Stuck in the North Dakota of the writing world.
Being an author is funny sometimes…
I am a Michigan based writer who is currently writing stories that are based in the state of Oregon. When I set out writing my first novel, Running Northwest and then my new series (The Oregon Series) I did so because I fell in love with Oregon and the Pacific Northwest when I lived there. Oregon inspired my stories but also the positive growth in myself as a person. It’s an area of the country that was severely lacking a place in the national spotlight of American genre fiction. I had semi-lucid dreams of being the Nicholas Sparks of the Pacific Northwest if you know what I mean by that. Naturally, my hope was that my Oregon themed and inspired books would find their way to the hearts and shelves of the people of Oregon and also their bookstores. I am sure that will come in time. Finding my way into the family of Oregon writers on author groups on Facebook is another thing altogether. I have been turned down for membership into three Oregon writers groups! Their reasoning was that I am not an Oregon writer; as in I do not live in Oregon. Don’t think I am bitter because I’m not. It’s just confusing.
My response was, “Well I did live in Oregon for a while and spent a lot of time there. All of my novels so far have taken place primarily in Oregon.”
One admin’s reply was, “Sorry, Mr. Melville. If you ever move back to Oregon please let us know.”
My whole reasoning for wanting to join the group was for networking purposes so I could meet and talk to other Oregon writers and exchange ideas. Oregonians are unique and their interests, likes, and dislikes are as diverse as the state’s geography. In my heart, I consider myself an Oregon writer maybe more so than a Michigan writer for now (I’ll get to the Michigan part later). By the time I am done with this current book series I will have a total of FIVE books that take place somewhere in the state of Oregon. Maybe that will be enough to get my Oregon writers card punched since three is clearly not enough. It’s not out of the realm of possibility I will be back out in Oregon by the time this series is done, not likely but possible.
Ironically I had three small bookstores in Oregon which did carry Running Northwest and All the Roads Home for awhile. Each had several copies and placed them on their Local Author shelf in a prominent part of the store. If they would consider me an Oregon author then why don’t the lords of the Oregon author groups?
Keeping the above in mind I have had the opposite problem here in Michigan. I am a member of a few author and writers groups which are Michigan focused. All of the authors in these groups, as far as I am aware of are based in Michigan. None of them batted an eye at letting me in and we share and exchange information and help each fairly often. No one has ever given me any sort of grief over the fact that my stories do no really take place in Michigan like most of theirs do. It’s an interesting comparison between the author groups here in Michigan and out in Oregon. The ones in Oregon remind me of some of the people in Oregon. They complain about people who were not born and raised in the state but live there.
Book Stores are another issue altogether. Up until very VERY recently, I have had little luck finding local indie or mom and pop brick and mortar stores who would carry any of my books. At least ones that were on the other side of the state. It wasn’t because of the few bad reviews I got on old editions of Running Northwest either since they actually took the time to read them and admittedly liked them. Apparently, the problem lies with the fact my stories didn’t really take place in Michigan and according to some shops and don’t have a “hard” or “consistent” Michigan focus. Two complained that I didn’t write about the state in a positive way. Of course, I argued that Running Northwest has a somewhat large portion of the story that takes place in Michigan. I also brought up the fact that two of my main characters in All the Roads Home were born in Michigan and one chapter, in particular, takes place in Michigan. So, despite the fact I am in their minds a, “Michigan Author” I am apparently not a real Michigan author because my stories don’t take place here. Two of them actually told me that they would love to carry my books in the store and have an instore signing once I write something that takes place in Michigan.
So I’m in this weird area where I am neutered geographically either by where I live or what I write about. It’s not something I can get around and wasn’t a position I thought I would find myself in when I started my writing career 7 years ago. I feel like I am damned if I do and damned if I don’t. I could move back to Oregon and be considered a real Oregon writer or pander artistically and push out some Michigan themed monstrosity earlier than I planned. That would make me no better than people who write novels solely based on trends in the book industry and I am not cool with that.
So here I am, stuck somewhere in the North Dakota of the writing world between people’s different expectations of who and what I should be as an author of genre fiction, artist, and business owner. North Dakota isn’t so bad I guess.