The Romance Genre… Or Not

I’m finally… finally… finally… ready to start marketing the second book of my Legend trilogy, Wolf Legend, about a psychic wolf.  Actually two psychic wolves, mother and daughter and the woman they share a mind link with.

Marketing requires that I choose a category for my book.  I hate doing that.  Hate, hate, hate it!!!

Wolf Legend is a supernatural, contemporary, clean romance.  Though a supernatural element is fairly common in contemporary fiction, clean romances don’t often have that theme.  So maybe Wolf Legend shouldn’t be marketed as a supernatural, contemporary, clean romance after all.  Maybe it’s contemporary fiction with a supernatural theme and a romantic sub-plot!  Since readers ultimately categorize books, it’s difficult to know ahead of time where they will place it.

I wish I had a mind link with my readers!

The Making of a Series

This post is partly to say ‘hi’ to my favorite people… readers of my blog… but it’s mostly to try out a link to the web page that’ll be very important for Spirit Legend for the week beginning April 8.  And to say a bit about how series are born.  At least, how mine was.

I believe I’ve mentioned before that I’m technologically challenged.  But I bought a book called WordPress for Dummies and, hopefully, following their instructions, I’ll actually create a working link from the web page that’s home to the book blast to this blog. That’ll be the ‘trying out’ part of this post.  To see if it works.  To see if I can actually do it.  So here goes (drum roll):

http://www.blackliontours.com/#!spirit-legend-by-florence-witkop/c22dh

Okay.  That’s it.  Did it work?  Can readers connect?  Please, please, please let me know!

If so, it’s a huge relief and, come book blast week, I may temporarily replace my home page with something about Spirit Legend that will also contain the link.  If that actually happens, then I’ll truly know how to do links.  But I’ll also be doing it because I want to get the word out about Spirit Legend. Marketing sucks but it’s a necessary component of writing.

The reviews for Spirit Legend have been wonderful.  I want to give each and every reviewer a big hug because everyone who has read it has liked it.  The only negative criticism has been to wish the book was longer so the reader could get to know the characters better.  A flaw that I hope to correct with my next novel, Wolf Legend, which will be book 2 of the Legend series.

Which brings me to the subject of how series come into existence.  Not that I knew I was beginning a series when I wrote Spirit Legend.  That came later when I admitted to the cover artist, Laura Shinn, that I couldn’t come up with a decent title, and the only reason I admitted to her how lacking I was in that respect was because she required a title so she could put it on the cover she was busy designing.

Well, it seems that Laura Shinn is a very creative person.  She came up with the title Spirit Legend.  I used it and it was perfect.

Then, as I began my next novel, it occurred to me that it, too, was about a legend, this time of huge wolves … possibly direwolves from prehistoric times … that were reputed to have been seen on a remote island in Lake of The Woods between Canada and the USA.  And that the book I planned to write after that one was also based on a legend. The Greek legend about Ceres, goddess of agriculture.

And so a series was born.  Might only be three novels, but, who knows, it might be more when the creative muses start whispering in my ear.  And believe me, when they whisper, I listen.

Eco-fiction

I recently joined a new group on Goodreads.  I don’t belong to many groups and I’m very picky about the ones I do join.  But this one sounded interesting when I ran across the name.  So I took a look.  What’s eco-fiction?

As it turns out, eco-fiction is what I write.  Okay, it’s one genre my work fits into, along with several others.  Because, like many writers, I don’t worry about fitting my story into any one box.  The result, honesty forces me to add, is that when it’s time to market what I’ve written, I’m truly frustrated because… surprise, surprise… it doesn’t neatly fit into any one genre.  Thus it’s difficult to market.

Anyway,to return to the subject of this post, it seems that eco-fiction is fiction of any kind that celebrates, describes, or promotes the natural world.  Dune is eco-fiction.

Really?  Well, if Dune fits the genre of eco-fiction, my books do too, as well as those other genres my books have been assigned to.  Fantasy.  Sci-fi.  Contemporary.  Paranormal.  Romance.  And so on. And  I’m sure other writers have books that fit this genre and aren’t being marketed as such because they don’t know the genre exists.  Just like I’d never heard of it until I ran across that group on Goodreads.

But I have a special feel for this new label.  Eco-fiction.  I love it! I plan on using the term as often as possible.  Who knows?  Maybe it’ll become mainstream.

Creating Characters

A long time ago, I bought a book that promised to describe forty-five compelling characters that I could use in my fiction.  As I read it, I realized that I knew someone who resembled each and every character it described. And there were forty-five of them!  Wow!

But I realized something.  The author simply described eight basic personality types that can be found in any psych textbook. But each type could be either positive or negative, which doubled the eight to sixteen.  Then each of those sixteen types could become either major or minor characters, which doubled the already doubled number. And so on, until forty-five distinctly different fictional characters were fleshed out.

