Friday, July 31, 2015

The Art of Word-Painting, Part One

Photo by SuperFantastic, via Flickr
We’ve all heard the phrase “taking a plunge”. It metaphorically denotes an action tantamount to falling/jumping off a cliff into deep water. The person who “takes a plunge” (voluntarily or involuntarily) ends up completely immersed (if only temporarily) in a new environment.

Reading a book involves “taking a plunge” into the world the author has created. If you’re the author of the book, you want your reader to become immersed in your story asap. This holds true, regardless of genre. Whether you’re writing a crime thriller, a fantasy epic, or a piece of literary fiction, it’s important that you should give the reader a strong sense of place and time and atmosphere.

Which brings us to the issue of descriptive technique. For your first draft, it’s perfectly fine simply to write whatever first pops into your head. For your next draft, however, you owe it to yourself to review your diction (word choice), figurative language (metaphors, similes, etc.) and selective sensory and/or concrete detailing.

This month, let’s focus on Diction.

Diction covers the choices you make with regard to individual nouns and adjectives, verbs and adverbs. In the case of nouns, as a general rule of thumb, the more concrete and specific your choice of noun, the more evocative your description will be. By a similar token, if you choose a noun with vivid connotations (good or bad), you often can (and should!) dispense with a supporting adjective.

Take for example a sentence like My aunt drives a rusty old car. “Car” is virtually non-descript; it could apply to any automobile of any make or model. The only thing that sets it apart from other automobiles is the fact that it’s “old” and “rusty” (which again isn’t much to go on). When it comes to revision, ask yourself, “Is there a single noun I could use that would convey the same impression more vividly and concisely?” Options would include alternatives like My aunt drives a rust-bucketor My aunt drives an Edsel.1 It’s always a Good Thing if you can make one word do the work of two or three.

A similar rule holds true when it comes to verbs and adverbs. When you’re revising, be on the look-out for adverbial phrases like “She ran quickly to the window” or “The taxi turned crazily around the corner”. Get rid of the adverbs (quickly, crazily) and find more evocative verb substitutes: “She darted to the window”; “The taxi careened around the corner.” Once again, choosing a single verb over a verb phrase conveys a more vivid impression.

Making revisions like these will not only liven up your writing, but also sharpen things up when it comes to pacing.

1 British readers, substitute Reliant Robin.

Debby Harris is an independent editor living in Scotland. Please visit her website for more information about her editing services and fees.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Lessons in Story Structure in Unlikely Places

Over the Fourth of July weekend, like many Americans, I went on vacation and drove to my destination. A local radio station had recently played every number one hit from the 80s over a weekend, so I put together a playlist of all those totally awesome songs to keep me company on the long drive. So when one of my adolescent favorites—“Take On Me” by A-ha—started playing, I was instantly transported back to those carefree days.

I particularly remember the music video for this song. In fact, here it is:
Not only is this one of my favorite music videos ever made, it’s more or less a romance novel. Within the space of three or so minutes, it condenses everything that the structure of a romance novel should have.

Let’s take a closer look at that.

We begin with backstory. Our hero is a cool racecar driver. He’s got some rivals too. The tension is set up and the antagonists are introduced.

In comes the heroine. Of course, this is a paranormal romance. It’s somewhere in line with time travel, only instead of falling in love with a portrait or something along those lines, the heroine is enamored of a drawing in a comic book. And then she’s drawn into the comic book world.

Things start off well for the hero and heroine, but more conflict is introduced both from the heroine’s side, when the waitress thinks she’s skipped out of the restaurant, thus crumpling the comic book and damaging the world the hero and heroine now inhabit, and from the hero’s side, when the antagonists find the young lovers.

A chase follows, and even though the hero and heroine face it together, they reach the point where the hero has to make a sacrifice in order to save the heroine. She escapes from the comic book world—much to the surprise of the patrons of the diner—but then rushes home with the comic book to see if there is anything she can do to save the hero in turn.

Lucky for our heroine, and maybe with the help of some fabulously 80s band members, the hero manages to escape from the antagonists by joining the heroine in the real world. The two lovers are united, and presumably they live happily ever after.

One of the reasons this is absolutely one of the most brilliant music videos ever made is because it follows all of the elements not just of a story with a classic three-act structure, but a romance novel. What separates a romance from any other story is the focus on the relationship between the hero and heroine. In “Take On Me,” the plot breaks down into the hero and heroine meeting and falling in love, adversity coming between them and pushing them apart, and the two of them battling to overcome those obstacles in order to get back together and have their happily ever after.

It doesn’t matter if your action centers around a comic book chase or the social interactions of a Regency ballroom or opposing tribes of shape-shifters, this structure simply works. Readers are drawn to stories where they can fall in love along with the hero and heroine, then hold their breath and cheer for them as they overcome the obstacles put in their path, and finally let out that cathartic sigh of victory once the baddies have been overcome and true love wins.

