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

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!


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!


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

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!



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.

“People don’t see” A plea for empathy

I normally make it a point to not talk too much about politics online. Simply put, I don’t have the energy (or maybe emotional fortitude) to get into arguments with strangers. With everything that has happened over the past week, however, I thought I would somewhat break that rule for today–at least long enough to hope my own experiences may help anyone else struggling out there.

Now, I will be the first to admit that I grew up with a very (here comes that p-word people hate) privileged childhood. My father had a very good job that paid well, and while he worked very hard to get to where he was, I never had to witness that struggle. By the time I was old enough to understand things like money, we had reached a point where it wasn’t a struggle. My mother was able to stay home with us. We owned a house (eventually a house and a vacation condo). We lived in a great school district, got to go on great trips, didn’t have to worry much about crime (“turn the alarm on in case someone tries to break in while we’re gone” was about the extent of my worry about criminals as a child/teen). From having my horizons broadened now, I know that I was very, very lucky (and continue to be so. Not everyone has the safety net I still do—even as a self-sufficient adult).

At the time, however, that was all normal. Everyone I knew had the same things we did to some extent. Sure, maybe that family owned Hondas instead of a Lexuses (Lexi?), but they still had a well-running car. Likely two. Maybe even three if they had a teen driver. Maybe so and so was going to Palm Springs this year rather than Hawaii over Winter Break, but they were still going away for the week to have a good time. White, Black, Hispanic, Asian… everyone living in my little sphere seemed more or less the same.

While that in some ways is great (I never saw any blatant racists in my neighborhood, I was never told to not play with X or Y children) it is also part of the problem. I never saw any racism, and thus to younger me, it didn’t exist.

I recently finished the book Polarity in Motion by Brenda Vicars—which turned out to be rather timely, as far as subject matter, this week—and one line truly stuck out to me: “I guess people don’t see their own way of seeing.” There are people, I’m sure, who are far more qualified than I am to speak about issues of poverty and race and justice and whatever else than I am, but from all I have learned, that quote perhaps sums up what I have learned the best. It is difficult to see issues when you haven’t experienced them.

Was anyone a racist in my neighborhood? Maybe. As a little blond girl, when would I have really seen it? Though I had friends of multiple races, the demographics in my neighborhood were almost a fifty/fifty split between White and Asian, so when going through all of my friends from back then (White, White, Asian, Asian, White…) I can’t even say I spent much time speaking to anyone who was a true minority in our neighborhood. Thinking back on high school, I honestly could only talk about three Black students by name (two of them mixed race) and that is because I knew them from classes we shared. I didn’t make a conscious decision to stay away from Black students, there just wasn’t a large number of Black students to start with, and I never would have thought to try to become friends with someone specifically because they were Black. That would have felt racist.

What I most remember about the end of high school, though, when it comes to these issues—and the thought that so often pops up when I see Facebook arguments about Black Lives Matter vs. All Lives Matter, etc.—is my gut reaction to affirmative action as a high schooler. With absolutely no knowledge into what it was other than “it takes race into consideration with admissions” I hated it. Sure, racism was something we learned about in school, but that was in the past. There were plenty of races at my high school! Sure there were only a handful of Black or Hispanic students as far as I knew, but they were there, and they were doing just as well as I was. They all lived in the same neighborhoods as the rest of us. They all went on the same vacations and had the same cars. Making it easier for them to get into college over me felt like racism against me. It took several, several years of expanding my horizons and meeting people who didn’t grow up like I did to understand what programs meant to overcome the problems built up over centuries of institutional racism were truly meant to do.

And that’s why I can never think too harshly of people who claim saying “Black Lives Matter” is racist. Because that used to be me. Before I left my own little bubble, it would have been perfectly simple to continue thinking that racism wasn’t a thing. That poverty wasn’t that much of an issue. To think that most people lived the way I did. Everyone I talked to certainly did, after all! It is a nearly impossible thing to see how you see. There is a reason things don’t seem like problems when you aren’t the one experiencing them. As much as I try to read about other people’s experiences now (as an author, I think it’s part of the job description, trying to learn how other people experience life outside of me) I know that I will never fully understand their problems the way they do. Similarly, they will never understand mine the way I do (because all of us do have problems). I can’t claim I have all the answers. I can’t claim I have even a single answer. I can just say I wish people would step back from their gut reactions and talking points long enough to understand that just because they don’t see X doesn’t mean that X isn’t a legitimate issue.

