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Ask A Question Thursday

January 17, 2019
mandyevebarnett


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The initial question was: Should you pick the genre before beginning your story or figure out what genre it is after you have written it?

(Look at the bottom of this post for the continuing query – Are genre formulas a myth?)

Last week’s responses:

I always have a vague idea of what the genre is going to be before I start a piece but if the inspiration takes me somewhere else then I don’t try and steer back because the characters lead the story.

Kristen Lamb 

Genre is essential for those who want to write professionally, for an income and for a living. For those who are having fun simply writing? No, doesn’t matter. For those who are new and learning? Not as huge of a deal but starting to be important. Those who want to be experimental and maybe want to win awards? Meh.

Yet, for anyone who want to be PAID for their books (code for product), genre is our lighthouse to keep us from smashing on the rocks.

The entire point of genre is so the author can locate and cultivate fans who will BUY his/her books…which they (readers) will also be able to locate because they will know where the book is shelved or what genre it’s listed under.

If no one has any idea WTH a book is, where to shelve it, or how to describe it? That’s bad.

If the book gets into a bookstore, then where do they put it? “General Fiction.” Okay. Sucky but okay.

But, since most people discover and buy books online, what keywords would you attach? Genre will matter BIG.

What other product/service/ business would be so indeterminate and hope to have any commercial success?

“You know, I am going to open a restaurant and just cook what I feel like and the ingredients just tell me what to do.” Um, have fun storming the castle. Rock on!

But marketing and advertising will now be a total nightmare. Good luck finding those who will eat a place no one can accurately describe.

Same with books.

Not impossible but adds a TON of unnecessary work when authors already have a ton to do as is.

I think a MAJOR misconception is genre somehow locks us into formulaic writing, which is patently false.

First of all, yes there are formulaic genres. Write a category sweet romance and there is a strict formula because these publishers know their readers and what they want.

And, since romance brings in BILLIONS and makes up over 70% of all books sold? Probably a good idea to listen to the guidelines.

Beyond that, genres can be melded and we (as writers) can get creative much like musicians who create fusions of sound, juxtaposing different types of music for a wholly unique sound (I.e. old gospel hymns influencing heavy metal).

Yet, the musicians KNOW music before playing around and reinventing new sounds.

Similarly, we should know and understand genre expectations. They exist for a reason.

Genres help us identify who is most likely to buy our book (which in the new paradigm we need to know no matter which way we publish).

Secondly, genres have rules and we break the rules at our own peril.

Breaking rules is fine. I do it all the time. But I know the rules BEFORE I break them.

For instance, there used to be a rule that one couldn’t mix POVs. If you began in first you had to stay there. If you began in third, you stayed there.

But WHY did the rule exist? Namely to stave off confusion. YET, Jefferson Parker (genius he is) wanted the audience to gain a closer psychic distance with the antagonist to make them more attached and thus more conflicted about him being apprehended/stopped.

So he wrote the antagonist in close first and the MC protagonist in third to make the reader psychologically struggle at a whole new level. Jeff knew genre, the rules, the constraints, THEN he bent them to do something never done.

Thirdly, genre is primarily for readers. It helps them find what they are looking for. When we don’t want to put a genre on our work because it ‘limits the muse’ or whatever, it is like asking our audience to go grocery shopping and buy canned goods with no labels and just trust it will be yummy.

Genres help readers have SOME idea of what they are getting. If we mislabel, there can be consequences.

Years ago, I had a client who believed she had a romance (but obviously hadn’t studied genre rules/expectations).

She self-published and got SLAYED in reviews, and panicked and sobbing, hired me to help. I took one look and knew the problem.

Yes, her writing was good and so was the story, but in her book…guy and gal didn’t end up together in the end.

In romance, (back then) you needed an HEA (Happily Ever After) which has loosened up to an HFN (Happily For Now) but the couple still has to end up together.

Without that? NOT a romance. She had a Women’s Fiction. She got a new cover, relaunched, slated in the correct genre and BOOM. Sales and great reviews.

In this instance, we had a case of completely different audience with different expectations.

When we slot a book in the wrong genre it’s like serving someone Tofurkey and trying to tell them it’s actually turkey. They are going to HATE it because the basis for comparison is TURKEY not vegan meat substitutes.

It’s like a bad bait-and-switch that ticks off readers.

Then, genre is going to give guideposts to word count. How LONG is the book roughly supposed to be?

