Let’s be honest: although we may claim we write for the market, we are always really writing for ourselves in some way. I came to that realization when I switched genres from cozy mysteries to dark suspense.
My life, until recently, had its typical ups and downs, but overall you might say it was cozy. Writing the Georgia Peach Mystery series, with an enterprising heroine who cooks up ways to solve crimes and get out of jams alongside her quirky friends, reflected my state of mind. Or at least that was how I liked to see my life.
But things change.
A while back, my agent, Jessica Faust, suggested I consider a darker mystery series. Jump genres? Was I up to writing anything as gritty as the market might expect? On top of that, her suggestion came at a traumatic period in my personal life. Yet when I started writing Brynn Callahan’s story in Splintered Silence, with Brynn’s war-maimed body and PTSD-riddled mind, I found myself pouring not just words on paper but my own fears and pain.
Although Brynn’s experiences are far different from my own, writing her story allowed me to examine and, to some degree, defuse bits of the difficult feelings that were plaguing me. I enjoyed learning about the Irish Travellers and watching Brynn use her military background and personal relationships to try to survive her traumas and all with a tenacious loyalty to family. I like her, and hope readers will as well. In the meantime, I’m comfortable living through the darker side of her spirit.
I know some writers do nearly the opposite: if their life is rosy, they like to delve into the bleak and harrowing through their fiction. Maybe it’s a way to strike an emotional balance. Or just to have a taste of the other side of life and feel grateful not to be there. Other writers find peace during their troubled times by writing light-hearted fiction.
Whatever path we take, writers have a unique privilege: we can write our lives through our stories, whether as a cathartic release, or a welcomed joyride. In the process, readers climb on board for the journey and can release their own frustrations, solve mysteries, shine as a hero, laugh in the face of it all, or simply escape into the pages of our stories.
But make no mistake. Life happens.
And as authors, it’s not just a privilege, but an obligation to write through life, including the obstacles thrown our way. Because both the light and dark times that exist in our lives are worth exploring.
So, if the genre you’re writing no longer fits your stage in life, consider looking for one that serves you better. But never stop writing.
Susan Furlong is the author SPLINTERED SILENCE, the first book of the Bone Gap Travellers Mysteries, as well as the Georgia Peach Mystery series. She also contributes to the New York Times bestselling Novel Idea Mysteries under the pen name Lucy Arlington. She has worked as a freelance writer, academic writer, ghost writer, translator, high-school language arts teacher, and martial arts instructor. Raised in North Dakota, she graduated from Montana State University with a double major in French and Spanish. She and her family live in central Illinois.