When I was struggling to find a concept for NaNoWriMo this year, out of the blue an idea came to mind. Now this, in itself, is not unusual because we all know it happens. However, it was not only the genre that surprised me but the fact the idea formulated as a three book series!
The genre is a detective/crime, something I have not tackled before. Although, I have written in various genres, it is normal for the story to come first and then the genre becomes apparent as I write. This is the complete opposite and makes it an exciting prospect. The idea formulated around three main characters and a common adversary across three books.
The other surprise was that I easily began planning each book – another first for me the self proclaimed free flow writer. I am not sure why this change in technique came about but it will certainly play a big part in this new project.
Whether we plan in detail or go with the flow, there is no right or wrong way to write – we all do it differently, which results in the uniqueness of our narratives.
I am embarking on a new genre for my next project. It is also my second book series. As you may know, I was persuaded to write a sequel to The Rython Kingdom by reader demand. This culminated in my writing Rython Legacy, a novella following the story of the initial sorceress’ granddaughter.
My next project will be a three book series in the crime/detective/thriller genre. The idea just seemed to pop into my head, when I was struggling with a concept for National Novel Writing Month. This is a global online writing challenge, where writers participant during November to write at least 50,000 words. Yep, only in the thirty days of November.
I have utilized this challenge since 2009 and have participated every year (except 2017 – I have no idea why not!) and it has enabled me to complete the initial drafts of all of my novels. Yes, some have not seen the light of day for years afterwards, but I am slowly returning to them to edit, revise and add to them. Case in point, Life in Slake Patch was my first NaNoWriMo project in 2009 and it wasn’t published until 2019. I revised it numerous times before I was happy with the story. I also learned, increased my skill and grew as a writer in the intervening years.
This new project has me excited and – unique for me – I find myself planning the plot arc, characters backstories, character descriptions and how I will link the three books narratives. I usually just let the story flow but this time I have to consider what clues are found and utilized and which ones carry over. It is a fun project and I hope when they are finished you will enjoy them.
When you read detective crime – what entices you the most?
What particular story lines have you enjoyed the most in this genre?
1. Please tell us about your new YA novel – Virtual Age
A- Virtual Age takes place in a distant future. Our world is no longer able to support life so, in preparation for this, indoor cities were built where air and water is purified. The technology of virtual reality was adapted so people can work, play, travel, and enjoy a version of the outside world within the system. When you live your lives within a computer, you become susceptible to hacking – which could drain you of all your money as all money is accessed through computers – and your whole world could be altered and flipped upside down.
My main character is a thirteen year-old boy by the name of Aiden Murphy. He enjoyed the simple life of a teen – going to birthday parties, occasionally standing up to the school bully, and going with his family on vacations or trips to the beach. It was on one of these outings where Aiden finds himself trapped in the system, lost and all alone; unable to get home. He doesn’t know who to trust. He doesn’t know where to go. He doesn’t know what he is going to encounter within someone else’s program. He will be tested every step of the way.
2. How did you come up with the idea?
A- I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of virtual reality and wanted to come up with a story centres around that concept. Actually, I remember when I came up with the idea and some points within the plot while at work. I was working for a commercial insulating company a few years ago. One day I was sent to a job and there was no material there for me to do any work so I spent 3 hours waiting around for the material and while I did, I came up with the concept and title of my book.
Did you decide on writing a YA from the start?
A- I have had ideas for YA novels that I still want to write, however, this wasn’t one of them. I started it off as any of my other novels but then realized as I was writing that it was better suited as a YA.
Of the characters you have created or envisioned, which is your favorite & why?
A- There are so many but one that stands out is Dimlyn – an inhabitant of the planet Seledania – she is strong, determined, stubbourn, kind, and generous. Her loyalty to her society is put to the test when she encounters a visitor from beyond the stars –a human – who is feared and hated by the whole of the society besides Dimlyn. She is willing to overlook his outer appearance despite the backlash she receives from the rest of the society. She was probably the most fun to write because she isn’t human.
When did you write the manuscript?
A- I wrote the manuscript in November of 2018. I participate in NaNoWriMo every year. November is National Novel Writing Month and authors who sign up are challenged with writing 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days.
How many books have you written?
A- I have published 8 books so far. Book #9 is in editing and book #10 is ready to be edited.
Which genre interests you the most?
A- I mostly write in the sci-fi/supernatural genres.
Have you written more than one genre?
A- Aside from sci-fi/supernatural I have also written a psychological thriller, a superhero story and a collection of Christmas stories.
Do your books have a specific message for your readers?
A- I don’t often think in terms of messages within the story but when I thought about my stories I began to realize most of them did carry a similar message- that being of tolerance. We need to treat each other with the love and compassion we want for ourselves. And don’t be too quick to judge.
How many other writing projects do you have in progress?
A- Like I said I have two books in various stages of the editing process as well I have a prequel for my first novel – Time’s Hostage – I’m working on.
Where can readers connect with you?
A- They can connect with me on my Facebook page: J E McKnight – author
And they can check out all my books on my website: jemcknight.com
E-books available on all sites.
Joe McKnight was born in Fort Saskatchewan and raised in the small Alberta farming community of Partridge Hill. He started his schooling in Ardrossan, where he developed a love of story-telling. His love of writing continued to grow throughout his school years. In 2004, while upgrading his English 30, Joe’s passion increased. It was during that same year he stumbled upon a writer’s circle (offered by the Writers Foundation of Strathcona County) that provided the support and encouragement he needed. He continues to grow in his writing and looks forward to many future literary ventures.
Joe has published several books: Time’s Hostage, Fly on the Wall, The Arrival, Powerless, The Other Secret, Stocking Stuffers, Unnatural Selection, and Virtual Age. He is currently working on a new manuscript.
Joe is also an accomplished artist and his artwork also appears on the cover of From a Solitary Drop – he was commissioned to design the illustration featured on the cover.
Being aware of your genre can help you contextualize your story but remember—just because you may have been writing towards a certain kind of genre, it may not mean that’s what your story actually is.
Common Genres include:
Thriller –built around the fast-paced pursuit of a life-or-death goal.
Fantasy – typified by fantastic aspects, such as magic.
Sci-fi – Sometimes called ‘speculative’ fiction. Fiction typified by scientific aspects, such as nonexistent technology or alternative realities.
Horror – instilling dread or fear in the reader. Sometimes but not always featuring supernatural aspects.
Mystery – solving of a mysterious set of circumstances.
Crime – typified by a focus on criminal activities.
Historical – set within a defined time period but drawing context from the cultural understanding of that time.
Western – typified by aspects of the American frontier.
Romance –focuses on a romantic relationship as the source of its drama.
Erotica – primarily intended to instill arousal in the reader.
Literary – focuses on realistic, weighty issues, typified by character-focused writing and a lack of other genre features.
Adventure Story A genre of fiction in which action is the key element, overshadowing characters, theme and setting. … The conflict in an adventure story is often man against nature. A secondary plot that reinforces this kind of conflict is sometimes included.
Biographical Novel A life story documented in history and transformed into fiction through the insight and imagination of the writer. This type of novel melds the elements of biographical research and historical truth into the framework of a novel, complete with dialogue, drama and mood. A biographical novel resembles historical fiction, save for one aspect: Characters in a historical novel may be fabricated and then placed into an authentic setting; characters in a biographical novel have actually lived.
Ethnic Fiction Stories and novels whose central characters are black, Native American, Italian American, Jewish, Appalachian or members of some other specific cultural group. Ethnic fiction usually deals with a protagonist caught between two conflicting ways of life: mainstream American culture and his ethnic heritage.
Fictional Biography The biography of a real person that goes beyond the events of a person’s life by being fleshed out with imagined scenes and dialogue. The writer of fictional biographies strives to make it clear that the story is, indeed, fiction and not history.
