There are many advantages to writing in different genres and formats. For one, writing is still an exciting process for me. Each day is different than the next. The spectrum I work on is wide-ranging, allowing me considerable creative freedom.
Yet, the downside to all of this has to do with something called marketing. In the consumer-focused society we live in, most readers and film-goers like to know what they're getting when they recognize a writer's name. They know J.K Rowling is responsible for all things Harry Potter. They know that Stephen King knows what it takes to scare them. They trust Nicholas Sparks to make them love until they cry. All of these writers are known for the genres in which they write.
So, what becomes of a writer (like me) who isn't happy sticking to one genre or format? The answer is simple. They become more than one writer and, in the process, more than one brand.
The concept of branding and what it means to be a brand was relatively new to me until a couple of years ago when it was brought to my attention by colleagues and fellow writers just how all over the place I was career-wise. I was confusing my readers. I was trying to be seven writers in one. As one very helpful marketing genius and friend said to me, you need to reinvent yourself.
So, I have...times four.
Is it a form of schizophrenia? Probably.
Is it necessary? Absolutely.
Moving forward, I will be writing and publishing under four (yes four) names.
To ease the confusion (and to provide myself with my own identity cheat seat), here's the breakdown.
I realize only the very few and very devoted will embrace and follow each of these personas online, but I'm including social media info in case it's wanted.
David-Matthew Barnes Yes! My very own hyphenated name. Genres: Literary, Young Adult, Women's Fiction Formats: Novels, Short Stories, Poetry, Stage Plays, Screenplays Facebook (fan page) Facebook (personal page) Instagram: xoxoDMB Twitter Website
Reactions from readers and critics alike never cease to
surprise me. While I always welcome responses from anyone and everyone who
reads my work, every so often I’m caught off guard by the unexpected: a book
you think had no hope in hell sells like mad, a seemingly unlikeable character
becomes the object of immense literary love, moments that don’t ring true in a
book are the subject of a stream of emails. By far, the element from my novel Wonderland(published in 2013 by Bold Strokes Books) generating the most
feedback and discussion (not all polite) has nothing to do with my protagonist,
the plot, or the supernatural and paranormal themes I built into the book.
Rather, four of the supporting characters seem to have stolen the spotlight and
are receiving an outpouring of fondness, but are also receiving considerable
scrutiny and scorn.
The majority of the young adult novels I write are for and
about LGBTQ teenagers. Call it a personal mission, but young people who are
coming to terms with their identity and sexuality need literature that contains
a reflection of their experiences. Some have said what I and other YA authors
are doing is necessary. Others have deemed it controversial and immoral. After
reading Wonderland, a 13-year-old boy
wrote to me to tell me how much he identifies with the character of Topher,
detailing the daily rounds of bullying he is also forced to endure. On the
other hand, a mother Facebooked me to let me know I was corrupting the youth of
America with every word I write. Yes, it’s true: you can’t please everyone. And
a writer should never create with that objective in mind.
The main character in Wonderland
is a straight girl. She’s fifteen, clever, strong willed, and dealing with the
grief of losing her mother to cancer. When she moves to an island in South
Carolina, she begins a new life that includes living with her two gay uncles
(one is a relative, the other is his partner) who have been in a loving,
committed relationship for well over a decade. Immediately, Destiny is
befriended by Tasha – a self-proclaimed bisexual African-American girl who
tells her, “I like comic books and I love anime. I’m not into hip hop. Or rap.
