On Writing Across Genres

Cross-genre works have become increasingly popular in recent years. They’ve always been around; they aren’t a new phenomenon. However, in the past it often proved difficult to get a cross-genre work published. That was not due to any fault in the work but rather to the simple fact that bookstores didn’t like them because they didn’t know where to shelve them. Should a mystery with fantasy elements be shelved with mysteries or with fantasy? How about a book that combined a sports story with science fiction? Or a literary work that had a science fictional setting? I remember when I was trying to find the fifth and final book in Doris Lessing’s Canopus in Argos Archives. I went into a large bookstore and asked for it. “It’s science fiction,” I said, trying to be helpful, as the clerk didn’t seem to be familiar with the work. He shook his head. “Doris Lessing doesn’t write science fiction,” he informed me. “She’s a literary writer.” Well, yes, she was a literary writer, and the five books in the Canopus in Argos Archives are literary science fiction. So bookstores, I found, generally shelved the series with literary works, not with science fiction, making it difficult for science fiction readers to discover her work, though of course many have. 

Now that books are so frequently purchased on line, the shelving of them is nMurdergoroundo longer a major concern. Cross-genre works have advantages. They are a way of drawing in new readers. An example is a book I recently reviewed: Murder Go Round, by Carol J. Perry. It is a mystery and appeals to avid mystery readers. But its paranormal aspects may encourage mystery readers to try other works of urban fantasy, while at the same time they draw in fantasy readers like me.

 

When I tell people I write fantasy novels, I frequently get the response, “Oh, I don’t read fantasy.” But many do read historical novels. So I tell them about my novel Seduction of the Scepter, in cover artwhich the fantasy element consists of the story being set in a fictitious eastern European country with a political system of my invention, and the main character, a noblewoman, occasionally mentally receives a thought from someone nearby. She cannot control this ability, does not want it, and it mostly just upsets her, because she can’t be certain whose thought she’s received and rarely knows why that thought has come to her. But the novel is set in a definite historical period, the mid-1700s. It isn’t historical in the sense of dealing with actual historical events or personages, but it is historical in the broader sense of reflecting the customs, mores, and outlook of that era. Calling it cross-genre may be a bit of a stretch, but I have had many readers tell me they really enjoyed it despite not being fantasy readers. And as historical fantasy is a subgenre of fantasy, fantasy readers have no problem with it except perhaps for those who may have wanted more fantastic elements in it.

 My book When the Beast Ravens is out and out fantasy, but it is also a murder mystery. My novel Deathright is a time travel story. Time travel is generally considered science fiction, but it can also be used in fantasy, and I have done so in that novel. Beast RavensMany science fiction writers have mixed a bit of fantasy in with science fiction, some very successfully, and others less so. And of course there’s paranormal romance, a very popular subgenre of fantasy, loved by both fantasy readers and romance readers. So writers, if you want to mix genres, go for it! If you do it well, it can enrich your novel and attract more readers.

Find my books on my Amazon page.

 

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On Letting Go

In my previous blog I wrote about books so enjoyable that you don’t want them to end. Now I must confess that writers sometimes feel that way about a book they are writing. We tend to fall in love with our characters and with the story. It’s not that we think it so wonderful, but that because we love the characters and the story we’ve put them into, we want it to be our very best work. Sometimes we complete a manuscript but can’t leave it alone. We want to do more character development, put in more details, maybe add another plot twist. Or maybe we wonder whether we’ve made a situation clear enough. Will the reader understand what we mean here? Does this part need to be better explained?

Even when a book gets sent off to an editor and proofs returned for checking, it’s easy to spot places where the writing can be improved. This is not a matter of correcting an error but of wanting to elaborate a bit here or maybe take some words out there because now you see that the sentence is better, stronger without them. They aren’t wrong, just not needed. And after a book is published, I suspect that many of us, in looking over the finished work, wish we could change something, do a bit of rewriting here and there to make the book better. I know I’m guilty of these feelings, and I suspect I’m not the only author to have them.

