Tag Archives: genre

When is a series not a series? And when is a genre not a genre? by Sheila Deeth

I typed “The End” a few days ago. The end of my next novel, Imaginary Numbers: The final scene, where I finally know whodunnit, when, how and why… and I wonder if I’ve rushed throu

gh the revelations too fast for the reader, because I was too eager to understand. I think I might conclude I’m not a mystery writer, but that’s all right; Imaginary Numbers isn’t really a mystery. It’s not really a romance either, though it’s protagonists might be falling in love. It’s not really drama, though it’s pretty dramatic when David reads his mother’s obituary while he’s talking to her on the phone. (My continued thanks to Pat Bertram, author of More Deaths Than One, already published by Indigo Sea, for letting me play with her premise.) It’s not really…

obituaries

Ugh! Why do I want to classify my book? They say it’s so it can go on the right shelf of the library (Why not an Indigo Sea shelf, or a Sheila Deeth one?), so Amazon customers can type in a few words to find it (Then list all the genres it fits instead of choosing one), or perhaps… just perhaps it’s to keep a tighter rein on my pen (or my typing fingers) so I don’t stray too far from the path, so I don’t lose the reader on the way.

Imaginary Numbers is set in the same small town as Divide by Zero, Infinite Sum and Subtraction (at least, a few short scenes of Subtraction). It stars some of the same bit-players. It’s part of the same Mathemafiction series, woven between the same events…

…and there I lost my way, because Imaginary Numbers is not about what happened in Divide by Zero; it doesn’t need to grow on the same patch of green, by the same paths, in the same park… It doesn’t need to slow down while other events take place, or crash into a wall while the author explains…

I have some very generous friends who’ve been reading my chapters as they grew. The last set I gave them were rejects — too much stuff about too many people who really didn’t matter to the story, events that really had no bearing on it, and ideas I only included because I was weaving, weaving, weaving the threads of those other books into places they didn’t belong…

…because I’d forgotten to classify my novel! It’s not a mystery or a romance. It’s not about Troy trying not to be his father, Sylvia recovering from abuse, or Andrew trying to believe there’s still good in the world; it’s not about what happened in Paradise Park; it’s about the other guy at the garage — the guy who read his mother’s obituary and found that nothing he believed was quite as it seemed, and wondered why.

A writers’ job isn’t to tangle the stories together, not even if they’re part of a series; the writer’s task is to set them free. So I rewrote, teased threads apart, rewove, and typed “The End.” Next week my friends will see how the novel changed; I hope, perhaps, to please them. One day I’ll hope to please you too, but not till the story’s threads are separate and tight. Till then I’ll tend and mend it with the aid of great friends.

Thank you so, so much to my great critique partners: Jean, Judy and Karin! And thank you again to Pat Bertram for the story’s seed. I’m so thrilled I’ll really get to meet you soon!

Sheila Deeth is the author of Divide by Zero, Infinite Sum and Subtraction, all published by Indigo Sea Press. Pat Bertram is one of her first ever online friends, and the author of many wonderful books also published by Indigo Sea. Jean, Judy and Karin are members of the Writers’ Mill.

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Pets in Mysteries

Mystery books are the genre I enjoy reading and writing the most. Lately, I’ve noticed my stack of cozy mysteries has grown, many of which involve pets in some way. Cats and dogs, specifically. In pondering why this has been a factor in my reading, I’ve come to the conclusion I’ve been seeking somewhat lighter fare. Books with a good puzzle to solve, but that are considered more “comfort” reads, with a good resolution and happy ending.

The pets in recent and current readings have such attributes as being affectionate, loyal, curious, obedient or not, cute and even humorous. Some have that instinctive sense of good and evil and/or use their scent abilities. Some even help describe their owners’ traits or personalities.