Gothic This type of category fiction dates back to the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Contemporary gothic novels are characterized by atmospheric, historical settings and feature young, beautiful women who win the favor of handsome, brooding heroes—simultaneously dealing successfully with some life-threatening menace, either natural or supernatural. Gothics rely on mystery, peril, romantic relationships and a sense of foreboding for their strong, emotional effect on the reader.
Historical Fiction – story set in a recognizable period of history. As well as telling the stories of ordinary people’s lives, historical fiction may involve political or social events of the time.
Horror – includes certain atmospheric breathless and unexplainable dread of outer, unknown forces.
Juvenile – intended for an audience usually between the ages of two and sixteen. The language must be appropriate for the age of the reader, the subject matter must be of interest to the target age group, the opening of the work must be vivid enough to capture the reader’s attention and the writing throughout must be action-oriented enough to keep it with the use of suspense and the interplay of human relationships. Categories are usually divided in this way: (1) picture and storybooks (ages two to nine)… ; (2) easy-to-read books (ages seven to nine)… ; (3) “middle-age” [also called “middle grade”] children’s books (ages eight to twelve)… ; (4) young adult books (ages twelve to sixteen.
Literary Fiction vs. Commercial Fiction Literary, or serious, fiction, style and technique are often as important as subject matter. Commercial fiction is written with the intent of reaching as wide an audience as possible. It is sometimes called genre fiction because books of this type often fall into categories, such as western, gothic, romance, historical, mystery and horror.
Mainstream Fiction – transcends popular novel categories—mystery, romance or science fiction, [etc.] and is called mainstream fiction. Using conventional methods, this kind of fiction tells stories about people and their conflicts but with greater depth of characterization, background, etc. than the more narrowly focused genre novels.
Nonfiction Novel – real events and people are written [about] in novel form but are not camouflaged and written in a novelistic structure.
Popular Fiction Generally, a synonym for category or genre fiction; i.e., fiction intended to appeal to audiences for certain kinds of novels. … Popular, or category, fiction is defined as such primarily for the convenience of publishers, editors, reviewers and booksellers who must identify novels of different areas of interest for potential readers.
Psychological Novel A narrative that emphasizes the mental and emotional aspects of its characters, focusing on motivations and mental activities rather than on exterior events.
Roman a Clef The French term for “novel with a key.” This type of novel incorporates real people and events into the story under the guise of fiction.
Romance Novel – the romance novel is a type of category fiction in which the love relationship between a man and a woman pervades the plot.
Romantic Suspense Novel – romantic suspense novel is a modern emergence of early gothic writing and differs from traditional suspense novels because it moves more slowly and has more character interplay and psychological conflict than the fast-paced violence of [most] suspense thrillers.
Science Fiction [vs. Fantasy] Science fiction can be defined as literature involving elements of science and technology as a basis for conflict, or as the setting for a story.
Techno-Thriller – utilizes many of the same elements as the thriller, with one major difference. In techno-thrillers, technology becomes a major character.
Thriller – intended to arouse feelings of excitement or suspense focusing on illegal activities, international espionage, sex and violence.
Young Adult – refers to books published for young people between the ages of twelve and seventeen.
Do real research, describe aesthetic/tone/vibe over content, and be open to adjusting your decision down the line as you grow more accustomed to working with genres.
Genre is different from age group
Genre isn’t the age group you’re writing for. Age group and genre are often said together, so it’s easy to think they’re the same, but they’re not. For example: Young adult is the age group – Spy and thriller are the genres.
The primary age groups are:
– Board books: Newborn to age 3 – Picture books: Ages 3–8 – Colouring and activity books: Ages 3–8 – Novelty books: Ages 3 and up, depending on content – Early, levelled readers: Ages 5–9 – First chapter books: Ages 6–9 or 7–10 – Middle-grade books: Ages 8–12 – Young adult (YA) novels: Ages 12 and up or 14 and up
Choose a primary genre
When you pick your primary genre, you’re identifying the most prominent elements of your book. Ask the following questions.
You may have a handful of these elements in your book but when picking a primary genre focus on the most dominant aspects of your novel.