I’m sure I’m not the only writer who finds it hard to let a manuscript go. Maybe there are ways I can improve on it. Are there parts I could make clearer? Could I add details to make the writing more vivid?

cover artMaybe I could. Maybe I should. But more likely I shouldn’t. If I’m sending the book to a publisher, my editor will let me know if something isn’t clear and needs some amplification, or, more likely, that something is unnecessary and needs to be removed. When my editor for Seduction of the Scepter marked a large portion of dialog for removal, I objected strenuously. It was a dialog between my protagonist and her instructor regarding the political necessity of arranged marriages in the rather complex political situation in her country. “That information is essential to the plot,” I argued. “It makes clear to the reader what my protagonist must come to accept.” But the editor was adamant, assuring me that the removed material was not necessary, that the reader would understand the situation perfectly well without it. And of course she was absolutely right. Most likely had the material been included, the reader would have skipped over it anyway to get to more interesting material.

This morning I awoke well before the time I needed to get up, and I lay there thinking about my completed manuscript of The Twisted Towers. The towers of the title each correspond to one of the five major gods of Selveen, a country that has been conquered and made a part of an empire where the Selveen gods are not recognized. But the Selveen people continue to worship their gods in underground shrines devoted to them. In addition to the five major gods, three minor gods are mentioned in the story, two only cursorily while the third plays a larger role. My thoughts turned to the minor gods. Of course there are more than three minor gods, but I haven’t mentioned any others. Perhaps I should add a couple of brief mentions, just enough to make the reader aware that other minor gods occupy the Selveen pantheon. I have a character who is very familiar with the Lower Level passages onto which the shrines open. Why not have her comment to another character whom she’s leading through those passages, “This small shrine that we’re passing honors Munji, goddess of thought. I rarely see worshippers come there now. It seems the Selveen people have no use for thought in these difficult times.” With that short bit of dialog, I could introduce a fourth minor god and also make a statement about the condition of the Selveen people. A simple fix. And in another place I could introduce Ligassi, goddess of marriage. I have a scene in which a distraught princess, alone in her garden, shreds the petals of roses as she ponders her unhappy marriage. I could have her reminded later that roses are sacred to Ligassi and have her fear that in shredding them she has offended the goddess, and her marriage is surely doomed. Both wonderful ideas, I concluded. But later, in the bright light of day, I realized that these additions, brief though they would be, are not needed. They contribute nothing new to the plot. They simply represent my reluctance to leave the world I’ve created and the characters to whom I’ve given life.

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As an author who is currently publishing my own novels, I must guard against that tendency to embellish my work with unneeded fribbles and frills. And I must pay close heed to comments from those who read my novel in manuscript form before its publication. If they point out a section that is too long, too wordy, or simply isn’t needed, I know I must be willing to revise and cut—no matter how much it hurts. And then I must let go of my manuscript and send it out, warts and all, to make its own way in the world.

[Check out Seduction of the Scepter. Find it on amazon.com]

 

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A Book I Couldn’t Put Down

cover artRecently I had the gratifying experience of having a friend read one of my books and being told that she found it hard to put down and that when she finished it, she couldn’t stop thinking about it. She asked whether I’d be writing a sequel to it. I told her that I would not do a sequel; the book is strictly a stand-alone. The book in question is my novel Seduction of the Scepter. I had recommended it to her, knowing she isn’t a fantasy reader and hoping she would enjoy it, as it has few fantasy elements. Of course I was delighted when she told me she’d loved the book, and that it had left her wanting more.

I could identify with that feeling, as I had just finished reading a trilogy plus a related novella, all included in a doorstop of a book. I had purchased the book, wanting to familiarize myself with the writing of an author new to me. The book was The Inheritance Trilogy, by N. K. Jemison, who was to be the featured author at the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts. The trilogy’s three novels ate The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, The Broken Kingdoms, and the Kingdom of Gods. The novella is The Awakened Kingdom. My plan was to read the first novel, put the book aside and read something else, then go back and read the second novel, put it aside again to read a different type of book, and return eventually to read the third novel. The plan failed. I so loved the first novel that when I reached the end, I immediately started on the second. And then the third. And then the novella.