So watch that video again. If you find yourself stuck in your story, give it another look. Perfect structure, all within three minutes. It’s no wonder it was a huge hit!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Words

Photo by Cara Lopez Lee

A word is not reality. It’s a metaphor for reality. So, in a way, every word is a story. Just open a dictionary and look up any word: pronunciation, part of speech, definitions, usage, origin, and whatever else your dictionary tells you. Let’s try it with “sentient” and the American Heritage Dictionary:

Sentient (sĕnshənt, -shē-ənt) adj. 1) Having sense perception; conscious: “The living knew themselves just sentient puppets on God’s stage” (T.E. Lawrence). 2) Experiencing sensation or feeling. [Latin sentiēns, sentient-, present participle of sentīre, to feel…]

According to Merriam-Webster, the first known use of “sentient” was in 1632.

Every word has a history. Each word we personally know also has a history within us. To me, “sentient” is the story of HAL 9000, the self-aware computer who killed astronaut Frank Poole and tried to kill David Bowman, in the book and movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. “Sentient” calls up the chilling moment when Dave retrieves Frank’s body from space and HAL won’t let him back into the ship:

Dave: Open the pod bay doors, HAL.
HAL: I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
Dave: What's the problem?
HAL: I think you know what the problem is just as well as I do.
Dave: What are you talking about, HAL?
HAL: This mission is too important for me to allow you to jeopardize it.
Dave: I don't know what you're talking about, HAL.
HAL: I know that you and Frank were planning to disconnect me, and I'm afraid that's something I cannot allow to happen.

As storytellers, we use words to create sequences with beginnings, middles, and ends. We use words to define patterns of desire, conflict, and change. We use words to express the rhythms we feel in our bodies. 

At one writing workshop I took, the instructor told us her baby was only a few months old but already knew what a story was, reacting differently to the rhythms of storytelling than to other types of speech. Surely she hit on the reason I love stories: before I ever understood what anyone was saying, I knew the rising and falling tones of a bedtime tale, the feel of warm arms around me, heartbeat in one ear, words in the other, sensations that told me I was loved.

Sometimes I turn to fellow writers, teachers, and mentors for advice on craft. Often I read literature, sending the words of great authors tumbling through my mind until they break down into building blocks I can rearrange into new stories. 

But in the end, the stories I tell are up to me.

I’ve found that the magic of storytelling is in surrendering, not to anyone else’s notions, but to the words in my head. I believe this: my subconscious knows better than I how to tell a story. Only it can call up all the words I’ve stored through a lifetime of reading, watching movies and TV, listening to radio, and talking. Sometimes the best writing strategy is no strategy at all, simply the willingness to let the subconscious take over.

Writers wander alone into our mysterious heads not because we’re crazy—though some may be—but because it’s the only place to find the words we seek. We wander alone into our wild hearts, not because we crave loneliness, but because it’s the only way to feel the rhythm that is ours and ours alone. I have a voice, and the only way to hear its uniqueness, distinct from all others, is to sing alone in the dark.

If you cannot stand loneliness, find a writing group. If you need support, go where other writers are. If you need feedback, seek mentors. But here’s my two cents: ultimately, only your own instinct can decide which words to use to sing your song. Don’t wait for others to inspire you. Don’t wait for inspiration at all. I suggest there’s no better reason to tell your story than a simple love of words.

I’m not saying I want nothing more. I want plenty. But before everything else, comes the words.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the word was God.” – Genesis 1:1

Cara Lopez Lee is the author of the memoir They Only Eat Their Husbands. Her stories have appeared in such publications as The Los Angeles TimesDenver PostConnotation Press, and Rivet Journal. She’s a book editor, a writing coach, and a faculty member at Lighthouse Writers Workshop. She was a journalist in Alaska and North Carolina, and a writer for HGTV and Food Network. An avid traveler, she has explored twenty countries and most of the fifty United States. She and her husband live in Denver.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Does Genre Matter?

In my book, Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, I discuss the difference
between premise (the story concept) and the promise you make by the genre you pick.

I explored the theme further in an earlier post: Keeping Your Promise.

Writers unleashed in the independent publishing arena might feel they can fire genre expectations entirely since they no longer have to tick boxes for agents or editors. They may feel they no longer need to write the dreaded synopsis.

Not so. Why? Reader expectation still matters.

Let's say you go to a new restaurant with friends. It isn't your usual chain restaurant. Unless you are a foodie and love to experiment, you hope to find something on the menu that is recognizable. Something you know you will enjoy, perhaps a good burger.

When you order a burger you have certain basic expectations: a bun, some kind of meat patty, and condiments. There are millions of variations of burgers, from tofu and soy meat, to bunless burgers for those cutting carbs. Unless these variations are listed on the menu, you expect them to bring the beef. If you receive your burger and it doesn't remotely resemble what you wanted, you may force yourself to eat it. Maybe you'll enjoy it anyway. Maybe you'll loathe it and go online and complain about the restaurant's poorly written menu and bizarre food options.

One thing is certain: if you didn't enjoy the dining experience, you won't go back.