I am lucky that, overall, my problems aren’t too difficult to handle. I consider myself equally lucky now that I can see that that isn’t the case for everyone. Change won’t happen while people are busy digging in their heels, all trying to yell about their problems being the real problems. Being out of work because the factory you worked in for forty years in rural Arkansas is a problem that needs to be addressed. Not being able to feed your children in the inner city is a problem that needs to be addressed. Black men ending up dead as they have this week is a problem that needs to be addressed. Cops ending up dead as they have this week is a problem that needs to be addressed. Pointing to the other side as being the problem and not being willing to help them because no one is helping you is certainly a problem that needs to be addressed.

As I said, it is not an easy thing to see outside of your own experiences. It has taken me over a decade of listening to accounts on all sides to understand as much as I do, and even then I’m sure someone suffering in any situation could school me on what their life is really like. I can only hope that people try to get past their gut reactions and try for empathy on all sides. Until we stop viewing the other side as idiots who don’t understand, nothing will happen outside of the shouting.

What Genre is My Novel?

On Sunday I announced our new Sunday blog series, “Genres (and why we write them)” where this blog will be hosting authors who write a range of genres and talk about what drew them to the genres they write, what challenges they find because of their categorization, and other general thoughts about genres and marketing.

Before we fully get into the blog series, however, it seemed like a good time to talk about what genres are out there (and what genre your own writing might fall into for all the other authors out there).

Most plainly (as defined by Merriam Webster) a genre is “a particular type or category of literature or art.” Going a little deeper, when it comes to publishing, genre is a way of labeling a certain group of novels along shared subject matter. This makes it easier for authors to explain their books, publishers to market them, and readers to find things they are interested in reading.

Though there are dozens of genres and subgenres that are used when discussing novels, some of the most common you’ll likely come across (whether you’re looking for a novel to read or need a category for your novel) are:

