Truth in History

Like what seems to be the bulk of the internet this past weekend, I watched Hamilton on Disney+. And, as will come as a surprise to precisely no one who has ever met me in real life, my husband and I then spent much longer than is healthy picking apart the history behind the play. Now, first things first, I am a fan of the musical. I bought the soundtrack back in 2015 and memorized it all. I spent way too much to go see the performance at the Kennedy Center when it was in D.C. Nitpicking the history wasn’t at all about trying to tear the play down, it was about analyzing the creative choices. There is no doubt that Lin Manuel Miranda is familiar with his topic. Like most (if not all) historical fiction writers, he fully immersed himself in his era (even getting to write at one of Hamilton’s desks at a historical site in New York—proving that there are perks to being a famous writer over the rest of us doing the bulk of our research through commercially published works and whatever we can Google/find online).

The 9 Most Interesting Things We Learned From "Hamilton's America ...
(Pictured: Not where most of us get to write our historical fiction)
By PBS, “Hamilton’s America” screenshot

Since history does not often conform itself to a perfect narrative, however, the fiction part of historical fiction sometimes does take necessity and leads to little (or sometimes big) cheats to tell the story you’re trying to tell. And so, Hamilton becomes a great example of how things sometimes have to give when you’re digging a great historical fiction out actual history.

For example:

Timelines get compressed (or changed entirely):

One of the cardinal pieces of writing advice often given in writing classes is “if it doesn’t serve a purpose, cut it.” When it comes to telling a story, every scene should be propelling your narrative and characters, be that providing new information, taking the characters closer to (or farther from) their goal, or building characterization. Unfortunately, history generally isn’t kind enough to do the same. Especially in the past, things took time to happen. There were weeks between letters being sent and delivered, people would go home to plant their fields before eventually returning to finish whatever “more important” action they started months ago… all in all, a bunch of “actual life” stuff gets in the way of a narrative arc. For that reason, historical fiction often trims the time it takes between events or sometimes even rearranges when specific events happen. The play Hamilton has a bit of a leg up in messing with the timeline in that it can paint with a very broad brush with time passing (when exactly did Hamilton get this letter? Well, it’s sometime between the Battle of Yorktown (1781) and the Constitutional Convention (1787)… pick a time) but even with that, it is still possible to pick out places where the timeline has been rearranged for storytelling. 

American Revolution Timeline
“Yeah, I think I can trim this down to two hours…”

A good example of this is the song Farmer Refuted. For this song, Miranda uses a common historical fiction “trick” where he takes writing from the actual historical record and then translates it into action on the stage/page. Unsurprisingly, Samuel Seabury did write an actual “Free Thoughts on the Proceedings of the Continental Congress”, from which his lines in the song are taken. Hamilton then wrote a response (two, in fact, since the play is correct in that he was never one for moderation in his writing) which he titled (any guesses?) “The Farmer Refuted”. I particularly like this example as it encapsulates both compressing the timeline and rearranging it. As these were pamphlets and responses written back and forth, obviously there was a lot more time necessary for this exchange than the few minutes shown on the stage where Hamilton literally steps onto Seabury’s soapbox and talks over him. These pamphlets were also written in 1774 and 1775 respectively, placing them solidly before the “1776, New York City” time and place setting given in Aaron Burr, Sir, which is five songs ahead of Farmer Refuted in the play. Since the entire narrative point of Farmer Refuted, though, is to show Hamliton’s bombastic approach to speaking his beliefs (setting up the dichotomy between him and his foil, Burr) and progress the story toward the actual fighting of the revolution, Miranda took these earlier works and transposed them into a single exchange that makes his intended point in a narratively interesting way that the actual timing would not have allowed for. 

Lin-Manuel Miranda is Alexander Hamilton and Leslie Odom, Jr. is Aaron Burr in HAMILTON, the filmed version of the original Broadway production.

Similarly, events are rearranged to fit in (spoilers for actual history?) Philip Hamilton’s death. In actual history, Philip Hamilton died in 1801. Fans of the musical will recognize this date as decidedly after the Election of 1800, which in the play happens in its eponymous song two tracks after Philip’s death in Stay Alive (reprise). This change was narratively necessary, however, as Miranda further compressed the narrative toward the end to remove a lot of the other events that led up to the Hamliton/Burr duel. In actual history, this duel is more closely connected to Burr’s New York gubernatorial campaign than his presidential campaign (which is also the reason Hamliton’s death is in 1804, rather than closer to 1800). Since the condensed narrative for the play would not support dealing with the conflict between Burr, Hamilton, and Jefferson in The Election of 1800 only to then have Philip die and then there be another conflict around an election, Miranda made the decision to move Philip’s death forward to then allow the Election of 1800 to serve the narrative function of both conflicts between our protagonist and antagonist. While in longer works of fiction, such as novels, readers perhaps might not allow quite as broad of changes to be made unremarked, as there is more time to get into nuances, in a time-compressed play or movie especially, joining these events to serve one singular narrative beat that leads to the historically accurate outcome is understandable. 

Characters become symbolic:

Daveed Diggs is Thomas Jefferson in HAMILTON, the filmed version of the original Broadway production.

While watching the Disney+ broadcast, one of the topics that we kept circling back to was Daveed Diggs’s portrayal of Thomas Jefferson. While Diggs does an amazing job with his physicality and character choices (he’s actually one of my favorite performances in the show) the person he is portraying is decidedly not the reserved, almost comically introverted, by many accounts, Thomas Jefferson. Rather than attempting to write an accurate Thomas Jefferson, Miranda wrote a character meant to be the embodiment of Jeffersonian ideas. He needed a quick, engaging way to show the conflicts between the Democratic-Republicans and Federalists in the early Federalist Period, and an accurate, reserved Jefferson would not have been able to match the bombastic energy of Hamilton’s character. Realism was thus once again sacrificed so that the narratively necessary points could be made. While in fiction it is always necessary to have characters feel realistic enough to be engaging as people, when telling a greater historical narrative, characters do often also fall into a symbolic role as well. One character may be a down-on-his-luck tailor but he is also the symbolic “put-upon proletariat” character the reader needs to connect to to get the full impact of the coming revolution or another character may be a charming poet, but she is also the mouthpiece for Romantic Era ideals to be able to show how the world is changing. In this way, Miranda has turned Diggs’s Jefferson into a charismatic symbol of conflicting political ideals rather than gone for anything close to a realistic portrayal of historic Thomas Jefferson. 

Phillipa Soo is Eliza Hamilton, Renée Elise Goldsberry is Angelica Schuyler and Jasmine Cephas Jones is Peggy Schuyler in HAMILTON, the filmed version of the original Broadway production.

Similarly, to serve the romantic subplot of the show, the Angelica Schuyler Miranda has written is a far cry from her historical counterpart. Miranda is on record as saying that he felt Hamilton needed an intellectual equal as a love interest, and thus developed this bittersweet “soulmates who can’t be” relationship between Angelica and Hamilton. Beyond the plainly “factual” errors that building this plot required (Philip Schuyler had eight children, including three sons despite Angelica’s line in Satisfied stating, “My father has no sons so/I’m the one who has to social climb for one”) Miranda also builds a character who is a mental match for his version of Hamilton by giving them a shared dissatisfaction with their lots in life. Unlike other women in the era who were proto-feminists (most notably being perhaps Abigail Adams in her 1776 letter urging her husband to “remember the ladies”) there does not seem to be any real evidence in the historical record that Angelica Schuyler shared the sentiment or would have tried to “compel [Jefferson] to include women in the sequel” of the Declaration of Independence’s “all men are created equal”. Rather than being a historically accurate Angelica who, while definitely witty and period-appropriately flirty in some letters, was already married by the time she met Hamilton and seemingly satisfied enough with her life, she becomes the character necessary to build a love triangle for Miranda’s Hamilton. 

Language changes:

Old English, New Influences | National Endowment for the ...
Next, from the creators of Hamliton, a Beowulf rap in the original Old English!

With Hamilton being a rap musical, it is hardly surprising that the language used in it is not period accurate (you mean to tell me not only were the Schuyler sisters not a trio of feminists, but they also wouldn’t have said “Work!”?) but this is something that all historical fiction authors come up against. For any book set before the 18th century, it is more or less understood that the piece of fiction the reader or viewer is digesting is a “translation” much in the same way that a fantasy novel is a “translation” from whatever language would be spoken in that fantasy world. Historical fiction readers/viewers don’t expect to pick up a book set in the middle ages and find something written in Old or Middle English. Similarly, there is a certain level of “suspension of disbelief” with any novel that needs to use more modern equivalents of difficult historical phrases to be understood. Obviously, just like with plays getting more ability to compress events in general, Hamilton gets an extra level of suspension of disbelief with its language than “normal” historical fiction due to it form. However, it also treds that line all historical fiction does of providing a “realistic” experience (including actual lines from “The Farmer Refuted” (Farmer Refuted) “Washington’s Farewell Address” (One Last Time) “The Reynolds Pamphlet” (The Reynolds Pamphlet) and Hamilton and Burr’s letters (Your Obedient Servant)) while also remaining accessible to modern audiences. Much like writing that medieval novel in modern English, Miranda manages to translate moments in history using non-accurate language by finding modern “equivalents”, such as a rap battle rather than an early Federalist cabinet debate, much in the same way that a novelist might need to use the slightly less period-appropriate word “science” instead of “natural philosophy” in a throwaway line of dialogue for it to be easily digestible. Obviously, all historical fiction authors need to know where exactly the line is for their own suspension of disbelief and work to keep their “translations” grounded enough to their own internal logic to not lose readers, but as we can see, if the changes are done well, they can do an amazing job of getting people who have never been interested in a period (or perhaps history in general) hungry in finding out more, and that truly is one of the wonderful things Hamilton has managed to do.

Alexander Hamilton: Ron Chernow: 9780143034759 -
Penguin Books

For those who are interested in the actual history of these characters and events, I strongly suggest picking up some non-fiction, such as Ron Chernow’s Hamilton, which gave Miranda his idea for the show to start with and seeing for yourself what the musical Hamilton does and doesn’t change. For those who are interested in writing historical fiction, I strongly suggest doing so as well, even if it’s just to be able to fully dissect what Miranda decided to keep and what he decided to change to build a tight, engaging narrative. I will not attempt to argue that every choice was perfect or if he should or shouldn’t have used such broad strokes in places (there are many pieces out there that have done much more justice to those arguments than I could in this short blog post), but if you—like I previously have—are currently caught up trying to balance history with fiction, this musical truly is a great study to at least get your feet wet with what changes may or may not work in your own narratives.

