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 www.jmfrey.net.

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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.

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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: www.novelsbyjohnldeboer.com or on Amazon

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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 morganctalbot.blogspot.com

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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.

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Books by Morgan C. Talbot/Jasmine Giacomo:

MYSTERY

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

FANTASY

Immortality Archive
The Wicked Heroine
Oathen

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: www.russhall.com

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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.

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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:  www.brendavicars.com

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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:  www.karissalaurel.com

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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): www.wytchfire.com and  www.troublewithhammers.com

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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

Genres (and why we write them) #3: Laura M. Kolar

Today in our “Genres (and why we write them)” series, we have Laura M. Kolar, YA author of Canvas Bound and co-author of Ashes of Life. Thank you for joining us, Laura!

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Laura M. Kolar: Writing YA Fiction

Hi Jessica and thank you so much for inviting me to your blog!

Canvas-Bound1I never know how to get these posts started so I’m going to jump right in. I’m a YA writer for the most part. When I first stared down the writing path, the idea of adult readers liking YA novels was a fairly new concept. You never really heard adults gushing over a “teen” story the way you do now. But within a two year span, YA became huge among adult (mostly women) readers. The first novel I wrote was actually a new adult (NA) story, but because YA had become so big, I decided to work onCanvas Bound more and ultimately decided to query that out rather than the NA.

 

One of the things I like most about YA is if you’re classified as a YA author, you can write anything from a heavy fantasy to a contemporary fiction and no one thinks that’s odd. Readers don’t seem to have the same genre specific expectations. In fact, if you’re writing a YA fantasy, the characters don’t even have to be young adults, it’s not really age that makes the story YA, it’s content.

 

The biggest thing I try to remember when I’m writing YA is it has to feel like the characters are experiencing things for the first time, like a first dance or first kiss. A fantasy character could be over a hundred years old, but never have gone on a date before. It’s all about the newness and emotional reaction to that newness that makes the story YA. I think the first few lines of Ben Rector’s song, Brand New, says it best:

 

“I feel like new sunglasses, like a brand new pair of jeans
I feel like taking chances, I feel a lot like seventeen”

 

(Side bar – if you’re writing about the real world, the characters do need to be between the ages of approximately 15-17.)

 

One of the things that drives me crazy about the YA genre is the sub-genre trending.cover For example, if you have a great idea for a vampire story, you’re going to have a much more difficult time getting it published because the market was flooded with those about eight years ago. You almost have to be able to see into the future to know what will be selling well in two to three years because that’s about how long it takes to get a novel from query ready to out on bookstore shelves. I’m by no means saying give up on that vampire story, but lets say you have an idea for something new and fresh, you may want to put your writing time into that and save the vampire story for later in your career. After all, sub-genre trends do come back around eventually. L.J. Smith published The Vampire Diaries in 1991 and it didn’t become a hot TV series until 2009. (I’m crossing my fingers that in the next 15ish years YA stories about art students with unusual talents will be the next hot thing.)

 

So, since I’m not good at ending these posts either, I’ll just insert a shameless plug for Canvas Bound, my YA fantasy about a girl whose paintings come to life, and for the book I co-authored with Erica Lucke Dean, Ashes of Life, a woman’s fiction novel about a teenage girl and her young step-mother. (And if you do buy them, which I hope you do, please leave an honest review.)

 

All the best!

Laura

About the Author

Laura M. Kolar lives with her husband and daughter in a one-stop-light town in northern-lower Michigan. Though she didn’t discover her love of books until she turned thirty, as a self-declared hopeless romantic, she has spent the past few years reading and writing stories with mostly happy endings. If she’s not at her day-job or with her family, you will find her sipping a cup of chai latte while sitting in her favorite rocking chair, hunched over her laptop writing or spending entirely too much time on Twitter.