I am not saying that you can't mix genres, twist genres, or invent your own. What I highly recommend is that you make a promise to your reader through the dreaded "synopsis" which will turn into your story blurb. From one sentence "log lines" to the paragraphs on the cover, it is only fair to warn your reader if you are veering from the norm. Tell them which way the story is weighted. Is the core story a mystery with a little romance thrown in or a romance with a little mystery thrown in? Readers have distinct preferences.

Discussions are ongoing about rating labels for books much like rating labels for television and gaming. Not everyone wants to read explicit sex or gory details. For some, torture takes the thrill out of a Thriller.

You should also consider trigger warnings. There are certain topics that a reader does not want to accidentally stumble across if they have an aversion or sensitivity to it: war, gruesome details of explicit sex, murder, torture, rape, incest, child abuse, sexual abuse, verbal abuse, etc. Some argue that these things happen and people should write about them to bring them into the light. I'm not against that. Those stories need to be told if we ever hope to change things. But the trigger issue is critical to the readers affected by them.

Don't blindside your audience.

It is bad business to make false or misleading promises to your readers. I guarantee that anger and disgust drive more people to post reviews than pleasure. Cause someone pain and they will strike back.

The other key point is that certain genres sell better than others. You may be tempted to skew your back blurb to attract a specific following, say Science Fiction. Beware an angry hard core Science Fiction fan if you serve them a light-hearted erotic romp through space.

They have virtual light sabers and know how to use them.

Diana Hurwitz
 is the author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Monday, July 27, 2015

A Tale of Two Genres

I’ve been writing “genre fiction” for 36 years. I began with romance, then moved on to mystery.

That’s the simple version.

For a start, I wrote Regency romance, not just any old romance. It’s a very distinct genre, set in England in the early 1800s, when Jane Austen was published. The doyenne of the (sub)genre was Georgette Heyer, who set the standard for humour, well-developed characters, historical accuracy, and lively dialogue. Fans of regencies often don’t read any other kind of romance.

Given the limits of the genre, I managed to write all sorts of stories, some set around historical events such as the Battle of Waterloo, some comedies of manners, some exploring serious subjects like the mistreatment of chimneysweeps (Crossed Quills). I also branched out into several sub-sub-genres: fantasy—fairytales rewritten with a Regency setting (The Magic of Love); time travel (Byron’s Child);
and a ghost story (The Actress and the Rake).

One of my regencies was classified by the publisher as a “Regency Historical,” largely, I gathered, because it was considerably longer than normal.

The genre “Mystery” turns out to be even more complex. Most people agree that my Daisy Dalrymple series, set in the 1920s, is historical. Some, however, contend that a book can’t be called historical fiction unless it’s set at least 100 years before the present. The Cornish mysteries, set around 1970, have even more dissenters from the historical label. It’s not historical if it’s set in the lifetime of the writer. It’s not historical if it’s less than 50 years ago. Et cetera.

I’ve even heard from medievalists that nothing after 1400 (or is it 1500?) can be described as historical as that’s when the “modern era” began. I hope they have their tongues in their cheeks!

As far as I’m concerned both my series are historical. Yes, I lived through the ’60s and ’70s, but I have to do research about the past when writing both.

Another battle is whether to call both series “cosy/cozy” or “traditional.” I used to be quite happy with the cosy label until a flood of craft mysteries arrived on the scene, in which the mysteries of the craft get as much attention as the mystery of the crime. Nowadays I much prefer to be placed in the traditional group.

Both terms are ill-defined, but they do guide readers to the type of stories they prefer. That, I suppose, is the purpose of the whole shebang.

Carola Dunn is author of the Daisy Dalrymple Mysteries, Cornish Mysteries, and multitudinous Regencies.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Seeking the Muse

By Jason P. Henry

Throughout my life I have been an artist, a musician, and now a writer. Creativity runs thick in my blood. As a result, I have spent (perhaps wasted) a lot of time seeking the muse. She was such an elusive, fleeting, little tart. I always felt like I was three steps behind her, that I didn’t have what it took to catch up and drain her of the inspiration I desperately needed. I was a vampire, thirsty for that creative rich blood, and I was dehydrating.

Then I learned a valuable lesson about her. She was there, within my grasp, the whole time. My muse, she’s a stalker. The whole time I was looking for her, she was standing right behind me, waiting for me to turn around so she could smack me and say, ‘Here I am, stupid, now sit your butt down and write.’ When I learned, better yet, when I accepted, how devious my muse truly is, I stopped looking for her. I simply started waiting for those subtle, sucker punches and her sultry, little voice seductively whispering the words ‘Here I am’ into my ear.

Now, without trying, I see her everywhere; standing on street corners, in the seat behind me, across the room at a restaurant, in the news, on the radio, and even on the vehicle in front of mine. No matter where I am, she’s there. She doesn’t just kick me in the gut me to get my attention either, sometimes she does all she can to completely frazzle my nerves. Her approach is more like a haunting. Ever wake up from a sound sleep in the middle of the night, open your eyes, and then crawl out of your skin because you are certain there was a face leaning over the bed and staring at you? Yeah, my muse can be a lot like.

An example? Thanks for asking.

