you've put a lot of thought into your character and there's something to be said for writing a slightly unconventional sleuth.

    1. Thank you, Elizabeth. The comment your early readers made that "no one" wants to read about middle-aged women is interesting. I wonder how many negative comments Ms. Christie received about the age of her female protagonist :)

  2. I am very interested in reading your next novel. I believe that the 60's and 70's are the neck wave of historical fiction. And, a nurse during the Vietnam era?! I hadn't ever heard of one such story, or person. It's time to tell her story. Go. Create. Inspire!
    Thanks for visiting my blog. Mary at Play off the Page

    IWSG co-host

  3. Hi Gail. I think your questions are really thought provoking and seem to have helped you find the right story to tell. Sometimes I think when stories come to us we start out by writing part of it for us, the writer. Exploring the characters and scenes and also major possibility. I have been working in a story for quite some time and the plot just hasn't seemed to be the right one until I also asked some similar hard questions. I think the time and place of a story is what we writers make of it. If it's something new and twisting with suspense and intrigue, and decade could fit. I wish you much luck.

  4. Yes of course I've doubted my choices in my novels, but I did them anyway and like you, have learned along the way. My next novel is a bit closer to home but still nothing I have actually experienced in my life, at least the main bombshell part. I liked how you put your doubts into questions and that it helped to focus on what you wanted/needed in your novels. Thanks for dropping by my blog as well!

  5. Who says that won't sell? I'd rather read about that time, as I was a child then and don't remember, than anything more current. I've seen the news - I know what's happened in the last twenty-thirty years.
    When I was writing my first book, everything I read said science fiction was dead. I wrote anyway. Even while crafting the sequels, everything said space opera doesn't sell in book form, only in the movies. My books went on to become Amazon best sellers.
    I don't listen to what others say now. Neither should you.

  6. I'm always second guessing my work, but sometimes the work just needs to be written the way it demands, regardless of what is perceived as salable or not.

  7. Second guessing our work in regards to character, setting, etc. isn't something that'll just go away. But at least your asking questions and cementing your resolve to why you're story is written the way it is. Forget about and don't get too caught up in writing something salable. Which in my opinion is synonymous to 'trending.' That's why I also like to keep this quote by JK Rowling in front me as a constant reminder: "In truth, I never consider the audience for whom I'm writing. I just write what I want to write."

    1. I really like the quote you included here and plan to add it to my wall of notes! Thanks, Lidy.

  8. Sounds like you're asking yourself the right questions. It's too easy to get led astray as a writer if you don't stop from time to time and really analyze what you're trying to do.


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