Genres (and why we write them) #2: Victor Catano

Kicking off the “Genres (and why we write them)” series of guest blogs is Victor Catano, author of Tail & Trouble, who is stopping by on his blog tour. Connect with Victor on Twitter or Facebook or on his own website: http://victorcatanoauthor.weebly.comtrouble banner
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Victor Catano: Writing Urban Fantasy

Recently, I had my first novel published. Tail & Trouble came out on May 10th, and I was very excited. It’s a story about a guy named Gabriel trying to find his missing girlfriend Sheila, who is a witch. Her coven won’t help him, so he sets out on his own. His only help is Orson, her familiar who is a bulldog and magically linked to both of them. Orson can communicate with both of them. I think it’s a lot of fun, and the reviewers think so too.

 

Ah, reviewers. Since I am with an independent publisher and they don’t have the ad budget for a big promotional blitz, I have been submitting to various book blogs to get reviews. One of the first ones I got was very positive and mentioned that I “brave a predominantly female genre to give us a fresh perspective on witch fantasy!”

 

Which gave me pause. (Paws? Ok, enough dog puns.)  I really didn’t think of myself as particularly “brave” for writing a story about a magic dog. Usually I felt over-caffeinated. (I write a lot at coffee shops.)

 

The genre I am writing in is urban fantasy. Like a lot of genres, it is full of sub-genres, sub-sections, and so on. I take it to mean that the story is in a modern (ish) setting, but there is a magic element to it. That is incredibly broad, I know. (Technically, that means that Harry Potter is an urban fantasy. So is Sookie Stackhouse. So is Harry Dresden.) But what I enjoy about that is that a lot of the work of world building has been done. If a story is in a modern setting, I don’t have to explain how the world works. I don’t have to explain a car, for example, the way a high fantasy author would have to explain why people get around on giant flying hamsters. This lets me focus on the specific magical elements of my story. (Like a telepathic bulldog who hangs out with witches.) That’s fun for me, because I’m more interested in the characters and how they interact than in describing all the surroundings.

 

The thing about fantasy writing is that I didn’t think there would be any expectations, except to write a compelling story, of course. It certainly didn’t occur to me that I was entering a female driven field. (My book cover has kind of a cozy feel to it, which might be a part of it.) I’ve certainly found that more women are reviewing it on blogs and on Amazon than men, but I think there are more female book bloggers and reviewers in general.

 

Since I started writing this mainly for myself and just for fun, I really didn’t put any expectations on the book – especially with publishing. Then when I showed some chapters to my wife, and then my mom, and then she gave it to her friends, and then they started to demand more and more chapters, that’s when I started to work harder to finish the book. And then when all of those people enjoyed it, that’s when I started to submit to publishers.

 

Since I read almost nothing but genre fiction (mystery, crime, fantasy, and SF) I didn’t think my genre would hold me back. I was more worried about finding a publisher to submit it to. Most publishers don’t want to deal with you unless you have an agent, most agents don’t want to deal with you unless you have a published work. (There really ought to be a phrase that describes that…Conundrum 23? I’ll work on it.) Thankfully, I found Red Adept. They accept unagented submissions and they accepted my book.

 

It’s a lot of fun to write in the urban fantasy genre. I’m writing the second book in the series now and I hope to continue for a long time.

 

Thanks for hosting me, Jessica!

 

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Tail and Trouble by Victor Catano

When Gabriel’s witch girlfriend doesn’t return from her latest trip, he gets on the road and heads out to find her. Sheila’s coven is secretive and distrustful of Gabriel, so the only help he has is Sheila’s familiar, a bulldog named Orson, who is psychically linked to both of them.

 

In Florida, they walk right into an elaborate plan to steal Orson. A mysterious wizard named Yareth is behind the plot, and he may also know where Sheila is. Gabriel and Orson will have to fight for their lives as they navigate around all the magical roadblocks to force Yareth’s hand. They won’t give up until Sheila is safe.

 

About the Author 

Victor Catano - HSVictor Catano lives in New York City with his wonderful wife, Kim. When not writing, he  works in live theater as a stage manager, light designer, and technical director, working mainly with dance companies. His hobbies include coffee, Broadway musicals, and complaining about the NY Mets and Philadelphia Eagles.