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One of the questions I get asked pretty frequently — especially with the release of a new book — is this one: What are you writing next?
That question comes from fans, family members, agents, editors, and interviewers. Up to this point, I’ve always had a pretty good answer to that question. But right now, my answer is…
I don’t know.
Really. Currently I’m working on a two-book contract for a couple of Pocket Guide-ish children’s books about non-religious subjects. They may or may not be released under a pseudonym. (I’m thinking of going with “Stephenie Meyers,” because: genius!) Anyway, once these books are complete, I don’t know what I’m doing next.
• Another Pocket Guide? Yes, there are plenty of religious/historical subjects that could easily receive the Pocket Guide treatment. Eastern religions. Greek mythology. Mormonism. I have a pretty long list. But after several years of the heavy research involved in writing these books — and I mean heavy research — I’m a bit burned out on it. And I wonder how far these books can take me, career-wise. I mean, it worked for Kenneth C. Davis and his Don’t Know Much About… series, but so far I haven’t been able to add that “New York Times Bestselling Author” tag to my book jackets. Do I keep plugging away on these until they take over the world? I don’t know.
• Another memoir? Other than the struggles of trying to write with honesty and vulnerability, drafting O Me of Little Faith wasn’t really that difficult, simply because the subject was me and not, say, the afterlife beliefs of ancient Chinese mythology. Being able to just write and tell stories without all the research was pretty liberating. I enjoyed it. Only this book sort of ends up where I am today. What else am I going to write about? If I want to do another memoir, I’m going to have to go do some more living for awhile, and then come back to it. Or I’m going to have to remember some big, exciting chunk of my childhood that has so far eluded me.
• A gimmicky A.J. Jacobs-style immersion book? I’ve had some folks in the publishing industry ask me to think of an idea in this genre — like Jacobs’ mega-selling The Year of Living Biblically and all the other books his idea has spawned — but I’m hesitant. It seems fairly derivative at this point, like trying to jump on the coattails of a successful trend. How long with the trend last? Has this nonfiction genre run its course? Why don’t I just write a novel about brooding romantic vampires? Which leads to…
• Fiction? Mmmmm…I’ve been secretly leaning this direction for a couple of years now. Part of me wants to toss away the shackles of research and truth-telling and spiritual insight in order to just sit down at my computer and tell a really cool story. Right now I’m reading a lot of children’s and young adult fiction, because that’s what my kids read. I love this genre and have always harbored dreams of being a novelist. (Ask me about the Jason Bourne-as-pacifist-shepherd novel I wrote the year after graduating from college.) But writing fiction would be like starting over in the publishing industry. Any success or platform I’ve built with Pocket Guides or religious books doesn’t exactly transfer over to YA fiction. But the freedom and creativity? It’s tempting, so tempting…
What do you think? You guys are (hopefully) familiar my career path up to this point, so what should I do next? I’m asking this in all seriousness because you’re smart and thoughtful and I value your insight. Also because I’m hoping you’ll give me some good ideas for a novel.