A couple of weeks ago I was driving along, happy and content, not even thinking about writing. Then I rolled to a smooth stop at a red light, right behind a dark blue S.U.V. with its rear window decorated. The window was adorned with a memorial. Not uncommon but, for some reason, this one caught my attention.

In Memory of
Gone but NEVER forgotten.

It was a little unsettling to see my first name on a memorial like that. Not that I have an unusual name, it was the principle of the matter. However, what really rattled my cage was the apparent date of death, which happens to be the exact date of my birth. Now, regardless of your beliefs, that’s enough to jolt even the most steadfast fortitude. I told you, my muse is not a nice person, and she had just throat punched me. When I was able to breathe again I realized that, once more, reality had just become stranger than fiction. A story was already writing itself about a guy who develops an unhealthy obsession after seeing such a heart-stopping tribute.

I write thriller, suspense, and horror. So it would seem that this life moment was tailored to my style. Who knows me better than my muse, right? The truth is, it’s suitable for many genres. A romance author could have seen the same memorial and went a completely different direction than I’ve gone. That’s the beauty of inspiration, the same moment can move twenty different people in twenty different ways.

Pardon my language for a moment, because it’s time for me to share a little secret. Writer’s block is bullshit, it’s an excuse. There, I said it. How many of you hate me now? Here’s another one: The muse is a farce, a ghost, she’s more fictional than your novel. Personally, I love the term ‘muse’, regardless of how mythical it is. But, ‘muse’ is a word used by artists to describe something they are looking for, that they hope will provide them with inspiration.

Stop looking! Every moment of every day, regardless of your genre, you are surrounded by writing material. You simply have to be willing to open your mind (not your eyes) and take notice. Train your brain. Know your genre and then start looking at the world differently. Look at everyday things and ask yourself, how could I use that in my writing? Soon, you’ll find inspiration comes naturally, and you too can call your muse a stalker.

When he's not working with the dedicated and passionate people of Pikes Peak Writers, Jason P. Henry is lost in a world of serial killers, psychopaths, and other unsavory folks. Ask him what he is thinking, but only at your own risk. More often than not he is plotting a murder, considering the next victim, or twisting seemingly innocent things into dark and demented ideas. A Suspense, Thriller and Horror writer with a dark, twisted sense of humor, Jason strives to make people squirm, cringe, and laugh. He loves to offer a smile, but is quick to leave you wondering what lies behind it. Jason P. Henry is best summed up by the great philosopher Eminem “I'm friends with the monsters beside of my bed, get along with the voices inside of my head.” Learn more about Jason at

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Polly Iyer Interviews Polly Iyer on Genres

Q. What genre do you write?
A. I write cross-genre fiction.

Q. What’s that?
A. That’s the genre that agents and editors tell you they can’t place on the bookshelf when they reject you. Bookstores can’t find a place for your book either.

Q. So, do you write either mystery, suspense, or thrillers?
A. Yes, all three, sometimes in one book, but there’s also romance.

Q. Then it’s romantic suspense?
A. Not really.

Q. Why not?
A. Because I don’t follow the romantic-suspense formula. Sometimes the romances in my books don’t have a HEA, Happy Ever After. Romance Writers of America classifies Romantic Suspense this way: The love story is the main focus of the novel, a suspense/mystery/thriller plot is blended with the love story, and the resolution of the romance is emotionally satisfying and optimistic. Though my books have a romance, crime is the focus of the story. RWA has tempered their former explanation of a definite HEA to an ending that is emotionally satisfying and optimistic. That leaves some room for H/h (Hero/heroine—notice the female H is in small letters. I take umbrage.) to maybe get together, maybe not, but probably. My book Hooked has that kind of ending.
I leave it up to the reader to decide. I have one more book with the same kind of ending.

Q. So, Hooked is a romance with a satisfying and optimistic ending?
A. I thought so, but some reviewers did not find the ending at all satisfying. They wanted to know what happened after the last page. Oh, and there’s humor in this one too.

Q. So it’s a Romantic Comedy?
A. Oh, no. There’s humor but there are a few murders, so it really isn’t funny. Just humorous in parts.

Q. So how do you characterize your work?
A. Broadly? Suspense with a hint of romance.

Q. And humor.
A. Sometimes. My last book, Backlash, is very serious. Even though the two main characters are a couple, there’s no hot romance in this one. But there are romantic elements.

Q. Sigh. I’m thoroughly confused. Maybe you should create a new genre to satisfy everyone.
A. Oh, that’s impossible. A writer will never satisfy everyone. I’ve had readers think I tell the best stories ever and others who think I should learn how to write. Agents, on the other hand, are only satisfied if the book meets the current genre in vogue, and writers better be fast because that changes as often as women change shoes. Agents can’t pitch a novel and call it Crime Fiction with Romance and Humor, now, can they? Editors of large publishing houses already have the books filtered first by agents, so they don’t see all of what’s out there, but they want to be on the cutting edge as well. Publishers want to be able to pitch the book to the bookstores, and bookstores have to know where to put the book in the store. What it comes down to is some writers have to put up with an unimaginative bunch in order to get published.

Think back to J.K. Rowling, who had a hell of a time getting any publisher to read Harry Potter. Then, when it became a huge success, agents, editors, and publishers all wanted wizard books. Then it changed again to vampires, and that changed to--you get the picture. Exhausting, isn’t it?

Q. How do you do it then?
A. I self-publish.

Q. What does that mean?
A. I can do anything I damn well please and hope readers find me and like what I write.

Polly Iyer is the author of seven novels: standalones Hooked, InSight, Murder Déjà Vu, Threads, and three books in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, Mind Games, Goddess of the Moon, and Backlash. A Massachusetts native, she makes her home in the beautiful Piedmont region of South Carolina. You can visit her website for more on Polly and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Secrets of Genre Strategy

Today, I'd like to share some secrets for getting noticed in your genre. First, it's a step in the right direction to write a great book. However, these days that's not enough. Amidst the vast competition, somehow your gem must stand out and get noticed. Genre strategy is one way to do that. Here are some secrets to achieve that:

  1. Be specific. Narrow down your genre. For example, don't just say you've written a romance. The romance genre contains tons of categories. To help potential readers discover your romance buried amongst others, include another category, such as contemporary, historical, paranormal, Young Adult, etc. To further guide readers to your book, you can narrow the field by including an extra category to the first two, such as a  sweet contemporary romance, a Christian historical romance, an erotic paranormal romance. You get the drift. Amazon, for example, provides tons of romance categories from which to choose. I chose the reality show romance category to describe Girl of My Dreams, since it did feature reality show segments. If readers click on that category, my book comes up much faster than in the more populated contemporary romance section.
  2. Pick the more exciting sounding category.  This tip is similar to the one above, but not exactly the same. For my thriller, Two Wrongs, for a long time I described it as a mystery. Yes, it belongs to the mystery category, but what takes place is more of a mystery to the hero, and not the reader. The reader knows early on what the villain is planning and even knows who the villain is. However, the hero is unaware of the nefarious plots against him. Calling this book a thriller is not only more exciting, but more accurate. 
  3. Be Truthful. Whatever you do, don't describe your book as an erotic romance, if it's not, and vice versa.
  4. Make sure your cover fits your genre. As above, take care to make your book's cover not only eye-catching, but also match what's in store. For example, don't put a cozy cover on a police procedural, unless somehow you've written a combination of the two. Don't place a steamy, clinching couple on a sweet romance book. Readers remember betrayals. 
  5. Follow a trend. In a way, I hate to list this one, but since many find this scheme to be useful, I must. If a popular book or movie comes out, you may want to see if your own book mirrors it in even a small way. Many latched onto the Fifty Shades craze to hype erotica, and science fiction got a boost from the movie, Gravity. However, fame through comparison can be fleeting, since another new fad is bound to come up. Still, if you're after immediate gratification, it may work.   
I hope you find the above genre strategies useful. If you have another to share, please do so. Or, if you wish, please comment on one of the above.

Posted by Morgan Mandel
 Twitter:@MorganMandel Websites: Morgan Mandel.Com    Morgan Does Chick Lit.Com.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Mystery, Suspense, or Romance

Although I write romantic suspense, I'm not happy with the moniker the industry gave to the genre. According to the publishing industry, romantic suspense includes all romance-themed mystery sub-genres, from cozy to thriller. There's the added hero/heroine story arc, with its requisite Happily Ever After. However, by tacking that 'suspense' term onto the genre, readers might be expecting an actual suspense, not a mystery, and be disappointed.

Mystery isn't the same as suspense. I happen to think I write romantic mysteries, or, as I prefer to call them, "Mysteries with Relationships."

According to the dictionary, suspense is a state of uncertainty, enjoyable tension, or anxiety. A mystery is something you cannot explain, or don't know anything about. It's easy to see how the two overlap.

Often the major difference in writing a mystery as opposed to a suspense will boil down to Point of View. If there's a villain's POV, then the reader knows what's happened. Suspense. Think Alfred Hitchcock. Do you know the bad guys are waiting in the heroine's apartment. That's suspense.

If there's only the detective's POV (and I'm being simplistic, because often there are multiple POV characters in a mystery, but they're not the villain), then the reader doesn't know what happened. Mystery. Think Sherlock Holmes. Does the heroine show up at her apartment and think something is "off?" That's mystery.

When I started writing my first book, I thought I was writing a mystery. Heck, I'd never even read a romance. But when my daughters, who were reading the manuscript said it was a romance, I figured I ought to read a few. Hundred.

And as I read, I fell in love with the "romantic suspense" genre, although I still think there's room in there for Mysteries With Relationships.

Finding Sarah starts off as a mystery. Sarah's shop has been robbed and she calls the police. The detective, Randy, tries to solve it. However, later in the book, Randy and Sarah are separated, and Sarah is in danger. Now, the reader will see things through Sarah's eyes that Randy doesn't know, and things through Randy's eyes that Sarah doesn't know. This creates suspense, even though the book wasn't intended as a strictly suspense novel.