Or Beyoncé. I’m a diehard vegan and I hate people who refuse to recycle. I
don’t hang out at parties and I refuse to go to school dances. Guys avoid me
like the plague, which is perfectly fine with me, since I’m bi and I think
girls are way hotter than boys.” In
other words, Tasha refuses to conform. Given her somewhat rebellious nature,
perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised by the numerous messages and emails I receive
in regards to Tasha and her commitment to staying true to herself. While I live
for the words from young people who find a connection with Tasha and thank me for
bringing her to the page, there are other messages I get shaming me for
Tasha’s outspokenness – and for her skin color. What kind of example are you setting for young people?! A very good question, indeed. Of course those words only
add more fuel to my fire when I sit down at the computer to start writing a
Similarly, the character of Topher has stolen the hearts of
many readers who feel empathy for his plight (although one reader referred to him
as “a sissy who needed to toughen up"). Jennifer Lavoie, a fellow young adult
author who also writes for a diverse audience, liked Topher so much she
suggested he should have his own novel – and, because of the affinity for him
that readers have shown, this may very well happen.
Perhaps the strongest reactions have been caused by my
choice to have my young female protagonist be raised by two gay men. Believe it
or not, this is still a foreign concept to many – even in 2014. While many of
my readers who live in a similar family structure share with me how cool it is
to read about a girl who has two fathers like I do, there are some (mostly parents, mind you) who are
quick to tell me they feel this creative choice is a poor one, suggesting I’m
I received similar responses to my 2011 novel Swimming to Chicago, a young adult novel about a gay Armenian-American teenager growing up in a small Southern town. I was prepared for the parental backlash regarding a subplot involving the affair between a young girl in high school and her English teacher. Yet, that story line generated only half a dozen (mostly misspelled) Facebook messages. What struck the chord was the fact that I presented two male characters from two different cultural backgrounds who fall in love and - like many gay teenage boys do - have an intimate relationship. One concerned reader (a high school librarian), took it upon herself to send me the page and paragraph numbers in which immorality was taking place. I was tempted to respond with a note that read: Do you date in high school? But, I refrained.
On the flip side, because Swimming to Chicago was the first YA novel to feature a gay Armenian as the protagonist, I can't begin to tell you how many messages I received (and still do, even though the book has been out for over three years) from young Armenian people. After the novel was featured in an article in an Armenian news magazine- and the many more messages and emails I received because of it - I had a complete understanding of the importance of representation, especially when writing from young people who rarely see a reflection of their life on page.
Of course, my main goal when writing is to tell the best
story possible. Once the work is done and released to the world, you hope it
connects with a reader – even if just one. When it does, then you know you’ve
done the job you were supposed to. And...if it pisses off a few people...I'm fine with that, too.
Somewhere between writing my eighth and ninth novel, I started to feel like a lazy writer. I began to worry the quality of my work was suffering because I was focusing too much on quantity. There were weaknesses in my work that never existed before. I saw them. I knew I had to do something about them.
I needed to challenge myself and my writing.
As I approached the writing process of my tenth novel, Stronger Than This, I decided to take a risk and experiment with the traditional narrative form I had written all previous novels in. I made the commitment to write my first epistolary novel. In doing so, the challenge I needed was definitely there, but the reward was worth it. As a result, my writing skills were sharpened, my imagination was ignited, and my creativity was refueled.
The story lines of Stronger Than This are revealed to the reader in multiple forms: text messages, letters, online chats, memos, interviews, and more. This posed many creative challenges, specifically the substantial lack of dialogue (which, if used correctly, can move a story forward quickly). As the novel features two protagonists (one male and one female), I had to establish significant differences in their “voices” and try to capture each in every form of communication they used throughout the book.
The writing process was a fascinating one. Constantly I discovered new means to reveal important plot points, establish place and time, and create characters that were as authentic possible. I also found ways to tell the story from the perspective of the supporting characters. By doing so, it added to the universe I was building for my two main characters; how others viewed them was equally important to their development on page.
Looking back, I’m pleased I made the decision to challenge myself as a writer. In doing so, I discovered a new passion for what I do. Writing Stronger Than This certainly kept me on my toes each step of the way. But the entire journey is one I am grateful for. The result is a book that is unconventional and unique, much like the characters whose lives fill the pages.
I don’t have any immediate plans to write another novel in this form. However, I do find myself examining form – and the possibilities that can occur by experimenting with it – with every new project I embark on.