Thursday, April 2, 2009

Identity Crisis!

Back in January, Jenn Stark visited Seekerville and gave a great talk about author branding. She explored all the important steps and aspects of creating your author image. I really loved that post, and it made me think about all the identities I've worn over the years.

Pick a voice, any voice. So often it felt that way.

Today it's all about me (or actually you, unless you want to borrow my identity, LOL).

I grew up reading historical romance. Loved the stuff!! IMHO, no one held a candle to Kathleen Woodiwiss!! Loved her imagery, descriptions, setting, characters,...Everything! And so was born the Kathleen within me.

I started on my first historical romance, set in England and devoured all the research I could dig up on sea-faring captains and damsels in distress. I had a great time until my critique group kept questioning the facts and period accuracy in my pages. I realized the only basis I had to answer the questions came from library books and very limited internet. And of course my very fertile imagination.

400 pages written, and hadn't even reached the middle of my story!!!

Okay, next, I tried my hand at cowboy/western romance. For many books, Lorraine Heath was hands down my favorite author. Cowboy romance was the genre where I began winning contests. Nothing makes my heart melt faster than an good, ol' fashioned, "yes, ma'am." Problem? I attended a conference hosting the contest I'd finalled in and every agent appointment I had told me cowboy was dead, could I write something else?

Broke my heart.

I went home shattered. Write something else? What else did I want to write?

Okay. How about my folks immigrated to the United States from Lithuania. I always loved my heritage, so why not? About that time, Susan May Warren introduced her Russian series starting with Ekaterina. Loved that book. Okay, this is it. Russian suspense lit my fire. I even wrote to Susie telling her that I wanted to step on her turf, was it okay? She invited me to throw my hat into the ring of Russia.

I studied, I wrote, I rewrote. I rewrote some more. I just couldn't get a handle on this suspense stuff. If God had wanted me to keep secrets, He wouldn't have given me personality that sings like a canary when the spotlight comes on. My poor crit partners kept chanting "save this for the end" like a neverending melody.

Along came a life shift. I started working again - full time. Love my job, love the resources I'm surrounded by. Love the Agriculture!!

Ever heard about not seeing the truth until it bites you on the nose??

How's this for a smack up side the head:

  • I work for an office that caters to agriculture, horticulture, and forestry
    • My daughter works for one of the largest horse trail operations in the US

    • I live in Colorado

    • Writing retreats are always in the mountains

    • I'm a card-carrying member of the Professional Bullriders Association

    • I love the look of a man in jeans

    • MY wardrobe is mainly jeans

    • My husband gave me a shotgun for my wedding gift

    • The list goes on and on....

    Every beginning novel writing class you take tells you to write what you know.

    I know to you, this confession looks obvious, but that whole not seeing the forest for the trees thing keeps getting in the way.

    My mom gifted me with the love of all things British (we have a Corgi as a family dog, LOL). I grew up listening to my parents' endless stories of the war and Russia and walking to school two miles in feets of snow with no shoes on. I didn't speak English until I started Kindergarten (no one thought of ESL for Lithuanians, trust me!). I knew I needed to write something unique.

    I do.

    I write Cowboy Contemporary Romance.

    Now that I've identified my brand, life is so much easier, too. My personal blog is stylized western romantic. My website (the one currently under construction) is tailored cowboy. I only carry one business card now, rather than the purse full of four themes - one card was always generic.

    I wear cowboy boots.

    I love the cowboy hat I bought in Dallas during the '06 ACFW conference.

    Jenn Stark, in her author branding post, simply reconfirmed my decision. Become a part of what you write. Put your heart and soul in it.

    This is your work, your career. Pour your passion into it!!!!

    It's been a long road. It may continue to be so. But you know what? God called me to write for Him. All I need to know is that He loves cowboys, too: )

    Be strong and courageous and get to work. Don't be frightened by the size of the task, for the Lord my God is with you; He will not forsake you. He will see to it that everything is finished correctly. I Chron 28:20

    Wow. What better encouragement do I need?

    So, can anyone relate??

    Blessings to all!!!

    Cathy Shouse said...


    I have been all over the place on what I'm writing. At first, I had trouble staying within a genre. It made it hard to enter contests because I didn't fit in a category.

    Once, to decide which category to enter, I had two writer friends read the entry. One said it was chick lit. The other said it was mystery.

    For some of us, maybe that is just part of it.

    I wasn't someone who settled on a college major real well either!

    Thanks for sharing your story and making me realize I'm not alone ;)

    Tina M. Russo said...

