February 7th, 2020

The Leap from Non-Fiction to Fiction

by John Peragine

Alternately titled: Talk Me Off the Edge- My 1st Fiction Book is Being Published!

Bridging from Non-fiction to Fiction has been like a flight from Earth to Mars. New landscapes. New people. Different atmosphere. Different laws of physics. And it is a little daunting.

My love of writing began when I was a latchkey kid. I would spend hours, even days, in the local library. I started in the kid’s section, but after I'd read all my favorite books, I ventured into the adult section.

“Whoa there, little guy, this is for the adults. I’m not sure you are in the right section,” said the librarian. I was 10 years old and I desperately wanted to read books from the pulp fiction section. I was especially interested in fantasy and science fiction titles with their creased covers and yellowed pages.

Eventually I wandered into the business center, which had a long table with typewriters. I wanted to write my own stories.
I dreamed of being a writer and seeing my pulp fiction title stuffed in the tall rotating carousel.

My mother procured (read: pilfered) my typing paper from her company's supply closet and I sat down to create.

Fast forward thirty years, when I retired from the day job to write full time. I have been writing non-fiction books and articles for thirteen years, but I never forgot my roots in that little town library.

The Unexpected Book

In 2012, my life changed. After raising two girls, I had my baby boy, Max. He came into this world a wonder: a mix of superhuman powers, and superhuman weaknesses. Cold air is his kryptonite. The medical term is Cold Urticaria with Angioedema, which is a fancy way to say that he was allergic to cold and to viruses. Allergic in the "stop breathing" kind of way, which was terrifying.

We spent quite a bit of time in hospitals, and I began writing chapters of a story as bedtime stories for him. In it, his illness was a sign of a powerful magic locked inside him.

Inspiration

My inspiration came from a couple of my favorite writers. Ian Fleming, of the James Bond series fame, decided to write a book for his son, and read him the chapters as a bed story. It eventually became the book, Chitty Chitty Bang, Bang, which became a movie with the screenplay written by Roald Dahl. (As a child, this movie scared me, as children were captured and put into a cage.)

My second inspiration was Stephen King. He had written thirteen books, and his daughter Naomi had not read any of them because horror was not her thing. So, he wrote The Eyes of the Dragon, a fantasy story, for his daughter. It is one of my favorite Stephen King books.

Both of these authors shifted genres to create something for their children. I was inspired too, and it became a special story and our special time while my little boy was so sick.

The Proposition and the Promise

Two years ago, my son asked me where his book was. (Which meant I had to move the project into being.) It is the novel I never intended to write.

In September it will be released to the world, and I am an emotional wreck. I will finally fulfill the dream of the little boy I used to be. The boy who dared to grab a book from the adult stacks and run back to the children’s section to read Frank Herbert's Dune.

Instead of being the expert sitting across the table, helping nonfiction authors write and publish their books, I am the one chewing my nails and questioning my sanity.

Is this a stupid idea? Will people hate it? Do I have the right genre? What am I going to do for marketing? Distribution?

I’m like a student in their first year of med school: I know just enough to be dangerous, but not enough to be correct in my assumptions.

I am currently shifting my POV with a deadline to get it to the editor. I have given them my thoughts for the cover and am checking my inbox hourly to get the first glimpse. I am questioning everything.

Basically, I've become the client I sometimes dread: full of insecurity, and prone to dramatic predictions that "it is terrible and that is why no one who has read it has given me accolades." What if it's not the best thing they have ever read??

Can someone pleaseput me out of my misery?

There is a shiny light illuminating my desperate self-flagellating musings. I have a great support network.

I have surrounded myself with people both in and out of the industry who have my back, and who set me straight when I veer too far into Crazyville.

I believe I can get through this and, for any of you who are reading this right now and nodding your head (because you recognize my agony and overly dramatic responses), I have some advice from that network to share.

The Best Advice

1. Rely on your tribe.

Listen to what they are saying to you. Stop responding with things like “yes, but…” They care about you and want you to succeed. Let them know what you need. A hug? A high five? A shot of whiskey?

Think of book publishing as running a triple marathon where they are on the sideline with signs, water, and snacks.

2. Believe in yourself.

Even if you are the only one who reads and loves your book, it was worth the effort. It’s likely that if you love the work, others will too. You don’t need everyone to love it, your opinion is what matters in the end. Were you happy with your work? Were you satisfied with what you created?

When I was ten and wrote an epic star opera on my pilfered paper, I was so happy at what I had created, and so proud to present it to my parents. It was not a top seller in any category, but it was the greatest thing I had ever created.

I have to remind myself of that moment. It is the reason I continued to want to be a writer. I wanted to see MY book on the shelf so that I could read it.

3. Brace yourself.

I have given my clients this advice, and now I am on the other side of it. The writing is just the beginning. The real work begins after you write “the end” on your first draft.

Now I must dig in and take the time to rewrite, think about marketing and covers, distribution and returns and everything else that goes into publishing a book. All of it with this ticking clock that rings on launch day.

4. Take care of yourself.

Step away from the manuscript. Walk around. Spend time with the family. Occasionally sleep. Run a few miles on the treadmill.

A work of fiction is much different than nonfiction or any other kind of writing I have done. This is so much more personal, and therefore I feel overprotective, anxious, and vulnerable. I must take care of my mental, physical, emotional, and even spiritual parts of myself. I must take it one task at a time and push forward every day.

