GENREALITY

Archive for January, 2009

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Saturday, January 31st, 2009 by Jason Pinter
I’ll Be (Sexy) Back

“The Terminator” is one of my favorite actions movies of all time. It’s just non-stop suspense, set pieces that were revolutionary at the time and still stand up twenty five years later, and characters that you actually cared about. It put James Cameron on the map, and set the stage for countless man-against-machine rip offs that never captured the magic of the original.

But there’s one thing about “The Terminator” that I can’t stand, that irks me every time I watch it, that takes it from a 10.0 to a 9.9. I think you know what scene I’m talking about, and if you don’t, you might not want to read this post. Ready?

It’s the sex scene.

Not that it’s a bad scene (it isn’t), not that it isn’t kind of hot (it is), but let’s look at it rationally. You’re Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese. You have an indestructible robot hell bent on killing you, who “will not stop until YOU ARE DEAD.” You’re on the run, constantly, often mere footsteps away from a giant cyborg that looks suspiciously like the future governor of California. So what do you do?

Well, if you’re a rational human being, you most certainly do not spend a romantic night in a motel room jumping the bones of the guy sent back to protect you. That scene gets me every time. I want to scream out, “Stop holding hands and feeling each other up! Run! Make more of those pipe bombs!” But no. They always get down and dirty, and I always shake my head as Arnold drives up to their motel on his motorcycle holding a gun the size of Italy.

So what’s my point? Well, a lot of readers ask me why there’s no sex scene in my first novel, THE MARK. After all, the hero and heroine are young, energetic, have plenty of chemistry, and are undeniably attracted to each other. So what gives, Jason? Are you just a big prude? Would it have been so bad to offer one romp?

But the truth is, I did have a problem with it. While writing THE MARK, I considered whether the two characters should have sex. I knew that in future books, if they stayed together they certainly would, but in the end I decided that this was not the time

I wrote THE MARK to take place over three days, in such a way that every second was accounted for, and every decision mattered. My characters, like Sarah and Kyle, were often mere seconds away from death, and even when they weren’t they didn’t know they were safe. If, all of a sudden, Henry and Amanda paused from the action to do a little hanky panky, it would have felt forced, disingenuous. I have nothing against sex scenes, in fact some of them can be quite enjoyable (and I’d be lying if every now and then I didn’t flip through a romance novel to see all the creative ways one could write a sex scene). But in THE MARK, it just didn’t work. It wasn’t an organic part of the story, and I think readers would have picked up on it. 

Like in “The Terminator,” the tension would have fizzled out. After all, if the characters were so relaxed as to do the horizontal mambo while other people wanted to kill them, how dangerous could those people be? If you were an assassin, and you found your targets in a room rounding third base, wouldn’t you have a serious emotional breakdown? I mean, wouldn’t you question your vocation if you were so non-threatening that your targets didn’t even think they needed to wear clothes to protect themselves from you?

 

KYLE: Oh Sarah, I love you.

SARAH: Kyle, our son will save the world from the machines.

KYLE: God, you’re beautiful, and I bet eight years from now you’ll be buff as hell.

TERMINATOR: What the hell are you two doing?

SARAH (embarrassed): We were just, um, talking.

KYLE: Yeah, talking.

TERMINATOR: But you’re naked!

KYLE: Ok, you got us.

SARAH: Yeah, we were totally doing it.

TERMINATOR: What the hell? I mean, here I am, impervious to bullets and pain, with a gun that shoots a thousand rounds a minute. I’ve been chasing you non-stop for days, I killed an entire freaking police station, and you two are having sex? Don’t you respect me at all?

SARAH: We do, it’s just…

TERMINATOR: It’s just what?

KYLE: Ok, to be honest, you’re just not that scary. We figured even if you did a little coitus interruptus, we’d have plenty of time to make pipe bombs and get away.

TERMINATOR: I’m so ashamed.

SARAH: Don’t be. It happens to a lot of guys.

KYLE: Hey!

SARAH: Not you, stud muffin, our baby’s going to save the world, remember?

TERMINATOR: I need a drink. I’ll be back.

 

So, in the end, there is no sex scene in THE MARK. Not to say there’s no romance–there is–but Henry and Amanda have a relationship that just could not be consummated in the short time they have to get to the bottom of the conspiracy afoot. So when writing, especially characters involved in relationships, I always have to keep in mind the possibility of sex. It’s a normal, healthy part of a relationship, and when you’re writing a series there comes a time when your characters have to express their love for each other. Or, for other characters, they just meet someone for a quick bonk.

But it has to be organic to the story, and by that it depends on the universe you create. In my books, it’s important that sex only happens when it needs to happen. When it furthers along my characters, or acts as an emotional release (I was going to say another kind of release, but this is a family blog).

Hopefully I was able to create enough romantic tension between my two leads so that even though they don’t get much past first base, you’ll want to see how their relationship changes and matures over time. But it won’t happen at the expense of the story or realism or suspense.

So if anyone has any good editing software, let me know so I can edit out those few minutes of “The Terminator.” I’ll thank you greatly, and, deep down, I think the Terminator himself will be appreciative. If you look quickly, a small tear runs down his cheek as Sarah and Kyle make love, because he knows that when he gets home SkyNet will be mighty disappointed in him.

Friday, January 30th, 2009 by LViehl
Minding the Series

I am a series-minded writer. I didn’t ask to be, and I think my writing life would be a lot less complicated if I wasn’t, but the fact remains: When I write one book, there are five or ten or even twenty sitting in the back of my head waiting for their turn.

Publishers have a love/hate relationship with novel series. They love them if the first books in them are wildly successful. If they’re not, they will kill them without hesitation. While standalone novel writers are treated no differently, the impact on a series writer is much more damaging. Imagine planning fifteen novels in a series, and writing according to that plan, and then being told by your publisher after book five is released that you can’t write any more in that series (this happened to me with StarDoc.) It’s the same as telling a standalone writer that they can only publish one-third of their novel.

The three main problems with publishing a novel series are the same no matter what the genre:

Supply: series writers must publish quickly to sustain reader interest. Unless the author is a well-known and popular bestseller, this means releasing at least two books in the series a year.

Plateau: most midlist series hit their peak sales at book three and then begin to drop off. Readers who are new to the series don’t want to invest in more than three books to catch up, and readers who have been only casually following the series begin to lose interest.

Availability: It’s rare for any author to have a mass market title in print longer than two or three years. Also, if the early titles are released in hardcover, those are usually remaindered and go out of print as soon as the mass market edition is released.

Publishers have to make money, and if a series is not profitable for them, they will not continue publishing it out of the goodness of their hearts. That’s the biz. Series writers not only have to accept this, they have to plan for it.

I’ve found my own solutions to the problems of publishing a series, unorthodox as they may be. I’ve fought the supply problem and sustained reader interest by releasing my own promotional e-books that tell the stories that happen off stage or in between my print releases. I’ve also written prequels, sequels and alternative POV stories to my novels in print.

It’s difficult to get new readers to try out a series in mid-publication, but the promotional e-books also help me out there.

Availability is a real headache – I’ve had a publisher keep seven titles in one series in print but kill one of the titles in the middle (used copies of which are now selling for forty bucks on Alibris.) I’ve never stockpiled copies of my out-of-print novels, but some authors do and send them to readers who can’t find earlier titles. Another way to handle the OOP title problem is to ask the publisher to release the title in e-book form for a limited time as a promotion for new novels in the series.

Rather than wait and see what’s going to happen with our series books, I think writers need to plan ahead now. Recently I’ve been getting kicked around for ending my Darkyn series rather abruptly at book seven. What none of the drop kickers bother to find out is the reason why; after I turned in book six my publisher told me to stop writing it at book seven and do something new.

I hadn’t planned on ending the bestselling series of my career so soon, but after being handed the usual vague promises about the possibility of writing more Darkyn novels sometime in the future (this is basically what they told me when they tried to kill the StarDoc series) I knew I had to do something. I wasn’t putting my readers through years of hell again in hopes that maybe the publisher was telling the truth this time. So I made the very tough decision to end the series with book seven. The readers needed some closure, and that was more important to me than simply hoping they’d get it, maybe, someday.

Shared universes, settings and conflicts may be the way to circumvent the lack of publisher support for series writers. Historical romance writers have been doing it for years by writing in a specific time period; mystery writers use common protagonists like federal agents or private investigators. My next series, the Kyndred books, feature all new characters, conflicts and settings, but they share the same universe as the Darkyn novels. This welcomes new readers as well as offers something that will appeal to readers who enjoyed the earlier series.

I’m also looking at the way I’m planning series and changing how I write them. The Kyndred books will all be standalones set in the same universe. The stories will share a unifying series conflict through the world building, and feature some crossover characters, but they won’t have unresolved or interconnecting storylines. I’m also putting a choke chain on myself and keeping the series very short – I’ve sold two books, and I plan to write no more than five total.

I think we series writers have to be realistic and consider first the possibility of sustaining a series in print before we commit to writing one. This means taking a hard look at the market and the expectations of the publisher. No one offers or signs ten book contracts anymore; those days are history. These days midlisters are lucky if they get a two or three book offer. Your publisher can and will tell you what you want to hear, not what they’re going to do, so look at the series writers they’re already publishing. Talk to the series writers who are working for them, too – are they being built by their publisher through long-term support, or are they being hit with short-term performance expectations?

To date I’ve written seven series: Darkyn, Grace Chapel Inn, Heat* (the last two Jessica Hall novels) StarDoc*, Stranded (the first three Gena Hale novels) White Tiger Swords, and the Zangian* novels. The three I’ve starred have yet to be completed. This year I will finish StarDoc, and when I do, I will also finish the Zangian novels, because fortunately they share the same universe and I can use that to wrap up all the threads left hanging in both. But the series I was never permitted to complete still bother me — and I still hope one day to get back to them and finish what I began.

What are your concerns with writing novel series? Have you come up with any new ways to combat the inherent problems, or are you writing what you want and hoping for the best?

Related link: Laura F. Winner’s PW article The Series Still Rules

Thursday, January 29th, 2009 by Sasha White
Our Book.

“The work never matches the dream of perfection the artist has to start with.”

– William Faulkner

What do you do when you’re going over the galley’s of your soon to be released book, and you’re seeing all sorts of mistakes? And not just any mistakes, but rookie mistakes. Things like repeated words, or stilted sentences – things you know you could fix easily, if only you’d noticed them earlier. Or if you were allowed to fix them now.

By ‘allowed to’, I mean just that.

If you think that when you first write The End, that you’re done writing your book, then you are kidding yourself. If you think you’re done after you’re done any revisions you get, you’re mistaken. If you think you’re done after you go over the line edits…. well, you get the idea.

This is something no one prepared me for. I’m pretty darn new to this publishing gig. I started writing 7 years ago, and while I was lucky enough to have starting selling what I wrote 6.5 years ago, I’m still a babe making rookie mistakes. My publisher is very strict about the fact that when I get my galley’s this is for MINOR CHANGES ONLY. Ones that are only absolutely necessary. But just because *I* think they’re absolutely necessary, will they? Because they reserve the right to ignore my corrections. And sometimes, they do.

You’d think that by the time I’m looking at galley’s that I’d have been over it enough to have it perfect..right? Uhmm No. Why not? Because I’m constantly striving to make things better, and the more I write, the more I learn. And the more I learn, the more mistakes I see in what I’ve written in the past. And when writing for a New York print publisher, the galleys tend to come anywhere from 6 months to a year after I’ve finished the first draft of the novel. So, I’ve learned things since then..or at least I think I have. LOL

However, there does come a time when it becomes clear that the book is no longer just MY book, but it has become OUR book. Sure, my name goes on it. And when there are grammar mistakes and typos still in it, I’m the one who gets the reader /reviewer emails saying “what’s up with that?” But, contrary to popular belief, I, the author, do not always get the last word on what gets fixed/tweaked. Which is probably a good thing, because I’m sure editors have learned that without deadlines, or limits, we would just keep tweaking and rewriting every story, because a good author is always striving to make things better…(and that can lead to the problem of over-editing, which is a whole ‘nother post) And while I may have birthed the characters and written their story, I’m no longer the only person who’s put work into it.

This was a hard lesson for me. No one ever warned me that there would be a time when my corrections/wishes could get ignored. And as someone who DID take other authors advice of not reading my books again once they were in print, it took me a while to realize it. So I’m telling you now. Focus on your edits when you have the chance, and get them right. Double check your line edits from the copy editor, and when the galleys come…be sure to go over them with a fine-tooth comb. But most of all… accept that you will almost always find things you want to correct, and that’s okay, because a perfect story is not always a good story, and a good story is not always perfect.

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009 by Carrie Vaughn
Shameless Self Promotion

I wish I knew where the term “shameless self promotion” first came from.  I think I know why it caught on.  One of the big never-ending topics for writers is how to promote your work, how to toot your own horn.  At the same time, most of us live in a culture that values modesty and humility.  How many of us automatically respond to compliments with something along the lines of, “Oh, it’s nothing, really.”  (Hard-core costumers have a really hard time with this.  You tell them how great their costume is, and they’ll start showing you the uneven seams and the shortcuts they took on them hem, mistakes no one would notice if they didn’t insist on pointing them out.)  Some of us are overcoming a lot of social conditioning to be able to hold up our books and say, “Hey!  Look here!  Look what I did!”  So we put the “shameless” in front “self promotion” to acknowledge that discomfort.

The easy way to get around that discomfort is to realize that a lot of self promotion is really just dispensing information.  Pretty much the first question anyone asks when they find out you’re a writer is, “What do you write?”  I’ve made up business cards with my name, website, and cover of one of my books printed on them to hand out.  Most people are grateful to get one of these little reminders — it tells them exactly what they want to know and they don’t have to write anything down.  But I’ll confess, I’ve been doing this for four years and it still feels weird giving out the cards and saying, “Yes, that’s me, look what I did!”

biz-card-2

Lots of our readers don’t live on the internet, aren’t keyed into the book world, haven’t memorized the release date of our next books, and are only likely to think of it when the information is placed in front of them.  They’re happy to get the reminders, the websites, the blog posts, and so on.  There’s nothing shameless about providing that information — especially because you can’t count on anyone else doing it for you.

It’s possible to take the promotion thing too far.  If all you talk about is your books, if all you blog about is your next book, if you judge all of your online or even real-world relationships by how they’ll help you sell books, you may have a problem.  I go to a lot of science fiction conventions, where there’s a huge backlash right now against the “tower of books.”  This is what happens when an author is on a panel and piles up copies of all their books and cover flats at the front of the table, so all the audience can see is their books.  Often, this writer will also spend all their time on the panel discussing his or her own work.  Authors who do this have forgotten that the primary purpose of the panel discussion is not, in fact, to allow them to pimp their work.  People go to the panel to be entertained and informed, and the panelist’s job is to entertain and inform them.  If the audience likes your contribution to the discussion, chances are they’ll check out your books.  Panel discussions are a great way to connect with potential readers, and I encourage authors to participate in them.  But if all you can do is talk about you, you’ll likely piss off the audience and they’ll avoid you.

I watch what other writers do, how other writers promote themselves, to help me decide what to do about promoting my own books.  If they do something I like, I remember that.  If they do something I don’t like, I remember that, too.  I pay attention to what works on me as a reader.  For example, in all my years of going to conventions, bookstores, events, etc, I’ve only ever bought the book advertised on a bookmark I picked up once.  And it wasn’t because of the bookmark, it was because I went to the author’s reading and really liked what I heard.  The bookmark was just to remind me that I wanted to try this book.  So, I haven’t ever handed out bookmarks, which is almost heretical.  Everybody does bookmarks.  But I have limited funds and resources, and I decided to do other things with them.  I hand out flyers and business cards, because I make them myself and can adapt them to any book or event without a huge outlay.

I have something else to say about shameless self promotion:  there’s a reason I’m writing about this topic this week.  Two of them, actually.

My latest book, Kitty and the Dead Man’s Hand, was officially released yesterday.  There, how was that for subtly dispensing information?

And it’s my birthday today.  I just had to say it, shamelessly.  :)

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009 by Joe Nassise
The Dreaded “S” Word – the Synopsis

Last week I talked about establishing the premise of your novel.  That discussion generated some excellent comments and not a few questions about how to turn your premise into a full fledged storyline, so this week I wanted to talk about the dreaded “S” word.

You know the one I’m talking about.

Synopsis.

–Shudder–

I know so many writers who hate writing a synopsis and I’ve never been able to understand why.  After all, it is your ticket to publication.  A good synopsis will get an editor or agent excited about reading your book and that’s the first step to getting an acceptance.

So, this week we are going to dissect the synopsis, understand what it is used for, and give you some tips to write your own.

In the simplest of terms, a synopsis is a present tense summation of the key events in your story. (Present tense because it creates a feeling of immediacy and excitement.) It allows the editor or agent reading the synopsis to get a snapshot understanding of what happens to whom and why.  Structurally it must present the book’s plot, theme, and characters.  Stylistically it must package the characters, dramatic events, and plot together in such a way as to serve as a preview of the entire book.

Easy, right? 

(Sure, they say, doubt hanging on every letter.)

There are as many different ways to write a synopsis as there are books on the shelf.  I’ve found one that works for me and I’ve stuck to it ever since.  I’m going to share that with you today, but understand, this certainly isn’t the only way of doing this.  (In fact, I’d love to hear how others do it too!)

Every synopsis I write contains certain essential elements.  These are:

  • Theme
  • Setting and Time Period
  • Plot Summary
  • Character sketches
  • Emotional Turning Points

(I might occasionally throw in Dialogue as well, but it is rather infrequent so I didn’t include it in my primary list.)

Let’s look at these one at a time.

Theme:

Theme is an often overlooked element of many book proposals.  I find it lets an editor know immediately that you are aware of the potential undercurrents of your own work and that you want your story to impart something to the audience besides entertainment.   Convey your theme in one sentence or phrase – be as concise as possible.  My debut novel RIVERWATCH told the story of a gargoyle-like creature terrorizing a small New England town.  The theme, however, focused on the idea of sacrifice in the face of overwhelming odds.  The three novels in the Templar Chronicles trilogy focus on the exploits of a combat team that works for the Vatican.  The theme deals with how one man handles a confrontation with the infernal and, by extension, the divine as well.

Setting and Time Period:

You want your editor to know exactly where and when your story takes place before they get too deep into the plot summary.  I usually do this in a simple opening statement.  Something along the lines of “EYES TO SEE is a modern urban fantasy set in New York City”  or “IN THE SHADOWS OF MADNESS is a historical thriller set just before the fall of Berlin in 1945″ – you get the idea.  The default is usually a current time period and setting, so if you do not specify either one this is what the editor is most likely to assume.

Plot Summary:

Obviously the plot summary is the heart of your synopsis.  What most beginning writers fail to realize is that you must summarize the beginning, middle, and the end of the story.  You don’t want to frustrate the editor or agent reading your proposal with leaving only a teaser ending to your synopsis.  “Will the Ghostbusters escape from the clutches of the evil Stay Puft Marshmallow Man?  Request the full manuscript to find out!” is a big mistake.

You want the editor to walk away from your synopsis with the sense that you not only know where the story is going, but that also you know why it is going there and you understand the actual route it takes along the way.  You want to show that the actions of the characters are grounded in their motivations and are a natural result of the situations they find themselves in, rather than a forced chain of events that result because the writer needs it to happen that way.

I take care to highlight the inciting incident that sends the hero on his way, the attempts and failures he undergoes to reach his goal, and the final climax of the story.  In other words, highlight the problem, the conflict, and the resolution of your tale.  I do not go into every little subplot or minor character because I want to maintain the editor’s interest and don’t want to make the story seem convoluted or confusing.

Character Sketches:

Because I now include these as a separate standalone element in my novel proposals, I have recently stopped adding them into each synopsis I write.  In the past I would include them so that the editor would understand that I recognize the unique elements of each character and could show that their motivations were true to the actions they take in the story.

Emotional Turning Points:

Every novel is full of tens if not hundreds of little scenes that drive the story forward but that can’t stand alone as major elements.  They do, however, contribute to a growing crescendo of emotion that culminates in a major scene that impacts the story in such as way as to be indispensible – in other words, it would be a different story without those elements.  Including the emotional turning points in your synopsis is vital.  In effect, your synopsis should almost leapfrog from one emotional turning point to another.

A Thought on Subplots:

The only time I include subplots in my synopsis is when they are intrinsically involved with the primary plot.  Otherwise, I leave them out so as to avoid muddy up the waters and pushing myself into a rejection.  If I can tell the primary storyline clearly, I have a stronger chance of having the book accepted than if I got the editor confused with six different subplots that aren’t vital at this stage of the game.

There you have it – my formula for a decent synopsis.  So how do you approach writing a synopsis?  What works for you?  What doesn’t?  For those of you still shying away from writing one for each of your projects, where is it that you are having trouble?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments!

Monday, January 26th, 2009 by Alison Kent
R-E-S-P-E-C-T Redux

One of the things all writers face, whether writing genre fiction or not, is deadlines. I’m facing a February 2nd one now, so am cramming on this post. As promised last Monday, I’m continuing to look at the subject of respect as it relates to a genre author.

Previously, I addressed respecting our creative process, whatever it may be, however we find it, through trial and error, intuition, workshopping, pharmaceuticals *g*, etc. Today I’m going to cover (or skate over anyway!) other areas deserving equal consideration.

Some of this may sound stern. Do this. Don’t do that. Yes, I put down my thoughts in a hurry, and for that terseness, I apologize. For the rest . . . mmm, not so much. Here’s the deal. I wish published pros had said these things to me years ago, stern, terse, or not. I bear scars, and still limp from running into some of these things sans shin guards. *g*

Respect the Story & Characters

You wear a red shirt in Star Trek? You’re going to die. You wear a black hat in a western? You’re the bad guy. Every genre has similar character shortcuts, cliches, stereotypes. Avoid them. Or if you use them, make them your own. Don’t rely on them as lazy attempts to convince your audience that your characters are genre authentic.

Plot points, character actions, interactions, reactions. Make them logical, believable, not contrived. If you can’t tell that your story’s flowing true, ask. A critique partner, a beta reader. Your mom. Don’t leave plot threads hanging. Don’t wave a magic deus ex machina wand to rescue your people from the hand from the grave. Make them, and the hand, work for it.

If you’re writing a feisty romance heroine, she does not have to have red hair, or see stars when she flies into orgasm. Your alpha hero does not have to be a bitter orphan named Brick Hawk. Neither does he have to hate all women because he was once done wrong – and the woman who done him wrong does not have to be a bitch with stilettos and red fingernails.