    I'm still all over the place. HA! And perhaps that is because I am a very diverse person. (insert strange if needed). I have worn more hats that most in my life. I have a strong Italian American heritage, have been in the US Army, spent years as an oncology certified RN.While I am a city girl I love all things cowboy too after living many years in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

    So gee, identity crisis, yes.

    On the other hand as I was dealing with this the other day. My inner little pizza loving voice whispered, its not about what kind of book you write. It's about the characters and their story. So just go ahead and tell their story the best way you know how.

    So in the end I think that it is not about writing medicals, or inspirationals, or single title. It is about your characters and story being so real to you that you have to write it no matter what hole it pigeons you into.

    Cara Slaughter said...

    I love suspense and historicals, but so far I haven't been able to combine the two and interweave the romance. But maybe I will in the future.

    You can wear jeans, boots and a cowboy hat, but I don't see myself wearing a long, lacy skirt and a corset--although a corset might slim me down. Who needs to breathe?

    Fun post, Audra!

    Eileen Astels Watson said...

    Up until just last week I hadn't deviated from my initial genre and sub-genre choice of Inspirational Christian Romance, but then I woke up at 2:30 in the morning with a YA story line that wouldn't go away. So now I'm still working on my romance wip, but I'm studying up on YA books to familiarize myself with them before I plunge in to try and write this newest story vying for my attention.

    So I guess my "going all over the place" is just about to begin. Until I sell something, though, I guess I should experiment.

    Sandra Leesmith said...

    Hi Audra, I love it that you're a cowgirl. I picture you that way and that's a compliment because I love cowboys too. And anything western. Give me an old fashioned western any day and I'll be one happy reader.

    I'm like the rest of you though. I write all over the place. Like Tina, I just have a lot of different interests. But I do see the need to brand.

    Everyone always loves my settings and the animals in my stories. So not a cowgirl, but definitely an outdoor girl. I love the outdoors. And since I live in the west, they will be of the west.

    Thanks Audra. Hey, how about some cowboy biscuits cooked over an open fire and dribbled with honey. I'll put on a pot of cowboy beans for later today and we'll grill some buffalo burgers. We can put some bales of hay around the fire to sit on and I even have tin plates to hold in our laps while we chow down. Maybe later tonight if the fire is still going we can sing some cowboy songs.

    Lisa Lickel said...

    A girlfriend loved Kathleen Woodiwiss so much she named her daughter for a heroine. At the daughter's bridal shower in February, the mom wrapped the book up and gave it to her.

    My first two books are so different, I'm not sure how to advertise! On one hand, I don't want to get stuck in a rut, but on the other hand, if I want more than just a handful of readers, I have to give in. But which way to jump? I know what I want to write, but I find that I have to do a lot of soft selling before I can get to that point.

    Audra Harders said...

    Mornin' Cathy : ) I'm so with you on the changing majors thing. Life is a banquet, and the whole thought of not dabbling is not in my mindset, LOL! Thank the Lord for all the writing partners He places around us!

    I'm pulling cinnamon rolls out of the oven and drizzling icing on them as we speak!! Pots of coffee and water for tea are on the buffet, help yourselves!

    Audra Harders said...

    Tina, you are one of the most diversified writers I know. You are so right. Our life experiences do make us the writers we are.

    I used to be an all or nothing person in the arena of life. Over the years, I've learned to sprinkle my experiences into the books I write rather than dictating total immersion.

    Writing should be fun. I've rediscovered the joy : )

    Melanie Dickerson said...

    Hey, Audra! That's so cool that you are Lithuanian! I love Susan's Russian books, too. She is wonderful at romantic suspense.

    All I know is, I love historicals. I mostly read European historicals. I have written medievals. Poured my heart and soul into the two I wrote, but like they told you about the cowboy being dead? They told me the medieval was more than dead--it never opened its eyes to begin with.

    I also love the Old South, and sweet, gentlemanly Southern boys. Chivalry is not dead in the South, let me tell you. So I wrote an 1880 Southern historical. But I still love my medievals. I've decided I just love historical romance. Why do I have to choose a certain setting? And I know my medievals will one day start a medieval craze. You just wait and see!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Audra, I can't wait to buy one of your cowboy books. Soon, I hope! I love cowboys, too.

    Audra Harders said...

    I love inspecting the workmanship that goes into creating a corset, but heavens, I'd NEVER squeeze into one!!

    Over the years I've become matronly. I'm okay with that : )

    No, I could wear spurs and chaps, either. But I think you begin to assume the demeanor of the content you write. You'd have to if you want to write the book of your heart.

    Cara, I think you'd look good in fluff and lace : )

    Audra Harders said...

    Eileen you hit is exactly!! I'm sure some of our published Seekers can chime in on this.

    Dabble now! You never know when you're doing to fall into your niche. Once you're published, people are going to expect a certain product from you.

