What We Can Learn From Multi-Genre Authors

Brad Meltzer

Credit: Andy Ryan/HISTORY

One of my favorite parts of my job as editor of Writer’s Digest is overseeing our WD Interview cover stories in every issue—deciding who to feature, making sure we’re hosting a conversation that covers ground our readers won’t find elsewhere, and quite often even conducting the interviews and crafting the profiles myself.

I’ve always firmly believed that the key to a strong interview is to do your homework beforehand. (Have you ever read or witnessed a Q&A with an author where it’s obvious that the interviewer hasn’t read any of that person’s work? It shows. And it’s painful.) As a lifelong admirer of books and the people who write them, I find this to be no chore at all. Typically, I begin by perusing previous interviews with the author and checking out his or her blog and/or social media presence, and then delve into the author’s new release and any key backlist titles I haven’t already read (at least enough to have a firsthand familiarity with any successful series, for example).

Then it came time to prepare for my interview with Brad Meltzer.

I had his latest The Culper Ring series thriller in hand, and set about familiarizing myself with the other key genres of work he has hands in. Next thing I knew, I was watching his TED Talks (“How to Write Your Own Obituary” and “Write Your Story, Change History”) on my lunch breaks. Raiding my library for his comic books, and nonfiction book, and earlier stand-alone novels, and books about heroes for daughters and sons. Downloading activity sheets from his Ordinary People Change the World website. Streaming old episodes of History’s Decoded. Buying the new season of Lost History when I realized with horror that my cable subscription didn’t include the H2 channel.

“You seem to be going a bit overboard preparing for this thing,” my husband observed one night as I was begging for just one more episode of Decoded.

“I’m underprepared!” I replied, anguished. “This author does So. Many. Different. Things.”

By the time I had Meltzer on the phone, I felt like I had to warn him. This was, after all, a man whose Washington D.C.–set thrillers are so realistic, he was once recruited by the Department of Homeland Security’s “Red Cell” program to brainstorm ways terrorists might attack the U.S.

“If you get a call from one of your contacts in the FBI saying that someone in Ohio is stalking you, that’s just me,” I explained.

It’s no coincidence that we chose to feature Meltzer alongside our wide-ranging feature package on creative nonfiction. Because though he’s perhaps best known for his novels, he doesn’t hesitate to delve into any genre that interests him—and he takes a creative approach to everything he touches.

In the full WD Interview with Brad Meltzer (on newsstands and available for instant download now), he talks at length about this varied approach, as well as new genres he has his sights set on. “A very famous writer said to me at one point—about his recurring character that was so terrific—he said he wanted to put a gun in his mouth if he had to write him again,” Meltzer told me. “I never want to be that writer. … Jumping into different genres is what charges me up to do each one.” (You can read more bonus online-exclusive interview outtakes here.)

Meltzer also reminds us that whatever we write is an extension of us. “Anything that you work on, if you’re being honest, shows your personality in it,” he says. Different types of work also give you opportunities to reach new readers. So if you’re writing a novel, why not show us your truth in a personal essay on a related topic? If you’re writing a straightforward business guide, why not insert some of the humor your friends and family know as your hallmark? If you’ve built a brand among adult readers but have always wanted to try writing for kids, why not give it a go? When you’re more creatively fulfilled, you’re going to produce better work across the board. And you might find more crossover in your readerships than you might think.

No matter what kind of writing you’re currently focused on, I encourage you to pick up the March/April 2015 Writer’s Digest and read about something new. Articles in this issue include:

  • A rare comprehensive overview of the children’s nonfiction market (another genre Meltzer has recently conquered, I might add) and how to break in.
  • A guide to finding your authentic voice for essays, memoirs and more.
  • A roundtable of leading literary agents discussing the market for narrative nonfiction books.
  • And a roundup of seven ways to take a creative approach to even the driest of subjects.

How have you recently gotten creative with your approach to your writing? Leave a comment below and keep the discussion going!

Yours in writing,
Jessica Strawser
Editor, Writer’s Digest magazine
Follow me on Twitter @jessicastrawser

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