Interested in more historical fiction? The Stars of Heaven available August 18th, 2020.

Holiday Giveaway!

NaNoWriMo is over and we’re into December. And what better way to celebrate the holiday season than with a give away? Win books, a $50 Amazon Gift Card, or other fun prizes both through the group rafflecopter below, and a special give away of Karissa Laurel’s . Find details about both below!

Group giveaway:
What happens when 14 of the best authors on the planet get together just before the holidays?
We start giving stuff away.
From November 29, 2017 through December 12, 2017, we’ll be featuring a Rafflecopter for you chance to win a signed book of your choice, an e-book of your choice, or a $50 Amazon Gift Card!
All you have to do is follow each of the 14 authors on Bookbub. And we made it easy to do. With a Rafflecopter giveaway

ALSO, each of the authors above will be featuring the giveaway on their Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, newsletters, blogs, and wherever else they can think of and you could win there, too!

So follow all of them on Facebook for even more chances to win books, swag, and other great prizes during this pre-holiday giveaway.

Click to follow:

Midnight Burning:

Love gods and fantasy? Join this second Rafflecopter giveaway for a copy of Karissa Laurel’s book Midnight Burning:

When the police notify Solina Mundy that her twin brother, Mani, is dead, she heads for Alaska. Once there, she begins to suspect Mani’s friends know more about his death than they’ve let on. Skyla, an ex-Marine, is the only one willing to help her.

As Solina and Skyla delve into the mystery surrounding Mani’s death, Solina is stunned to learn that her own life is tied to Mani’s friends, his death, and the fate of the entire world. If she can’t learn to control her newfound gifts and keep her friends safe, a long-lost dominion over mortals will rise again, and everything she knows will fall into darkness.

Genres (and why we write them) #11: J.M. Frey

Today for our “Genres (and why we write them)” series, we have J.M. Frey, an author who writes across the speculative fiction genres (namely Sci Fi (social science fiction), Fantasy (epic, urban, steampunk), and horror (urban)). Find her on Twitter or  at


J.M. Frey: Writing Speculative Fiction

Q: What do you love about your genres?

It’s funny you ask, because I just gave a keynote speech for the local Rotary Club about the importance of writing and why SF/F is more than just escapist fluff. I talked about how SF/F can, yes, fun and escapist, and in troubling times like this – the #Brexit, Orlando, ISIL – escapism is important for mental health, for arts therapy, and keep the arts alive and people filled with joy.

But at the same time, it can teach. The Hunger Games speaks frankly about the dangers of The Untold Tale (The Accidental Turn, #1)dictatorships, media over-control, and blind consumerism and classicsm. Harry Potter teaches readers about racism. Star Trek is about pacifism. Lord of the Rings, much as Tolkien disliked allegories being applied to his work, speaks eloquently about environmentalism. Think of the messages in 1984, Logan’s Run, Metropolis. I think this is incredible that stories can both teach, provide awareness, encourage discussion, and entertain. And SF/F gives us the ability to talk about HERE and NOW by setting it THERE and THEN.

I often talk about how a person is a late. A book is a stone thrown into the water. It causes a ripple and then the lake goes placid. The disruption the stone causes smoothes over. But that stone, it’s still there. At the bottom of the lake. It is now a part of the lakebed. The foundation of that person. It shapes the water like a vessel.
That is why I love writing.

Q: Is there anything you hate?

Self-important gatekeeping nerd-jerks. See: #Gamergate and the 2015 Hugo Ballot.

Q: Has your genre shaped your publishing goals?

Yes! I found Neil Gaiman late in my reading life, and I adore the fact that he writes his stories in the medium that is best for the story, not the medium that he has to. He writes screenplays and poems, and song lyrics, and kid’s picture and middle grade books, novels, novellas, comics… and that’s really influenced and inspired me, because for the first time I felt the freedom to imagine my stories in other mediums. I realized I didn’t have to try to jam things down into novels if they didn’t fit into novels. I could try comics, or screenplays. And this was really better for my creativity – it could breathe.
And I think that’s a very SF/F thing. SF/F novelists very often also write comics, screenplays, articles, magazines, reviews, etc. This is, I think, because the SF/F was so small, so marginalized, and had to be so self sufficient for so long, that we all started picking up work where we could, helping around where we could to promote each other’s work and give one another awards, and generally being a community. I mean, have you seen fandom? Cosplayers, fan ficcers, reviewers, convention committees, people celebrating SF/F in every way possible, spreading out and filling the niches, and learning and teaching.

Embracing every medium, every story, and trying everything, and volunteering is just so SF/F. Fearless exploration and epic quests are between our pages. So of course, we live our lives that way, too!

Q : What expectations do you find placed on you because of your genre?