    I'm all for exploring. It's the exciting part of life!!

    Missy Tippens said...

    Audra, how fun!! I had no idea you had all those phases! I'm glad you're back to your roots and one of your early loves--those yummy cowboys!

    Okay, I tried not to say it, but...a shotgun for a wedding gift???!!!! Come on sis, even cowgirls love diamonds, don't they?? ;)


    Audra Harders said...

    LOL, Sandra! Thanks for the campfire spread! You think of everything : )

    I love the outdoors, too. I think when we incorporate those elements into our writing, it gives our words an additional dimension.

    When I dabbled in Russian Suspense, I discovered how dismally inadequate my story telling was compared to Susie May Warren. The depth of her experiences in Russian blasted life in her books.

    I've worked enough arenas and cleaned enough stalls to infuse my work with certain aromas, too, LOL!!

    Missy Tippens said...

    And speaking of jeans...

    Can a real cowgirl wear jeans with spandex in them?? If not, I'd never make is in your world.



    Audra Harders said...

    Lisa, don't stress the small stuff. You've completed two books. That's way beyond what a lot of writers can boast. You'll know when to choose your path and trust me, once you're on the right way, it's NOT a rut!!

    Go to conferences and talk to agents and editors -- with a grain of salt. I left that one conference heartbroken because of all the definitive expert advice I received.

    My saving grace? The very last meal of the day, I sat next to an editor who asked me what I wrote. Dismally, I told her cowboy contemporary, but I'll have to find another sub genre, I've been told all conference long, Cowboys don't sell.

    She patted my hand and softly said, I love cowboys. We chatted, we laughed and to this day, I still exchange notes with her through the year.

    Explore, Lisa!!

    Audra Harders said...

    Oooo Melanie! I love those Sounthern boys, too!! Give me chivalry any day of the week and I'll turn to mush in your hands.

    AND, Medievals! I loved Christina Dodd's early stuff! Give me those jousts and war horses!

    I envy your efficiency, Melanie. Young children are home, you're a top reviewer : ) and you begin and complete books. Whew!! You go, girl!

    And I have to confess, when my kids were young, they gave me lots of ideas for story situations.

    Frankly, they still do : ) See what I mean about using your resources??

    Gotta go to work! I'll be back to chat soon!

    Julie Lessman said...

    Relate? Audra, honey, I'm sitting here crying into my peach oatmeal because I SO relate! And I'm not joking ...

    In fact, your blog was JUST what I needed to read this morning, my friend, and I thank God for your Holy Spirit timing! I have really been struggling with a branding issue this last week, and your Scripture -- God's Word -- helped lift me out of the mire. Thank you SO much!

    And I totally agree with Tina -- it's not about the brand, it's about the characters and the story pouring from your heart to the readers'. Having that "passion" you mentioned and painting the pages with it until the readers feel every tremble, every sigh, every tear and every smile.

    Dear God, I love writing!



    Erica Vetsch said...

    Very entertaining and interesting post.

    I floundered around a little before deciding that historicals is where my heart lies. (I even tried my hand at a chick-lit ms last year just to see what it was like. Shocking results all around!)

    Mary Connealy said...

    I love it. We can never have too many cowboys, that is just a plain, undenyable fact of life.

    A shotgun? Really?

    Ruthy said...

    Oh Audra, this is so perfect. We all struggle with this, at least until someone grabs us, pays us and says, "yeah, what you write is worth our time and effort to work with you."

    I think that's a huge defining moment right there. Once that's established and you're 'out there' I expect there are branching choices available. And if not, at least we're writing, right???? And that's the goal.

    I love your wake up call. And the fact that you struggled with it because if you were one-dimensional it would be reflected in your work. Your diversity gives your writing an inborn strength.

    And since you guys brought food, I don't have to bake. I can concentrate on the least 'uns and make them French toast and sausage for lunch like I promised. Then we're going on a fairy hunt although it's a mite early in the season to actually FIND fairies, you see. But sometimes you spot traces of them which give you clues on how to find them later in the year when the summer sun warms their wings early in the day.


    Patricia W. said...

    Audra, I feel as though I'm going to have one of those "A-ha" about five to ten years. In the meantime, I'm writing what feels right for me now, not sure what my identity will become.

    Audra Harders said...

    LOL, Missy. What girl wouldn't want a shotgun of her own? Nothing says *I love you* more than a man willing to reload your shells : )

    Oh, and Missy? I've discovered that if you look long and hard at all the brands of jeans available, variety of cuts and lengths, you can make a pair fit your body type, LOL!!

    Trust me!!

    Gina Welborn said...

