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12 Books in 12 Months

writing books and blogging about it

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paranormalromance

End of Year Review: The Plots

My festive stay in Perthshire sans graphics tablet has been prolonged, so the comic isn’t finished.  However, it’s a year to the day since I registered the 12 books in 12 months domain name, so it seems like a good time to reflect on how it’s gone.

With that in mind, American novelist Alison Walkley came across 12 books in November, and asked if there was a post explaining the plots of each book.

There is now.

Continue reading “End of Year Review: The Plots”

Which One Will You Choose..?

It’s the third day of questions courtesy of Elaine from the Dreams and Whispers Blog, and she asks something I’ve never really thought about before… to choose which of my children I love the most!

Today’s question is about the characters in your books. For me as a reader, I find that interesting characters can really make a book brilliant. With you being on your fifth book now, you must have invented and thought about a fair few people, so which of them stand out the most – which two have been your favourite and least favourite so far?

I agree with you that characterisation can make or break a book.  Good characters stay with you and you want to find out more about them – this is presumably why so many authors write in series.  Whereas bad ones can make it difficult to carry on reading (although I’m pretty tenacious – it’s rare that I don’t drag my way kicking and screaming to the end of a book).

So far my favourite character is probably Caligula, if I can legitimately claim him as a character!  I enjoyed trying to get into his mind and second guessing why he did the crazy things that he was meant to have done – that’s the revisionist historian in me trying to come out, I think.  The sources on Caligula are fantastically biased but it makes for interesting reading.

I have a lot of affection for Victor McGlynn as well – he was the main character in the Western and I gave him quite a rough time of it with a pretty sad back story and a not amazing here and now, but he coped with dignity!  I am also really looking forward to writing the main characters in my kids’ book in July, because I’ve been developing them in my head for about two years.

There aren’t any characters I haven’t enjoyed writing at all, but I suppose my least favourite is Jennifer, the protagonist of the last book.  This is partly because I swithered an awful lot over how to write her – this has been the most difficult book so far.

I was trying to write her as a stroppy teenager but I think I may have gone a bit overboard with her lack of empathy and self involvement, so I’ll have to sort that out when I go back to edit it!  Think I should make her a bit more likeable!  Although having said that, Stephanie Meyer didn’t bother making Bella likeable and she did alright.  Maybe I’ll just leave it….

Where Would You Want To Be Shelved?

My conversation with Edinburgh-based writer and tweeter Andrew Blair continues apace today, after a wee little break yesterday.  You may remember that in the last post I asked him what his view was of the BBC’s emphasis on Literary Fiction over all else for their World Book Day coverage, my own view being that it’s a little bit silly because it ignores a vast section of the reading population.

Andrew:

The documentary with Sue Perkins was a bit patronising.  It only really dealt with popular fiction aimed at women and even then managed to assume that this meant nothing more than Chick Lit.

It started with the assumption that Literary Fiction is objectively better, which is flawed. People do not read books based on objective critical analysis. Then an unsympathetic presenter tried not to ask people ‘But gosh, don’t you realise it makes you look thick?’

The next show featured a group of first-time authors of literary fiction and a brief history of the genre. It was amazingly dull, and represented a tiny fraction of the books that we sell. Ignoring genre-fiction for a second, I don’t think Non-Fiction even got a look in.

What’s more, quite a few of the new authors were writing books that were clearly science-fiction, fantasy or crime novels but had apparently managed to find publishers who would market them as literary fiction.

A general rule of thumb I’ve learned from working in a bookshop: if a new book is clearly genre fiction but is going to sell well, it will be moved as quickly as possible to the Fiction section so that everyone who has heard about it won’t have to mingle with the Martina Cole and Joe Abercrombie fans.

12 Books in 12 Months:

*Going into journo mode*

OK, so what’s in your Fiction section, if not genre fiction?  How does a major book retailer approach genres, and does this affect what publishers do?
And as an author of genre fiction, would you expect me and my readers to be looked down on by your litfic clientele?
Andrew:

Fiction is divided along the following lines in my store:

Crime, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror, Dark Fantasy, Romance, Erotica, Classics, Graphic Novels and Manga.

Everything else is under ‘Fiction’. This includes Historical Fiction (which includes Historical Romance if the author is popular enough to make it out from the Romance section), Literary Fiction, Chick-Lit, Modern Classics, Westerns, Popular Fiction, Thrillers and Comedies as well as stories that would happily fall under the smaller genre fiction banners.

So when I say ‘Genre Fiction’ I mean something that would fall outside of a Fiction section in most bookshops (other chains and indies usually shelve things along similar if not identical lines). In ‘Fiction’ you might find The Passage by Justin Cronin, or I am Number Four by James Frey (and some poor bastard he screwed over), and Ishiguro, Niffenegger or Atwood… People who have written Genre Fiction but managed to somehow avoid being shelved there.

The reasons for this, I assume, are to do with marketing and critical reception. Genre Fiction celebrates itself because all the works of Genre Fiction that have won major literary awards have been distanced from Sci-Fi or Fantasy or Crime by their authors. There is a perception of Genre Fiction as being niche, or popular within a certain audience. It cannot win, for it is both populist and niche simultaneously. So there is a stigma for Genre Fiction of being lowbrow and culty, as opposed to highbrow and selective. Then there is simply the fact that more people look at the Fiction Section than the Crime Section, so you want your book to get looked at more.

There are weird associations people have based on genre, shorthands and stereotypes that are propagated by a cyclical set of behaviours of authors and audience. If something is genre but popular, it gets assimilated as being representative. Hence all Dark Romance is brooding supernatural beings ploughing pale young whinos, and all fantasy is witches and wizards going on bloody long walks. Whereas you could quite easily say that The Time Traveller’s Wife sits comfortably in Dark Fantasy. Definitions are more fluid than the Genre Sections allow them to be.

Of course, there are simply books you like and books you don’t. But that’s more difficult to operate as a shelving system.

I mean, how would you deal with it? Would you rather your book be put in the Fiction section if it meant more sales? Do you think Fiction should just encompass all genres? And do you subscribe to the belief that there are just good and bad books, whether they be Literary Fiction or Crime Thrillers?

http://www.bookcountry.com
12 Books in 12 Months:

Before I started this project I didn’t particularly ascribe any of my story ideas to particular genres.  I tended to just write things and see how they came out.  And I think there are probably quite a few books out there where the lines between genres are a little bit blurred.
I suppose if it was up to me as a published author I’d want my books to be shelved in a way that would make people pick them up and have a look.  I’d like to be read by as wide an audience as possible.  But I know from my time working in a library that people do tend to stick to particular genres and indeed writers – if authors continue writing about the same character, so much the better.  It’s just occurred to me I maybe should have overlapped characters between the 12 books – that could have been quite good. Maybe when I get to second draft time!

Are there just good books and bad books?  What a very subjective question!  What you want to read depends on mood, where you are in life, and all kinds of other things. On holiday or in the bath you might want to read something light that you don’t have to think about, on a rainy weekend you might want something completely engrossing and escapist, if you’re miserable you might want something funny…

In addition, depending on your mood, age and whatever, slightly clunky writing can be forgiven when you’ve got a good story on the go, as with Magic Kingdom for Sale, Sold by Terry Brooks.  And well written prose can be really dull – I struggled to get to the end of Arlington Park by Rachel Cusk, but there was nothing technically wrong with it and I’ve enjoyed articles written by her in the past, so I wouldn’t necessarily want to judge all her fiction on the back of the fact that one novel didn’t grab me.

What I hope to do is write engaging characters and storylines across all 12 genres, but I suspect that all 12 of my first drafts are more ‘fiction’ than genre fiction and will require a lot more research and tweaking to market them to fans of the particular genres.  And even then I suspect I’ll have got a few of them wrong…

More Questions

Further questions from Edinburgh-based writer and tweeter Andrew Blair.  I have decided to answer these separately because they’re not really related in any way.

Have you been pleasantly surprised by your research into genre fiction? For example, has Dark Romance proved to be more than pale women kissing vampires?

Truth be told, I wasn’t expecting much from Dark/Paranormal Romance.  I rather thought that most of it had been churned out in a cynical manner to jump on the Twilight bandwagon, and as such I assumed that all such books would be full of unsympathetic teenagers and deeply misogynistic male role models.  My plan was to make the genre readable by imbuing it with my special brand of humour/Scottish realism.

However, I am pleased to report that my suspicions were overly cynical.  The PC Cast excerpts I found online, for example, were much better than expected.  I’d go so far as to say they were entertaining, which is more than can be said for Adventures in Forks as it is seldom known.

Having said that, the main thrust is pretty much pale women kissing vampires.

What do you think of the World Book Night coverage from the BBC, and its putting of Literary Fiction at the forefront?  You remember World Book Night, with Sue Perkins going around hairdressers in Edinburgh and asking people why they hadn’t read Dostoevsky…?

My decision to put off doing Literary Fiction until December was taken at least in part because that meant it was the furthest away.  Putting LitFic at the forefront of anything strikes me as silly, because it automatically alienates a vast section of the reading population who want something a bit more gripping than flowery prose about beautiful landscapes.

I’m not saying I don’t enjoy or appreciate Literary Fiction, but it’s hard going at times.  And I resent the suggestion you get from commentators on some of the programs the Beeb have shown that writing genre fiction means you aren’t as clever or as profound as a literary author – it’s more about storytelling priorities.  Personally, I can forgive a big of unpolished prose if the plot and characterisation keep me interested, whereas LitFic is all about form.

Just out of curiosity, as a writer and bookseller yourself, what do you make of the coverage?

Helpful Resources

Further to my Procrastination? post, I thought it only fair to put up some more links to interesting sites you can read on the internet instead of writing 12 books in 12 months.  I like to think that reading people’s websites is a bit like people watching, ergo totally like researching characterisation.

Well, I didn’t think of it like that til about ten seconds ago, but it sort of makes sense actually.  Anyway, get your eyeholes around the following:

Billygean – a very funny and open blog about living with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.  The writing in this is excellent – there’s no sort of ‘oh, poor me’ stuff to make you feel uncomfortable, rather it’s warm and engaging and often very funny.

Pictures for Sad Children – webcomics.  Funny webcomics.

Dystopian Fuschia – a bit like my Daddy Long Legs site, this has all kinds of bits and pieces on it.  The focus is humorous comment on telly.  Not for those who like Russell Howard, though.

Hope you like these, and have a nice Easter weekend.  I will be writing a bit (1,747 words done so far today), but I’m not sure how much.  This is at least in part because I have Stuff To Do.

To elaborate, for no very good reason, tonight I’m heading out to the Cameo Cinema’s second night of horror (which will run from 11pm till around 7am tomorrow); then getting the train over to Fife tomorrow to have a picnic in the rain with my family.   Sleep is for the weak, after all.

Oh, and I’ll have to watch the first episode of Doctor Who anywhere between one and several times.  Well, those sci fi and fantasy novels are due any day now…

Writing Teenagers

I instinctively write the ones I know – moody, foulmouthed and bored all the time.

Well, it’s cool to be bored, innit.

However, I also remember that as a teenager I had long periods where I was actually quite happy, and this presents something of a problem when writing Jennifer, the lead character in my Paranormal Romance/Dark Fantasy title.  Should I allow her any respite from the angsty world of being a lonely vampire?  Should she be allowed to have some friends who accept and even seem to be fond of her, as I did when I was growing up?  Should she occasionally have hyperactive giggling fits when she is showing off in front of a boy she likes?

To turn to the heavyweight of this genre; Bella out of that Twilight book has friends – not that she appreciates them in any way.  All she’s interested in is bedding her sparkly vampire Adonis, and she seems blissfully unaware of the fact that the kids of Forks go completely against stereotyping etiquette by accepting her into their group without question.  She never laughs, or does anything much other than pine after a man a hundred years her senior, who has questionable dietary habits and a sense of humour bypass.

Is this something I ought to be entering in to?  Up to a point I suppose I am trying to write for a YA audience, but I struggle with the concept that teenagers have no sense of fun.  Granted, their concept of fun may be slightly skewed towards setting stuff on fire, picking on the weaker members of the friendship group, or hanging around street corners and shopping centres getting in people’s way… but it isn’t all time spent on the verge of tears over a member of the opposite sex.

Still, some of it is, and that may well be what people want to read about.

Based on the habits of my friends in school and of kids that came into the library where I used to work, part of my trouble is that a lot of teenagers seem to stop reading around the age of 13 and never pick it up again until they’re 19 or 20.  In doing this, they manage to miss out on a lot of brilliant fiction because they go straight from kids books to adult ones.  I tended to read books ‘aimed at teenagers’ between the ages of about 11 and 13, then I went on to more grown up ones.  I only came back to teenage stuff a couple of years ago, as an adult.

All of which makes me wonder who the ‘YA’ audience actually is.  And should my  book encourage people in their mid-teens to keep going, or is it aimed at people in their late teens and early twenties?  Or is it both?  And if so, how do I appeal to the broad range of emotions and experiences that constantly change and evolve over the period of adolescence?

There’s a lot to consider, essentially.  Although ultimately I think I’ll do the same thing I do every time – write as it comes to me and worry about it later.

The editorial process is going to be an interesting one.

April’s Genre…

… is romance.

Originally I had planned to write some kind of beautiful unrequited love story, but then I thought no, that’s altogether too literary – I’m going to get my paranormal romance on and sell 100 000 e-books like Amanda Hocking

I’m still going to include an element of unrequited love, though.  What better narrative reason is there to keep people apart than having one of them a vampire who cannot reveal his or her true feelings because he or she loves the other person too much to compromise their safety?  And what better way of gearing this towards a Twilight loving audience than have the vampire a fifteen or sixteen year old girl, loving a boy she can never have from afar?  That’s an experience everyone has at some point or another.  Well, except for the being a vampire part.

The only suggestion I’ve had for this month was that the girl should be called Jennifer and that she should work in a dog grooming salon.  I think I will change this slightly so that she has a job walking dogs, ostensibly to earn a bit of extra pocket money but in actual fact to help her blend in and feel more human.  This girl has teen angst to the max.

This decided, all I need to do is conduct a little bit of research into the genre.  An initial Google search in my lunch break led me to the Harlequin website (that’s Mills and Boon), and the rather brilliant first chapter of ‘Demon Seduction’ by Pat White.

Stand-out lines of exposition include:

“back then she was just a girl, terrified by Marcus’s demon cousin who’d wanted to slake his need with a human virgin.”

I hate it when that happens.

“Having been created from human ash of the Great Fire of Rome, Ash could assume human form better than any other creature of the dark realm.”

As documented by Pliny and Tacitus, no less.  This author is quite the classicist!  Well, that or she read the Wikipedia entry, like I did.

“His mission was to fill her with his demon seed against her will, the very act he’d defended her from when she was but sixteen.”

Is this a good time to mention that whilst I love romance, I can’t take it seriously?  I feel this will add to the challenge.

Some excellent dialogue in the tale included:

“Mickey, you wanker, what’d you do that for?”

Which I think was to reemphasise that the story is set in Engerland, and:

“Go find yourself a husband to take care of you.”

This places our heroine as a frustrated feminist trying to make it in a man’s world – we later find out she also wears baggy jeans and army boots.  FYI, that means it’s OK for her to become a sort of sex doormat later on.  So what if she allows herself to be seduced by a poorly characterized Ash Demon?  That doesn’t mean she’s conforming to a stereotype, if anything she’s breaking it by defying the expected spinster/dyke path.

 And so what if she flunked out of uni because she was busy lurking around in thickets searching for demons to kill in order to win her father’s grudging respect/love?  She doesn’t need all men to validate her, just her disinterested, misogynistic old pa.  Is that so wrong?  Of course not.

I don’t think this is quite the type of tale I’m aiming for, though.  The nearly having sex but not quite scene is right there in chapter two; all inappropriate nudey fairy statue stroking and nipples akimbo. Stephanie Meyer doesn’t reach that point till three books in!  I have severe doubts about my ability to write a non-comedy sex scene, so I think I’ll probably follow her example.

This will involve looking out a few of the more popular paranormal romance / dark fantasy (is there a difference?) authors, I suppose.  Popular authors at the library where I used to work included P.C.Cast, Charlaine Harris, Christine Feehan and Sherrilyn Kenyon.  Anybody know any more?  I’d be particularly interested in short stories and flash fiction, just because of time constraints…

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