Audiences in certain genres have preferences. Epic high fantasy readers give no figs about reading a 180,000 word book. Someone who likes cozy mysteries? No. Like 65K. Sure, feel free to write a 180,000 word cozy mystery but no one who loves that genre is likely to buy.

As far as considering genre ahead of time? I don’t understand how an author can’t do this, at least loosely. Stories are for the audience, not us. Unless we only want to sell a book to ourselves.

And this isn’t me saying “write for the market’ because that sort of “writing for the market” is when you, say, love writing Jane Austen historical romances and decide, instead, to write a techno-thriller because the genre is hot at the moment…and yet you can’t use your printer without tech support and are so bored by military fiction you want to kill yourself…but you write it because it is HOT.

Just no.

But beyond that, looking at genre is a FANTASTIC resource to understand our readers, who they are, what they want and not only give them what they want…but also slip in something they never knew they wanted until they read your book!

***This is why agents need to know genre. They have to have ammo to SELL our manuscript for the most BANK. If they can’t articulate what it IS, who is going to buy it? No one. Bye, Felicia.

Back to process. To me, failing to even roughly determine genre ahead of time is madness. I’ve done it (when I was a n00b) and it sucks and I have the scars to prove how dumb this was (for me).

My time is valuable. Without determining some broad strokes regarding genre, that is a formula for revision HELL. To be retro-fitting the Space Station for a hot tub.

It will make SEO and keywords a BEAST. Ultimately, it’s just a recipe for heavy drinking and ugly crying.

Just because we choose a genre in the beginning doesn’t mean we can’t get creative and blend or even veer at an angle toward a kissing-cousin genre (I.e. suspense can become a thriller).

In the end, writers can do whatever works for them and sells a lot of books. Yet—after fifteen years in this business professionally—I’ve found that, more often than not, writers who eschew genre rarely finish the book.

Or, if they do, revisions are like a trip to the fifth circle of hell which is why it takes FOREVER for them to ‘finish.’ Often, they can’t get traditionally published and so they self-pub and the books don’t sell (and there are reasons for that).

Look at authors making bank, traditionally and nontraditionally published. They KNOW their genre and audience and they WRITE FOR THEM…even the literary folks (*nod to Fredrik Backman*).

Anyway, long response but there ya go. My two cents…okay twenty bucks. Best of luck to everyone.

I’d say knowing at least a basic genre before you start writing is important. Maybe you know you want to write a romance, but figure out as you’re going along it’ll be an erotic romance. Okay, fine. But you can’t just start spewing words without knowing your characters, the plot, what genre, etc. You can’t sit down and just start typing without knowing some form of topic of what you’re writing. It’ll just turn into a mess that way.

over to you

So let’s look at this from a slightly different angle.

If you are writing in a particular genre do you ‘conform’ to the preconceived format of that genre? If romance – fall in love, difficulties arise, opposing feeling, loss of love, surprise event, and falling back into deep everlasting love? OR Sci-fi – the hero has to fight an enemy, the struggle is real and looks overwhelming, battles and fights, a glimpse of hope and the final defeat?

Do you want to conform to formula writing? Would you rather break the mold? Is it a myth that genres have formulas?

With a specific genre there is a better chance your book will be put into the genre bookshelf as opposed to a general fiction slot as Kristen mentioned.

Is this good marketing?

Does it restrict your creativity?

 

Author Interview – Anita Kushwaha

January 15, 2019
mandyevebarnett


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What inspired your latest novel?

I lost a loved one to suicide and felt that there were so many misconceptions—or plain lack of knowledge—about what survivors experience, I wanted to shed light and give voice this loss like no other. The book also examines the cultural complexities that come with this kind of loss, as the characters of East Indian descent. Writing the book was also a way for me to process my grief and transmute the pain into something artful, hopeful.

How did you come up with the title?

SIDE BY SIDE refers first and foremost to the closeness of the relationship between the siblings in the novel, Kavita and Sunil. But it also refers to the themes examined in the novel, such as love and grief, loss and healing, self-destruction and self-discovery, universal experiences that often occur side by side.

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

If the book is about anything, it’s empathy. The protagonist in the novel, Kavita, encounters ignorance and shame in many parts of her life after her brother’s death. But when she finally meets someone who treats her with empathy and she learns to give that empathy to herself, and later to others, her healing journey truly begins.

Where can readers find you on social media and do you have a blog?

Readers can find me on:

Twitter: @MsAnitaKushwaha

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MsAnitaKushwaha

And at my blog: anitakushwaha.wordpress.com

Do you have plans or ideas for your next book? Is it a sequel or a stand alone?