I thought, hey, if that author could come up with forty-five characters from a list of eight basic personality types, I could do the same with any similar list out there.  And there are several different personality type lists out there.  Just google the term and see what comes up.  Then do what that author did, consider each type from different perspectives.  And you, too, can come up with all the characters you could possibly ever need for all the books you ever intend to write.

Of course, there’s a caveat.  I read the book, enjoyed every page, then ignored it.  I suggest you do the same.  Because, though people truly can be categorized, everyone is unique.  So use the descriptions as basic guides, then flesh them out however you wish.  The resulting characters might resemble people you know.  Or people you can’t believe exist beyond your books.

Either way you’ll have wonderful characters to populate your wonderful stories.

Winning The Race

As you can see, I’ve changed my blog into a website with a blog component.  I did so to facilitate sales of my books now that Spirit Legend is out there and selling.  Feel free to check out the page Florence’s Books that leads you to the buy links of both Amazon and Smashwords if you want to see what the old lady’s writing is like.

But, not to worry, I’ll still post with tips on writing fiction.  Not as often as previously because there are only so many tips I’ve learned over the years.  But they’ll still come.  Which leads to today’s tip:  Pacing.

I’ve read a lot of books lately because their authors’ asked me to review them.  For the most part, they were good books and well written.  But, with the exception of two of them, the pacing could have been improved.

They weren’t jagged.  They weren’t abrupt.  They simply kept the same pace throughout the book.  And that was their mistake.

Because writing fiction is like running a race.  A long race if it’s a book because, in the case of stories, novels are equivalent to distance races.  (If you are interested, my book Wanted Sharpshooter is about distance races for horses, something one of my daughters is involved in that I find fascinating.)

Anyway, in distance races, the runners start out slow and careful, conserving their energy and learning all they can about the race itself.  Who’s in it, what they are like, what the course is like.  Everything.  And they stay that way until they know the finish line is getting close.  Then they speed up.  They pay less attention to the other runners and the course itself in order to concentrate their efforts on running faster.  On sprinting to the finish line.

Writing fiction is like that.  The closer you get to the end of the book, the faster the pace of writing should be.  Forget those long conversations among characters that, in the beginning, were both wonderful and provided insights into the characters and the story.  Forget the descriptions that go on and on and on, no matter that the setting is incomparable and essential to the characters getting where they need to be.

Instead, write tight as you approach that finish line.  Eliminate everything except that sprint to the finish.   Because the reader now should know the essential details about the characters and the story and should be caught up in the action and shouldn’t be distracted by any unnecessary words.  Or sentences.  Or paragraphs.  Those details that are necessary should be provided in capsule form.  In as few words as possible.  So the reader doesn’t wish the writer would stop leading them through fields of unnecessary prose and would get them to the finish line in the shortest time.

So they can win the race.

Characters

A while back I took a course on creating characters from a duo who are very respected in the writing field. I was all fired up because I wanted to learn how to create memorable characters. That’s what the brochure promised. Memorable characters.
The course turned ou to be everything the brochure promised. And it was all wrong for me.
I was told to dig down, drill down, do whatever was needed to get inside my character’s head and find that horrible, terrible, tragic or whatever other awful adjective I could come up with that caused a visceral, negative change in my characters and led to the motivations behind their actions in my story.
Problem was, I don’t particularly like horrible, terrible, tragic or whatever other awful adjective I could come up with in my main characters. I like normal.
Perhaps because I had a normal childhood. Perhaps because at one time I taught emotionally disturbed children and learned that, though most people have bad experiences, they get past them and become normal once more. Usually it takes a lot of work, but they do. I believe in that, I passionatly believe that normal triumphs over abnormal.
Whatever the reason, I choose not to write about tragic, terribly, horribly flawed characters.
So what to do?
There’s another way to find characters. Wonderful characters. Normal characters. Alfred Hitchcock used it. He wrote stories about normal people in abnormal situations. Anne Macffrey used it. Her pithy description of how to plot a story goes something like this: ‘Jack has his fanny in a bear trap and the story is getting him out.’
I like those kinds of characters. I can relate to Jack, a nice, normal boy who, unfortunately, is in a bear trap. I think most people out there can relate to him, too.
Normal people in abnormal situations. Great characters. Great stories.

Florence Witkop

When Dreams Do Come Truebook cover universeWANTED: SHARPSHOOTERnovel... Spirit Legend... cover picture

Veteran romance writer Florence Witkop was born in the city and has lived in the suburbs, the country and the wilderness where she still lives and writes contemporary, sci/fi and fantasy romances with a gothic feel that are romantic without being erotic. At various times she’s been a confession writer, a copywriter, a ghost writer and an editor. Her preferred format is the short story but she also writes novellas and novels.

CRITICISM

Sorry, folks.  I wrote this post and it disappeared.  Don’t know where it went.  Don’t know how.  Just that it’s lost somewhere in cyberspace.  So, here it goes again.  Hope this time it stays.  Of course, this won’t be a literal repeat of my first post but it’ll be the gist of it.  It’s about criticism.  (Is that why it disappeared?  Hmmmm.)

One of the nice things about being a ghost writer and writing confession stories is that there is no criticism because they are written anonymously.  No author name, no criticism.  Doesn’t work that way when your name is on the manuscript.  All kinds of people let writers know what they did right.  And wrong.

I once took a commercial story I’d written to a literary writers’ group I belonged to.  They critiqued my manuscript and their criticism would have been very appropriate if I’d wanted my story to be published in a literary journal.  But I didn’t.  I never again took a commercial story to them to be critiqued because I knew that if I followed their suggestions, I’d have a very short career as a writer.

I’ve also had my work critiqued by editors.  Occasionally, when I’d send in a manuscript, it would be returned with scribbed notes in the margins letting me know what subtle things they were looking for that I hadn’t provided.  Believe me, I listened and the next time I sent those editors a manuscript, they got what they wanted because I wanted to be a professional writer.

Next time someone critiques your work, ask yourself some questions.  Who are they?  What’s their background? Why did they say what they did?  Consider whether they are giving criticism that’s valid for your particular work.

Because maybe their criticism was valid.  Maybe not.

Is The Pendulum Swinging Back?

Universe - A Love Story by Florence Witkop
Universe – A Love Story by Florence Witkop

I’m showing this cover for a couple reason.  The first is that I like it.  Thanks NASA, I love looking through pictures taken by the Hubble Telescope and as soon as I saw it I knew this was right for my first on-line short story The Eye of The Universe.  (In case anyone wants to read it, it’s available free from Smashwords.  Amazon charges .99 because they don’t do free unless a reader finds something free somewhere else and tells Amazon about it.  Then they’ll change it to match the lowest price elsewhere.  Hasn’t happened yet.)

The second reason is that there are no people in the picture, even though it’s a romance.  Which is okay because it seems that some people are getting tired of naked and half-naked people on romance novel covers.  When I chose this cover, I didn’t know that.  I just knew I wanted this cover so I added a blurb to tell potential readers that it’s a romance because they couldn’t tell from the picture.

I thought I was going against the tide by choosing a cover without an obviously in-love couple on it.  But I’ve since discovered that, as happens with every trend including romance novels, there is a small mini-trend bucking the huge, mega-trends in romances.  That trend is called ‘clean romances’ and it’s what I write.  Sort of.

‘Sort of’ because as of yet there’s no precise definition of a clean romance beyond that there are no sexually explicit sex scenes.  Some purists feel that there shouldn’t be any profanity either, or any pre-marital sex at all.  None.  My work doesn’t qualify on those counts, I do include premarital sex and profanity where it fits, but I don’t follow my characters into the bedroom and give a blow-by-blow description of what happens next.  No particular reason why not.  I like sex and have  no problem with writers who do erotic stories.  But I find it hard to write while rolling on the floor laughing and that’s what happens when I try to describe the sex act.  Too many body parts.  Too many positions.  Too much work.  Guess I’m lazy.

This new trend has been in existence long enough that there are groups on Goodreads (where I first ran across the term) and elsewhere and there are a growing number of reviewers who specifically mention that they will review clean romances.  And there’s an e-publisher dedicated to publishing just clean romances.  Astraea Publishing is very clear about what they will and won’t accept.

Which is good news to writers because not every romance writer wants to include specific sex in their stories.  And maybe I’ll be able to use more covers from NASA.  I really, really love those pictures.

Coming of Age as a Writer

When I first started writing professionally, I couldn’t imagine what I’d write about.  Where I’d find inspiration.  Who my characters would be and what would happen to them.  As time passed and I discovered that a steady living as a writer could be had by writing confession stories, everything came clear.  I’d write about myself and anyone and everyone I knew because no one, including me, would ever be embarrassed by what I wrote.  Because confession stories are written anonymously.

I soon learned there was another advantage to writing for the confession market.  By writing about past problems large and small, I could get rid of a lot of emotional baggage that I’d been carrying for a long time.  It worked in much the same way painting or writing or any other creative endeavor works in an institutional setting.  Like when mental patients paint pictures of their demons.  Or write about their nightmares.  It worked and, by the time I’d gone though every negative experience I’d ever had or anyone I knew  had ever had, I was well on my way to being a fairly good writer.  My catharsis was complete.  I started writing happier things and I’ve never stopped since.

Some time later, when I joined a writers’ group, because I had some experience in the writing field, new writers sometimes came to me for advice and to critique their work.  Guess what?  I saw a lot of writers doing the exact same thing I’d done, using their writing as a way of getting things out of their system.  It was such a common phenomenon that I  privately began to call it the ‘cathartic phase’ of becoming a writer.  I suspect we all go through it in one way or another.

I mention this today because, if that’s where you are now, in your own personal cathartic phase, go for it.  Get it out.  Get rid of the angst.  And when the day comes that you realize you don’t have any more negative things to write about, be thankful and find other topics.

Don’t worry that your readers will think you are no longer the same writer as before.  You are that same writer, just without the baggage.  And that’s a good thing.  It means you have come of age as a writer.