Well, it’s less about my genre and more about my gender. Because I’m a woman writing SF/F, I find people expect a lot of urban fantasy romance series from me, and not the superhero or epic fantasy stories that I do write. Which is equal parts frustrating and awesome because I can defy expectations when I get people into my books, but frustrating because there were expectations to begin with. Not all female SF/F authors write urban fantasy romance we write other things, too. (And FYI, it’s a bit insulting to be shocked when I say I write epic fantasy. I mean, Marion Zimmer Bradley? Jennifer Roberson? Hello?)

And that’s super-annoying. So is the mainstream awards and review outlets looking me over because I write ‘genre’ (see my first answer for my thoughts on why that’s BS).
But having said all that, it’s nice being part of a genre, because the fans are so loyal, and so enthusiastic, and so creative. You just don’t get that kind of love in mainstream fiction. I adore it.

About the Author

JMFrey_SearsJ.M. is a voice actor, SF/F author, and professional smartypants on AMI Radio’s Live From Studio 5. She’s appeared in podcasts, documentaries, and on television to discuss all things geeky through the lens of academia. Her debut novel TRIPTYCH was nominated for two Lambda Literary Awards, nominated for a 2011 CBC Bookie, was named one of The Advocate’s Best Overlooked Books of 2011, and garnered both a starred review and a place among the Best Books of 2011 from Publishers Weekly. Her sophomore novel, an epic-length feminist meta-fantasy THE UNTOLD TALE (Accidental Turn Series #1), debuted to acclaim in 2015.

Genres (and why we write them) #10: John DeBoer

Today for our “Genres (and why we write them)” blog series, we have thriller writer, John DeBoer. Find him at his site: or on Amazon


John DeBoer: Writing Thrillers

Thrillers are what I like most to read, so naturally, that genre appeals to me as a writer.

Suspense involving potential dire consequences must be a critical element in a thriller, so it’s a given I’d expect to have that be the undertone of the story. And the driving force of the plot, no matter what the sub-genre (political, psychological, medical, legal, etc.) must be the bad guys (or things) posing threats to individuals (or even the world!), which the Skeleton Rungood guys must thwart. This conflict, unlike other genres, by and large, involves lethality.

I’d also expect that the battle between good and bad (not necessarily evil, per se) be
exciting.. This is part and parcel of a thriller.

The elements of romance, sex, even humor, can be included in the story to add spice and sometimes provide character motivations – and I like to have them in my books – but they aren’t a requirement. In my view, incidents of intense action are necessary to show the reality and the magnitude of the threat.

The pace of a thriller story should be relatively rapid, avoiding sections that don’t contribute in a material way to the story. (Actually, irrelevant prose should be avoided in most novels, but it’s particularly true in thrillers.) My approach is to use descriptions sparingly – just enough to define characters and set scenes, so the story flow won’t be disrupted.

What I especially like about the thriller genre, as opposed to a mystery (which also incorporates suspense and can play a large role in thrillers) is the ability to write in the POV of the bad guy (girl) as well as the protagonist. In a thriller, the reader quickly learns the identity of the antagonist. That’s why I consider some of the books of Harlan Coben and Lee Child to be mysteries, rather than thrillers. (Thrillers that have some mystery are not the same thing as thrilling mysteries.) Being able to show both sides of the conflict doing their things out of the awareness of the opposite side appeals to me. In my view, this adds, rather than distracts, from the suspense.

So, I write thrillers, but I also want to get them published – and actually sell some!  Early on, I found that other genres were more popular among the reading public, the large majority of which, it seemed, consisted of women. And thrillers, as a rule, attract more men than women. So I’m dealing with a smaller segment of the reading public than, let’s say, romance writers do (as Red Adept publisher Lynn McNamee likes to remind me! ) But that doesn’t affect my publishing approach. I’ll keep writing thrillers, because I can’t imagine authoring any other genre. My goal is a simple one: to have an audience of my stuff who will want to come back for more, and to grow that audience with each successive book. That would keep my publishers happy, and it they’re happy, I’m happy!

About the Author

John L DeBoerAfter graduating from the University of Vermont College of Medicine, John L. DeBoer, M.D., F.A.C.S. completed his surgical training in the U.S. Army and then spent three years in the Medical Corps as a general surgeon. Thirty years of private practice later, he retired to begin a new career as a writer. When not creating new plot lines for his novels, Dr. DeBoer pursues his interests in cooking, the cinema, and the amazing cosmos. He’s an avid tennis player, and his yet-to-be-fulfilled goal is to achieve a level of mediocrity in the frustrating game of golf. The father of two grown sons, he lives with his wife in North Carolina.

Genres (and why we write them) #9: Morgan C. Talbot

Rounding out August in our “Genres (and why we write them)” blog series, is author Morgan C. Talbot, who also writes under the pen name Jasmine Giacomo. Find her on Facebook and Twitter or check out her website at


Morgan C. Talbot: The Two-Genre System

I write in two different genres. My epic fantasy writing appeals to my incurable curiosity about How Things Work. And by “things,” I mean everything from oceanic currents to how people get their carbohydrates to weird creature abilities what happens to city dwellers’ poo. (It’s gotta go somewhere.) I geek out over the ancient history of the landmass’s creation—subduction with a hint of volcanism, or the other way around? I draw maps by hand, of everything from continents to city layout. Doing so helps me visualize the area better. Deep down, I really enjoy the control I have over literally every aspect of my characters’ world. I’m basically their creating goddess, and I’m not always merciful.

