After a few months, however, my publishers decided not to proceed with my sixth novel, opting to focus more on non-fiction. Determined not to give in, I sent this same novel off to another Christian publisher here in Australia. This new publisher soon responded, saying she really liked the manuscript, but pointing out various changes she would want made before she would consider publishing it. I agreed to tackle these, but mentioned I also had a non-fiction work I would like her to see. To my surprise, soon I found myself signing not one but two contracts – one for my non-fiction work and the other for my sixth novel again.
But all of this genre switching can become a little confusing, I’ve discovered. While working through all the final edits of Soul Friend over recent weeks, in preparation for its release in October, I found myself thinking at times how a fiction author often has to. Were my characters coming across as ‘real’ enough? Was the plot believable? Did the story have a good ‘arc’? Was the first person point of view used throughout too boring? Had I somehow swapped to omniscient point of view at times? Had I handled direct speech well throughout the manuscript? Were there too many taglines?
Now since my non-fiction work is essentially a story of my own spiritual journey and the impact my friend has had in my life, I realised I still needed to apply many things I had learnt as a fiction author, in order to touch the hearts and grip the attention of my readers. But I soon discovered there are differences as well. For starters, I didn’t have to create my characters – they already exist! Yes, I had to work out how best to portray them, but I couldn’t change who they are. And I couldn’t change the basic storyline. Admittedly, I did have to decide at times what needed to be included and what might be better left out. But the story had to unfold as it happened in real life – my friend and I could not be portrayed as doing things we hadn’t. At times, when I could not remember the exact words we had said to each other and found nothing in my journal entries or emails about the issue at hand, I knew I needed to call on my fiction experience and imagine the words we might have said. But I could not let my imagination run away with me, as I had the luxury to do in my novels. After all, I wanted my non-fiction book to have complete honesty and integrity.So after October this year, when Soul Friend is released, I will find myself both a fiction and non-fiction author. Have I succeeded in crossing that genre boundary on this occasion? Time will tell – but I hope so, with all my heart. I love writing both and pray I have managed to honour God well in both.
How about you? Have any of you had interesting experiences in changing genre, even if temporarily?Jo-Anne Berthelsen grew up in Brisbane and holds an Arts degree from Queensland University. She has also studied Education and Theology and has worked as a high school teacher and editor, as well as in local church ministry in Sydney. Jo-Anne loves communicating through both the written and spoken word and currently has five published novels – ‘Heléna’, ‘All the Days of My Life’, ‘Laura’, ‘Jenna’ and ‘Heléna’s Legacy’. She is married to a retired minister and has three grown-up children and three grandchildren. For more information or to contact Jo-Anne, please visit her website, www.jo-anneberthelsen.com.