In Hidden Fire, the same two characters are part of a more classic mystery. There's been a murder, and Randy must figure out who did it. The reader never sees the killer, so it wouldn't be classified as a suspense, although there's plenty of danger for the reader to worry about.

In Danger in Deer Ridge, because the villain was obvious, I included his POV, and that added elements of suspense to the story. But, in my mind, it's still more of a mystery.

If I'd been responsible for labeling romance books that include mystery sub-genres, I'd probably have included a "mystery romance" moniker. But nobody asked me (they never do), so we've got romantic suspense novels that might not have any classic suspense in them. Are they still good books? Of course.

What's your take? Do you like seeing what the bad guys are up to (suspense?) Or do you prefer to follow the protagonists and solve the puzzle with them (mystery)?

Terry Odell is the author of numerous romantic suspense novels, mystery novels, as well as contemporary romance short stories. Most of her books are available in both print and digital formats. She's the author of the Blackthorne, Inc. series, steamy romantic suspense novels featuring a team of covert ops specialists, the Pine Hills Police series, set in a small Oregon town, and the Mapleton Mystery series, featuring a reluctant police chief in a small Colorado town. To see all her books, visit her website. You can also find her at her blog, Terry's Place, as well as follow her on Twitter, or visit her Facebook page.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Seated Back Stretch

All the book genre research this month might be putting your butt in the chair for lengthy periods of time. In this video, Esther Gokhale shows writers an excellent and easy back stretch to help with long hours at the desk.

For more help with good posture and information about the Gokhale Method, connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

Monday, July 13, 2015

An Author's Take on Genres

One of my favorite writers is Liz DeJesus (Website | Fb | Tw | Publisher). Why? Well, every story she's written--full of fantastical characters, situations, and themes--I have loved. Born on the tiny island of Puerto Rico, Liz is a novelist, freelance writer, writing coach, and a poet, and has been writing for as long as she was capable of holding a pen. She is the author of the novels Nina, The Jackets, First Frost, Glass Frost, Shattered Frost, and Morgan. Her stories have also appeared in anthologies, to include Night Gypsy: Journey Into Darkness and Twice Upon a Time. Currently, Liz is working on a new novel and a comic book series titled Zombie Ever After.

Author Liz DeJesus

I already know that one of Liz's favorite genres to write in is fantasy, but I wanted her take on why she chose that primary genre, what other genres she wrote in, and how difficult it is to maneuver through multiple genres... among other things, so I grabbed her up and asked a few questions.

For you, what comes first—the story idea or the genre?
Story idea. I always get a nugget of an idea, and that’s all I need to decide what genre it’s going to be.

Do you have a main genre you write in?
Definitely fantasy. That is my favorite genre to write in.

What drove you to write within this genre?
It’s the genre I always read. It’s what I normally gravitate toward, so naturally that’s what I want to write.

Are there other genres you write in?
I write horror, science fiction, comic books, children’s books, poetry, paranormal romance, short stories, magical realism, and fairy tale retellings.

Because you write in different genres, I have to ask: do you use pseudonyms for the multiple genres you write in?
I do have a pen name for my erotica, mostly because I was experimenting with a different style of writing, and I wasn't sure how it was going to be received by the general public. And I'm glad I did because it allowed me some anonymity when I wrote a less than stellar book. And when I was ready to write under my real name, then I stopped using the pen name.

How difficult is it for you to write within a genre?
Not difficult at all. My main focus is always the story and the characters. I follow the natural flow of the story. If I focus too much on genre, then I lose the purpose of why I write, which is to tell a great story.

How difficult is it for you to move between genres as you’re writing different stories?
It’s sometimes a little complicated depending on how many projects I’m working on at the moment. But I try my best to stick to one project at a time and see it through until the very end.

Why do you think it’s important to have genres?
It’s important to have genres because people are into different types of stories, some of which can only be told in a certain setting. Wanna read about aliens and spaceships, you need a sci-fi book. You wanna read about wizards and magic, fantasy is the genre for you. Zombies, ghosts, vampires and werewolves, then you need to take a dark dip in the horror section of your bookstore. We all need genres because we are all into different types of storytelling. And that’s what makes writing books so much fun--you can do anything! I think it’s great when authors have a preferred genre to write for, but I also believe it’s important for authors to try different genres and try a little bit of diversity from time to time.

Check out Liz's latest novel, First Frost, volume one in her wonderful Frost series.

Fellow writers, do you write in multiple genres? How do you maneuver through the writing terrain with multiple genres? What comes first for you: the story or the genre?

Creative Passionista Shon Bacon is an author, editor, and educator whose biggest joys are writing and helping others develop their craft. She has published both creatively and academically and interviews women writers on her popular blog ChickLitGurrl: high on LATTES & WRITING. You can learn more about Shon's writings at her author website, and you can get information about her editorial services at CLG Entertainment.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Playing the Genre Game

A shopper stops at a table in a bookstore where an author is having a book signing.

Shopper picks up the book. “What’s your genre?”