If I've got this, then you, my fellow writer, also have this.

I know I will cry when I see the completed book. That’s just how I roll. And there will be only one critic whose opinion matters in the end: my son. This was written for and about him. This story helped me feel more in control at a time when I felt so helpless as a parent. Part of my nerves are because I want to make him proud.

Drawing on our real-life experience and being able to write my own happy ending was therapeutic. This book helped he and I heal as much as it entertained. September 14, 2020 is the day this first book of a trilogy is released. That's the day I will finally have my nervous breakdown.

Every published author knows the madness of release day. We willingly embrace this madness over and over again.

It’s totally worth it, don’t you think?

Have you written a special story for a family member? Changed your genre? Do you get nervous on Release Day? Tell us about it in the comments!

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About John

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is PeragineHeadshot2019-200x300.jpg

John Peragine has published 14 books and ghostwritten more than 100 others. He is a contributor for HuffPost, Reuters, and The Today Show. He covered the John Edwards trial exclusively for Bloomberg News and The New York Times. He has written for Wine EnthusiastGrapevine Magazine, Realtor.com, WineMaker magazine, and Writer's Digest.

John began writing professionally in 2007, after working 13 years in social work and as the piccolo player for the Western Piedmont Symphony for over 25 years. Peragine is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors. His newest book, Max and the Spice Pirates, will be released in Summer 2020.  

21 responses to “The Leap from Non-Fiction to Fiction”

  1. Terry Odell says:

    What a wonderful story. I "sort of " changed genres with my first book. I thought it was a mystery, but it turned out to be a romance. Kind of a shock, since I'd never read a romance. I do have a mystery series out there now, but the majority of my readers are on the romantic suspense side of my writing. I set my newest, a mystery, out in the world last week, and dang right I'm nervous. It's up for pre-order, and drops on the 24th.

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      I'll bet it's amazing, Terry! I'll go check it out. 🙂

    • John Peragine says:

      I was editing someone’s book recently. They were shocked when I pointed out that had a love story and really a women’s lit book - it was about horse racing. It lead to a totally different marketing plan and book cover. So I get what you are saying.

  2. barbaralinnprobst says:

    John, I love your story! On one level, I share your journey from nonfiction to fiction. I too was a social worker for a number of years and published two nonfiction books plus more articles than I care to remember. Switching to fiction was a risk—because it meant abandoning the position I'd earned as an "expert" and becoming a beginner again. A person who had a lot to learn instead of a lot to teach (I was a social professor as well). A scary and liberating thing to do, and oh so worthwhile! We have to step into the unknown sometimes. On another level, I can't possibly imagine what you went through and am so moved by reading about your son. Love love this: "This story helped me feel more in control at a time when I felt so helpless as a parent. Part of my nerves are because I want to make him proud." You will. I have no doubt about that. Big hugs!

  3. Yay for you!!! Thanks for your post. I made an unexpected left turn in my writing career when my father-in-law was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer that was spreading like the wildfires in Australia. He was an incredible entrepreneur and, more importantly, a most generous philanthropist. When he got his diagnosis he called me. Not something he generally did. He simply said, "It's time to write my story." And together, over his last few months on this planet, we did. I'd never written a memoir/biography. But I figured it out quickly and then put together the story the way I thought would best capture his life of grit, gratitude and giving. It's called, "Opening Doors." It will undoubtedly be the most important thing I write in my life.

  4. dholcomb1 says:

    I haven't changed genres. I love writing fiction, specifically romance. It's primarily, not exclusively, what I read.

    I haven't written anything for family.

    It's been a while since I had a Release Day, but I find it exciting and nerve-racking--the edge of one's seat feeling.

    denise

    • John Peragine says:

      Writing in a new genre is very exciting a terrifying. Think in the end it is improving all writing over all. Thanks for reading!

  5. Eldred Bird says:

    When I first started writing, it was article length personal essays. I remember how hard it was to make the move to fiction. It was a completely different mindset. I was so used to writing about my own experiences in first person that it was hard to write about someone else, especially someone that only existed in my head. Writing in third person was completely foreign as well. When I finished my first book, I was petrified to let it out into the world, but sometimes you just have to take that leap of faith!

    • John Peragine says:

      Eldred it has been the opposite for me. I was very comfortable writing third person and now I have to shift to first... it’s a challenge - but a fun one.

      • Eldred Bird says:

        John, what works best for me when I write first person is to treat it like acting. I try to become the character. I find it much easier to write from their POV if I'm inside their head, rather than outside.

  6. E. D. Samms says:

    That's so great! What a great dad you are for doing this!!

  7. Nele says:

    John, what a wonderful story. Your son is lucky to have you and I'm sure he will be very proud!

  8. Kris Maze says:

    Hi John,
    So much of this post resonates with me. It's hard to have a child with health issues (I've spent many stays in the hospital to get my daughter's condition under control) and I find it inspiring that you wrote your MG with your son in mind. I can't wait to get a copy to share with my kiddos.

    And kudos for trying something new! It's so scary, but I am grateful for my TRIBE that keeps me focused and growing as a writer, too. The input and support from other writers keeps us moving and creating. Thanks for your heartfelt post.

  9. Sherri Valentine says:

    John,
    Thank you so much for being vulnerable and sharing your journey. You touched my heart!
    If you wrote that book the way you wrote this short piece, it will be a wonderful success.

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