When you sit down to write your sixth novel (more like 12th if you count the unpublished ones), you start wanting . . . I don’t know . . . to change things up a little bit. Alter the pattern. Do something new. Go places you’ve never been before.
Which is exactly what your agent and editor DON’T want you to do.
I mean, obviously you’re going to find a new story to tell and everyone wants that. No one wants you to recycle an old plot. But no one wants a drastic change in tone and style, either. If, after writing three light and humorous romances, I suddenly turned in a morbid alienated piece of existentialism . . . that would be a problem. And for good reason: you build up a base of support as a writer and you don’t want the readers who’ve loved your previous books to run out to buy a new one and be all, “Huh? Wait. Why am I reading about death and despair on the BEACH? It doesn’t go with my pina colada at all!”
One solution some writers have found is to change their names when they decide to try a new genre or mood. I think you have to be pretty confident and well established with your primary career to start doing that, although I do think it would be a LOT of fun to come up with a whole new name. Candy Dalloway? Fluffy Collins? J.K. Rowline? (I feel like that last one would sell well.)
Anyway, I’m still building the Claire LaZebnik franchise (Ha, LaZebnik! That’s a good one! Oh, wait, that’s real) so I don’t really want a new identity. I just want to shake things up a little, keep myself entertained.
So here’s what I’m trying: the present tense.
You all just cried out in astonishment, didn’t you? I know, I know: it’s a radical thought. Earth-shattering.
I’ve written five novels in the past tense but not a single one in the present–until NOW. I have, admittedly, switched back and forth between the first and the third person with never a pause in the middle, but I figure I’m saving the second person voice for some time in the future when I’m REALLY bored and jaded. I mean that goes beyond crazy and experimental, don’t you think?
But the present tense–that’s kind of a nice gentle little change.
In all seriousness, I’ve written 35 pages or so of the new novel in the present tense and I’m not sure how I feel about it yet. Books written in the present tense always have a different feel to me than books set in the past–they feel a little dreamier, maybe a little darker, maybe a little more serious. But maybe that’s just me.
It’s most likely a moot discussion anyway. By the time this book is published–probably well over a year from now–it might be in the past tense. And the whole story may be different. And it won’t really be this book at all. Things have a way of changing when you’re writing. Which was kind of my goal to begin with, come to think of it.
What do you all think? Do you like books either way? Or do you prefer present or past tense?