Sometimes, animals in books are more family members than pets and as such, are involved in the plot more like actual characters. They often set the scene with their own cute antics to which readers can endearingly relate. Pets with acute instincts or sense of smell are more to my personal liking when it comes to animals involved in the mystery’s solution. I’m not really fond of talking animals in stories, but that’s just my preference.

In my own book, SHE HAD TO KNOW, I introduce Pippi, a black cat who seems to think she is the mother of Scotti, a white West Highland Terrier. They are both family members who appear just a few times being the animals they are, chasing one another, sleeping together, or just being nosy. But, since they have such small roles, they are not featured on the cover.

There are authors who have animals based on their protagonist’s vocation, for instance, veterinarians or pet sitters, or protagonists who have more exotic animals, like birds, turtles or potbellied pigs. If a reader sees a book on a bookstore shelf with a domestic animal on the cover, I think they automatically are inclined to assume the book is not going to be hard boiled and quite possibly, cozy. I may be wrong, but it seems to me there has been an upsurgence of these kinds of books lately. Is it me? Could it be a reflection of readers’ desires to escape the challenges of today’s world? What do you think? Do you have any animals in your stories? If so, how did you use them? Or, if you are a reader and not a writer, are these among the kind of books you enjoy reading? I’d love to learn your viewpoint.

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Genre And Your Swim Lane by Noah Baird

My publisher asked me what project I was working on. I replied I was working on two children’s books. After some discussion, he suggested I may want to publish the books under a pseudonym. A pseudonym is publisher code for “You’re a foul-mouthed, vulgar, smart-ass, and no parent will read a book to their children written by you”. If I wasn’t such a “foul-mouthed, vulgar, smart-ass”, I may have been insulted.

I started to write a children’s book because my two half-werewolf children asked me to write a book they could read. If you haven’t read my book, Donations to Clarity, it is a comedic fiction/satire which isn’t appropriate for children (It’s full of foul-mouthed, vulgar, smart-ass-ness!). Trying to write a children’s book taught me something: It’s really hard to write outside of your genre. Writers are told to write what we know. A key component of writing what you know is to read works of your genre. The main idea is, as a writer, you will begin to intuitively know what works for your chosen genre.

The problem is, I don’t want to just read humor and satire. I also like to read nonfiction and thrillers. We need to explore and to test the boundaries of our comfort zones. Think of what of what you watch on TV. You probably don’t just watch comedies or thrillers. You probably have a fairly wide range of interests from history, to sitcoms, to documentaries, to sci-fi. My reading also reflects my interests.

When I was trying to find a publisher, I submitted several articles of flash fiction to different literary magazines. If you aren’t familiar with flash fiction, it’s extremely short fiction. Typical word count can range from 55 to 500 words. What flash fiction teaches is to write concisely and with brevity. It can make your writing very muscular by forcing you to chop out the fluff. As part of my research into writing flash fiction, I turned to an unlikely source: songwriters. Makes sense, right? Songwriters paint stories and pictures in very few words that resonate with the audience. Think of Harry Chapin’s Cat’s in the Cradle. The song is a cautionary tale which has left an indelible impression on millions, and it’s only 440 words long if you include all of the choruses. It’s 314 words long with only one chorus. This is a great example of making a powerful impression with relatively few words.

As I was writing flash fiction and sending out query letters for my manuscript, I read Cormic McCarthy’s The Road. The novel inspired me and influenced much of my writing at the time. I didn’t realize it then, but writing outside of my genre was challenging me. As writers, we develop plots, characters, and themes, but writing in another genre forced you to pay attention to the subtle tones and textures of your writing.

The next time you are at a crossroads in your manuscript, try writing some flash fiction in another genre. If you write science fiction; try to write a romantic scene. If you write romance, try writing a satire which doesn’t include a saucy sex-pot rolling in the hay with a dark rogue with a sculpted chest. For me, it was trying not to be a foul-mouthed, vulgar, smart-ass; which is harder than you might think.