  • Contemporary Fiction: One of the broader categories to place your novel in, Contemporary Fiction tends to cover novels that take place in a contemporary/modern-day setting and doesn’t fall into another genre (e.g. Urban Fantasy or Women’s Fiction).
  • Historical Fiction: Unsurprisingly, Historical Fiction covers books that take place in historical settings. Famous historical figures may become characters (even the main character such as Mary Bolyen being the protagonist of Philippa Gregory’s The Other Bolyen Girl) but the story can also center around a “normal” character living in a historical period (for example A Picture of Freedom following the life of a fictional slave girl in 1859 without her meeting Jefferson Davis or Harriet Beecher Stowe). Note: Historical Fiction tends to be applied to modern authors writing in historical settings versus Period Pieces with an author from an earlier time period writing what was then contemporary fiction, such as Jane Austen’s works.
  • Fantasy: Fantasy is a wide-ranging genre with a number of subgenres, namely because it is the label that is given to any book that has some sort of fantastical/magical element to it–be that magic powers, mythical creature, or just about anything else that can’t exist (or be explained) in the real world. Some subgenres you may come across include:
    • High Fantasy/Sword and Sorcery: What many people think of when they first hear the term “fantasy novel,” High Fantasy is The Lord of the Rings style fantasy, that takes place in an entirely fantastical world with fantasy races (Elves, Orcs…) and often includes big battles with good vs. evil (or at least people you mostly like vs. people you don’t really like, if you are going the George R. R. Martin/A Game of Thrones way of High Fantasy). It is also sometimes referred to as Sword and Sorcery since often the settings are vaguely medieval with swords as the primary form of weaponry outside of magic.
    • Historical FantasyHistorical Fantasy tends to be a mix of Historical Fiction and Fantasy where fantastical things happen in a historical setting (think vampires in Victorian London or there truly being witches in the middle of the Salem Witch Trials, such as Heather Eager’s Devil’s Playground
    • Urban Fantasy:  Urban Fantasy, as the name suggests, is technically fantasy that
      takes place in a city. Lately, though, the term has been expanded to generally mean “fantasy that takes place in a contemporary setting” even if that setting is primarily a school in the Scottish Highlands (a la J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter) or a small Alaskan town (like Karissa Laurel’s Norse Chronicles).
    • Magical RealismSwinging the fantasy genre as close to Contemporary Fiction as possible, Magical Realism is a subgenre that uses magical elements in a way that seems perfectly normal in a realistic setting. For example, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of SolitudeThe visions, ghosts, and prophecies are technically fantastical elements, but the book is otherwise closer to Contemporary Fiction than something like High Fantasy.
  • Science Fiction: Like the Fantasy genre, Science Fiction deals with things that don’t exist in the real world (time travel, aliens) but unlike fantasy, the things that are happening could (at least logically) be explained by science rather than magic. For example, rather than having a magical amulet or witch’s curse that allows for time travel, a scientist has developed an equation that folds time enough to be able to step through it. Science Fiction is sometimes divided into Hard Science Fiction, which is focused on making the science behind their robots, cloning, etc. highly developed, truly seem realistic and Soft Science Fiction, which is a little less interested the actual scientific explanations for what is happening (sometimes even straying into Science Fantasy where there starts to be vaguely scientific Hand Wave’em to explain technology in the story such as, arguably, BBC’s Doctor Who).
    • Steampunk: A popular subgenre of Science Fiction, Steampunk takes place in a world where steam is the dominant power source driving inventions. Because of that, the worlds tend to be vaguely Victorian in nature rather than futuristic.
  • Romance: As the name would suggest, the Romance genre covers stories where falling in love tends to be the driving force of the plot. Overall, plots tend to follow the same basic formula: Hero meets heroine (or hero meets hero, heroine meets heroine, etc.), they have some sort of attraction to each other, something keeps them apart (one finding the other annoying, conflicting opinions, evil outside parties), but in the end they end up together. Since the story tends to be character-driven, unique, engaging heroes/heroines are the force behind romance novels.
  • Horror: Another self-describing name, Horror novels are meant to scare (or at least
    cause dread) in the reader. They can join with fantasy to have the horror based around supernatural forces or monsters (such as Stephen King’s It) or stay more grounded in reality with the horror coming from potentially real threats like serial killers (such as in Thomas Harris’s Silence of the Lambs). Either way, Horror is supposed to leave the reader scared.
  • Mystery: Mystery novels are based around solving a crime or unraveling secrets throughout the story. Often times the protagonist is a detective (professional or amateur) who is picking up clues and trying to solve the crime along with the reader  (such as in the entirety of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple books). Mystery novels can also be classified as Cozy Mysteries, or just “cozies,” if the tone of the book is lighter/more humorous. Cozy Mysteries tend to have female, amateur sleuths who have some sort of fun job outside their detective work (perhaps owning a novelty store or being a florist) rather than being connected to law enforcement. Cozies are meant to be “fun” mysteries rather than strongly suspenseful.
  • Women’s Fiction/Chick Lit: Women’s fiction (and it’s lighter, sometimes sillier cousin “Chick Lit”) covers novels that are specifically marketed to a female audience, dealing with women’s life experiences or problems that are highly relatable across a female audience. As women statistically tend to read more novels than men as a whole, it is a flourishing genre.
  • Thriller/Suspense: Thriller and Suspense novels in short deal with harm that is about to befall a person or group and characters who are trying to stop that from happening. For example, Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels or Scott Bell’s Abel Yeager novels would classify in this genre with ex-military men trying to stop terrorists or bring down drug cartels.

Noticeably missing from the list above, perhaps, is “Young Adult” fiction. While sometimes listed as a genre in its own right, Young Adult fits into the category of age groups over genre, and thus can be added to any of the genres listed above (or any of the other genres not mentioned) such as YA Fantasy or YA contemporary fiction. When trying to decide which age group your writing falls into :

  • Children’s: Books aimed at an elementary school audience, approximately ages 7 to 10. They can be short chapter books, but still tend to be easier reads meant for those who are slowly becoming more proficient in their reading skills. Topic subjects tend to stay equivalent to a G rating in movies. 
  • Midgrade: Books aimed at a middle school audience, ages 11-13. The protagonist of
    the story tends to be around the same age as the audience, such as Harry Potter being 11 at the beginning of Book 1 of his series. Topic subjects reach PG.
  • Young Adult: An age grouping that has been expanding in recent years, with many adults also reading Young Adult (YA) these days, the target market of a YA book is high schoolers, age 14-17, often with a protagonist at the upper end of that spectrum dealing with problems high schoolers could reasonably have, such as first loves, finding a place in the world, school (in contemporary YA fiction), and anything that could be classified as “coming of age.” Topics can be more adult, but generally don’t breach PG-13 in how they’re presented.
  • New Adult: A relatively new classification, New Adult (NA) is generally aimed at ages 18-25 (with a protagonist about the same age) and covers topics relevant to college students or “young professionals.” Including novels such as 50 Shades of Gray it is also sometimes called “YA with sex” though sex is obviously not requirement.
  • Adult: Books aimed at the above 25 market.