 Inheritance Trilogy

I could easily have followed my original plan. Each of the novels in the trilogy was complete in itself—no cliff-hanger endings. Each had a first person narrator/protagonist, but not the same protagonist; the narrator was different in each. So what made this set of novels so compelling? The stories are highly original—no hackneyed plots here. The characters draw the reader in and invite her to share their adventures. The world building is exquisite, and the beautifully crafted stories move along swiftly, holding the reader’s interest through every page, every paragraph. The novels are filled with wonder, with joy and with despair. They deal with eternal themes in new and different ways, leaving the reader with much to think about, to ponder, and to gather new insights from.

 I’ve praised the novels and novella that make up The Inheritance Trilogy, but I’ve told you nothing about the plots. If you enjoy fantasy and relish good writing, and you may well have already discovered this gifted author and savored her work. But if you are unfamiliar with her work, please get the book, read the trilogy, and experience for yourself the thrill of discovering new worlds and the wonderful and varied beings that people them. 

 

 

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Your Opinion, Please

As an author I fully understand the value of reviews and greatly appreciate readers who take the time to write a thoughtful review of one of my books. Whether the review praises the work or finds fault with it, whether it points out strengths and weaknesses or merely deals in generalities, whether the reviewer enjoyed the book or hated it, I can learn from the review and derive encouragement even from a bad review, knowing that the reviewer cared enough to read the book and write and post comments about it. Only a review that has nothing constructive to say is hurtful. If a reviewer says something like, “Don’t waste your time on this,” or, “I found this book totally disappointing,” and gives no reason for that opinion, it does not tell me how to improve my work. I only know that I failed to meet that reader’s expectations. I don’t know why. That kind of a review not only doesn’t help the author; neither does it give a potential reader any real guidance. We all have different tastes, and what one reader hates another might love. Giving specific reasons for the stated opinion tells a would-be reader whether he or she might react in the same way, whether favorably or unfavorably.

 I have posted glowing reviews of books and I have posted reviews of books that were generally good but left me in some way unsatisfied. I have tried to be honest and specific. There have been some occasions when I have had to tell an author who requested that review that I could not write a favorable review and would prefer to express my opinion privately to the author. Those (and they have been few) are cases in which I knew the author, the author had asked for a review, and I felt obligated to explain why I preferred not to give one. In other cases in which I found serious problems with a book, I have simply not reviewed it unless I could offer constructive suggestions as to how it could be improved. I have never reviewed a book I did not finish reading, regardless of my opinion of it. Haven’t you had the experience of beginning a book, finding it hard to get into, and perhaps setting it aside for a while with the intention of returning to it later? And perhaps you never do get back to the book and complete reading it. In that case, you should not review it. I’ve had the experience of returning to a book after putting it aside, continuing to read, and thinking, “Oh, so that’s what the author was doing. Now I understand.” And after completing the book, I find I can give it a positive review.

 I know that readers, like writers, are busy people. Some readers probably never think about reviewing a book even when they’ve enjoyed it. It’s easier not to bother, and to leave it to other readers to write reviews. Readers, please consider that by taking time to write a review saying that you enjoyed the book and the reason you did, you may encourage that writer. You may make their day. And if you write a review in which you state that the book wasn’t what you expected and disappointed you, and then you go on to explain why, the writer may see your point and because of your input may take care to do a better job on the next book.

 I have books that need reviews, and so I appeal to my readers—please, if you read the book, write a review for Amazon or Goodreads or both. I value your opinions. And I do learn from them. Haven’t read any? Pick one and give it a try.