First to Find (Caching Out Book 1)The other genre I write in is cozy mystery. Cozy, specifically, because I love that small-town, squad-goals feel of an everyday girl and her friends sussing out the bad apple in their midst. The focus is on a happy ending, with emphasis on the characters’ daily lives and hobbies. We can all be a cozy mystery heroine, the genre says. We can handle it.

These genres don’t really overlap. You won’t find a lot of fantasy-world mystery novels on the shelves. Fantasy expects me to create entire believable civilizations from scratch, while Mystery asks me to use reality (for the most part) and right a wrong. Fantasy is less concerned with justice for every crime than it is with providing some engaging escapism. Mystery relies on the predictable nature of humanity and small-town life.

I adore all these things about my genres, because they’re close to my heart, even though some things are closer to the left ventricle, and others to the right. I love the absolute freedom to create anything my imagination can envision. At the same time, it’s easier to work on complex motives and secrets when the world they inhabit is familiar and comfortable.

It takes a lot of work to create a new world, though. I’ve been working on my latest fantasy The Wicked Heroine (Immortality Archive Series Book 1)world for about fifteen years now, off and on—I finally feel like I’ve learned enough to do it justice. In that time, I’ve written literally all my other novels: three series’ worth. Building everything from nothing is intimidating some days. The struggle with Mystery is not its complexity, but its expectations. The villain gets a head start, and the interplay of sleuth and villain needs to feel organic while furthering the plot and allowing the sleuth to have downtime with her friends and family. And hopefully a cute pet. Or cupcakes.

For years I’ve imagined my characters like actors who auditioned for the part. They get hired, but the writer is still writing the script. I’ve stuck my heroes in mid-pirate-battle overnight and imagined them hanging from the rigging, cursing me roundly, unable to get down for a coffee or even a pee break. Or, of course, they argue with me. “I don’t sound like that. I want to say it this way,” they protest. And I get them a chai and tell them they have to say it my way because they’re foreshadowing something awesome, and we haggle over word choice for twenty minutes. I’ve had side characters chime in, taking my main character’s side against me. That was a weird day. Basically, treating them like they’re real people allows me a deeper insight into their motivations and goals. I suppose I get it from all the people-watching I do. I’ve been told that I’m spot-on with inferring people’s backstories and motives, but I’ve also been told that I creep people out when I speak up about it. I’ll take that as a compliment because this creeptastic skill helps me do my job better.

I’m a woman of two genres, and never the twain shall meet, except in my heart, ventricle to ventricle. I tried giving up each genre at different times, and I found that I couldn’t. The muses won’t let me. And I’ve learned never to argue with your muse. She always wins.


Books by Morgan C. Talbot/Jasmine Giacomo:


Caching Out Series
First to Find
Death Will Attend
Nine Feet Under


Immortality Archive
The Wicked Heroine

Seals of the Duelists
Rebel Elements
Traitor Savant
Prodigal Steelwielder


Genres (and why we write them) #8: Russ Hall

Today in our “Genres (and why we write them)” blog series, we have Mystery and Suspense/Thrillers writer, Russ Hall, author of the Al Quinn series. Follow Russ on Facebook or find him at his website:


Russ Hall: Writing Mysteries & Suspense/Thrillers. Vive la Différence

I write mysteries and suspense/thrillers because I like puzzles. Readers of mysteries like to be intellectually challenged, to dig, to discover, to work things out to a resolution. Readers in this genre are smart puppies and pretty good at figuring things out, so it’s a challenge to spin them a story that engages and pulls all the way to the end.

To-Hell-and-Gone-in-Texas CoverMysteries are all about unraveling the knot, whether from Nero Wolf’s armchair to Sherlock Holmes sniffing around out on a trail. They are often, though not always, more intellectual than physical. Clues must exist in the story if the reader is to participate.
Suspense/thrillers, like the books in the Al Quinn series, have some element of mystery to the stories, in which the dénouement has to be unfolded, or untied by the reader. The reader’s path is additionally one of exploration and discovery. It’s interactive. However, the thriller part is action/adventure with danger that spices the story and keeps those pages turning at a blazing pace.

These are the kinds of books I like to read, because I am a participant in the discovery and danger, all from the comfort of a reading chair.

When writing these books I stay tuned to a mantra Stephen King shares: “Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.” So it’s important to share and show just enough of the looks, smells, and feel of the settings and characters so they become alive on the stage in the reader’s mind.Turtle's Roar cover

To keep my readers guessing I don’t outline the Al Quinn stories. I want to be as surprised
by the twists, turns, and outcome as the reader. If I can’t tell how the story is going to turn out, the reader usually can’t.

A lot has happened to books in the space in the past few years. Once a fan of such books could physically read all of them published in a year. Now that simply isn’t possible. Way too many come out.

What makes books in the genre stand out now is distinctiveness. As the books become more cinematographic, and the story lines character-driven, a lot depends on the hook for a series to gather a growing audience.

The hook in the Al Quinn series is that he is a retired sheriff’s detective and hoped to idle his days alone, but is instead beleaguered by a houseful of people as quirky as himself, all while being immersed in cases as dangerous as he’s ever faced.