My next book, CAUGHT IN A LIE, will be published by HarperCollins. It’s a mother-daughter story told in alternate timelines that delves into identity, belonging, and the cultural pressures placed upon women.

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Of the characters you have created or envisioned, which is your favorite & why?

My favourite character in SIDE BY SIDE is Hawthorn, whom Kavita befriends at a bereavement group meeting in the third part of the book. To me, he is empathy. He is definitely the most aspirational character I’ve ever written. I wish I was more like him and I wish I knew more people like him too.


Do you plan your stories, or are you a seat of the pants style writer?

A bit of both, actually. I like having a skeleton outline, so I have some idea of where I’m going with the story. How I get there, though, is always a great surprise!

Do you find social media a great tool or a hindrance?

Depends on the day! I often find it distracting. But it’s wonderful to be able to connect with people and share what you’re going through. One of my new year’s resolutions is to be more active and engaged online. When things get busy, though, I definitely slack off. So, I’m trying to be more consistent with it. I guess social media has the potential to be both a great tool and a hindrance. Boundaries are important!

Bio:

Anita Kushwaha grew up in Aylmer, Quebec. She holds an M.A. and Ph.D. in Human Geography from Carleton University and is a graduate of the Creative Writing Program at the Humber School for Writers. She is the author of a novella, The Escape Artist (Quattro Books, 2015). Her novel, CAUGHT IN A LIE, will be published by HarperCollins Canada in 2020. She lives in Ottawa.

SIDE BY SIDE Synopsis:

Kavita Gupta is a woman in transition. When her troubled older brother, Sunil, disappears, she does everything in her power to find him, convinced that she can save him. Ten days later, the police arrive at her door to inform her that Sunil’s body has been found. Her world is devastated. She finds herself in crisis mode, trying to keep the pieces of her life from falling apart even more. As she tries to cope with her loss, the support system around her begins to unravel. Her parents’ uneasy marriage seems more precarious. Her health is failing as her unprocessed trauma develops into more sinister conditions. Her marriage suffers as her husband is unable to relate to her loss. She bears her burden alone, but after hitting her lowest point, she knows she needs to find a better way of coping. Desperate for connection, she reaches out to a bereavement group, where she meets Hawthorn, a free-spirited young man with whom she discovers a deep connection through pain. After being blindsided by a devastating marital betrayal, she wonders if a fresh start is possible in the wake of tragedy. Will she escape her problems and start over? Or will she face the challenges of rebuilding the life she already has? Side by Side is a story about loss, growth and the search for meaning in the wake of tragedy, illuminated through one woman’s journey from harm to care.

ASK A QUESTION THURSDAY

January 10, 2019
mandyevebarnett


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Continuing the discussion for this month’s topic. See 3rd January for main post.

Should you pick the genre before beginning your story or figure out what genre it is after you have written it?

Last week’s responses were:

Konn Lavery 

Genre tends to come second for my process. The genre of choice comes up naturally as the plot, characters and conflict unfold. Sometimes I’m not sure what the genre is, but did get a handy booklet called Genre A Short Reference Guide and Dictionary by R. L. Bennett that has descriptions for each genre.
Once the first draft is done I look up in the booklet, then research about the genre and revise the manuscript.

Karen Probert

I never consider genre at all. I’m not even sure there is a genre name for my style of writing – maybe ‘realism’ would fit as my characters act and speak as normal people and there are no situations in my stories that could not happen to real people or be a part of normal day-to-day living in our society.

Gerri Bowen

Many of my stories tend to be paranormal, but I go where the characters take me.

Lisa de Nikolas

My genre preference is noir suspense thriller murder mystery! But my writing is more literary than genre and that makes it problematic when it comes to sales and marketing because promotion departments and bookstores like to have a simple, clear-cut definition.

I’m often asked for current, similar examples in bookstores of my books, and that’s very hard to do! I’d love to reply: “I set out to write good story, something readers can sink their teeth into, it’s fiction, that’s what it is!” But booksellers want something less complicated. I’ve described my work as Little House on the Prairie meets Pulp Fiction and what genre would that be?.

I didn’t set out to write this way, in fact, I’ve tried really hard to write formulaic genre mystery but it’s just not my style. Sometimes you’ve got to go with what you’ve been given! Thanks Mandy!

