A Tortoise Amongst Hares by John Ravenscroft – Fiction Columnist

Recently I’ve been getting to know some of the people at Holly Lisle’s Forward Motion Community – a fine website for writers and one that’s well worth exploring. In particular I’m drawn to Holly’s articles on writing. They’re excellent, even if the genre she writes in isn’t your cup of tea.

If you want to take a look for yourself, you can find the place here: www.hollylisle.com/index.html

I’ve enjoyed my visits and the contacts I’ve made – but they’ve also got me feeling like a bit of a Word Wimp. Or maybe a better term would be Word Tortoise. There are people at Holly’s site who have written, not just one novel, but dozens of the bloody things. One member mentioned the other day that she’s produced something over sixty novels and sold eleven of them (so far). Over sixty? Sheesh!

So, I’ve been lying awake at nights wondering why the hell I’m having such trouble producing just one. One single, solitary, measly novel. Not too much to ask, is it?

But – and here comes the shameful truth – I started Stargazers back in April, and it’s now September. Six months. Half a year. Some of the writers I’ve met at Forward Motion could probably have pumped out half-a-dozen novels in that time, but in the past few weeks mine has made almost no Forward Motion at all.

There are several reasons for this. The main one is, as always, that I just don’t work hard enough. Like I said in my very first column for Author Network, I’m a lazy so-and-so.

A second reason is that I’m still putting a lot of effort into my short stories – and these (I’m glad to say) I do usually manage to finish, polish and submit. They also bring in some very welcome comments from readers, so if any of you are reading this – thanks a million. Please keep ‘em coming!

But there’s a third reason that helps to explain why Stargazers has become more like Snailmovers, and I’m not sure what to do about it.

The thing is… I’ve had an idea for another novel. An altogether different kind of novel. And (much as I love Fae and Peter) I’ve been spending great chunks of time that I should have been using to think about them, doing something else entirely. I’ve been thinking about, dreaming about, wondering about the characters and the situations that could form the basis of this new novel – and getting quite enthusiastic about it.


The fact that I have been thinking about the New Novel Usurpers – and even constructing scene-cards for them – makes me wonder if I shouldn’t just go with the flow and work on the thing that’s drawing me most strongly. Follow your heart, someone romantic once said. Maybe. Maybe that’s what I ought to do.

And there’s also a practical reason why heart-following might, in this case, be the wisest course of action.

I said back in column two that I was aiming for Literary Fiction. ‘That’s what I’m interested in,’ I said, ‘and that’s what I want to write.’

That’s still true, but I also want whatever I produce to be published, and to make me a little much-needed cash. Well, recently I’ve been reading up on the nuts and bolts of the publishing game, and some of what I’ve read has been a tad depressing. I keep coming across the same kind of advice. Different writers, different approaches, but their advice can generally be boiled down to one painfully obvious fact. Literary novels are much harder to get published than mainstream and genre novels. What’s more, even if they are published, they generally sell far fewer copies than the more commercial books – which is, of course, why publishers are reluctant to take them on.

Now, the idea that I’ve had for this second novel would result in a book that would be without doubt far more commercially viable than Stargazers. It has several ingredients – a mystery, a murder, a protagonist with an unusual ability – that boot it firmly into the realm of Genre Fiction.

Therefore it would be possible for any potential publishers to drop my New Novel into their handy Genre Boxes – and hence it would be much easier to market.

Hmmm… again.

OK. Clearly I have a decision to make.

a) Should I ignore these new characters and the world they want me to create for them? Should I stop pratting about, stick my nose to the grindstone, get out the elbow grease (I’m in cliché mode) and push on with Stargazers?

b) Should I dump Stargazers and trust to my instincts? If these new characters already have my ear – and I can’t pretend that they don’t – should I give them my full attention and to hell with Fae and Peter?

c) Should I try – God help me – to work on two novels at the same time?

My new friends at Forward Motion would probably tell me to go for that final option. After all, if you’ve already written sixty novels, I guess the idea of working concurrently on two more doesn’t seem like such a big deal.

But it seems big enough to me.

Oh boy. Anybody got any thoughts? Any other struggling novelists out there who’ve found themselves in a similar position? If so, do me a favour and drop me a line.

All feedback much appreciated, and I’ll let you know which option I go for next month.

Copyright John Ravenscroft – 2002

For more information about John please visit his website: www.johnravenscroft.co.uk.

If you would like to have your own column at Author Network, email: beth@author-network.com

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