Please join me in welcoming to Elizabeth Bear, who’s on a blog tour to promote her newest book, Karen Memory, a unique blend of steampunk and Wild West excitement which I definitely enjoyed. Today, she’s here to talk about the pros and cons of strict adherence to writing in one style or genre, and to ask whether readers enjoy or dislike when an author swerves from an established path. She’s also got a copy of Karen Memory to give away to one random commenter.
Hello there. I’m Elizabeth Bear and I have a confession to make.
I have a hard time sticking to a topic. A subgenre. A set of tropes. I’m a serial literary philanderer. (Maybe it would be kinder to call myself polygenreous?)
In my career (counting collaborations, 27 novels written so far and counting!) I’ve flirted with cyberpunk, dallied with hard science fiction, had a serious fling with space opera. I’ve dated around contrafactual fiction, urban fantasy, gaslamp fantasy, epic fantasy. I just can’t seem to settle down.
And now I’ve written a Weird West steampunk book, Karen Memory.
I’ve had colleagues caution me that I’m probably not doing my sales numbers any good with this ceaseless flitting. Settle down, they tell me. Find a nice series you can live with and make it work. You’re not getting any younger, and you need somebody who will be there for you when you’re old.
And there’s a lot of validity to that. I mean, if I had kept writing Jenny Casey books, I’d probably be making a lot more money than I am now.
But if I’d stayed on doing technical writing and administration, I’d be making more money than I am now. And I’d have to wear mascara every day. So I figure some of it is what I want to be doing. What sort of stories I want to be telling.
I also comfort myself that the Roger Zelaznys and George R.R. Martins of the world can serve pretty handily as models of the sort of literary legacy I’d like to leave — eclectic, playful, but with certain things that tie it together.
Likewise, I think there are thematic concerns and modes of characterization, for example, that I think mark an Elizabeth Bear book, and that can serve as a brand just as well as, say, “Big Idea Space Fantasy” could. I mean issues of ethics, the position of marginalized people in society, and the unexceptionalism of everyday heroism: people getting up and doing what they have to do for no better reason than because they have to do it.
I also know that every transition may lose me readers — but it is an opportunity to find a new audience, as well. It’s an interesting conundrum. There are writers whose work I will read no matter what they’re doing — writers like Barbara Hambly — and other writers whose work I only like some of the time, on particular topics.
So what do you think, folks? Will you follow a favorite writer across series? Are there some writers with whom you have tried, but you only like some of their work?
Readers, comment below for a chance to win your own copy of Karen Memory.
ELIZABETH BEAR was the recipient of the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 2005 and has won two Hugo Awards for her short fiction along with a Sturgeon Award and the Locus Award for Best First Novel. Now she returns after the conclusion her highly-praised ETERNAL SKY trilogy with a Western steampunk set in a reimagined 19th century Seattle in KAREN MEMORY, the unforgettable story of a plucky heroine risking her life for friendship.