Kathie Sutherland

Life writing is my genre. The forms vary: journal writing, personal essays, poems, short stories,and autobiographical narratives. These forms end up in collections. I want the pieces to be realistic. I find fiction difficult to write. I have a novel in first draft and autobiographical fiction pieces and even they are life writing. The writing comes first, and then the genre follows.

Mary Cooney-Glazer 

I write second chance love stories with the primary characters age 45 and over. I chose the main genre because I wanted to portray mid-life women as resilient, attractive, productive people still fully engaged in life and capable of enjoying romantic adventures. Their men treat them well and respect their talents. I do like to include a little goofiness on both sides when it comes to figuring out relationships. Although the main genre is romance, there are elements of women’s fiction and rom-com. So, I guess I do choose the overall genre first, but the blending elements appear as the characters and plot develops.

Mike Deregowski

I generally have some sort of idea of what genre I am writing in, I don’t pick it though, it all depends on what will fit the story that wants to be told. Same goes for style I use. I believe there are no bad writing ideas, just not the right format or style.

Mandy Eve-Barnett

I have always written free flow so never think what the genre might be as I write the narrative. That comes later once the story has completed the first draft and I read it through, making revisions and getting to know the theme of the narrative. Sometimes the characters define the genre and other times it is the story structure and theme.

 

over to you
So is this the general consensus regarding genre? Do you agree or disagree?
If we are writing without a clear genre in mind does this make the process easier or more difficult?
There are certain well known ‘formats’ for certain genre’s, complete with cheat sheets. Are these a great writer’s tool or apt to make one a ‘lazy’ writer?
Let’s see where this topic takes us shall we? Over to you and your thoughts. Please leave your comments in the section below.

ASK A QUESTION THURSDAY

January 3, 2019
mandyevebarnett


Hello,

Here is the first question for my new monthly blog topic for writers and authors. Please join in the discussion.

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Should you pick the genre before beginning your story or figure out what genre it is after you have written it?

We can ask, answer and give our opinions in the comments on this post or subsequent Thursdays in January. Let’s make it as interactive as possible.

What is your genre preference?

How do you decide on the genre?

Would picking the genre first make it more difficult to write the story or not?

Do you merge genres to match your story?

Now-a-days there are many merged genres so it is easy to combined a couple (or more) to make your narrative ‘fit’ but is that okay or not?

More discussion on Thursday 10th, 17th, 24th and 31st January. We may go off topic slightly, reveal writing styles, publishing house experiences, agent advice or …

Let each other know about you!

Experience

My experience:

I have always written free flow so never think what the genre might be as I write the narrative. That comes later once the story has completed the first draft and I read it through, making revisions and getting to know the theme of the narrative. Sometimes the characters define the genre and other times it is the story structure and theme.

I have children’s books, YA novellas and several adult novels, so am a multi-genre author. I am led by the story initially, which can be sparked from an overheard conversation, a life event, a prompt/photo or an experience on a road trip.

What about you?

 

 

Author Interview – Mike Deregowski

September 28, 2018
mandyevebarnett


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Mike

  1. Does writing energize or exhaust you?

            Both, by the time I finally get to sit down and write, I have probably been thinking about the scene for a good chunk of the day. I don’t write regularly because I can’t unless I have a clear objective in mind. That being said, I get excited because I know that my idea is a good one, otherwise I wouldn’t have been thinking about it all day.

  1. What is your writing Kryptonite?

            Silence. I need noise to be able to focus. I wrote my first book in a noisy airport, between flights, and I finished my book in 7 months. I worked there, so it was a matter of bringing my Ipad and writing while waiting for the next job. When I went on a writer’s retreat I didn’t get nearly as much done, even though I had nothing else to do but write. Too quiet.

  1. Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?

            No, it may sound selfish but I would like to be recognized. My last name is fairly unique and I want to use it to my advantage. When my name gets called somewhere public, I want people to know that it is indeed their “favourite author” and not a look alike. Dreams write?

  1. What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?

            A lot of the members of my writing group in Sherwood Park, Alberta, are friends of mine. The Writers Foundation of Strathcona County has several published authors within it’s organization. Many of which are also with the same local publishing company Dreamwrite Publishing. We share stories and read each other’s books and offer constructive feedback to one another on a regular basis. This helps greatly in developing our writing skills. It also encourages me to explore my craft and expand my horizons. It is because of their feedback on one of my stories that I will be branching out into the children’s book market in the next couple years.

