Thursday, January 25, 2018

Writing Is As Writing Does

I sometimes find myself in a bit of a quandary when it comes to genre definition. And, those writers who write one thing well? Well, I envy them. It’s not that I write so many things well (oh, no). All writers have their strengths and weaknesses, and with continued writing success, their genre reveals the cornerstone of those strengths.

Fiction genres were created for a reason, of course. These genres have specific descriptive features and follow similarly-specific structures or formulas of sorts (e.g. horror is as horror does: be scary). But what if … your work fits multiple categories? We have terms like ‘mainstream’ or ‘commercial’ tossed around interchangeably to define fiction that defies toeing-the-line by having elements from one or more genres, but I’d like a category description that nails it.

Within the major categories of Literary/ Comedy/Drama/Horror, these are a sample of the primary and more well-known book genres in fiction:
  1. Classics – You have your Hawthornes, Brontes, Poes, Waldens, Hemingways, Twains, Thoreaus, et al, and your Bill-Shakes here. Either in middle school or high school, you’ve come across one of these authors.
  2. Crime novels – Detective Joe GonnaSolveIt is on the case …
  3. Mystery – Somebody’s dunnit. But who?
  4. Children’s – This too, has sub-categories such as elementary and young adult (YA)
  5. Historical – Pretty self-explanatory. Take your American Revolution, or the French Revolution, or maybe the Civil War. Add characters and stir …
  6. Sci-Fi – Science and the imagination run wild in the future on in another galaxy altogether.
  7. Tall Tales – Might as well be right out of science fiction; the exaggerations within these types of narratives really stretch believability—in a good and readable way.
  8. Suspense (Thriller) – Not quite a mystery, but there’s lots of tension in these works.
  9. Romance – Boy meets Girl … Boy gets girl … Obstacles … Boy loses girl … More Obstacles … Overcome obstacles … Boy gets girl again (hopefully for good this time). Be still my heart …
  10. Westerns – Set in the American West during the 18th and 19th centuries. Saddle up, cowboy; adventure awaits.
  11. Horror – Be still my heart has a whole different meaning—and would someone turn on all the lights, please!?
There are other, lesser-known genres, like: fantasy, graphic novels, legend tales, fan fiction, realism, meta fiction, folklore, and others that have their unique following.

My focus is fiction, but here’s a few non-fiction genres:
  1. Memoir – Usually semi-autobiographical, it’s an author’s account of his/her relationship with a noun (person/place/thing).
  2. Biography – An account of a person, their life events. (Auto-bios are written by the book’s subject)
  3. Reference – All business here: dictionary, almanac, encyclopedia, etc.
  4. Textbook – More business with nothing but highlighter in hand: English, Math, Science, History, and the School-course crew
  5. How-To – Can be viewed as a manual of sorts, but not limited to appliances or computers. Just as a cookbook is a how-to for preparing food, a How-To book can also be devoted entirely to decorating.
  6. Self-help – Get yourself together! These books (like a How-To) give guidance on a variety of topics with the focus being improving oneself (mentally, emotionally, financially, socially, etc.)
Some other non-fiction genres: essays (my personal favorite); reports; speeches; news media stories or reports (journalism).

In reality, writers tend to delve into a mix of genres in their writing, anyway. Horror writers blend in elements of romance in their works, while writers of westerns can include numerous comical points.

Subgenres help pin it down more, I guess, but there are so many subgenres, applicable to the main genres and even other subgenres, it’s borderline pointless. Some subgenres identify an audience or novel subject matter—but neither of those seem ‘genres’ to me.

A brief list of subgenres:
  1. Chic-lit – Can be considered a standalone genre. It’s a woman-thang. Chic-lit is by and for women, most times with particular humor addressing a variety of shared experiences pertinent to women.
  2. Christian – Narratives interwoven with Christian values (think: a recurring and sometimes challenging WWJD, spread throughout)
  3. Philosophical – Characters in these works ponder the more serious things. They don’t care about who dunnit or how scary it was—they’re in pursuit of knowing the meaning of it all.
  4. Erotica – Be it heterosexual or LGBTQ, somebody’s doing it—and readers get all the juicy (and tasteful) details.
  5. Pulp – Can be one of the biggies (e.g. Horror, Crime, Mystery). No need to think too hard, or read too deep; it’s all just good writing fun solely for your entertainment pleasure (sort of like that movie …)
  6. Horror subgenres can include: ghost, splatter/slasher, occult, supernatural, or monster (vampire/werewolf/etc.)
Anyway, with the search for a fitting genre over before it starts, I wanted to have a little fun and come up with genres suitable for some book somewhere.

