A Meeting with a Beta Reader and More Genre Issues

I had a wonderful opportunity yesterday to sit down and discuss my new, unreleased novel with one of my beta readers yesterday. He provided some terrific insight in regards to characterization and novel pacing. He even shared with me that he felt that the novel didn’t feel like a novel in some regards. He kept using describing it as a TV show, something fast-paced and visual. It was an interesting description at the very least.

Beta readers provide terrific feedback into how a novel plays out in the realm of the reader. By the time I have polished a novel enough to want to send it to a beta reader, I’ve gone over the text so many times that I begin to be numb to it and what it is actually saying. The meanings of the novel become obscured to me by the minutia of the details I pay attention to when I’m revising. So this has become an invaluable step to see what others think.

As we concluded this fruitful back and forth about the novel, I informed him that I had one more question: how would he categorize it in regards to genre.

Honestly, this was a sneaky underhanded question because I needed his advice since I am clueless how to categorize this story. So he hesitated and said that that was a difficult question. I know. Then he said:

It’s not a fantasy. Though it has two fantastical characters.

It’s partially historical fiction, though the time periods are contemporary and 1977 and 1989, so not really historical fiction.

It’s a time travel story, but it’s not science fiction.

So what it is?

I HAVE NO IDEA!

Boy, do I hate categorizing my writing. The beta reader complimented me for creating something that was unique, which doesn’t easily categorize itself. He also mentioned that he’d never really seen anything quite like it before, which is difficult to do in this day and age.

So, all that is great, but how do I market it to readers. Let me use a phrase I’ve used before.

I HAVE NO IDEA!

“A Man too Old for a Place too Far.”  Coming in 2017. I’m just not sure where it will be listed yet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are you following the crowd (through the red light)?

I pulled up to a red light on my motorbike and sat beside several other motorbikes at the front of a long line of cars. One of the other bikes, which is often the case, took off through the red light, anticipating that the light was about to change green. Another motorbike followed suit, then another, then a car, then two, then – zoom – zoom – zip – zip – whoosh – whoosh – cars, one after another whipped through the light which NEVER changed. So there I was, sitting at a red light when vehicle after vehicle passed me by right through the red. I started to wonder if any of the cars approaching the red light would actually stop since it was red, after all. Eventually both lanes stopped and waited another twenty seconds until the light actually turned green.

Even for Malaysia, where vehicles whip through red lights with great frequency, this was a strange situation. It really showed the power of following the crowd. Everyone else is doing it; why not? One little flinch through red can trigger an avalanche of followers, regardless if it is breaking the law or not.

So what does this mean for indie authors? Well, if we cast aside the illegal aspect of this incident and just focus on the power and pull of following others, we might have ourselves a good little object lesson.

Many writers are eager to jump on the bandwagon of other people’s success by emulating their style, or writing in popular genres, or mimicking others actions. There’s nothing wrong with any of that, per se, unless that’s not your passion. If vampires are hot and you are passionate about vampires, well go for it. But if you want to write historical fiction but find yourself wanting to write alien steam-punk just because “it’s hot,” then you are following the crowd through the red-light. I always  keep reminding myself to simply be myself. Be the original that I am. Write what I’m passionate about, regardless of what others will think.

It’s okay to sit patiently at a red light. After all the light will eventually turn green and your time will come.

Are you telling the story you want to tell?

If you are telling the story you want to tell, congratulations. You must feel fulfilled as a writer.

As I was compiling my most recent story, I got to the point where I realized I had told everything about this story I had wanted to tell. I would be proud to put my name at the top of it, and whether people like it or not, it is the story I wanted to tell. Period.

This is an incredibly freeing position for a writer to find himself.

I remember some of the reviews of my first novel where some readers felt short-changed because I didn’t elaborate at the end about certain aspects of the story. They said it felt rushed and that all the loose ends weren’t neatly tied. I understood their criticism and thought it through quite a bit until I realized that I had told the story I wanted to tell. I didn’t want to tie certain loose ends because I was intent on keeping the focus on a certain part of the story, which I deemed its backbone. I guess you can say I’m a backbone writer. I don’t deviate off my chosen path. I keep things concise and straight forward with my writing eyes on the end result that I want. It’s great when it coincides with a reader’s expectations, and often it does. But not always.

But that’s okay. If you tell the story you intend to tell, then be happy and move on.

There are many market forces in the book world which could easily pull a writer away from his or her chosen path. And certainly there’s no harm to mix things up and try a new genre or explore an unusual story line one would normally not choose, but I would contend that if you are doing it only for the market, then it won’t be worth it. If you are doing it to grow as a writer or to explore a new interest, by all means go for it. But remember to tell the story you want to tell.

When a writer does this, the passion, heart, and correct level of emotion is much more likely to pop from the story.

So that is why I will never write stories about vampires or werewolves. Or erotica. Or science fiction. Or fantasy or … a myriad of other genres. They simply don’t get me excited. This is also why it’s highly unlikely for a literary agent to knock on my door. My writing wouldn’t be easily mold-able into what is currently popular. To me a good story is just a good story and readers simply want good stories written by writers who follow their hearts, regardless of how maudlin that sounds.

I firmly believe that it is writers unleashed to write their story which will produce the type of end product that everyone, writer and reader, will enjoy.