Insane

  1. Do you want each book to stand alone, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?

            I have an eight and half book series in the works write now and plans for another series in the future. They may seem to be stand alone, but there are little “Easter eggs” that would suggest otherwise. I have a MSU. (Mike’s Stories Universe) If I reference a character with the same name from another story in my piece of writing, it’s the same character. In fact, in my current series, my main character will meet another main character from a future series at some point. Best bet is to read as much of my works as you can. You never know who will make an appearance or have a secret origin story revealed.

  1. What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?

            I-pad. More compatible than a laptop by far

  1. What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?

            As a child grade four to be exact, I was asked a question, “If I could be anyone else for one day, who would I want to be and why?” I answered that I didn’t want to be anyone else but me, because I am comfortable with who I am. The teacher was shocked that a kid could write something like that. I still feel that way today.

Shadowsite

  1. What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?

            I don’t know if it is under-appreciated or not, but Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn, is amazing. The Humans, by Matt Haig is my most recent obsession though. I enjoyed it so much, I bought most of his other books.

  1. As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?

            I’d choose a Sloth or a Bat. A Sloth, because I tend to do things slowly when it comes to writing and a Bat because my writing is mostly done at night.

  1. How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

            Six. Three children’s books unpublished. One romance thriller, Book one of a Trilogy/Quadrilogy and my third book in my Shadowsite Chronicles series. I am considering compiling my poems I have written and publishing a poetry book, but I am uncertain about that.

  1. What does literary success look like to you?

            I want to have a complete series out and available to the public. Fame and fortune would be nice of course, but simply having a childhood dream come true would be enough for me. The renown is a side effect of the project.

  1. What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

            My research consists of me reading my age group books that I am writing for. I write fantasy mostly, so my research is limited, unless I need a real world situation, then it takes me as long as I need to find the answer.

  1. How many hours a day/week do you write?

            What is this hours a “day”? hours per week is… a few. My Sloth tends to be a procrastinator when it comes to writing. I plan to change that though. Hopefully the Nanowrimo challenge will light a fire under my back end.

  1. How do you select the names of your characters?

            Sometimes it’s a play on their abilities. Other times it’s people from real life. Mostly though, it is the first name that pops into my head. In the case of Bruce, from my Shadowsite Chronicles series, my sister had a spruce tree that she named “Bruce the Spruce” and it made me laugh. I wanted to use that in my writing, so I did.

  1. What was your hardest scene to write?

            Fight scenes. Too many times, as a reader, I find myself disappointed with the climax of a conflict. I try to make my scenes exciting and satisfactory to read. There is nothing worse than having a amazing build up, followed by a lackluster fight scene. I want the readers to feel like the effort of reading was worth it in the end.

  1. Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre?  If you write more than one, how do you balance them?

            I find Fantasy easiest to right. It’s what I read the most. I don’t balance, I write what my muses tell me to write. I believe that there is no bad story, there is just a inappropriate format. If I am having trouble telling a story, I might write it in a play or a poem instead. That’s the way I balance

  1. How long have you been writing?

            Since I was in grade three technically, although I have only in the last five years tried to have a go at it professionally.

  1. What inspires you?  

            Life. My children’s story came to me when I was working at the airport, loading luggage under the plane. You never know when inspiration is going to hit. Anyone who is interested in writing needs to leave themselves open at all times. Step outside your comfort zone, listen to people talk, ask questions. Some of my best ideas came to me when I least expected them too.

  1. How do you find or make time to write?

            I get a friend to tie me to a chair so I can’t move anything but my hands and neck and say, “no matter what you hear, don’t untie me…” Just kidding of course, I write when the mood strikes. I can’t write if I don’t have an idea in mind. Something I plan to work on in the future though.

  1. What projects are you working on at the present?

            I am working on book three of my Shadowsite Chronicles series, writing song lyrics for a couple local artists and helping write stories for a new video game company called Bedlammage. I am hoping that project takes off so I can start writing perminantly, for a living.

  1. What do your plans for future projects include?

Finishing my Shadowsite Chronicles series starting my other series after that, hopefully acquiring more lyric writing opportunities, publishing my children’s books and writing for Bedlammage.

  1. Share a link to your author website.

            http://www.mikederegowski.com or find me on facebook at Mike Deregowski – Author Page.

Bio:

A playwright, novelist, poet, game writer and lyricist, Mike enjoys expanding his writing experience and hopefully inspiring others to follow their hobbies and dreams. Once he joined the Writers Foundation of Strathcona County, in Sherwood Park, Alberta, because of his friend Kelsey Hoople, he found support that he needed and started his journey to become a published author.

 

 

 

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