In a genre that has been known to split into categories—from cozy to hard-knuckle to Throw the Texas Dog A Bonepolice-procedural—the Al Quinn books, are in a space kiddingly (I hope) known as “geezer” fiction. Colin Cotterill’s Dr. Siri series is one quite good example. Instead of a young and strong character battling the odds, the reader follows the adventures of someone older who must fight the good fight while feeling the same aches and ouches that the reader might experience.
Now, I’m not fond of breaking a genre down into such categories, because good characters and well-told stories can be a form of literature that deserves to be read by a wide audience. Putting aside his age, Al Quinn is pretty fit and able for his years, and he gets himself crossways of some messes I would certainly avoid.

But Al is able to sort himself through and scrap himself out of whatever cataclysmic tangle he faces to a conclusion few readers can anticipate. And he does so, albeit with a few scrapes and bruises, in the nick of time, heroically, while managing to save others. Now isn’t that just the sort of thing to read on the plane, on the beach, or in that cozy reading chair with the fireplace going and a glass of wine or beverage of choice within reach while poor Al is going through all that?

About the Author

A writer of mysteries, thrillers, westerns, poetry, and nonfictionrh3c.jpg books, Russ Hall has had more than twenty books published. In 1996 he won the Nancy Pickard Mystery Fiction Award for short fiction. In 2011 he was awarded Sage Award, by The Barbara Burnett Smith Mentoring Authors Foundation–an award for the mentoring author who demonstrates an outstanding spirit of service in mentoring, sharing and leading others in the mystery writing community.  In 2014 he won First Place in the Austin International Poetry Festival. In 2015 The Writers’ League of Texas awarded “To Hell and Gone in Texas” its Fiction Discovery Prize.

Genres (and why we write them) #7: Katrina Monroe

This week in our blog series “Genres (and why we write them)” we have author, Katrina Monroe, who describes what she writes as humorous fantasy. Mostly.  You can find her books on Amazon here, follow her on Twitter, or visit The Deviant Dolls here.



Katrina Monroe: Write What You Love

I tend to think of genre as a Russian matryoshka doll with FICTION at the beginning, opening to endless sub-genres, niches, and caveats. Categorizing a novel is anything but a science and attempting to make it one is an exercise in self-torture. Two novels of similar content and style could easily be considered two entirely different genres.

Just to be contrary, let’s call what I write humorous fantasy.Lamb Cover

Well, except ALL DARLING CHILDREN. That’s not really humorous at all unless you consider the systematic murder of orphan boys funny.

See? We’ve already hit a snag.

Humorous fantasy is exactly what it sounds like. Fantasy that makes you laugh. Or hopefully makes you laugh. I’m no stranger to dud jokes. Comedy isn’t huge in the traditional publishing world and there are few authors who succeed (success, of course, being defined as making a living through publishing novels) in those particular genres. The ones who do are usually men.

So, why do I write it?

I have two major reasons. First, to be contrary (isn’t that a great word?) Romance is seen as the women’s genre, while the rest tend to be dominated by men. It’s ridiculous, and I have every intention of stomping on those stereotypes. By writing raunchy, comedic fantasy (with few romantic entanglements), I hope to appeal to an audience that wouldn’t necessarily read my work based solely on my obviously female name. Plus, women like boob jokes, too.

Kindle cover final.jpgThe second reason is a pretty simple one. I write the books I want to read. If there was any rule for the kinds of books an author should focus their efforts on, it’s that one. My favorite authors all write humorous fantasy, or humorous memoir, or humorous literary whatever. Point is, they’re funny. Satiric in most cases. I like thrillers. I like mystery. But I love to laugh and I love fairy tales. Humorous fantasy was a natural fit.

Writing humorous fantasy does present its own special problems, though. There are “rules” for writing fantasy, and some taboos applicable to today’s market. If you’ve ever perused the #MSWL (manuscript wish list) tag on twitter, you’ll see that each “I want fantasy” tweet is often followed by a “non-European” caveat. I get it. There are a million sword and sorcery books out there, but few that incorporate non-western culture. The world needs culture diversity, but I’m not the author to give it. I have a weird obsession with European culture, not just British but eastern European, too. It’s my heritage and I find the history fascinating (and too tempting not to capture in satire).

As a result, I’m not a “big name” author. I have my audience and they’re loyal and I love them, but I’m far from quitting my day job. In spite of that (and maybe because of it), I will continue to write what I love. Otherwise, what would be the point? It helps, though, to find a group of authors in the same boat. Author Renee Miller and I founded the Deviant Dolls, a publications group that encourages writers to write the things they love and put them out into the world, regardless of market trends and Big Six desires. Find yourself nodding along to what I’ve said so far? We’d love to have you.

