Last week, the Sisters in Crime organization held a webinar for authors about author branding. The idea of “branding” is relatively new buzzword in business and marketing (when it comes to people rather than products, that is) but you’ve probably heard it often. Part of the webinar addressed the idea of taglines. The presenter defined author taglines as not just about how an author defines his or her genre (“I write historical fiction”, “I write paranormal romance”, etc) but about how an author define himself or herself as a writer beyond his or her genre. Since I’m redefining myself as an author this year and relaunching my fiction in a new direction, I thought it was a good time to pick apart my own tagline.
At the end of last year, I did a short course on business mapping where we were asked to think about what it was we and our business had to give to our audience. In my journal, I wrote the following:
For my fiction, my tagline is ‘characters from the inside out’. I try to see people from the inside out and this is what is most interesting to me and part of my unique approach to writing fiction, even when it’s more genre-based fiction (like the historical mysteries).
I came up with my tagline around September of 2017 when I was refining my identity as a writer and had already published my first book Gnarled Bones and Other Stories. The idea was inspired by Nin’s referencing of Jung in her book on writing The Novel of the Future: “JUNG SAID: ‘Proceed from the dream outward…’” (location 142). Nin was referring to dreams and her purpose for the quote had more to do with her vision of psychological reality than with definitions. But this idea of going from the inside out intrigued me and I realized this is exactly what I do with my characters. This is, in a sense, my “brand” — creating stories that start from inside the character and work their way out.
So what does that mean? It means inside every character there is a multitude of facets — personality, memory, wounds, perceptions, beliefs, values, visions — that dictate what kind of story that character will have. For example, in my short story “Mother of Mischief” from Gnarled Bones, the protagonist Marie has been raised to be the little mother for her brothers when she is a child and then conditioned by a quiet, passive husband to meet his needs in a maternal way. So she becomes Mother of Mischief, fretting, watching, and taking care of men, a role she can’t shake even with the best intentions later in her life.
This is true even for my current historical fiction. For example, in my historical mystery series, The Paper Chase Mysteries, launching in 2020, the protagonist Adele Gossling is not just a young woman playing amateur sleuth. She is in constant conflict with her surroundings, the small town of Arrojo filled with well-meaning citizens who still hang on to 19th Century American values that were rapidly on the decline at the dawn of the 20th Century when the series takes place. Even involving herself in crime constitutes for them a shocking move out of the separate spheres that defined women’s (and men’s) roles in the Victorian era.
But writing my current novel The Specter (Waxwood Series: Book 1), I came to redefine what my tagline really stands for. In my historical fiction, my characters are both products and rebels of their time. I believe we can’t live out of time with what is going on around us even while we’re defying it. My characters are still creating the story from the inside out but rather than being passive participants in whom action and reaction surface as part of their psychological tapestry, they are actively seeking to become a part of their world but on their own terms. Sometimes they succeed and sometimes they don’t.
I discovered this when I was writing the above mentioned book last year. The book features Penelope Alderdice, the grandmother of Vivian Alderdice who is the unofficial protagonist of the Waxwood series. In a series of letters dated from the mid-19th century, Penelope reveals herself to her granddaughter as a woman very different from the one Vivian knew. She stretches beyond the boundaries of her confined space as the daughter of a wealthy San Francisco shipping magistrate and belle of the blooming San Francisco aristocracy when she insists on visiting the town of Waxwood by herself and becoming for a short time an artist. What happens to her there is unconventional for young women of her time and social standing. And yet, a glimpse into the future from the eyes of her granddaughter reveal she eventually returned to the life she was expected to lead in San Francisco.
This is not to say my tagline won’t change as I develop as a writer and define my fiction more deeply. But this fundamental idea of characters from the inside out will always remain because it is a part of my own psychological reality, my own belief system in regards to writing and life.
Nin, Anais. The Novel of the Future. Sky Blue Press. The Anais Nin Trust, 2014 (original publication date 1968). Kindle digital file.