Is there magic?
If the answer is yes, then your book is most likely a fantasy. Is it set it in a fictional world that you created from scratch (like Lord of the Rings)? Then you probably have a high fantasy. Or is it built into our own world? If so it is most likely an urban fantasy.
Is it a fairy tale or a fairy tale retelling then you might want to classify your book as such.
Are there paranormal creatures (such as vampires, zombies, etc.)?
If there are, then it could be a fantasy, or it could be a supernatural/paranormal. Fantasy and paranormal are closely related and share some overlap, so it comes down to what is the more dominant element. If the magic is the more dominant element, then you have a fantasy. If the creatures are the more dominant element, then it’s supernatural.
When is it set?
If it’s set in the past, it’s probably a historical fiction. If it’s set in the present, you’ve got a contemporary and if it’s set in the future, it’s probably science fiction.
Where is it set?
If it’s set in this world, it might be a historical or contemporary. If it’s set in a world you made up, it might be some kind of fantasy or science fiction.
Is there manipulated science/technology?
If you are using significant manipulation of the science, we know today it’s likely to be science fiction. If you have time travel, then you could consider it science fiction.
Is there an element of mystery/crime to solve?
If the main purpose of your plot is mystery, then this is the genre you will use.
Is it laugh-out-loud funny?
If it is, then you’ve got a comedy
Is it a tear-jerker or a book with a lot of interpersonal conflicts?
Then it’s probably some form of drama.
Is there a romance?
Use the romance genre when the central plot of the book is a romantic relationship.
Is it intended to scare?
Then you’ve got a horror.
Is it “literary”?
If it’s a deep book, rich with symbolism and deeper meaning that’s meant to be dissected an analyzed than you most likely have written a work of literary fiction.
Is it action packed?
If your book is littered with action scenes like fights and car chases, then you have an action or thriller on your hands.
Is it about a terrible version of this world?
Then you’re looking at a dystopian.
Now decide which elements you think are the strongest/most prominent. That’s your primary genre.
Do your research
Make sure you do your research and have a good understanding of genre conventions. Readers of each genre have certain expectations. While you can most definitely take some liberties, you want to make sure you’re giving your readers what they’re looking for.
Note*** I did a series of posts throughout 2018 detailing every genre if you want to scroll through put ‘genres’ in the search box.***
Do you feel your previous careers shaped your narratives? Absolutely. A significant writing goal is to bring the realism I experienced as both a police officer and paramedic to the pages. Not the Hollywood or TV version, but the authenticity of both professions. The banter of partners, the sarcasm, pushing each other’s buttons, then leaving it all behind when the s**t hits the fan. The absolute, unquestionable, I have your back. When I write, I am back on the street and see my characters and their interactions. And more so, I think the characters know the plot, I do the typing!
Was it an easy transition from your professional life into writing about it? I was excited about writing fiction, but I hadn’t written fiction since high school. I thought, how hard can this be. If you write what you know, I’ve got this nailed! But for over 30 years I wrote technical documents, research papers, protocols and co-authored four paramedic textbooks.
I was in for a surprise when I submitted my first chapter in an early writing course, and the instructor said, “You obviously know your stuff, but it reads like a police instructional manual. Oops. So, over the next five years, I took writing courses to learn to write fiction. Now it is easier to write fiction and let what I know flow to the page.
Did you make a conscious effort to make a series or did you think your first novel would be a stand alone? My main character is Brad Coulter. In Crisis Point, he’s been a cop four years and getting restless. The plan was always for a Brad Coulter series. The initial premise was, what if I had stayed as a cop, and not switched to a career as a paramedic. I had a plan for at least ten novels, and initially, they would be spaced out every two to three years in Brad Coulter’s career, essentially taking him to the end of his police career.
The plan has changed, each novel will follow, time-wise, on the heels of the previous novel. The original ideas for future novels are still there, but I have added new ideas because Brad Coulter told me to.
I have also started writing a second series with a completely different premise.