One last point I want to make is that this doesn’t mean that a writer doesn’t need outside input. Of course, it’s crucial. I have a group of readers who help shape my early manuscripts, and I am always grateful for their candor. But, ultimately, I have to choose that which is best, in my opinion, for my story. That way I can accept all the blame. (and on those rare occasions, laud.)

Be True to Yourself in Your Writing

I was reading an article from a writing website which was talking about the habits of successful writers. On the whole, I agreed with many of their ideas and suggestions, but one of them led me to pause, and I couldn’t quite completely agree with them. What was it? Research the market and write in the genres which sell the best.

I understand why they would say this. In order to maximize a writer’s exposure, your book needs to sell, so the logic is, fit your writing into the genres that sell. Easy, right?

Not for me. I’m not writing to sell books. I want to sell books, but I don’t write to sell books. I write to tell stories – the absolute best stories that I can tell – the creative stories that pop into my brain and take me on a joy-ride of discovery. And I will not (I’m stubborn) bend my writing to the whims of what people like to read. The reason for this is simple: I believe readers will enjoy and appreciate a well-written story no matter what genre it is in.

I’ve seen this many times over with my own books. I’ve had many people who have said things like ‘This wasn’t really my kind of book, but I started reading and got hooked.’ (sorry for the rhyme)

I won’t write erotica. I won’t write sci-fi or dystopian. I won’t write about vampires. Even if I could be a best seller in those categories, they don’t interest me.

To me, writing is, in its purest sense, a way to display the real me. (Just don’t confuse me with my characters – but that’s another post.)

I love writing, but I would hate to make writing a chore just to fit into the marketplace.

So thanks for the advice, but I think I’ll pass.

I’m not a genre writer

Genres are popular. I get it. Genres categorize novels so readers can browse through the books they are more likely to be interested in.  (Yes, that’s a preposition at the end of a sentence. It’s late, and I don’t feel like re-writing it. Plus, that’s what blogs are for.) 

Back to genres.

Many authors are extremely successful by finding their genre, claiming their niche, and sticking with it. Readers come to know what to expect and eagerly wait to read the next installment or series.

But not me. I’m definitely not a genre writer.

I don’t write YA.

I don’t write Horror.

I don’t write romance.

I don’t write historical fiction.

I don’t write dystopian, steam punk, fantasy, or any other genre.

I’m what they call a fiction writer. I write fiction. Sounds kind of bland, doesn’t it?

Sometimes my works have been called contemporary fiction or literary fiction. But does anyone even know what literary fiction actually means? And what criteria would one use to include or not include a novel into the literary fiction genre?

I have no idea.

I guess what I’m saying is, I really don’t like genres and how everything in the industry is categorized as this or that. But that’s the reality. I guess that is our human nature. We like to define and box-in whatever we can in order to …? what? I’m not sure. We humans like control. Perhaps that’s the issue. Control. We like the neat and tidy, so our brains can grasp the black and whiteness of everything. Classic western culture and its dichotomistic thinking.

So I’m always uncomfortable when someone asks me what genre my novel, Beauty Rising, is. I wish I could just say it’s a good story that you’ll like. Just try it.

But I usually sigh, and categorize it as fiction or general fiction or literary fiction (again, based on what criteria?) or contemporary fiction (since it does take place in modern day).

I loathe to call it a romance because that has certain clear connotations – although my novel certainly has a romance in it, which is crucial to the story line.

It’s not a war story, though everything in the story has its relation to or roots in the Vietnam War era.

It’s not a historical novel, though it has a lot of history in it – especially in the chapter named “Hanoi.”

It’s not a crime novel, though there are scenes of theft, murder, political corruption, and probably a few other crimes.

The one thing I do know is this: it’s a work of fiction. Isn’t that enough?

Perhaps not.

I don’t see me ever being a genre writer. I will write where my inspiration takes me, and that is usually in many different directions. I can’t wait for my second novel to be released because it is very different from my first. I can’t wait to hear the reaction (or backlash).

Either way. It will be similar to Beauty Rising in at least one way.

It will be a work of fiction/general fiction/literary fiction.

I guess I do have a genre.

 

 

Writing ideas from any place

Have you ever been inspired by a squid?

I’m not a fantasy or, really, any genre writer. My novels are realistic human dramas. Fantasy is fine if that is what you like, and I have another post on genre writing coming up, but I just don’t like breaking the laws of this universe in my writing – EXCEPT in my play writing.

One of my absolute favorite things to do is to write and direct this wonderful dramatic group called the RLT Players. We do 10 minute plays of all genres. They are extremely fun, creative, wacky, serious, silly, all with a moral tucked in the plot for good measure. This is when I love to let the fantasy and unrealistic circumstances take over my brain – because they are meant to be performed live – and with live performances you can be so creative, and for me it works, because it’s a live theatrical experience.

Last night, it wasn’t particularly late, but I was nodding off when suddenly it hit me. A giant squid climbing over a sail boat. The idea of the squid went back to one of the Scrivener tutorial videos which used a squid in one of their make-believe stories. When I got the imagery of a person trying to act as a sail boat who kept arguing with his director, the squid popped in my head and then my new 10-minute play (about 1700 words) was bred, born, and completed in about 45 minutes. “The Giant Squid that Ate Georgetown.”

Yes, my actors are going to look at me strange when they see the title. But when we perform it live later this year, I guarantee you, it will be a blast!

There are ideas lurking everywhere.  If only I had more time to write.