There is a great inclination to take the safe road. I'm not a gambler by nature. The safe road sounds very inviting to me. In my writing, the safe road would be to keep doing what I've been doing, giving my fans what they expect. If I was smart, if I was a product manager and analyzing consumer data to figure out what product to produce next for young adults, this is what I would do:
1. a sequel to princess academy
2. a fifth Bayern book
3. another fairy tale retelling like book of a thousand days
What I would most definitely not be doing: Investing three years in a science fiction trilogy.
What form of insanity is this? That is not what we want from Shannon Hale. She is a brand! She should deliver what we expect and want! I'm being somewhat facetious here, but some fans have let me know that they will not be reading my scifi books because it sounds too different from what I usually do.
And for my next adult book, if I were that savvy product manager, I would order up a chick lit, something in the vein of austenland, a light romp about a single woman looking for romance, full of humor and complete with a Hollywood ending.
What I would not have done: the actor and the housewife, a book that doesn't fit into a genre.
There's lightness and humor and romance of a kind, so people might get confused and think it is chick lit. But it's about a middle-aged woman, a religious woman (a MORMON!), a mother of four (a mother of four in UTAH!). It's not a quick jaunt, not a tight arc--it takes place over eleven years. Lots of stuff happens. Not all of it laughable. It's not what a lot of readers are going to expect. That may make them angry. That may cause them to warn others against the book and declare, "I used to like Shannon Hale, but she changed. I don't know what to expect from her anymore."
Alas, here I am. Not a smart businesswoman, but a weird little hausfrau still in my pajamas clicking away at a scifi trilogy one word at a time and biting my nails while I await reaction to my new book for adults. I knew I was taking a risk when I decided to write the actor and the housewife, hands-down the biggest risk I've taken as a writer for so many reasons. But I chose to do it anyway. And people have warned me, "Don't risk your career on a scifi trilogy--do another fairy tale retelling." Yet here I go. I'm not a brand. I'm not smart enough to write for my fans. I'm not clever enough to select a marketable story for my next project. And I'm not melancholy enough to pull off the "alas, poor me, how I suffer for my Art" persona.
I'm just clicking away. Wearing pajamas. And grateful that I don't have the pressure of supporting my family on my madness. So blame my husband. Since he's gainfully employed, I have the luxury of chasing down the stories that call to me. Even if they lure me off the safe road, onto risky cliffs that fall straight down.
I hope I don't come off as self-congratulatory here. I'm not the noble artist refusing to sell out; I'm the lame writer for whom writing is so hard, I can't tell any story but the one that is shouting at me the loudest. And I'm so easily bored, I have to keep trying new genres and styles so that I don't get complacent or discouraged and give up. I hope indeed to do more books like goose girl and book of a thousand days, and austenland too. We'll see where the next years take me. For now, I'm sailing new seas. Risks sometimes pay off. Maybe these will, maybe not. But I remind myself that the "payoff" isn't why I write in the first place.