WYRIWYG. Much harder to pronounce than its well-known and established counterpart, WYSIWYG, What You Read Is What You Get is just that: don’t try to define it, just read it—and hopefully enjoy it (we don’t always enjoy the works in our favorite established genres, do we?).

DIY (or You Decide). As you’re reading, define the genre yourself. If you’ve read pages of horror-filled erotica, feel free to define it as a tall tale if that suits you better. Or, perhaps that fan fiction novel seemed a dictation of your life as it happened, go ahead and claim it’s a piece of realistic fiction (although, that genre seems an oxymoron to me).

One size fits all. It really doesn’t, but if you believe you’ve written the hottest western detective crime graphic novel about a cowboy in love with a seventeenth century banshee who is haunting the detective’s gay cousin’s house … A novel so good, it became Classic while you weren’t looking, well, there you go.

Writers (fiction or non-fiction) often write on subjects where their interests lie. Sometimes we challenge ourselves by writing outside our comfort zones, but a particular genre or comfort-zone is comfortable for a reason. Writers also reveal tidbits of themselves in their works through their writing style. Not necessarily with the first work will one know who they’re dealing with as they read, but by work four or five, a reader can pick up whether their favorite writer has a dry sense of humor, enjoys contradiction, or maybe has a kinky side.  These glimpses aren’t evident in every character, scene, or narrative, and rarely is it a one-for-one correlation to the writer’s thoughts and feelings, but breadcrumbs are there if you’re paying attention. The genre is just a starting point.

What’s my genre? Primarily suspense as readers follow Dr. Naomi Alexander through her therapy sessions treating a key patient (or patients), and also get glimpses of her home-life as she treats … herself? I have romance sometimes, or non-romance (should the situation call), erotica sometimes, and reviews have mentioned the ‘funny’ moments in my books. But, for designation’s sake, my novels are suspense … for now. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

“Resolved: No Resolutions”

Many of us don’t, but most of us do: that annual ‘promise’ to one’s self to lose it, grow it, change it, stop it, start it, learn it, see it …
I’m in that ‘many of us don’t’ category. 

Nothing wrong with New Year’s Resolutions; they’re good motivators for renewal to coincide with a new year. I’ve just never been a fan, because those annual promises also (for many of those I associate with) turn out to be semi-annual ‘breaks’ of those promises or recycles of prior-year promises. Not everyone, not all the time—but a good representative sample fits the bill. Two weeks in, I’ve already witnessed a few drop-offs. And hey, that’s fine.

Here's my take on New Year's Resolutions ...
I have a question: Are resolutions just for that year? Do they expire? Does December 31st come, and you’re like, “Okay, enough with being timely. Starting tomorrow, tardiness rules!”?

Like Bucket Lists, New Year’s Resolutions itemize elements of some personal dream (likely to better oneself). But unlike Bucket Lists, NYRs tend to be generalized and not quantitative or measurable. Here’s a list of some of the most common New Year’s Resolutions people make. I’ve included some commentary for the resos that, to me, would deem them more measurable, and maybe more likely to be kept):
  • Lose Weight (How many pounds?)
  • Travel more (Travel where? Locally? Nationally? Overseas?)
  • Be more organized (At home? at the office? This needs a starting point.)
  • Eat out less (Only once a week? Only once a quarter?)
  • Exercise more (‘More’ assumes one is already exercising. So, exercise longer? More intensely?)
  • Save money (How much money?)
  • Spend less money (see ‘Save money.’)
  • Learn something new (Honestly, this is something people do every day (surely, you’ve heard the expression), but learn what? A new language? How to cook? The ‘new’ math?)
  • Enjoy life and all it has to offer (One of the vaguest ones I’ve heard in recent years)
  • Drink less alcohol (Drinks per week? Bottles per month?)
  • Spend more time with family (You can sit in a room with your family for an extra half-hour each day, but if everyone’s on their smart devices, absorbed with the data there … So, spend more quality time maybe? And ‘quality’ still needs quantifying)
  • Write a book (Easier said than done.)
  • Reduce stress (Part of your stress could come from worrying over these resolutions, so why set yourself up?)
If you can get those generalized resolutions nailed down to something specific you can look at and check-off, you’re ahead of the game. And ‘moving’ or ‘bite-sized’ resolutions can be even better.

For example, if you’ve resolved to lose weight, resolve to lose 5 pounds each month (which is healthy, reasonable, and manageable), rather than ‘thirty pounds by spring.’ In line with this thinking, you’d lose 60 pounds by December—twice your springtime goal and a bonus if you wanted to lose more.

Or, maybe the resolution is to save more. Well, put that in weeks. Resolve to put that figurative daily-cup-of-java money in a see-through ‘piggy’ bank. Watch it grow, filling with coins and bills—see that you’re doing the damn thing (instead of holding on to some abstract concept of saving that’s only in your head). But here’s the thing: keep it in the ‘piggy’ and don’t deposit it; not yet. Watching money literally ‘grow’ is hugely satisfying, hugely motivating. If that coffee money runs you about $20 a week, then you’ll have a cool thousand to deposit and grow—next year in your preferred S&L (banks aren’t really paying much in interest nowadays, anyway, so let’s keep the focus where it needs to be: that fat little ‘piggy’).

These are basic examples, but the principles of ‘moving’ or ‘bite-sized’ resolutions remain at the heart of it, and can be applied to most of those generic ones listed.

Here are a few resolutions I believe are cut-and-dried but doable because they're cut-and-dried:
  • Stop smoking (This all depends on the route taken, either cold-turkey or gradual, but by December, there’s no other way of looking at this other than one has stopped smoking, or they haven’t.)
  • Be on time. (Although this could get into specifics (on time to work, to parties?), this is pretty straightforward enough to be easily measurable—by the clock.)
  • Improve sleep (Since this usually means sleeping longer, this too relies on the trusty clock for quantifiable determination.)
  • Stop procrastinating (Similar to being on time, but rather than the clock measuring adherence to the resolution, the lingering pile, list, or evidence of projects needing completion diminishes noticeably.)

Here are a few resolutions that are just good by nature (and should be law, if we stretch our imaginations a little):
  • Smile more (You can be quantifiable with this (if you want to be certifiable), but otherwise, trying to smile every day works all the way around—and can be contagious!)
  • Volunteer or support a charity (Even if only done once, it’s great—and that’s what we’re after. Right?)
  • Read more (Be it periodicals, books, or what-have-you, few can go wrong with this one.)
  • Have more orgasms (You don’t even need a partner to meet this goal. Nuff said.)

But I digress. I don’t make New Year’s Resos—big whoop.

What I do try to do in January, though (as it applies to my writing), is plan for the coming first few months of a year.
Although the best part, putting pen to paper isn’t the only part of a writer’s life. 

A writer's life involves baby-killing (editing), hair-pulling (design/formatting), ego-killing (marketing), nail-biting (reviews), plus abstract extras only serving to exacerbate the killing-pulling-biting agony of being an author.  Click to tweet

For me, focusing on a few months’ time is manageable, more-easily measurable. I’m finding, though, the ‘focus’ has to be spread a bit when multiple books are involved. Just because Like Sweet Buttermilk and Obscure Boundaries are out the gate, they still need care now that I’ve sent them out into the world to make it. So, while I’m finishing Broken Benevolence (my ‘newborn’), my first-quarter plan must include efforts to make sure my first two ‘offspring’ still have the support they need to thrive.

So, what types of ‘plans’ are in the works for my books?

My firstborn. Parents don’t (or rather, shouldn’t) have favorites, but the firstborn has an innate specialness simply by being well, first. This tale of suspense and romance brings a new quirky character in Dr. Naomi Alexander, the psychiatrist needing her own counsel chair, so a key for this book is exposing potential readers to a few of Naomi’s quirks.

Because a ‘newborn’ exists as my third novel, OB, by default, becomes the first in what may be a line of ‘middle children.’ With readers familiar with Dr. Alexander from LSB, OB offers readers more of how she operates, how she treats patients. Obscure Boundaries has suspense but at a different level because while murder isn’t involved (as with Like Sweet Buttermilk), there is familial jeopardy and step-parenting trials, and … ghost-whispering? The key for book 2? TBD (See why I resolve to have no resolutions?)

Broken Benevolence
Ahh … the (current) baby of the family. In this story, where Dr. Alexander provide trauma counseling, the only key for now is to finish with editing, for the novel to be ready for a release later this year. BB opens with the Christmas season upon the characters, so I’d like to take advantage of that tie-in. And so, the ‘baby-killing’ continues …

Whether you make New Year’s resolutions is unimportant in the grand scheme of things, but depending on your make-up, that list (big or small) can be the source of a year’s worth of joy … or pain.
In the meantime, betwixt all that ‘resoluting,’ find a book, be it fiction or non-fiction, and de-stress and decompress with a bit of literary indulgence.
Happy reading!

S.F. Powell Books