Were House (an urban fantasy)  Deathright (a mythic fantasy) To the Far Side of the Forest (a fantasy for teens, aimed especially at the middle school age)

 

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An Invitation

I admit it—I love time travel stories. I’ve even written one. My latest book, Deathright, isn’t just a time travel story, but time travel is definitely a big part of it.front cover

It was that love of time travel stories that led me to buy Nathan Van Coops’ first book, In Times Like These. I also liked that the book is set in the city I’ve lived in for many years—St. Petersburg, Florida. None of that would have mattered, however, if the book hadn’t been any good. But it was better than good. I found it excellent. A great read!

So of course I had to have Nathan’s second book, The Chronothon. By this time I knew that Nathan was writing a trilogy. And I knew I’d want the third book when it became available. Especially after I read The Chronothon. Imagine a marathon run through time. That’s what The Chronothon is about. The race through time is supposed to be a challenging but fun event, but it quickly turns deadly, a race not for a prize but for survival. After reading it, I hated the thought of having to wait months for the third book.Day After Never, The - Nathan Van Coops

When Nathan put out a call for beta readers for the third book, The Day After Never (and isn’t that a great title?), I eagerly volunteered, knowing that if chosen, I’d get to read the novel before its release to the general public. I did serve as a beta reader and felt honored to do so. And I want to tell my readers and anyone else who’ll listen that Nathan did it again! He came out with a book that has nonstop adventure, philosophical speculation about life and death, a look at what can happen if we continue to abuse our planet as well as how to keep it from happening, romance, and a collection of marvelously developed characters that you’ll remember long after putting the book down.

I’m thrilled to have been able to read the book ahead of publication. But the book is now about to be released, and on July 12th Nathan Van Coops is throwing a launch party—right here online. And everyone is invited. So stop by and see what all the excitement is about. I’ll be there along with other authors; there will be prizes, and best of all, you can find out more about and purchase Nathan’s books.

Here’s the link to click on to see what it’s all about. YOU ARE INVITED! I hope to see you at the party. https://www.facebook.com/events/1719072161698790/

 

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I am a perfectionist. I know anyone who has seen my messy house would take issue with that statement. I’d better qualify it. I am only a perfectionist when it comes to writing. In all other areas I have too much of a laissez-faire attitude. But when it comes to writing, I want my work to be as perfect as possible in appearance and with regard to grammar and punctuation.

 Yes, yes. I know there is far more to writing than the formal elements of grammar, punctuation, spelling, and formatting. But I also know that carelessness about those things can turn off a potential reader. Of course I do the best I can with regard to content. But success in that regard is subjective. A story that one person loves and can’t get enough of will leave another reader unimpressed or even disgusted. Readers have vastly different tastes. I know that no matter how hard I try, I can’t please everyone with my stories. I don’t expect them to be read and enjoyed by people who dislike fantasy and science fiction. Even avid fantasy fans will have diverse reactions to my fantasy novels. Some will enjoy them; others will find them not at all to their taste. It doesn’t disturb me when someone tells me they just “couldn’t get into the story.” Of course I regret it, but at least they gave it a try before finding it not to their taste. What I don’t want is someone picking up the book, glancing through it, seeing it poorly formatted or spotting errors in spelling and grammar, and putting it back down as being “amateurish” and unprofessional.

I’m self-publishing my books now after being published by a major publisher and by small presses. I don’t feel that self-published works have the stigma attached to them that they once had. Nevertheless, because it has become relatively easy to self-publish, many books are being put into print that are not ready for publication. They have not been edited and are full of grammatical, spelling, punctuation, and formatting errors. Those are the books that give self-publishing a bad reputation.

 I do not want my books to fall into that category. I want them to look as professional as possible. I edit them myself, and then have my critiquing partner and other beta readers read through them to catch errors I’ve overlooked, both in form and in content. I take those critiques very seriously. If I disagree with some (and there are always some I disagree with), I still look carefully at the critique and ask myself whether I’m right to disagree. I try to see the scene or sentence or word from the other person’s viewpoint. I may then not change it the way the critiquer suggested but change it in a different way that I hope will resolve the problem.