Here’s an example of a short thriller I wrote:

Uncle

I woke with a start; disoriented in the darkness.  My hand tightened around the grip of the .45 pistol, and I thumbed the safety.  I strained to hear beyond my tent.  Tinnitus irritated me and I cursed myself for listening to my headphone volume too high when I was a teenager.

A twig snapped behind me; a bad position.  I was on my back so an attack on that side would be hard to defend.  I slid the pistol to rest on my chest; finger on the trigger guard.

Every movement caused a rustling sound against my canvas sleeping bag.  The wind was blowing through the trees, masking sounds.  If whoever was out there kept their noise below the ambient noise level, I wouldn’t hear the attack until it was too late.

I couldn’t tell if it was animal or human.  I hadn’t made a fire or used a light after dusk.  I was careful to make sure I wasn’t being followed; circling back off trail several times.  I could’ve been seen by lookouts. Getting water was always dangerous. I could’ve been seen by the small stream filling my water jugs.  Some tribes placed lookouts near water to catch the stragglers. Like me.

All my precautions wouldn’t add up to much with animals on the hunt.  They could follow my scent long after I passed.  I didn’t have any food so it wasn’t poor housekeeping.  It was the smell of flesh.  Me.

Something was moving through the brush to my right.  I switched the pistol to my left hand; tracking the barrel along with the sound.  A smooth brush of fur against leaves.  No self-conscious pause.  Animal.

Then came the sniffing at the tent flap.  I was surprised at how quiet the animal was.  Able to approach the tent without making a sound.  The sniffing moved left to right.  Not the same animal I heard to my right.  A pack.  Wolf?  Coyote? Not stray dogs.  Formerly domesticated dogs weren’t this quiet.  They hadn’t been raised in the wild so their stalking lacked finesse.

I aimed at the sniffer while sitting up quickly.  I pulled the KA-BAR from its sheath.  The sniffer snorted at the sound, then a guttural growl.  My left index finger moved to the trigger.  I slowed my breathing and tried to hear where the rest of the pack was.  I didn’t want to shoot.  The sound would let others know I was here.  A tribe might come looking for me.  I hadn’t eaten in . . . how long had it been?  I needed the protein.  The sniffer would do.  Not if I shot him.  I would have to pack and run before someone came looking for me.  Before the rest of the pack regained their nerve and came after me again.  I wouldn’t eat it raw on the run.  The blood scent was too attractive. I wouldn’t make that mistake again.

The sniffing started again. The night was cloudy, moonless.  No shadows to help my aim.  A nose pressed up against the tent wall.  Protruding inward in the shape of the snout. An obscene image.  A phallus growing out of nylon.

I struck fast, sinking the blade directly into the snout.  I dropped the pistol and grabbed the snout with my left hand; removing the blade from the struggling animal.  I pulled the snout towards me and sank the blade into the base of its skull.  It twitched momentarily and then all struggling stopped.

Picking the pistol back up, I went for the tent flap.  I climbed out and circled the tent to defend my kill.  I knew the rest of the pack was there but I couldn’t hear them.  I pulled the rope from my pack and went back to the kill.  Coyote.  Big one.  I tied the back feet together and pulled out the flashlight.  Scanning for a suitable tree limb and eye shine of the pack.  I found them.  They’d moved back from the tent; cautiously observing.  I found a suitable tree limb and returned to my pack.  I pulled out the baseball. The one I had drilled a hole into.  I fed the end of the rope through the hole and tied a knot in the end.  I tossed the baseball over a branch and hoisted the kill out of reach of the pack.

I used to say I preferred animals to people.  Animals were more trustworthy than people.  People were unpredictable.  Animals were unpredictable in a predictable sort of way.  Animals attacked and we were always surprised, but it happened predictably enough for multiple television shows to be made which captured this unpredictable nature every week.    Mother Nature is a stern teacher.  You could bet on it.  You just couldn’t bet on when.

