OLD POST ALERT! This is an older post and although you might find some useful tips, any technical or publishing information is likely to be out of date. Please click on Start Here on the menu bar above to find links to my most useful articles, videos and podcast. Thanks and happy writing! – Joanna Penn
If you want to write literary fiction, or you’d like some inspiration for improving language, character, research and more, you’ll enjoy this lively interview with the lovely Roz Morris.
In this interview, we discuss:
- My Memories of a Future Life is an original , disturbing novel. Roz describes it as reincarnation in reverse. You are the past haunting your future incarnation. Would it give you the answers you’re searching for in your own life?
On character development
- There’s a lot of normality and abnormality in the book, so Carol is more of a grounded character and the others are in opposition to her. It’s a first person book so Roz started with a lot of research into what her life would be like as a concert pianist. A lot of the book is about relationships so writing the characters was about how they interact.
- How do you write these characters? Do you have a sheet with all their details on? Roz didn’t so much write down details of people but explored them with scenes she wanted in the book. It was all built out of relationships. Some people interview their characters. Roz put them in situations and then saw what they did together. They are built from the inside.
- We talk about using physical images for characters. Roz found photos on Flickr that embody the characters. [I do this too although mine are all movie stars because one day I will have the movie!] Check out this post on building character sketches.
The definition of a literary fiction novel
- It’s as much about the inside as the outside plot. It also asks bigger questions than the actual story, for example, belief as unconscious creativity. [I disagree with this as I believe genre fiction can also discuss big themes. In Prophecy I am investigating whether belief can be manufactured in the brain]
- Literary fiction is not an exclusive genre. You can have heavily plotted novels that ask these questions too, so the edges of genre are permeable. Some purely literary novels can be without plot and some literary people even disapprove of plots. A story should take you further than just the story, as in it should invoke questions.
- If you’re pitching a literary novel to an agent, make sure they are focusing on that area. Only pitch to people who ask for this type of book. Opinion is divided as to whether you should mention books your book is like, e.g. Roz’s book is like The Time Traveller’s Wife. But you can severely mis-represent the book if you get this wrong. Your idea is much more important. Writing the blurb can take a long time because you have to distill your idea into 150 words for a blurb and even shorter for a pitch.
- It took Roz several years to write this book but it was an idea she had a long time ago and just didn’t know how to write it. It took around 2 years with the reworking and rewriting. A lot of time is head-time where you work out what ideas you want in the book.
How to improve your language
- Language is critical in literary genres and language lovers appreciate the complexity of literary books. Literary novels can be plain language though, example of Hemingway. It all comes down to reading in an aware fashion. Go over the piece and work out how the writer made you feel the way you do. Look for the imagery you’ve never seen before. Ask yourself why it works. You may need to get out of the day job head-space. Try reading poetry which will deepen your language sense. [I talk about how I write down words and something goes in over time.] Make it a habit to actively notice words.
- Wet work vs web research [cue laughter! at 22:40] Prepare your questions in advance and question what people might say. Find someone you can ask questions to. Roz interviewed someone by email who was a professional pianist. People are often very generous. Bounce your assumptions off people who actually know.
- Verisimilitude (real -life) vs making stuff. Why do you draw the line? It is fiction so you can make things up – but fabricate with authority. You do have to take some liberties but don’t spoil it for people who know about the area or topic. Research can also give you ideas and can be stranger than what you make up. Example: the enharmonic piano. Synchronicity happens as well where you find you didn’t actually make it up.
Why Roz self-published
- Publishing has changed such a lot and with the economics of the industry, few risks will be taken on books that are not easily categorized. Self-publishing enables more unusual books to be put out there which benefits the creative spirit. Writers can alternate with their books, satisfying economics but also the art form. Roz didn’t want to write a genre book under her own name as she does as a ghostwriter.
The launch experiment
- Roz released the book in 4 episodes over 4 weeks. Dickens published his novels like this. The book does split this way with an emotional cliff-hanger at the end of each one. Each episode was 99c and enabled entry to new fiction at a lower price. It was also another way to stand out in the crowded market.
- People have tried it that wouldn’t have tried the book before. Tip: You can upload to different categories on Amazon for the parts so you can find different markets.
- The launch was longer and marketing could be spread over a month. There was new material to offer. There were new launches on Goodreads. The aim with marketing is to increase opportunities to see and it sinks in over time.
- Perhaps the downside was that reviews were spread between books but you can always ask people to add them again.
- It’s exciting that as indies we can do whatever we like with our books. If you have the rights, you can do whatever you like.