 When I upload a book file to CreateSpace, I go through the online reviewer carefully and inevitably find things that need to be fixed. It may be a single word or group of words from the previous page orphaned alone on the top of the next page. It may be a missing quotation mark, or a paragraph that didn’t get indented. I fix those errors and resubmit the file. Then I go through it again. When I’m satisfied, I approve the file, and when it is ready, I order a printed proof. I have found that no matter how many times I’ve gone over a file on line, I see things in the printed work I never noticed on the computer screen. So I make corrections to my file and resubmit. I may then order a second printed proof, or I may download a pdf file or use the online reviewer. The chances are that no matter which I do, I will find something I want to change. I have resubmitted a file five or six times, maybe more, before I’m satisfied with it.

I went through that laborious process with my newest novel, Deathright. I kept finding things I wanted to change, not because they were incorrect but because I saw a way to make them read better. Eventually, I felt that it was ready to be published. I approved the file and ordered books I needed for an upcoming event. I then went on to prepare the file for electronic publication through Kindle Direct Publishing. I uploaded that file, which should be identical to the interior file for the print edition. The differences are technical, such as removing headers and footers, adding a table of contents, and putting links from the chapter titles in the table of contents to the chapter in the text. When that file was uploaded, I again went through it using the online reviewer. And of course I found a paragraph that needed revision, not because it had any grammatical or spelling errors but simply because it was awkward. So I revised it, and the Kindle version was published with that correction. However, now that single paragraph differed from the one in the print version. So I have now made the revision to the print file and re-uploaded it. That takes the book out of circulation for a brief time while the change is being approved and applied.

 Is it worth it? Most readers would probably not notice the difference, but I would. That unrevised paragraph would nag at me. Is that being a perfectionist? Maybe it’s just being professional.

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A NEW YEAR’S CHALLENGE

I’ve written often about getting ideas from dreams. That used to happen far more frequently than it does now. In fact, I have recorded many dreams that offer good material for a novel or a short story but that I’ve never used. Maybe that’s why I don’t get those dreams as much anymore. I have too great a backlog of ideas from the ones I’ve had to take advantage of a new idea.

This morning, shortly before waking, I had what I call a “story dream.” I recorded it in my dream file as I always do such dreams. But I decided to do something new with it. I’m going to share it with my readers. It is a good idea, too good simply to sit in a file and never get used. But I know I won’t have time to turn it into a novel. I’m still working on the novel that has developed from the last story dream I had. And I have many other novels already in the pipeline, either in progress or still in idea form. So I’m going to share my dream with you.

Ideas can’t be copyrighted. Anyone can take this “story dream” of mine as a basis for a novel or a short story and run with it. I would be very interested to see what you come up with if you decide to do something with it. Even if several people have a go at it, no two writers would handle it in the same way. Each one would come up with something unique to him or her. So go ahead, be my guest. Here’s the dream, just as I recorded it in my dream file:

The sole owner of a large business firm, a very wealthy man, has just died. The business executives expect to inherit his entire estate, as he had no other known heirs and left a will leaving everything to the business. However, three people appear, two men and a woman, claiming to be the deceased man’s grown children and his sole heirs. The older son is the spokesman for the three. They have a manila file folder containing documents proving their claim: their birth certificates, their parents’ marriage license, and, most importantly, a will, more recent than the one the business executives have, that names them as his heirs, inheriting everything, including the business. The business executives are sure the documents must be forged, but the son says, “Look at us. Can you doubt that we are his sons and daughter?” And, indeed, their resemblance to the deceased businessman is so strong that the business execs are shaken. Why did no one, not even his closest associates, know of these children? Why has their existence been a secret to everyone?

Okay, that’s the dream. The questions I ended with were asked in the dream but not answered. I awoke pondering them. I’m intrigued enough to want to do something with the idea, but I just do not have the time. So I’m putting it out here for anyone who wants it. Have fun!

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