Writing the Things You Want to Read
“If there’s a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” – Toni Morrison
With Free Chocolate coming out TOMORROW, I’ve been thinking a lot about that quote. If it wasn’t my series, The Chocoverse would still be exactly the kind of thing I’d jump to read. If Free Chocolate had a movie trailer, I’d be standing in line for the first late showing on pre-opening night. And I think it’s a special and important thing to feel that way.
This book is my debut, but it’s not the first novel I’ve written, not by a long shot. I think part of the reason half those other books are still trunked is that most of those manuscripts were too much like other things I’d read. I was experimenting with genre – trying my hand at a mystery, or a sweet romance, or hard-ish science fiction, seeing how the cogs and whistles worked, but I wasn’t really saying anything different. The names and details may have been changed, but those books had already been written, by writers much more skillful than I was at the time.
When I wrote the first draft of Free Chocolate, the people I let read it didn’t know what to make of it. “Why is this in first person?” “It’s too quirky.” “It’s making me hungry for chocolate, but where would this go in the bookstore?” “There’s a market for culinary mysteries, but culinary science fiction?!” I should have realized then that I was on to something. But I took the feedback too much to heart. The manuscript I had then was really only about a third of the story I eventually decided to tell (and I hadn’t even considered the possibility of building it into an entire series), but I trunked it, decided to move on to something more conventional.
I wrote two more books after that, but I kept coming back to Free Chocolate. There was just something about the characters that made them real to me, despite the over-the-top comic situations I’d dropped them into. Something about two people trying to understand each other’s lives and cultures and failing miserably – only to find a deeper truth. It was compelling to me, and I needed to write the rest of the story, whether it ever found an audience or not.
Now that it’s about to be a real book, people still aren’t sure what to make of it. Some of the comparisons they’ve been making when I tell them the premise have been quite flattering. “So it’s like Dune, but with Chocolate?” “So these Zantites are like the Vogons, right?” “It’s like Jane the Virgin, but with aliens?” It’s a lot for one book to live up to! And I’m sure not everyone will think it does, because there are certain elements about all those series that just aren’t there in Free Chocolate. But that just means that there’s a book that person wants to read, that hasn’t been written yet. One that takes the element they loved about Dune or whatever and makes it their own. And they have the opportunity to write it.
There are some elements that are similar, from the above-mentioned series and from other things I’ve read and watched over the years. But I believe I’ve put them together in a way that feels new. It’s the kind of thing I’d absolutely pick up to read – and nobody else had written anything terribly like it.
Do I regret having written all those other manuscripts to get to this one? Absolutely not. There’s elements from sweet romance and from mystery that have found their way into Free Chocolate, and knowing the tropes and mechanics of those genres definitely helps make the Chocoverse work. And a couple of those trunked books – the ones that have the potential to be the things that no one else has written– well, don’t be surprised if you see them at some point in the future.
But today, it’s all about the Chocoverse, and holding Free Chocolate in my hand, and holding my breath as it all goes live tomorrow.
So you writers out there. Don’t worry about what you should be writing about. Don’t worry about whether the story is weighty enough, or whether the market can bear it, or whether your high school English teacher would have approved. Write about the characters who live in your heart – those are the ones that will truly live on the page. And then, just tell the story.
NOTE: Free Chocolate DOES have a book trailer. You can watch it here: