About Writing Different Genre’s

 

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First Fantasy Novel – Oh, noo’s I can’t write anything else EVER!

A long time ago someone told me that if I started as a fantasy author, I would always be a fantasy author. It was stressed that I had to pick one field to master and then go with it, limiting myself to that field.

 

Being the young, easily swayed person I was back then, I believed them … for about a minute and a half.

My current list of titles includes science fiction, fantasy, and historical fiction. While it could be argued that science fiction and fantasy are the same genres (they’re often in the same section of a bookstore) we’re going to go ahead and draw a big dividing line between them.

I’m sorry, but science fiction is NOT fantasy. Some books might cross the borders between the two, but when push comes to shove you know the difference when you’re reading them.

So it’s safe to say that I dabble in several different genres at this point.

Now, the argument still stands that if you stick with one genre you will eventually “master” it. I use the word “master” lightly because writing is a craft that very few people

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Oh, Snap! My first Science Fiction novel! Eat that, nay-sayers!

master. We all just work hard at pretending like we’ve got it down.

 

What I mean by “master” in this situation is that you will have written so many that you’ve trained your writing brain to create new and enticing material precisely because you have written so much of it. Your mind stretches harder for newer, fresher plot twists and characters and worlds because you’ve already used many of the tropes before.

However, the same can be said even if you cross genre borders. Just because I used a trick in a fantasy novel does not make it free to use in one of my science fiction books. So I still end up stretching my creativity in any given book and that “mastery” is still being developed.

Now then …

There is the issue of “brand.”

If you’ve been in this business for any amount of time, you’ve heard that an author has to have a particular “brand” to sell. James Patterson sells fast-paced thrillers and mysteries. Stephen King sells intricate horror stories. Jennifer Crusie sells quirky romances.

 

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Sweet Holy banana’s, Batman! Here comes a Historical Fiction! I’m out of control now!

How then, do you have a “brand” when you sell books in different genres? I addressed the issue of a brand in another blog post but didn’t really answer how I meant to brand myself.

 

I have admitted to being awful about marketing. It feels so pretentious to wave my books around. My marketing tends to sound more like; “Hey! I wrote this book and I think it’s kinda decent so maybe you could read it? Maybe? I mean, only if you want to. Or if you have the time. Or … whatever.”

Super wimpy, I know. My only defense is that I’d rather be writing.

You know … “mastering” my craft. Trying to get better.

Trying to tell a good story. The sort of story that will hit you in the gut and stick with you for a while. The kind that challenges your point of view and makes you think about how other people live and how you might be able to help those who need it.

I want positive relevance with my books.

For the record, I actually had to hunt for what I wanted my books to be and pinpoint why it is I bother with all the work writing is to figure this out. But in the end, once I had answered the question of “why do I write?” I was able to find my so-called brand.

“Positive Relevance” is what I’m striving for here and what I want my books to represent and be. So … I believe that is what my brand is.  And it should reach across all genres that I write in.

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Rearranging Life for Craft

 

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Flooding fun. 

 

It never ceases to amaze me how quickly the days go by. Suddenly it’s 9:15 PM and I haven’t written a single word on my current novel.

How did that even happen?

Sure, I got groceries in the house. Worked a full 8 hours at the day job. Ate dinner with the family. Listened to my son talk about Minecraft some more …

I suppose the day has been full.

Still, the issue of time is becoming more relevant now that there are relationships to cultivate and a partner to talk to about anything and everything that comes to mind. Before, when people would say they just couldn’t find the time to get any writing done, I would smirk at them because …

Hey, single parent. Nothing can be as crazy as holding down a full-time job, being a single parent, and squeezing in writing time, right?

Well … maybe? And maybe not?

Because I find that I have less time now than I did before for writing and I’m having to rearrange some things in order to get stuff done.

That being said, I have an amazing partner in crime now and he is supportive of my craft. In fact, he encourages and urges me ever-onward with the manuscripts because he wants to read them once I’ve finished.

SO!

I am wrestling my schedule into something workable. And I fully and completely admire all writers out there who are in relationships and have families and still manage to get words on the page before crashing into dreamworld.

No, seriously. My proverbial hat’s off to you. You’re all awesome. And if you have any tricks of the trade you want to offer, I’m more than open to hear them.

Book Review – On Writing by Stephen King

Let me start this review off by saying that I do not often read Stephen King. I started The Stand a long time ago but my son was all of three years old at the time and the dead children disturbed me so much I couldn’t move forward with the book.

I’m sure I could read it now, but at the time I wasn’t ready for that sort of reality. I needed to keep my happy bubble of pretend-safety around my little boy. (C’mon, now, as safe as we try to keep our kids we all know there’s only so much we can do.)

While I haven’t read much of his work, I know who Mr. King is and have great respect for him. I’m not sure why it took me so long to pick this book up – it looks like it was written during my senior year of high school – but I’m pleased that I finally did.

This book is freeing.

Yes, he reminds us about some of the mechanics of writing such as the dreaded adverb or adverbial clause, but he only touches on these for a moment. But for the most part, Mr. King’s “memoir of the craft” feels like a commiseration.

He proves that reading and writing are magic. And he invites authors to embrace that magic, reminding us why we enjoy this craft in the first place. I recommend this book to any and all writers out there who haven’t already picked it up. It’s a worthy read.

 

First Sentences, Paragraphs, and Chapters – May Round Robin

Topic: Has so much emphasis been placed by other writers advice, publishers, reviewers, etc. on authors to have a spectacular opening page/1st chapter that the rest of the story sometimes gets left behind? What are your thoughts and experiences with this?

Having just read Sol Stein’s On Writing, I fear I might be a little biased on this. While captivating beginnings have been hammered into my head since high school, this book brought home the reasons why.

Readers give a novel less time to engage them than they do any other form of media out there. Movies and games and TV shows get more of a chance from potential viewers/players.

For a TV show, you might give the first whole episode a go.

For a movie, it’s something like the first thirty minutes.

For a book …

Well, for a book we get a sentence. And then hopefully a paragraph. And then maybe a page. If the narrative doesn’t engage us immediately, that book gets put down.

Unless, of course, you have lucked out and found that rare reader who will give the whole thing a shot and THEN decide they hated it.

So the pressure that authors are put under for an excellent first sentence, first paragraph, first chapter is seeded in a depressing reality. People just don’t have time to devote to reading the first three chapters of a book before deciding whether or not they’re going to continue.

They need to want to continue from the very start. Something about the character or the situation has to resonate with them, or they will run off to wash the dishes. (Because nothing humbles an author more than realizing washing dishes is more interesting than their book to some people.)

That being said … the rest of the book has to get better. I have noticed during my second drafts that I’m often tightening my work, trying to touch back to whatever resonance I managed to capture in that first page.

And I always, always, always re-read the first chapter before I write the final chapters.

In fact, oftentimes I end up beginning my second draft before completing the last 3 chapters of a book. I have to bring myself back to the start of it, remind myself what promises I made in the beginning that should be carried forward, before I can complete the work in its entirety.

I tend to follow Stephen King’s advice here. I write the first draft “with the door closed.” Meaning it’s just for me and nobody gets to see it and I tell it the way that I want to tell it.

And then I write the second draft “with the door open.” Meaning I take all the tricks of the trade I’ve been taught and write the book for my ideal reader, keeping them in mind instead of just rushing through a flurry of creativity.

This works.

It means that the whole of the story is down, you know what you want to say and where the book is supposed to lead, so you know what you want to set up in that first chapter. And you know what tension you need to keep through the whole book, which gives you a more cohesive story.

See what some of my fellow authors have to say in this month’s Round Robin discussion …

A.J. Maguire  https://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/ (YOU ARE HERE)
Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Dr. Bob Rich http://wp.me/p3Xihq-YV
Anne Stenhouse  http://annestenhousenovelist.wordpress.com/
Helena Fairfax http://www.helenafairfax.com
Marci Baun  http://www.marcibaun.com/blog/
Victoria Chatham http://victoriachatham.blogspot.ca
Rachael Kosinski http://rachaelkosinski.weebly.com/
Connie Vines http://mizging.blogspot.com/
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Rhobin Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com

 

Birthday Shenanigans and Release Buzz

I know, I know. I probably should have mentioned all the birthday shenanigans over the last week but … Hey, I was busy doing fun things.

Like visiting Craters of the Moon and going to the movies and eating steak and having pie. (I maintain that pie is better than cake.)

But in the middle of all of that, I also have been reminding people about Persona’s May 1st release date. 

Persona took me over a decade to write.

That’s right, over a decade. I started writing it when I was 19-20 years old and then life happened and I stopped writing and while this could have been considered a “trunk novel” … I just couldn’t let it go.

If you’re not familiar with the concept of a “trunk novel” I’ll go ahead and explain. You see, there are many professionals out there who say you need to write a couple of novels to get the feel of storytelling and learn the mechanics of the writing craft. These beloved little first creations are known as “trunk novels” because they are supposed to be buried inside a trunk and never see the light of publication.

The general consensus seems to be 5 trunk novels, with the 6th novel you write coming close to publication quality. And once those five are written, you bury them and/or burn said trunk, thereby assuring that your terrible first-tries never tempt you into touching them again.

Persona, whose title underwent many changes over the last decade, would have been my 2nd attempt at novel writing.

Now, I’m not vain enough to say that the early drafts of this book were any good. In fact, they were awful. So very, very awful. And if I were going solely on the plot concept, this book would have been burnt with the other trunk novels.

But … Megan was too compelling a character for me.

She is an independent, strong character without moving into the cliches of the woman-warrior. In fact, she doesn’t fight … not physically, anyway.

Her choices are what make her strong.

So, back in 2013, I decided to pick her up again. While I kept the novel based in WWII, 98% of the plot was altered. I kept only Megan and a handful of characters from the first work, which I imagine means I burnt the trunk novel after all.

I’m not sure what I did here could be considered a “rewrite” given how much of the story changed. Still, her beginnings were in my youth and I remember those first attempts with a great deal of fondness.

Writing Persona taught me quite a lot about being an author. I learned to cut things I held dear and to dig deeper into the minds of my characters – even the ones I never gave a true voice in the work.

I am proud of Persona, both because I love the story and because it is a clear map of my improvement as an author. I hope many other people can be inspired by Megan’s journey to understand herself and the world around her.

 

AJMaguire-PersonaCoverArt-ChrisHoward_rev28_ART_ONLYNothing is more important than who you choose to be, and for Megan Shepherd that choice has never been more important or more terrifying. In the middle of WWII, her ship is sunk in the Atlantic and all of her hopes and dreams for a new life translating papers for the JTLS in Britain sink with it. When she’s picked up by Germans she discovers that her understanding of the language is the only thing keeping her alive.

While under the scrutiny of the local SS, Megan’s plot to escape the country is derailed when escaped POW Sam Layton lands on her doorstep.  As the Allied Advance begins to box in the Third Reich, Megan and Sam make a mad dash for the Swiss border. But the truth never stays buried for long and those Megan has tricked are out for vengeance.

About Reviews – April Round Robin

My mother always taught me that if I didn’t have anything nice to say, I shouldn’t say anything at all. While I haven’t always followed that advice, I’m certain many authors wish critics would.

I’ve had one or two reviews that scoured my work to the bone, which … let’s be honest here … required a pint of ice cream to get me through. Mint chocolate chip is the greatest comforter in times like these.

But when push comes to shove, negative reviews are always the ones that I learn from. I’m not a world-renowned author, not yet, and I’m still honing my craft. So anything that teaches me how to be better is good.

Sometimes painful, but good.

Positive reviews help sell a book, but not nearly as much as word of mouth. Like it or not, people talking about your book is still the number one way to push those sales up – or so all the professionals tell me.

I’ve sent my books out to reviewers for their honest opinions and come back with some positive results there, but those results never last for very long. To be honest, sometimes the only result of a positive review is my own feeling of accomplishment; somebody read my book and understood what I was trying to say!

Since Sedition was first published eight years ago I’ve held a 4.36 star average on Goodreads and about the same on Amazon, which I suppose is quite good considering there are a lot of things wrong with my early novels. But the only thing this knowledge serves is to push me to become better.

Maybe it sells one book every three months or so, but at the end of the day it still only pushes me to be better. I don’t have time to check reviews every day or even every week. I check them once or twice a month, see if I have anything new, and then I get back to work.

See what some of my fellow authors think about reviews …

Marci Baun  http://www.marcibaun.com/blog/
Dr. Bob Rich https://bobrich18.wordpress.com/2017/04/22/how-to-get-reviews
Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Victoria Chatham http://victoriachatham.blogspot.ca
Helena Fairfax http://www.helenafairfax.com
Rachael Kosinski http://rachaelkosinski.weebly.com/
A.J. Maguire  https://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/ (YOU ARE HERE)
Margaret Fieland http://margaretfieland.wordpress.com
Connie Vines http://mizging.blogspot.com/
Rhobin Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com

Fact vs. Fiction – Historical Novels

Persona is my first attempt at the historical fiction genre and while I love history, I found writing within the confines of known facts difficult. This isn’t too surprising given all my other novels are fantasy or science fiction, but it was still an eye-opener for me.

Take, for instance, the very first chapter of the novel.

Without giving too many spoilers, I can tell you that my main character – whose name underwent several changes throughout the editing process – is traveling to England. Young Megan Shepherd couldn’t stay home, not with her father breathing down her neck about the engagement she just called off, so she answers the call to help translate papers for the war effort in Europe.

The very first version of this novel had Megan in a big, noisy, military airplane.

Said airplane was shot down. There was a lot of action in that first chapter. It was exciting and fun and I loved it.

But …

Given that Megan is not in the military, she would not have been on such a plane. And even if she had been in the military, they did not often fly personnel like Megan to and from their respective workplaces.

SO … I had to change it.

Thus, the opening chapter of Persona has Megan on board a boat – the SS Ceramic.

And yes, that’s a real boat. I know the name is a trifle alarming. I’m not certain I would have boarded a boat called Ceramic, but it existed and it became one of the wonderful things I learned about while researching for this book.

Still, this serves as an example of one of the things History made me change about the novel. While I was able to stretch a few things elsewhere in the book or gloss over some of the others, I couldn’t risk losing the reader’s trust in the very first chapter of the novel. I had to find an alternative, something to show that I really had done my homework and that I was going to be respectful both to the history I was working in and to the reader’s intelligence.

I admit that historical fiction feels like more of a gamble to me than many of the other genres. When we’re dealing with science or fantasy, readers automatically walk into it with the sense that they are going to “suspend disbelief” for a portion of the book. They accept that they are walking into the fictional world and want to see what we can make of it.

Not so with historical fiction, and especially not so with something as well known and documented as World War II. While I need the reader to suspend disbelief a little, to accept that Megan Shepherd is not a real person, many of the events she walks through ARE real. And I had to treat them real.

Because people died there.

A lot of people died there, actually. And to treat it with anything less than the utmost respect would have been wrong.


Persona is scheduled to be released on May 2, 2017