About the Author

Katrina Monroe is a novelist, mom, and snark-slinger extraordinaire. Her worst habits include: eating pretty much anything with her fingers, yelling at inappropriate times, and being unable to focus on important things like dinner and putting on pants. She collects quotes like most people collect, well, other things. Her favorite is, “If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.” – Dorothy Parker

Genres (and why we write them) #6: Brenda Vicars

Today in our “Genres (and why we write them)” blog series, we have YA author, Brenda Vicars, author of Polarity in Motion. Connect with Brenda on Facebook and Twitter or at her website:


Brenda Hummel: Young Adult Genre and Uneven Playing Fields

I love reading and writing YA, but the marketing side of this genre is tricky. You have to appeal to two distinct audiences: the young adults plus the older adults in their lives. Since most young teens do not have Amazon accounts or autonomy to buy whatever they feel like reading, they must get parent permission or school approval to acquire a book. Most parents and teachers are not reading and screening stacks of YA books in order to provide their charges with a range of choices. Instead, millions of parents and teachers rely on American Library Journal to rate and review YA books. Moms and teachers know if ALJ says it’s okay, it’s okay! Seems simple—get your book in ALJ. Not simple—you have to submit at least 15 weeks prior to publication. It’s then or never! (If anyone knows a way to get in ALJ after publication, please, please, please let me know!)
So why, in the name of sanity, write in a genre in which you must to win two audiences, who often have opposite tastes and opinions? Because I have no choice. Polarity in Motion had to be written. When Polarity’s nude photo shows up on the Internet, her journey distills the voices of teens I’ve known. Her eyes are opened to more than the dangers of a photo prank. She discovers that the playing field is not even for all kids. This message is my passion. My heart. I cannot not tell it.
Polarity-in-Motion-Author CopyStill, there have been moments since Polarity met the world, when I’ve wondered whether I want to keep writing in a genre that is tough to market. But this past school year, those moments of doubt ceased. A high school class from the Northern Lights Community School in Warba, Minnesota read Polarity in Motion. Their teacher Gail Ann Otteson and I had met through Goodreads, and she set up a Facetime conversation with her class and me. I don’t have the words to do justice to the rich experience of having high school students react to my book. Their young faces and their insights warmed my heart and energized my creativity. For example, there’s a strange character, Arvey, who slinks in and out of the Polarity’s life, doing a wicked thing for twisted reasons. Mrs. Otteson’s students asked questions about Arvey and wanted to know if there will be a book about her. Up until that instant, the answer was, “no.” I’m done with Arvey. But now Arvey stomps around in my head demanding that her story be told. At this moment she’s leaning across my dining room table smirking at my laptop screen, too unimpressed to even roll her eyes. Arvey is one of those kids who is looking at an even playing field, but she knows her own feet will never touch it.
I asked Mrs. Otteson’s class if they would like to read chapters from the new book I’m writing (Polarity in Love), and they said, “Yes!” Critiquing chapter by chapter, these students are as insightful as any editor I’ve worked with. I love these students! For example, I used the word “tingle” (way too often) when describing Polarity’s feelings about her hunk, Ethan. The class nixed the tingles. So I’m working on new YA pleasing plus parent appeasing lingo for tingling. How lucky to have this kind of feedback!
Even with the genre’s double marketing challenges, people like Gail Otteson and her students are motivation to keep me in YA! My journey is not that different from Polarity’s. We both can’t stay out of the uneven playing field.

About the Author

IMG_7404Brenda Vicars has worked in Texas public education for many years. Her jobs have included teaching, serving as a principal, and directing student support programs. For three years, she also taught college English to prison inmates. She entered education because she felt called to teach, but her students taught her the biggest lesson: the playing field is not even for all kids. Through her work, she became increasingly compelled to bring their unheard voices to the page. The heartbeat of her fiction emanates from the courage and resiliency of her students.

Genres (and why we write them) #5: Karissa Laurel

Happy Birthday to Harry Potter! To celebrate one of the best selling series of all times, we have an author with her own Urban Fantasy series, Karissa Laurel for our “Genres (and why we write them)” blog series. Follow Karissa on Facebook and Twitter or find her at her own site:


Karissa Laurel: Writing Urban Fantasy

I primarily write in the urban fantasy genre, which has been one of my favorites since I started reading the Harry Dresden and Mercy Thompson series years ago. Both are great examples of standards in the category. Generally, urban fantasy is defined as a fantasy novel set in the real world, usually, but not always, in the present. That means settings are often real places, like Chicago in the Dresden Files; the Tri-Cities area of Washington State in the Mercy Thompson books; and Alaska, which is one of the settings for my series, The Norse Chronicles.

Although set in familiar surroundings, urban fantasy explores and expands those real world locations. So, while Chicago actually exists, it may contain portals to other worlds, or have magical elements hidden within the real, such as a secret society of wizards protecting mundane humans from paranormal threats. I love this genre because of the juxtaposition of fantasy versus real. It’s fun to play with the rules established by the real world and see how far I can bend them without creating a completely new and original world, which is the usual identifier of traditional fantasies like Lord of the Rings, or Game of Thrones.

The more experienced I’ve become in this genre, however, I’ve found there tends to be a pretty standard delineation between male and female authors, and what readers expect from those authors. Prime examples of this are the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher, and the Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne. Both of these series focus on rather macho main characters with wicked special abilities, and, often, a sharp sense of humor. They fight, they solve problems, and they grow stronger at the end of each book so they can come back to battle ever bigger and stronger protagonists in the next book. Their female counterparts are almost identical, except for a crucial difference: the inclusion of a strong romantic element, such as in the Kate Daniel’s series by Ilona Andrews (another long-time favorite of mine).