That was naive of me. The noble predator.  The majestic prey.  The fierce beauty of the kill.  The idea that somehow those animals were somehow better than us.  Living wild and free.  Eating where the food was and mating where the mate was.  More in tune with the earth.  Moved by primordial urges. Guided by diurnal variations and seasonal migrations.

What I preferred were animals that were controlled by people. I was fully comfortable with our position of dominance over the animals.  The earth was ours to do with as we pleased.  Oh yes, we would look out for the dumb animals.  Fight for tracks of habitat for them to play in.  Even better if we could do it and make a profit at it.  Do the evolution, baby.

That was until they rose up against us.  Not in the Orwellian sense.  When we lost the technology, we were faced with the harsh reality of our own weakness.  We buffered ourselves with our own consumption and the latest celebrity gossip.  Technology became a moat separating us from them.

When we lost the energy crisis.  We lost the technology.  We lost the moat.  Finally we lost our humanity.

The animals we were shepherds over had waited for centuries.  Their wait was over.

Noah Baird is the author of Donations to Clarity.
http://www.amazon.com/Donations-Clarity-Noah-Baird/dp/1935171445/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1311518859&sr=8-1/

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Writing the Book Only You Can Write by Pat Bertram

“I really believe there are things nobody would see if I didn’t photograph them.” –Diane Arbus, noted American photographer

Out walking the other day, I noticed an incredible shadow of a tree on the sidewalk, and I had to stop and take a picture. I happened to pass at just the right time. In a few minutes, the sun would be in a different position, clouds would filter the sunlight, and the lines of the shadow would blur. But  for just a moment, there it was — stark and beautiful. Since I happened to be carrying my camera, I am not the only one who saw that shadow — you can see it, too.

During my two years as a published writer, I learned that if you wish to be a selling author, you need to pick a specific, recognizable genre, and you need to develop a series character in that genre who is so compelling people will be waiting for your next book. Readers who come late to the series go back to read earlier books, and so sales take on a life of their own, each book helping to sell the others. This was a painful lesson, because I did not do that. Each of my books is a stand-alone novel without a series character, and each straddles a shadowy line between genres.  Instead of a series that helps promote me and my oeuvre, I have to start over each time a new book is published, promoting each book individually.

And yet  . . . I can’t feel too badly about my stand-alone, genreless books. They would never have been written if I didn’t write them. Only I could have presented that particular world view, created those characters, told those stories. Maybe my books will never find a strong readership, maybe I will go down in obsucurity, but in those books are things no one would ever see if I hadn’t written a word photograph. Like my lake of flowers in Light Bringer:

Becka kept running, needing no footpath to lead her to their destination. She could feel the music tugging at her, guiding her, singing her forward.

At first a faint red trumpeting, the music swelled into a full orchestra: orange church bells, yellow bugles, green violins, blue flutes, indigo cellos, violet woodwinds.

Beneath it all, she could hear the grasses murmuring, “Hurry, hurry.”

And then there it was, spread out before her in a shallow thirty-foot bowl. A lake of flowers— chrysanthemums and tulips, daisies and daffodils, lilies and columbines and fuchsia—all blooming brightly, all singing their song of welcome.

***

Light Bringer: Becka Johnson had been abandoned on the doorstep of a remote cabin in Chalcedony, Colorado when she was a baby. Now, thirty-seven years later, she has returned to Chalcedony to discover her identity, but she only finds more questions. Who has been looking for her all those years? Why are those same people interested in fellow newcomer Philip Hansen? Who is Philip, and why does her body sing in harmony with his? And what do either of them have to do with a shadow corporation that once operated a secret underground installation in the area? (Light Bringer has been called a speculative fiction thriller, which is as good a genre description as any.)

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. All Bertram’s books are available both in print and in ebook format. You can get them online at Second Wind Publishing, Amazon, B&N and Smashwords.  At Smashwords, the books are available in all ebook formats including palm reading devices, and you can download the first 20-30% free!

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