Do you see many more novels in the series? Have you planned them? I am currently finishing on novel #4, 10,000+ words into novel #5 and have a rough plan for 6, 7, and 8. I’ll keep writing the series as long as readers keep loving Brad Coulter.
How many of the story lines are based on true experiences? The first three novels, Crisis Point, Outlaw MC, and Wolfman is Back, are all based on actual events that happened in Calgary. I can give a detailed background on every event. I have taken various actual events, combined them, and made it my own story, with my own characters. Crisis Point has several experiences from my time as a cop, including a twenty-minute car chase. Subsequent novels were less about what I had experienced, and more about interesting crimes based in Calgary and the details from the cops who were involved. However, I take each story and twist and turn it into my own version that may or may not closely resemble the real event.
Is there a message you want to convey to your readers, in regard to those who serve us? Emergency Services takes its toll on those who serve. Whether police, EMS or other emergency services, most who choose these careers do so because they have an overwhelming need to help people. But they can’t save everyone. And those that they couldn’t help or save will haunt them for the rest of their lives. No one is harder on themselves than emergency services personnel. If only… I should have … What if …
The men and women in emergency services go to places and do things few others would do. It’s not cliché, but they would take a bullet for each other or anyone under their care or protection. There is a side to the streets of every city that is totally unknown to most citizens—and that is good because I wouldn’t want anyone to see the things I have seen. Into the darkness of a city is where emergency services personnel are called to regularly. Truly, into the shadow of death. They go there so you don’t have to worry about your safety or the safety of your family. I don’t say this for my benefit, but for the benefit of my family, my brother and sisters in emergency services. They don’t hear thank you enough.
Did you base your main protagonist on a specific person or a combination of many? I am asked that a lot. Since the premise was, ‘What could my career have looked like if I’d stayed a cop,’ Brad Coulter started as me. Hopefully, a better version of me! But a funny thing happened. Brad had his own ideas of his personality and the direction he wanted his character to go and the changes he wanted to make as the novel, and the series progressed. So, deep down Brad is me, but what you see in the second and third novels, is Brad as his own guy.
How does your professional service life compare to your writing life? Hours worked, location etc. Writing life couldn’t be different from my professional life. For many years I worked shift work, was always sleep-deprived, and always on alert. When I was in the Staff Development division, I had regular hours, but the pace was hectic, so those regular hours often stretched several hours past “quitting” time. I attended lots of meetings and was around people all the time.
Now I am at home, write in my writing cave, and need to be forced out into the public. And I love it!
Is this the genre you are most comfortable writing in? Crime/police procedural is undoubtedly the genre I am most comfortable with. Within it, though, are a few sub-genres. I can write a fast-paced thriller, a mystery, or a character-driven plot with police or paramedic partners. I have so many ideas for stories I will never get to them all. They are all within the crime genre, but with a different focus.
Would you write in another genre? I wrote a short story in 2015 that was published in an anthology, A Positive, An Anthology of Alberta Crime. It was supposed to be a noir story, but I wrote more of a soft-boiled detective story. It was fun to write, and I have ideas for more short stories for the character. I have also been working on a time-travel story, but it is still crime-related. I guess I’m stuck on crime!
Where do you feel most comfortable and creative when writing? I have an office set up at home. Most of my writing is done there. We also have a cabin, and when we are out there, I write. My office is my favorite location, probably because it is quiet, whereas at the cabin there is always something else going on. I am also an afternoon/night writer. The afternoon part is okay, but the night part is trickier because for some reason, Valerie likes to spend time with me! On occasion, after she has fallen asleep, I sneak down to my writing cave and write until two or three in the morning.
Has your writing process changed? Absolutely. It has been nine years of trial and error – heavy on the error. But I know that was a process I had to go through, and probably every writer has to. There are writing rules/guidelines and lots of writers who will tell you the way you need to write. The rules are the opinion of a single person, and the views may work for that writer, but maybe not for you. It takes time for you to find ‘your’ process and it doesn’t matter if that fits with what others do. If you need to plot, then plot. If you need to write at midnight, then make that work. Crisis Point took seven years to get to print, Outlaw one year, and Wolfman six months. I finally know what works for me today. I’m sure that process will evolve into something different, but it will be what works for me. My advice is to find your own process.