Be respectful of your story and your characters. Make them unique. Make them real and true.

Respect the Genre

In a mystery, the puzzle will be solved. In a thriller, the killer brought to justice. In an inspirational, protagonists will also have a relationship with God. In science fiction, there will be science. In fantasy, intricate worldbuilding. In a romance, the boy will get the girl. Simple, yes, but those are genre expectations. Don’t mess with genre expectations. If you can’t write within the constraints, write elsewhere. A reader who picks up a mass market paperback with “romance” on the spine expects – and rightfully deserves – a happy ending. That’s why s/he is buying the book. Genre expectations. Learn them. Live them. Respect them.

Respect the Publishing Process

From day one of the call, work with your agent, editor and publishing house to set reasonable deadlines. Don’t promise what you can’t deliver. If you find yourself unable to turn in a manuscript by the expected date, let your editor know ASAP. There is usually room for forgiveness and flexibility, but do not abuse the process. Do not take advantage. Do not assume each time you ask for an extension that it’s no big deal. In fact, assume the opposite. Better yet, respect your contractual obligations and get your book in on time. (I learned this lesson the hard way, and that’s all I’m gonna say about that (tm Forrest Gump).

Unless you and your editor have already established such a working relationship (as in, s/he wants to see your work in progress and give input ::shudder::), do not turn in drafts. Polish and edit and revise until your fingers fall off, and then use your toes and start over. Proofread. Verify word meanings. Use correct punctuation. The easier you make your editor’s job, the easier your own. That said, your editor is not your friend. Neither is s/he your critique partner.

S/he has dozens of other authors s/he works with. The squeaky wheel may get the grease, but eventually, the editor gets rid of the one that’s high maintenance and buys a replacement model. You don’t want to be replaced in your editor’s garage by an author who turns in perfect prose, so respect your editor and turn in your bestest BESTEST work every time.

Respect the Readers

A reader who picks up a novel with “romance” on the spine wants a happy ending. S/he wants hope and happiness. S/he wants to turn the last page and know that after all the pain and suffering, the characters with whom s/he’s spent hours, did indeed find true love.

Research is your friend. Readers will KNOW if your cop is carrying the wrong gun, if your Earl can indeed be called Sir Dude (that shows what I know about titles). Readers will call you on it if your baker is wearing a ponytail but not a required hairnet, if your peace officer works for a department that doesn’t exist in the state where you’ve set your book (saw that one recently). Yes, it’s fiction. But if your fiction is representative of real life (as opposed to those things which we don’t know are real), readers want to find and recognize the familiar.

Assume your readers are smart. They usually are. Often smarter than you. Don’t dumb down your prose. Don’t cheat. Don’t info dump to make sure they get it. Don’t beat them over the head to make sure they don’t forget. They get it. They don’t forget. Neither do they forgive if you treat them wrongly. A reader fan can give you publicity you can’t pay for, and many do so daily on their blogs. Word of mouth is the only proven-to-be-successful promotional tool.

Respect Yourself

Creativity can be glorious. It can also be grueling. Eat right, move more than your fingers, sleep many many hours. You don’t want to work yourself to death, and not be around to enjoy the fruit of all that labor. When the words dry up, fill the creative well. Take a walk in the park. Visit a museum. Go to the zoo. Plant flowers. Watch waves foam on the sand (my fave).

When the noise of industry news, publishing gossip, author bickering, bragging, and speculating interferes, back away from the blogs, loops, the email and IMs. You can’t exist on a steady diet of crap and expect to produce good work. Garbage in, garbage out, and all that.

Lastly, don’t ever forget your non-writing friends and family. They are your rocks, your anchors; when you spend hours a day in a fictional world, that real life touchstone is vital. They love you. Be there for them. Lean on them. Never let work get in the way of that precious gift.

