1. Elizabeth, you are a writer looking for readers. That’s the fate of all of us. But what we have to keep in mind is that artistic success rarely comes with that first production. I love the music of Richard Wagner, but he wrote three failed operas before he managed to write Rienzi (an OK opera) and then finally his first good opera, The Flying Dutchman. From there, he launched himself into greatness. But his early orchestral works, I’ve read, are mediocre at best. Although I am a complete novice to fiction, I believe that every writer has to learn from each work. You have to push yourself to a new level each time. Are your up-coming volumes going to do that?
    A year ago I read the much acclaimed Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan, a richly crafted piece of 1940s historic fiction. Her story starts out great, but the plot gradually encompasses some head-spinning scenarios. Still, her writing is spectacular in places. The writing carries the reader no matter where the plot leads you. I was so impressed with Egan that I read three of her earlier works, A Visit From The Goon Squad, Look At Me, and The Keep. Each contains segments of beautiful writing, but the stories flop, in my opinion. I found nothing in these characters to emotionally connect with and no overall direction in what they do. But Egan finally got it right (or mostly right) with Manhattan Beach. She created a character (Anna Kerrigan) that you liked—someone who had a singular mission that drove the action. And you wanted Anna to succeed. Egan also created challenges for Anna and a captivating portrait of New York different from today. So the lesson is: good writers need several swings at home plate before they hit the home run.
    What I sense from your blog, Elizabeth, is that you have your comfort zone. This is who I am, you are telling us. This is the saga of the Lazare family that I want to write about—whether agents (or readers) like it or not. “I don’t have any other novels,” you write. Having read your first volume, I don’t believe that. You need to launch yourself to another level, out of your comfort zone. Look around you and see the workings of another story. It’s material you need. Not the skill and gift for writing. Your first volume demonstrates your outstanding skill. When you find material, craft a story: a beginning, middle, and end (80 to 90,000 words). Follow Paulette Jiles’ award-winning example, News of the World. I highly recommend her post-civil war novel set in Texas. In fact, don’t write anything else until you first read News of the World. That work will trigger ideas for you and, most importantly, inspiration and confidence. …..Steve Learned

  2. Good day, Steve! Thank you so much for reading Necessary Sins and my blog.

    I have read News of the World. I enjoyed it very much and have recommended it to other readers many times. But it didn’t magically inspire me to write something new. I will continue to read fiction and nonfiction voraciously. If one of these works leads me to a new story, I will welcome it, though I will be surprised.

    The Lazare Family Saga is not my first work; it is my first publishable work. I have many “trunk novel(las)” in which I took swings and missed. Nor did I write the Lazare Family Saga from a comfort zone. I was constantly pushing myself to go out on a limb and learn more about other cultures, races, religions–not to mention the opposite sex–so I could write about aspects of being human I’ve never experienced myself. I may no longer care what agents think of my work, but I very much care what readers think–otherwise, what’s the point? I’d be talking to myself. Fortunately, the positive response from readers has exceeded my expectations. Readers have also noted that each book in the series gets stronger.

    For every Wagner or Egan who didn’t peak till several works in, there are novelists who chose to publish only one work–Harper Lee and Margaret Mitchell come to mind–or novelists whose debut novel is their best novel. Their subsequent novels cover the same ground; they’re recycled. I don’t want to be those novelists. I had something to say with the Lazare Family Saga, and by the end of the series, I will have said it. I have no interest in repeating myself. I’d rather end on a high note with that fourth and final book. If I were able to write full-time, it would be different. I could explore and fail and try more. But the circumstances of my life do not allow that. Every writer is unique. What works for you or Egan does not work for me, and I’ve made peace with that.

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