Before anyone starts throwing counter-examples at me, I agree, there are exceptions on both sides. Harry Dresden and Atticus O’Sullivan have had love interest, sure. Still, I’ve found urban fantasy series by female authors tend to focus more heavily on romantic subplots then books with male lead characters and male writers. As a female author, that’s an expectation I constantly run up against.

I don’t consider myself a romance writer and tend to shy from writing intimate scenes. In my opinion, the key to successful urban fantasy is a careful balance, keeping enough action and problem solving to please me, and enough romance to please the reader. Too much focus on sex pushes the genre into “paranormal romance” territory, although I often find readers automatically blending the two genres together, especially when the author is a woman.

Before you think I’m bashing paranormal romance, please know I love reading it. It’s just the writing of it that gives me troubles… at least not for now. Writers should always be willing to evolve, and to never say never. So, maybe someday I’ll write a romance plot with fantastical elements, and I might even get a sexy bare chested guy on the cover.

(Armentrout is one of my favorite paranormal romance authors, by the way.)

In the meantime, I’ll continue exploring urban fantasy because I enjoy writing a woman who has a broad range of goals, and whether or not she goes to bed with someone at the end of the day is an interesting consideration, but not fundamental to her need to kick ass and save the world.

About the Author

Karissa lives in North Carolina with her kid, her husband, the occasional in-law, and a very hairy husky. Some of her favorite things are coffee, chocolate, and super heroes. She can quote Princess Bride verbatim. She loves to read and has a sweet tooth for fantasy, sci-fi, and anything in between.

Sometimes her husband convinces her to put down the books and take the motorcycles out for a spin. When it snows, you’ll find her on the slopes.

Karissa also crafts, paints, draws, and harbors a grand delusion that she might create a graphic novel someday.

Genres (and why we write them) #4: Michael Meyerhofer

Today in our “Genres (and why we write them)” series, we have sometimes poet, sometimes fantasy author, Michael Meyerhofer. Follow Michael on Twitter or find him at his own website(s): and


Michael Meyerhofer: Writing Poetry and Fantasy

I’m sometimes asked whether I’m a fantasy author who also writes poetry or a poet who also writes fantasy, the assumption being that nobody could possibly approach two such wildly different genres with equal fidelity. It’s kind of like the parent who says they love both their children exactly the same, and part of you wonders, Do you really?

For me, though, the genres aren’t actually as different as they seem because what goes into making a good fantasy story is often very nearly identical to what goes into making a good poem. Sure, there are bad fantasy stories that have about as much depth as a dry lake, and bad poems that sound more like computer-generated Hallmark cards. But generally speaking, the good stuff in both genres uses imagery, action, and the avoidance of cliché to give readers what they want more than anything in the world: entertainment.

A while back, I published an essay in Brevity about how a working understanding of line breaks can make it a lot easier to write fiction because it helps you develop your own sense of lyrical energy and pacing. I’ve also noticed over the years that while some great writers stick exclusively to one genre, others develop their skills in several at the same time, which seems to help them put more tools in the toolbox. It’s also a lot of fun.

Let’s compare what might appear at first to be two totally different acts of writing: an attack by a skeletal dragon that breathes purple flames, and a homeless guy shyly asking for money so that he can attend his mother’s funeral. Let’s also assume that the first one is going to be written in prose and the second one in poetry, even though I’m sure you could reverse the two. Now, it might seem that the scene with the homeless guy would be easier to write because it requires less vivid description. After all, most of us haven’t seen zombie-dragons tumbling out of the blood-red sky, but we have seen fellow human beings suffer.

1_meyer_ft_cov_final.jpgOn the other hand, given all the tragedies in the news (not to mention the history books), most of us have become a bit numb to human suffering. This means that, as in the case of somebody who has trouble suspending their disbelief and imagining reanimated dragonbones, the trick is to avoid boring generalizations, tighten the focus, and make the scene so vivid that the reader simply cannot turn away.

Let’s go back to the parent who says they love their children exactly the same. Are they lying? Well, yes and no. Just as no two human beings are the same, no two pieces (or genres) of writing are the same either. Therefore, it would be kind of strange if we loved them without specifically acknowledging (and appreciating) their differences. I’ve always been drawn to the immediacy of poetry, what I guess I’d call its secular spirituality. I love the way you can use line breaks to play with the rhythm and create double-meanings, too. As for fantasy, even more than the action and wild creativity, I love the layered storytelling and the way everything builds on itself, not to mention the fun of incorporating real world elements into an otherworldly setting.

Writing in multiple genres has also been a great way for me to avoid writer’s block because whenever I feel myself getting a bit irritated or bored with one genre, I turn to the other and feel totally refreshed. That helps me be prolific without getting burnt out, which in turn keeps me sane and gives me an excuse to spend about half my salary at the local coffee shop.

Genres: Fantasy and Poetry (plus a smattering of nonfiction)
Fantasy Books: Wytchfire, Knightswrath, Kingsteel (The Dragonkin Trilogy); The Dragonward (The Godsfall Trilogy, other books forthcoming)

Poetry Books: What To Do If You’re Buried Alive, Damnatio Memoriae (“damned memory”), Blue Collar Eulogies, and Leaving Iowa