Saturday, January 24th, 2009 by Jason Pinter
Whatever You Say I Am

When I agreed to be a part of this blog, one of the first questions asked by my terrific cohorts was whether I should be referred to as a Mystery Writer or a Thriller Writer. You’d think it’d be an easy question to answer, but it’s much harder than it seems.

Like most people, when I sat down to write my first novel, THE MARK, I didn’t really think about it in terms of genre. I knew it was a crime novel, knew it was going to be fast-paced, character-driven, and that it would be thrilling but with a mystery hidden in the center. So what does that make me? In the end, I’m not really sure.

See, there are some people who are definitely ‘Thriller’ writers. They tend to write big, explosive, globe-trotting books in which the fate of the world rests in the hands of some sort of military-ninja-explosives lawyer/politician/FBI agent. Usually the main character has a kind of short, terse name like Brick Rogers, and Don’t Take No Crap From Anybody ™. 

Mysteries, on the other hand, tend to be a little more introspective. They often feature protagonists who are a little more world weary. They usually knock back a few too many drinks, have an ex-wife (or three) and are kind of loners. The world is rarely at stake in the book, and the pacing is a little more deliberate, more atmospheric. Often the location of the book plays as much a part of the story as the characters do (for great examples of this, check out Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch series, Laura Lippman’s Tess Monaghan series, Dennis Lehane’s Kenzie/Gennaro series, or Lawrence Block’s Matthew Scudder books). In mysteries, the case tends to work on the characters as much as the characters work on the case.

So there are often seen as two sides of the ‘Crime Fiction’ world. Most bookstores don’t have a ‘Thriller’ section, they have a ‘Mystery’ section (though I believe Borders has a Mystery/Thriller section). There has always been a bit of discord among thriller writer who got shelved in Mystery, despite their pleas that they wrote Thrillers, not Mysteries. And some people clearly do write thrillers, whereas some people easily fit the mystery mold.

Me? I’m not so sure. When asked, I tend to say I write thrillers. The pacing tends to outweigh the atmosphere in my books, but on the other hand I try to write characters that aren’t just cardboard cutouts. I love my characters. I feel for them. I don’t like to just throw them into a boiling pot–I’d rather put them in a cold one and heat it up. 

My first two books I consider “Thrillers with elements of mystery.” There was always a mystery at the center, but the stakes tended to be higher. There was more action, more bullets. In my third novel, I slowed things down a bit. I wanted the book to simmer a little more, and I wanted the story to more intimate. There was less blood, less violence. But I consider it the most chilling book I’ve written, and readers seem to agree.

So what’s the difference between a mystery and a thriller? I don’t think there’s a clear cut definition, though the popular retread tends to be “Mysteries are about solving a crime, thrillers are about preventing it.” The generalization tends to be that in mysteries you’re hunting for the killer, in thrillers you’re trying to stop the terrorists. But my books didn’t tend to follow that method. There was always a crime that set the story in motion, but then there was a larger crime that needed to be stopped. I love the idea of escalation, and I love having my characters have problems that are far bigger than themselves. But I also love their relationships, their romances. I want their emotions to be real, and I want their scars to show from book to book. Thrillers tend to be a little more pre-Daniel Craig James Bond, charismatic and indestructible, able to leap tall buildings, use cool gadgets or jump from thirty stories and land on their feet. The heroes rarely bleed, and if they do, they’re certainly healed by the next installment. Mine don’t heal so easily, and their hearts are just as fragile as their skin.

So again I ask, what’s the difference? In the end, I’m not really sure. So am I a Mystery Writer, or am I a Thriller Writer? To be honest, I’d rather leave it up to readers. A lot of people have told me they enjoy my thrillers. Others tell me they recommend my mysteries to their friends. So far nobody’s told me they like my chick lit, but my career isn’t over yet.  So in the end, if I may quote Eminem: I am whatever you say I am.

So what about you? For authors out there, do you think in terms of genre when you write? Or do you just write the book and let the chips fall where they may?



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