Monday, October 05, 2009

The Sherrilyn Kenyon Phenomenon

Sherrilyn Kenyon was the keynote speaker at the Moonlight and Magnolias Conference this weekend. She also did a Q&A with the PAN authors, board members and volunteers. I've been to conferences where Sherrilyn was speaking or signing - but never heard her speak.

I feel enlightened - and I'm not being sarcastic or snarky. I am genuinely amazed by this woman. Say what you want about her books - fan, not fan, crazy stalker fan - this woman is a phenomenon. And genuine. And funny. And hard-working. I mean seriously hard working. Ten books out next year...that would be ten. And how many of them do you want to guess will be best sellers?

At the Q&A she discussed her writing schedule - which seems to be she writes twenty hours a day -with some breaks for kids and food and video games. She sleeps about four hours a night. Her reward for finishing a book - starting the next one. And, honestly, I don't think she was being funny or cute. Or even lying.

There's no question that Sherrilyn's success is that perfect storm of timing, right book at the right time (twice) and an absolutely astonishing amount of determination and persistence. Honestly - her backstory includes homelessness and welfare and, as she said "the kind of poverty people in this country don't think exists" and this AFTER she sold six books and hit a bestseller list. If you get a chance to hear her speak - go, because her story is really amazing.

But I think the phenom part of her success comes down to serious world-building. And I mean serious. She talked about how she comes up with names for characters and it's all based in mythology and dead languages. Her books lap and overlap and swing back around in this world of hers. And she let's the readers live in it, between the covers and along the series. But I have a pretty good feeling - she lives in this world too. She knows it, because twenty hours a day - she's there.

I have kind of a weird reaction to that - I'm sort of uncomfortable with it for some reason. But I do believe - therein lies the difference. She's committed on a whole different plane than me.

There's also been some controversy about how she represents the genre and to be honest, I've agreed with the people who don't think she does us any favors. But this is what I've realized - she's not representing the genre. She doesn't want to. She's representing herself, her world and her fans. She accessible. Nerdy and willing to talk for hours to a line up of HUNDREDS of people waiting to sign her books. She might care about the genre - but she's to damn busy creating a world and writing books and making a gazillion dollars to try and represent it. Go see her talk - you won't regret it.


Stephanie Doyle said...

Great post Molly. That was the kind of experience I had after listening to JR Ward. She's committed on a totally different level than I am. And it makes me wonder... what do we have to do to get there? But maybe more importantly do we want to go?


December said...

She was the keynote speaker at the Wisconsin Conference, her speach was so touching.
And I had had One too many glasses of wine, and was a bit enthusiastic when I met her. (lesson learned.)
She was very polite to my blathering.

Maureen McGowan said...

I often fear my commitment doesn't match my ambition, either... But we each have our own way of doing things and not everyone on bestseller lists is quite as deep into things as she is. Right? But it certainly is one way to get there.

I was listening to a tape of a creativity coach from last year's RWA and he said not to think about getting into the chair every day to write as discipline, but to think of it as passion. ie. I don't write every day because I'm disciplined, I do it because I'm passionate. Even on the days we hate to write, we get into the chair because we are passionate and know the only way to reignite it is to get the fingers moving.

That made a lot of sense to me. Sounds like Sherilyn Kenyon has passion in spades. I need to keep connected to mine.

That said... why am I posting a comment here??? This is my writing time!!! Maybe I'm passionate about this blog, too. ;-)

Eileen said...

Passion and focus! I don't think there's anything I could do for 20 hours a day. My attention span is too short.

Stephanie Doyle said...

I agree. I remember asking Linda Howard how she handles her marathon writing sessions. She said lots of coffee... but I just can't imagine how my back, neck, fingers could handle the burden of going for that long.

Two hours of straight typing is all I'm good for. And I'm lucky because that usually nets me about 7-12 pages.

Molly O'Keefe said...

December - I am very familiar with one too many glasses of wine - you stress more about what you might have done than anyone who might have witnessed what you've done. Not enough to forget - just enough to be worried. I prefer two too many glasses of wine.

Steph - I think you are totally understanding me and I think to some extent it's about drinking your own kool-aid/believing your own hype. In my career I've gotten maybe two hundred notes from people who liked my stuff and I'm awkward and embarrassed about it. I still think somehow my mom is putting them up to this. But if you're getting THOUSANDS of letters probably per book - you're over the discomfort and starting a serious relationship with your fan base. I don't think this is exclusive to Sherrilyn or JR Ward - Debbie Macomber comes to mind.

Stephanie Doyle said...

But don't you think at the end of the day to reach this level, to give in to the passion, that you have to be a full time writer?

In my favorite NR - Born in Ice, the hero is a writer. He lives in a single room apartment, no family, no life just him and his laptop and writes all the time. Then he eventually hits it big.

I used to think this was fictional. I used to think that you could have lives, write on the side and still make a go of it... and I still do to an extent. I have a job that demands 50-60 hour work weeks but I manage to write and publish about a book a year. Not bad.

But after that "wow" moment with JR and seeing where I was in relation to these writers I really think to get there would mean full comittment.

Maybe that's not quitting my job - but it's less sleep, no TV and heaven forbid cutting down on drinking to fit in more writing hours after work.

Add that to this relationship building with the fan base... I don't know.

I really want the $$. Is that awful? I want a house on the beach. It will be in NJ but you're all invited. A writer's retreat. Long walks on the beach, followed by reading groups, followed by all the quiet time you want to write, followed by spirits of your choice. All near the sound of the ocean.

I need X amount of money to get there. I thought that meant being a bestseller... now I'm think of just buying less shoes and shit.

Because I don't know if I have it. And given the combination of things you need, talent, luck, timing and the drive to finish a ms on spec over and over again until you finally get that "right" one... it just seems almost impossible.

Wow - this is not a good writing-feel-good day.

Maureen McGowan said...

Sorry you're having a bad thinking about writing day, Steph. I think it's impossible not to have some of those. Okay, lots of those.

I don't know if I could ever write as many hours and days as la Nora or Ms. Kenyon... but I do think I could pull off more than I do now... I just need the passion to catch again.

And I think the trick there (for me) is to force it to... To write every day and keep moving forward until it ignites.

Alli said...

Wow. I just read the bio on Sherrilyn's website. Wow (again). What an amazing example of persistance and talent. I will make sure to attend a speech from her if I ever have the chance. Thanks for the blog, Molly.

Molly O'Keefe said...

Steph - I'll come to your beach house - if it takes less shoes and shit - or if it's financed by your next big idea - I'll be there.

I don't think it means being a fulltime writer - though it probably helps. But I do feel a little stupid about the amount of television I watch and all the complaining I do about deadlines. It seems to me if I was totally committed - Mad Men wouldn't rank so high in my priorities.

That said - Generation Kill? Steph? You watched that yet.

Come on- it's writing research!

Maureen McGowan said...

Giving up TV? Come on guys, that's crazy talk. (And perhaps inspiring my next post.)

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