You have received a nomination for your writing, namely Crime Writers of Canada, Arthur Ellis Awards. How important are awards to you and writers in general? The nomination came at a critical time for me. I’d been working on Crisis Point for five years and had a stack of rejections. It was either give up on getting it traditionally published, self publish, or quit writing and find a new hobby! I was close to quitting. I was so low on myself and my writing skills that the night the nominees were announced, I wasn’t paying attention when the announcement was made for the Unpublished category, I was sitting in the front row not paying attention and had my eye on a bottle of wine that I knew I could get to once the last nominees were announced. I don’t think I’ve ever been more shocked in my life, and to shock me takes quite a big event. As well, I was speechless, which is also foreign to me.
That validation was so important to me. I kept writing. All three novels have made the bestseller list and Crisis Point and Wolfman have made the list twice. I think that kind of validation is significant to every author.
If you could eliminate one task from your daily schedule, what would it be? Definitely social media. There are too many platforms with too many changing protocols and it is almost a full-time job to keep up with posting on every site. I use Facebook the most. I like to find the funniest or weirdest things and repost so that my friends will get a laugh. I’m all about the laughter and occasional sarcasm. I can’t say I think social media has helped my exposure much. And, I just don’t ‘get’ Twitter!
If your life was a movie, would it be a drama, comedy, action/adventure, or science fiction? Definitely action/adventure. I was fortunate to have a fascinating career with lots of action. But I hope there’d be comedy as well. I have a quick wit, sharp tongue, and biting sarcasm. So that would need to be there too!
Think about punctuation marks. Which one would you pick to describe your personality and why? ! If my life is an action/adventure, then it has to be an exclamation mark. Too many times I was in a position where afterwards I’d say Oh My God! Or the occasional, ‘That didn’t work!”
I was able to do things that would be a dream adventure weekend for lots of people. I shot guns, blew up stuff, played hide and seek with night vision goggles, flew in Hawks and STARS to name only a few. There weren’t a lot of dull moments.
Describe your handwriting. I should have been a doctor. My writing is a cross between cursive and printing and most of it illegible. I’m sure if you took a sample of my writing to the drug store, they’d accept it as a prescription for something. I thank my stars that in grade nine, rather than take French, band, or drama as an option, I took typing. And I mean typing on a Selectric typewriter. Who knew that it would be the best option class I took and through policing, EMS, and now fiction writing, that one course has been so valuable! Strangely the most critical course was not algebra!
Do you have any tips on creating an author platform?
You saved the hardest questions for last! I wish I had the magic answer to that. I am fortunate, in no small degree, to have worked for over 40 years in emergency services and that helps my writer credibility. I genuinely write what I know. My background gives credibility to what I write and separates me from the majority of crime writers. I bring a different feeling to the novels—that of actually have been there. So that is my niche that I need to use for my platform.
I like to make presentations and have a pretty good following at When Words Collide Conference in Calgary and the Creative Ink Festival in Burnaby BC. So, I use that to my benefit.
However, despite a lot of ‘friends on social media and lots of promotions of my novels and those of other authors, I haven’t seen a jump in e-book sales.
I will stick with it because I think who I am and what I write are intimately connected. I have seen an increase in interest in the Coulter series now that I have three novels. I think one of the best ways (and this was advice from Jonas Saul) was to keep writing and get the books out there.
The question was about tips. I’d say you have to find a niche for yourself—something that separates you from other authors in your genre. Success comes from taking a different path as well. Two author friends had success where they didn’t expect it. One had pretty much given up on writing crime and delved into fantasy, which took off and then her crime novels were accepted for publication. Another author added a non-fiction book (Adam Dreece and 5 Critical Things for a Successful Book signing). I’m not sure how sales are going, but it is a remarkable book and now he has tapped into another market.