As I’m sure we’ll see through the entirety of our upcoming “Genres (and why we write them)” series, many books span genres and age groups, so it sometimes isn’t possible to say you write only YA Romance or Adult Contemporary. Genres are a grouping tool. I’ll let the rest of my guest bloggers say if they find that a good or a bad thing over the next few Sundays.

Genres (and why we write them)

Recently, I had the pleasure of taking part in a panel on genres and the expectations that are placed on novels based on how they’re categorized. The recording of the panel will be available during Virtual FantasyCon 2016, but it certainly got me thinking about writing, and writing’s evil twin–marketing. Part of the reason books are categorized into genres, after all, is to help readers find books they’d like to read.

Since there are so many authors writing so many genres, I thought I would open up this blog to other writers over the summer to talk about what drew them to their genres, and what challenges they have found came about because of the genres they chose. So for every Sunday through the rest of the summer, there will be guest blogs from everyone from high fantasy to cozy mystery writers talking about their experiences in the “Genres (and why we write them)” blog series. To start off, though, you all get to hear mine.

When I started out writing, I never much thought about how my stories would be marketed. There is an old piece of writing advice that says, “Write the stories you’d like to read.” Even before someone had shared that with me, writing things I wanted to read was entirely my approach. These days,  I still write what I want to read, but that can definitely make marketing a little more difficult–especially because readers of different genres have very different expectations. The Copper Rebellion

As a whole, I’ve always been a very character-driven author. How characters play off of each other has always been what I find most interesting. I imagine that is why I started off as a romance author. Since romances are entirely focused on the couple falling in/being in love, the plot is character-driven by necessity. Of course, romances also tend to follow a very specific formula. Namely 1) Love interests are introduced; 2) there is some problem that keeps them apart; 3) Love interests end up together. There are hundreds of good ways to use that formula (as a romance reader as well, I’ve seen many unique plot twists and turns that still end up following the same general formula) but since I’ve always been the type to let my characters lead where they wish, fitting into that formula to be a “true” Romance writer was never my strong suit. Some people have loved that, some people hate it, and it definitely can make marketing a little hairy at time–since straying away from what readers expect from their Romance novels can be dangerous–but they were always the books wanted to read, and that meant straying to the edges of the genre.

Raining EmbersNow that I’ve moved into the historical fantasy genre, I’ve found that being at edges of genres is apparently my modus operandi. While I certainly have the fantasy part down in my novels–people finding out they’re reincarnated gods really can’t be anything but fantasy–writing what I want to read still means character-driven plots, and that isn’t quite as expected in fantasy novels as it is in romance. One of the oddest things I’ve found of straying into character-driven fantasy so far is actually that a ton of people who state they “don’t generally like fantasy” love the book. Much like the romance readers who don’t like my straying away from the romance formula, however, many pure fantasy readers end up on the other side of things, unsure if they feel like they got what they thought they were going to.

Treading along the edges of genres can definitely make life difficult. More than once while reading meaner reviews, I’ve debated if it would be worth it to write something that would fit inside genre expectations. I entirely understand why people like the genres they do and don’t begrudge anyone who feels let down when a book they’re excited about doesn’t hit the things they love about the genres they read–I certainly know I don’t love every book I pick up. Being able to hit expectations more solidly would definitely make the marketing side of things less of a headache. But then I’d no longer be writing what I’d want to read, and being able to do that is part of what makes writing so much fun. So for now I’m left skirting along the edges of my genres, finding readers who want to read the same things I do, because they’re obviously out there, even if genre-bending makes targeted marketing a little more difficult than it otherwise could be.

Outlining (as a Panster)

Happy June 28th, or as we’re calling it around my house, release day! I’m very pleased to announce my new style guide, Building the Bones: Outlining Your Novel, (part of the Red Adept guide series: Beyond the Style Manual) is now available!

Whenever I’m teaching a writing class, I try to make the point that there is no “right” way to write. If you need a binder full of notes before you start writing, that’s fine. If you want to jump right in and see how far you get, that’s fine as well. In perhaps the least sinister use of quoting Machiavelli, the end really does justify the means when it comes to writing. If you end up with a good completed manuscript, it really doesn’t matter how you got there.

When I first started writing, I was a die hard “pantser” (i.e. someone who “flies by the seat of their pants” and just starts writing with no outline). If someone had told me back then that I would one day be the one writing a “how to” guide on outlining, I would have told them they were crazy. After over a decade of learning to better my writing/developing my style, however, I’ve found myself stretching across the full range of outlining styles (from the basic character-goal-obstacle outline to a full scene-by-scene) depending on what each story has demanded. Though I still tend to fall on the less outline than more side of things when working out my novels, having done just about everything in the name of working out a story has allowed me to pick up a number of outlining techniques that can help nearly any writing style–so perhaps having pantser instincts actually has made it easier to write a how to guide than someone who has always used the same kind of full outline.