Author smiles. “It’s sort of a cozy, romantic, mysterious thriller for new adults.”

Shopper frowns. “Excuse me?”

Author continues smiling. “You know, something for everyone. Trust me, it’s a great story.”

Shopper puts book down, shakes her head, and walks away.

Bottom line: Many readers have expectations as well as definite genre preferences. We need to present our work in a way they can relate to.

Some writers know their genre and write accordingly. Others incorporate the guidelines of a number of genres in their books, possibly in hopes of gaining readers from multiple genres who are willing to cross the line to read a “great” book. A few even try to create a new genre/sub-genre to accommodate their work. Has it always been this confusing?

In the heyday of traditional publishing, publishers determined genre, as well as the guidelines required for that genre. At that time many writers played by the rules. However, the game has changed. The lines between genres have been blurred and rules have left the building with the advent of widespread independent publishing and the glut of books that now clutter the marketplace. But back to our topic: genres.

One website notes three main genres: fiction, non-fiction, and children’s books. Then we have numerous sub-genres, which are uncounted because the number keeps changing as new ones are added. Another site includes a daunting list, which, curiously, doesn’t contain a single “cozy” anything that I could find. (What? No cozy mysteries?) Even Wikipedia gets into the act with another lengthy list. And so the game continues.

Realistically, it may make sense to research the main requirements of the genre in which you want to write and thus meet the expectations of readers who could well become fans. Another possibility is to meet the requirements a single genre, yet include elements of others. (Many writers do this quite successfully.) Mysteries and thrillers, for example, can be lightly peppered with romantic scenes. On the other hand, one can simply write an uncategorized story from the heart in such a compelling way that it draws readers in from the first p
age and keeps them engaged all the way to the end. This may cost the author some die-hard genre readers who insist on knowing exactly they’re getting, but some creative marketing may bring in a flood of new readers who put story above genre in order to read an extraordinary book.

Are you confused about the genre game?

Do you write in more than one genre? If so, do you use the same name or a pseudonym?

Have you ever crossed the line and incorporated more than one genre in a book?

Do you enjoy reading books that cross genre lines?

How do you choose where to shelve your book? (Heidi's post)
And, in case you missed Elspeth's Beginner's Guide to Genres, have a chuckle now.

Linda Lane and her editing team mentor and encourage writers at all phases of the writing process. To learn more about what they do, please visit them at

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

A Beginner's Guide to Identifying Genres

If you’re a reader, you need to know which store bookshelf (I’m going old school here) is going to hold your newest treasure. If you’re a writer, you need to know which genre you write so that you can target the correct agent or publishing house (if you’re going old school).

The trouble is that there are many, many genres - both distinct and fusions. Here is a beginner’s guide using my own twist:

Fantasy: Dragons.

Science Fiction: Dragons in space.

Horror: A dragon-masked maniac terrorizes a small town.

Adventure: Indiana Dragon hunts for lost treasures.

Humour: Percy Dragon wants to be a firefighter. Comical mayhem ensues.

Historical Fiction: Lord Percival Dragon goes on crusade with Richard the Lionhearted.

Romance: Boy meets girl. Sparks ignite, then get snuffed out. Will they find a way to relight the flame?

Romantic Comedy: Miss Dragon and her girl friends look for love and expensive shoes.

Cozy Mystery: Kind Mrs Dragon solves crimes while knitting a blanket for the new arrival next door. 

Thriller: George Dragon (MI5 operative) uncovers a plot to blow up the Alps.

Literary fiction: Mrs Dragon contemplates her life choices which have kept her in the cave. Should she have been responsible for making her own fire?

 “You do not like them.
 So you say.
Try them!
Try them!
Dr Seuss - Green Eggs and Ham

Elspeth Futcher is an author and playwright. Thirteen of her murder mystery games and two audience-interactive plays are published by Her A Fatal Fairy Tale, Deadly Ever After and Curiouser and Curiouser are among the top-selling mystery games on the Internet.  Elspeth's newest game, The Great British Bump Off is now available from her UK publisher, Red Herring Games, as is her Once Upon a Murder. Elspeth's 'writing sheep' are a continuing feature in the European writers' magazine Elias and also appear on this blog from time to time. Connect with her on Twitter at @elspethwrites or on Facebook at Elspeth Futcher, Author.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Where do You Shelve Your Book?

“What is your genre?” they ask.

Well, it’s a story of a dream, of heart and courage. It takes place in the West and it’s about old-time rodeo cowgirls, so it's also historical. It has a sweet romance and it’s suitable for Young Adult as well as grownup readers. So it could be “Women’s Fiction”, “Young Adult”, “Western” or "Historical".

How do you decide?

When I first started writing, I attended conferences and workshops and I kept hearing, “Write something different and new. I don’t want to see the same old thing.”

So I did. I wrote what I called “Christian Fairytales.”

But when I pitched it to agents or publishers, they would sigh and scrunch up their faces, and after a long pause, they’d say, “Well I really like the stories and your writing is very compelling. But…it doesn’t fit our niche.”