    Thought-provoking post, Audra.

    I'd comment more, but I'm going to do something wild and crazy for me and go get a facial at Dillard's. Actually anything that's free isn't wild and crazy to me.

    Might stop at Starbucks on the way.

    Nothing like coffee to open up them pores.

    Audra Harders said...

    Mmm, peach oatmeal? With a smattering of walnuts? Maybe a few bran buds on top?? Yumbola! Okay, Oatmeal is now on the buffet, LOL!

    Julie, your characters are so real, I feel I need to offer them a spot at the dining table! That's the gift I'm talking about. Plot is okay -- as a vehicle -- but if you don't have vibrant, full-bodied characters, your story will read as flat as the pages you've printed.

    Your passion for historic Boston is so alive, we feel it. You didn't life during that era, but God gave you the gift of passionate creation for which we are all thankful for : )

    You go, Jules!!

    Audra Harders said...

    Ooo, Erica!! New genre! Chick-lit historicals! Can anyone else visualize this?

    Audra Harders said...

    Mary, I so envy your historical cowboys! Ranching is so in my face around here, I just naturally spew contemporary.

    I love the things you do with the old days. Besides, your books make me giggle.

    Good thing in this day and age : )

    Audra Harders said...

    Ruthy-babe, your voice definitely defines your books. I think you could write a book on composting your garden and we could tell your voice in the mix, LOL!!

    Like you've said time and again, life experience flavors your work. Look at the characters you infuse in your pages. Very unique. Very heartwarming.

    Choices are endless!!

    French toast and sausage? Share, please?

    Audra Harders said...

    Don't hurry, Patricia! Let it find YOU!

    Audra Harders said...

    A facial? A FREE facial? Where do I sign up??

    Enjoy your day, Gina!

    Jessica said...

    Sounds great to me! I'm not tired of cowboys at all, and guess what! I think they're coming back. :-)

    Audra Harders said...

    Hi Jessica : )

    Proud to hear you like cowboys! I tend to drool a lot during Cheyenne Frontier Days and National Western Stock Show, LOL!

    Debra E Marvin said...

    There's never any food left when I get here late.

    Wow. Thanks Seekers and especially the multi-dimensional, Sybil-like Audra, the Lithuanian Anglophile Cowbuster.

    I'm so glad someone pointed out that branding is really only something that is iron-clad when it's done on a ranch!

    I'd imagine one benefit is that your research can be used to its maximum benefit when you stick with one setting, or time period for awhile. But there was something sort of claustrophobic about picking your 'brand'.

    I so appreciate all the comments. it's good to know how many feel the same way - pubbed or not. We just want to write, darn it. I don't want to tell my muse to Get over here, right now. Don't you walk away when I'm talking to you.

    Audra Harders said...

    ***The Lithuanian Anglophile Cowbuster***

    I love it!! Gonna have to work that into my website somewhere, Debra : )

    Just for you, I've arranged a nice luncheon buffet courtesy of the Beef Council : ) Vegetarians, sorry, all I can offer you is the dessert table, but hey, the banana divine pie is to die for!!

    Crystal Laine Miller said...

    What a great post! And a good exercise any of us can learn from. I really relate to you on the cowboy boots, shotgun and jeans. Hmmm.

    Anyway, this gave me food for thought, along with the great buffet always laid out at Seekerville!

    kathleen said...

    Boy, did this grab my attention. Besides lovin' the look of a man in jeans, my father came over from Estonia, Lithuania's sister republic in the Baltics. And my first beloved dog was a Corgi, too. But even more than these fun coincidences, the theme of believing in what you most long to write, and making it work struck me this morning. Identity Crisis really hit a vein. Thanks.

    Audra Harders said...

    Hi Crystal!
    Yep, anything cowboy and jeans trips my trigger, so to speak, LOL!

    Our buffet is open day and night!!

    Audra Harders said...

    Hi Kathleen!

    Glad to find another of Baltic persuasion : ) A few years before he died, my dad had regained ownership of the family farm from Russia, so I'm the proud heiress of 22 hectors of unkept wilderness in southern Lithuania, LOL. Gives the term *land baron* whole new meaning : )

    What fun is being a writer if you can't explore? I love writing all sorts of genres, but hey, give me a romantic setting with a wounded cowboy and I'm one happy camper : )

    mareva said...

    There's a little Russian blood here too in AZ...You are right in that the road may be long, but if we keep trying one day, we see the light....I love mysteries, to read, not so good at writing.....I like the interaction between people, and that makes for good story..So..I may have found what I'm good at too.Part of life is the search.....We need to listen to our our friends, and fellow writers, but in the end, we are lead to the right thing.

    Thanks for story.