So, no matter your writing style, if you want to write a novel and aren’t sure how to get started or are generally a pantser but keep finding your novel fizzling out before you can get it finished, consider picking up Building the Bones. Hopefully all my years of floundering around will save you a little trouble.

Building the Bones: Outlining Your Novel
Now available HERE on Amazon Kindle through Red Adept Publishing

Do you have a story you’ve always wanted to write, but weren’t sure how to begin? Have you tried pantsing and floundered, unsure how to finish your novel? Learning the simple basics of outlining can help you plot with confidence.

This instructional guide booklet covers the easy, straightforward techniques you need to plan your story before you write. These guidelines will aid you in organizing your ideas no matter what genre you write or what age group you write for. Whether you use paper or a computer to plan with, these outlining concepts will help you navigate the unknowns of your imagination so you can bring your story to life.

Actions Speak Louder

One of the first pieces of writing advice almost all new writers hear is the old adage “Show don’t tell.” Back when I first started writing, I fully loathed hearing people say that–mostly because I don’t think anyone ever explained it very well beyond “don’t use to be verbs.” While trying to stay away from weak verbs is generally good advice, even brand new writers tend to realize going on a “to be” witch hunt get you awkward prose (at least I did when I had an English teacher tell us to write a story without a single was or were).


More than being about to be verbs, though, showing and not telling has to do with “showing” the reader actions and emotions rather than “telling” them what your character is like or is feeling. For example, you could tell a reader, “She was a quiet girl and wanted to be left alone” or you could show a little girl sitting at the back of a classroom, her shoulders pulled up to her ears as she prays in her head that no one comes to talk to her. While both make the same general point, the second paints a much more vivid picture and pulls the reader into the scene rather than just giving them statements to remember.

While it’s good to stay away from weak/telling phrases in general (I was; I felt; I wanted; I liked…) showing becomes immeasurably important when it comes to fleshing out characters. It doesn’t matter how many times you tell your readers that your character is quiet and shy, if all you show is your character being the center of attention at party after party, your character is going to read as someone loud and outgoing. When it comes to characterization, actions truly do speak louder than words.

So, instead of telling your reader character traits:

1. Look for scenes that show important traits. For example, rather than telling the reader that your character is a good fighter (or having people talk about how good a fighter that character is–as seems common in TV shows) look for a scene where your character will be able to show off those skills.

2. Shape dialogue to show personality. No two people speak entirely alike. Some people share certain verbal tics, but personality shapes word choice, slang usage, wordiness, and all those other things that make a character sound like a person rather than the author. If your character is shy and quiet, their dialogue will likely be shorter and meeker than a character who loves attention and so pontificates whenever given the chance.

3. Make a point when your character is acting out of character. Sometimes, you’ll need your “stickler for the rules” character to go against type and break into work to steal a file. That’s fine, as long as you show that that’s not who your character normally is. Make a point that your character is nervous/uncomfortable with what’s happening or take the time for them to struggle with making the decision to act against who they are (ideally after you’ve already shown who the character normally is earlier on). By showing what is happening is the exception to the rule will help keep the reader from seeing a strange disconnect between what they’ve heard about the character and what they’ve seen.

Just remember, when it comes to learning about characters, seeing how they act is much more powerful than hearing once or twice or ten times that the character is X. Use showing to your advantage, even if you still need some was and weres in there.

Historical Fiction and Etymology

Today’s blog post is hosted by the wonderful blog Pure Jonel about one of the downfalls of writing historical fiction/historical fantasy… period word use. Read more at:



I’ve always been interested in etymology. Learning where (and when) words originated has appealed to both the writer and the history buff in me. That doesn’t mean I didn’t have more than one instance while writing my newest novel, Raining Embers, where I wished I was writing something contemporary rather than set in a fantasy world based loosely on the High Renaissance—it would have saved quite a bit of time trying to find period-appropriate words to use.

While I probably spent more time than was healthy going through etymological dictionaries to check words while working on Raining Embers, a few words/phrases I would have liked to have been able to use still come to mind:

1. “Cavalier.” Circa 1580, cavalier wasn’t too far outside the time period, but as it didn’t come to mean something more pejorative—as I meant to use it—until the seventeenth century, it seemed like a little too much of a cheat to work properly in the narrative. Read More…