Huh? But you said…

I do understand that publishers need to know your audience so they’ll know to whom to market. I understand that bookstores need to know where to shelve the books.

When I started writing what would become my “Cowgirl Dreams” trilogy, I just wanted to tell my grandmother’s story and to encourage readers to follow their dream. I didn’t set out to write a “western.” It’s not an old-style, shoot-’em-up 1800s era western. It’s a story that takes place in the West. So that it where it is categorized.

Sometimes you just have to go with the flow.

Where are your books categorized? Did you have a similar experience?

A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in North-central Arizona where she blogs, teaches writing, and edits. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreamsis based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, won the national WILLA Award. The next book in the series, Dare to Dream, and a non-fiction book Cowgirl Up! A History of Rodeo Women, are her most recent releases. Heidi has a degree in journalism and a certificate in fiction writing.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Writing Memoir - Anne Kaier Guest Post

Memoir can get a bad rap. It’s been likened to reality shows, panned for TMI, pigeonholed as mere publicity for politicos. My favorite peeve is the ghostwritten celebrity memoir—or, worse, the simpleminded recovery story in which the protagonist falls into drink or illness and, inevitably, regains health by page 300. It’s the "inevitably" that bothers me. These memoirs, written according to formula, often gloss over the real difficulties of people trying to make and keep their lives better.

The “my cat saved my life” story bugs me no end, as you can imagine. So why did I write a memoir about a feral cat who helped ground me emotionally in an uneasy period of my life?

The most important answer is that Henry, the ginger cat I rescued one night after someone’s car had hit him on a busy road, turned out to be one of the sweetest creatures ever. Oh, he hissed and spat at the beginning and hid under my spare room bed for six months. But when he finally began to trust human beings, he showed himself as a loving, friendly companion. So I wrote to celebrate him. However, I was determined that I would write a pet memoir which showed the complexity of my feelings around the time he came to live with me—as well as his initial distrust of me.

When I rescued Henry, I had just moved into my first house, as a single woman, at age fifty. I was afraid of everything: the mortgage, the weird house sounds at night, and the self-image this move drove home. I was a single woman living alone with a cat. Talk about a stereotype. I had to break out of it. Learn to include my friends and neighbors and nephews in my idea of “family,” learn to trust that my home was as enticing as one defined by a married couple, children and a white picket fence. Just as Henry needed to learn to trust me, I needed to trust my own core self.

I aimed for emotional complexity in Home with Henry. I wanted it to echo great pet memoirs such as Peter Trachtenberg’s Another Insane Devotion, in which the philosophical author explores the whys of cat love. Or Mark Doty’s Dog Years with unforgettable scenes about his dogs and his lover and the meaning of life. Books such as these set a high standard. Henry, a contemplative sort of cat, perched in a chair next to me while I wrote, muttering under my breath, trying to get our story down in the most honest memoir I could manage. Henry and I hope you like it.

For a list of classic pet memoirs, check out a free pamphlet: “Tall Tails: how to write about your cat” on the Home with Henry page of my website:

You can buy Home with Henry by clicking here

Visit Marian Allen's blog tomorrow for the next stop on this blog book tour.

Best American Essays notable author Anne Kaier has published in Alaska Quarterly Review, The Gettysburg Review, The Kenyon Review, and Beauty is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability, an ALA Notable Book for 2012. Anne lives in Center City, Philadelphia and teaches at Arcadia University and Rosemont College. She has a Ph.D. from Harvard University.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Book Genres - What’s Your Game?

I’ve been thinking a lot about genres the past few years, and the concept gets more complicated by the day. Now that self-publishing has really gained a foothold, a lot of the old rules simply don’t apply anymore. Crossover fiction is becoming much more accepted, so labeling your book for potential readers is increasingly challenging.

What’s your book genre? Romance? Thriller? Romantic Thriller? Mystery? Romantic Mystery? Noir Romance? Cozy Mystery with Innocent Romance? Ack!

And what about age groups? Young Adult (YA) has a new sub-category called New Adult (NA) for a slightly older reader from 18-25. Why? Because the romance was too steamy, but not yet jaded like for older adults? Could be.

A search at Wikipedia for more information leads to an exhaustive list of possible fiction genres.

Excuse me while my head explodes.

Is it any wonder I keep flip-flopping while writing my current romantic mystery novel that sometimes becomes an erotic thriller? What do you do when your characters don’t behave as they should? Switch genres?

To that end, I’m paying close attention to how other authors bill their books. For light entertainment, I’m a sucker for cowboy or musician bad-boy billionaire romance novels, and I say “romance” rather than “erotica” because the hero has to be a really good guy under that wicked public persona. I also want to see the happily-ever-after (HEA) without too much interference from old and perfect girlfriends or mothers or other control freaks trying to mess things up for the heroine. Is there a specific sub-genre for that kind of story? Upbeat Bad-Boy Romantica with Happy Ending? Yikes.

Join us this month as we discuss book genres in depth. Do you have any questions about the topic? What’s your book genre? Leave us a comment and we’ll chat about it.

Dani Greer is founding member of the Blood-Red Pencil. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter