Tag Archives | mystery

Working Your Genre to Improve Your Writing

annabench-shakespeare-paris-1147326-hBack in my early writing days, genre was a dirty word.  “Oh, she writes genre romances,” someone would sniff.  Or, “Well, you know, it’s just a genre mystery.”

My, how things have changed.

Though not everyone apparently approves or even wants to admit it, the lines between genres (or more to the point, between genre and mainstream) are blurring.  Agent Donald Maass wrote a book  about this a few years ago.  Time magazine has covered the genre bending and so has, gasp, the New Yorker (they came out against it, no surprise).  And even a star such as Ursula LeGuin has weighed in, saying that literature is “the extant body of written art.  All novels belong to it.”  Check out the New York Times bestseller list on any given week and you’ll see that it is often dominated by genre.

So, to me, there’s no doubt about it—genre is the new black.  Okay, sorry, I had to go there.  Even literary fiction is considered a genre now, as is my favorite category, and what I write, women’s fiction.  (Where is the “men’s fiction” you ask.  Excellent question.  It is somewhat of a point of contention that women’s fiction must be labeled as such while men’s fiction is just considered literature.)

Here’s a pretty good map  that will give you a good idea of just how far the country of genre extends (though I think their non-fiction categories are rather limited.)  And for a really extensive list, including some I’ve never heard of, go to our old buddy Wikipedia.

My real interest in this post is to explore how working within the confines of your genre can improve your writing.  For years, as evidenced by the kinds of statements I used to hear, genre writers were considered hacks.  Now, with the proliferation of writers and writing styles, genre is a useful tool that differentiates various styles for readers.  And you can and should use it to your advantage.  Here are what I see as the benefits to working your genre:

 

  1. Passion. Most people start writing a particular genre because they love to read it.  If you don’t love reading your genre, and try to force yourself to write in it just because it is popular, that will show.  (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to write YA to no avail.) But on the flip side, if you love romance or women’s fiction, the words will come easily to you. (Or maybe I should say easier.)  Let your passion flow and it will deepen the worlds your create, no matter what genre.

 

  1. Expertise. Embracing your favored genre will give you experience and knowledge.  Rather than trying to write whatever is popular, or what you think you “should” write, allow yourself to sink deeply into one genre.  Read widely in the field, not just other novels, but craft books as well.  And write like crazy. Soon you’ll have all the tropes of the field down pat.  James Scott Bell has an excellent tutorial on this at the beginning of his book, Revision and Self-Edition for Publication.

 

  1. Structure. Genre novels have ready-made structures, which is part of the appeal of reading and writing them. For a mystery you need a body (most of the time) and an investigator that people want to spend time with.  For a romance, you want star-crossed lovers.  For science fiction, you’ll need the future or a unique world.  The point is that you’ve got conventions established and waiting for you.

 

  1. Transcend.  Once you have mastered the lay of the land you can go farther and make the genre your own.  BUT ONLY AFTER YOU’VE MASTERED THE BASICS.  I’ve always thought that a mystery needed a body up front, as close to the beginning of the book as possible. But nowadays I read mysteries that don’t even have murders.  Don’t try this at home, folks, until you have mastered every aspect of the genre.

 

  1. Meld. Similar to #3, once you’ve learned the basics you can blend and shape your genre your own by mixing it with others. Kate Atkinson’s mysteries, for instance are to cozies as a chocolate cake is to a piece of peppermint candy.  That’s because she blends in elements of literary fiction in her writing style and focus on character.

 

  1. Readers. As in, you’ll likely get lots of them. Genre readers are the most avid on the planet, which makes them a particularly satisfying field to write in. And a writer can learn a lot from which books do well with their target audience and which fall flat.

 

  1. Fun. This takes up back to #1.  If you enjoy a particular genre, there’s nothing that’s going to give you more pleasure than writing it.  And, remember, we do this for fun, people! If you’re not enjoying your writing, you might want to go get a job in a dentist’s office.

 

Do you write genre? Why did you choose the genre you write in?  Please weigh in!

Photo by austinevan.

8

Guest Post, Book Launch: How Getting Coached Saved My Sanity

I am thrilled to introduce you to my friend Lisa, a fellow Portlander.  Her fabulous debut mystery, Kilmoon, A County Clare Mystery, just released last week.  She's got an interesting take on how to get organized for a book launch.  Take it away, Lisa!

Book Launches: How Getting Coached Saved My Sanity Kilmoon_72dpi

by Lisa Alber

My debut novel, Kilmoon, A County Clare Mystery, came out on March 18th, and if anyone six months previously had told me how nuts the ten weeks before launch would be, I would have shrugged. No biggie.

Uh-huh, right. Come to find out that I have two things going against me when it comes to being a coolly together person:

* I suck at long-term planning and nit-picky organizational tasks.

* I’m a tad neurotic so I get overwhelmed and stressed out easily.

I managed to sail along in the land of delusion until January 1st hit, and then I panicked. I had less than three months until Kilmoon launched. How was I to begin the process of organizing myself, much less actually accomplishing tasks? I didn’t know where to start.

The extent to which I suck at organizational tasks and time management is outstanding. I really am a seat-of-the-pants, wing-it kind of person. But, and this is a big but, if you want to launch your novel with any kind of buzz at all, whether you’re self-publishing or going traditional, you have to have your shite together.

Lisa Romeo, my coach, specializes in writers. Hallelujah! The first thing she had me do was break down the zillions of to-dos zinging through my brain into five categories. These are your primary goals for the book launch. Priorities are good! For example, you might have:

1. Blog tour / book tour

2. Launch party

3. Newsletter/mailing list

4. Promotional giveaways (Goodreads, LibraryThing, Facebook parties, Twitter chats, etcetera)

5. Appearances and conferences

For each category, brainstorm every task you can think of. Go for it. No need to be organized yet. Remember that tasks often have sub-tasks, which have sub-tasks. List them all.

Here are some other tips and tricks that kept me sane:

1. Print out a separate calendar just for book launch tasks and then plan backwards. If you know when you want your launch party, then what are the goals leading up to that? Note the sub-task deadlines. Seeing the tasks visually was so helpful for me. This especially helped me keep track of deadlines for guest posts (blog tour category).

2. White board! I set mine up in the living room where I could see it every time I passed by. For each category, I’d list the tasks for that week. I’d get these tasks from my calendar and also my brainstormed task lists.

3. Each Sunday, look over your lists, revise your priorities as needed, and write out your next tasks for the coming week. You might find that creating a mailing list and a newsletter can wait until after the launch. Perhaps developing a new website has become more important. This is OK!

4. Cheat a little. There are always more tasks that come up along the way. I added another column on my white board for “miscellaneous.” This column might include random tasks such as updating your Facebook banner to include your cover art or ordering bookmarks.

5. Be realistic about how much time you have to devote to book launch tasks. You can’t do everything. This lesson was one of the best things I got out of coaching: let stuff go. I was batty enough as it was without trying to be Ms. Perfect Book Launch Mama.

6. Give yourself a mental high-five when you cross a task off your list. You’re doing it!

I’m here to tell you that if I can make it through launch, then you can too. I’ve found that most people are either less charmingly neurotic than I am, or more organized—that is, most have an automatic heads up on me. But I survived! And, my launch went well too.

You’ll learn some things about yourself along the way. I learned that I suck at follow-through and quick decision-making, but, hey, that’s OK. I’ll factor that in for the next launch. Next time, I’ll hire a coach four months ahead of time. That should do the trick, don’t you think?

About Kilmoon.

Merrit Chase travels to Ireland to meet her father, a celebrated matchmaker, in hopes that she can mend her troubled past. Instead, her arrival triggers a rising tide of violence, and Merrit finds herself both suspect and victim, accomplice and pawn, in a manipulative game that began thirty years previously. When she discovers that the matchmaker’s treacherous past is at the heart of the chaos, she must decide how far she will go to save him from himself—and to get what she wants, a family.

“Brooding, gothic overtones haunt Lisa Alber’s polished, atmospheric debut. Romance, mysticism, and the verdant Irish countryside all contribute to making KILMOON a marvelous, suspenseful read.” —Julia Spencer-Fleming, New York Times & USA Today bestselling author of Through the Evil Days

“This first in Alber’s new County Clare Mystery series is utterly poetic … The author’s prose and lush descriptions of the Irish countryside nicely complement this dark, broody and very intricate mystery.” —RT Book Reviews (four stars)


Lisa_new_edit_color300dpi_optLisa Alber received an Elizabeth George Foundation writing grant based on Kilmoon. Ever distractible, you may find her staring out windows, dog walking, fooling around online, or drinking red wine with her friends. Ireland, books, animals, photography, and blogging round out her distractions. Lisa lives in the Pacific Northwest. Kilmoon is her first novel.

You can find Lisa at: website | Facebook | Twitter | blog

How about you?  Have you ever used a coach for any aspect of your writing career? Please comment!

1