Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Coming Full Circle

One Writer's Ten-Year Journey Back to Her Roots

In the silent pre-dawn hours, just before the first bird wakes up and thinks it would be neat to chirp his blasted head off, the world is unusually quiet and you can hear yourself think. Last night I did just that, after walking through my equally silent house and realizing going back to sleep wasn't going to happen. I made a cup of coffee and watched the sky lighten. And had my quiet little epiphany.

I'm back where I began, ten years ago.

In 2001 I had discovered the world of eBooks. I'd reviewed some and finished writing one, a hot and sexy tale about a couple of genies and the woman they pleasure. It was waaaay out there, totally fun and written for no one but myself and a couple of friends. Just for laughs. That was how it all began. With laughter, with fun, and with no rules or demands to write anything other than what entertained readers and made us all smile.

Over the next few years, I found myself diving in head-first to the world of erotic romance. No genre was off-limits, no idea too crazy, and no book was rejected because it lacked sufficient sex. Back then, in the "good old days", a solid plot mattered most, characters mattered more, and attention to detail was right up there on my 'things to care about' list. The sex, while important within the relationship, was not the story. It was simply an essential part of it. There is a difference, as most writers will tell you. Ideas flowed from my keyboard like manna from some literary heaven. It was a joy to rush to my desktop each day and rejoin my work in progress. I tore into vampires with two off-the-wall near-parodies. I time-traveled to Ancient Sumer, ripped into every dragon story ever written and revealed the world behind video games. I even became a whore (literarily speaking, of course.) I was definitely experiencing my bliss.

However, things began to change. As the market and the publishers grew in importance, stature and bottom line, the emphasis shifted. Subtly at first, then more overtly. New companies sprang up, some growing into mighty perennial flowers in the field of ePublishing, others less hardy weeds destined to die out in the first cyber-autumn of their lives. For the first time, ePublishers took greater control of the eBook industry, removing it from the hands of authors like me. Rules crept in on nasty silent feet, dictating more and more what "content" meant - and didn't mean. Many of us began to feel suffocated by them. And others began to channel their efforts into smaller and smaller niches in an attempt to regain some of their dwindling sales numbers; a reflection of the increased volume of releases poured out in ever greater quantities onto a finite readership. The result? I felt diminished, reduced to the level of a number, a revenue unit. My creativity, my writing...all were controlled, not my me, but by editors and publishers. Most of whom apparently knew better than I what my book was supposed to look like when finished.

Ten years ago, there were probably no more than fifty erotic romance eBooks releasing each month. Tops. There weren't that many in other genres, since the entire field had yet to germinate into validity. Back then, I could write the story my heart and my head wanted to tell. If I had to have a less-than-happy ending, I wrote it. If I wanted a wicked twist at the end, I could write that too. I could write a murder mystery one month and a Regency the next without anyone telling me either genre wasn't selling well. I didn't care...I was writing for myself and my readers, not the bottom line. I even killed off a character in one story. I cried for a week and that book got the most awesome reviews to date as you folks cried along with me.

Ten years ago, I touched some of you with my stories. But recently I have been treading water in an ocean of ebooks, drowning more often than catching my breath. I'm told which genres are "hot" (not always correct) and now regularly deal with those who believe that they know much better than authors what should be released and what shouldn't. The pioneering spirit which offered nurturing freedom to such amazing talents as Angela Knight, Kate Douglas, Diane Whiteside and Lora Leigh...well, that seems to have disappeared. And I haven't been happy with what's replaced it.

But now? Now I am once again writing for myself. I have learned that self-publishing allows me to return to the joy of a great heroine and a wonderful hero. I have rediscovered that simple, lighthearted love stories are welcomed by readers, in contrast to what I've been told. I've learned there's not a damn thing wrong with a short story versus a full length novel, and readers haven't gone away, they're still there. I was the one who went away, following the dictates of an industry which, IMHO, has fallen into the bottom line trap and left authors out in the cold, little more than nameless ciphers on their bookkeeping spreadsheets. I'm about to finish another novella, the third in a series of contemporary erotic romances. They're all set in Boston and have heroines touched by Steampunk in one way or another. They're light and easy reads, hopefully containing a chuckle or two (this is me, after all), inexpensive and sexy without going overboard. I hope. I also rediscovered the joys of doing my own cover art. I've always been very happy with the work so many amazing artists have done on my behalf, don't get me wrong. No complaints there at all. However, ten years ago I did my own. They weren't great by today's standards, but they were mine. I've learned a lot since then. Doing the ones you see here...I suddenly remembered how much a part of my writing process they were. And yet another little piece of the puzzle fell into place.

I wondered why I was tearing through these novellas, watching the words fill my screen and eager to read what happened next. Just like the old days. This morning, over that first cup of coffee, it hit me. I'm back where I was when I wrote Inside Lady Miranda and the rest of the Tales of the Beau Monde. Those little tales are still my best sellers. So it would seem that I've rediscovered the joy of telling MY stories the way I want to.

I've rediscovered the joy of being a writer in the truest sense of the word. I've reclaimed control over my work and now the only person I listen to is myself. And my writing partner, who deserves an award for standing by my side for nine of these past ten years. The next ten will be much easier, Partner!!! (grin)

In the overall scheme of things, none of this matters very much. As a friend said to me years ago "We're writing romance novels, not donating ovaries." She was right. But when they're OUR romance novels...well, the analogy is damn close.

So I'm off to wrap up my last little story in this series and think about the next one. I'll be doing the Facebook/Twitter thing when it's out. I'll go to some conferences, meet and greet, schmooze and smile. I will stand a little taller now, though. Because the book in my hand is one hundred percent mine. And if something dreadful happens (an asteroid beans me in the mall parking lot) and I never write again, at least I will have the comfort of knowing I went out the same way I came in!!!

(Cue the baby lion and sound please...Elton John's the Circle of Life!!! LOL)

Sahara Kelly