Fiction that explores the monsters and strangers among us.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Reading Genre Fiction in a Multi-Genre World

Writing single genre fiction is fine as far as it goes, but the reality is we live in a world of mixed genre. While this may be inconvenient to traditional publishers and the few remaining brick and mortar bookstores, it’s a fact of life. Art imitates life where our lives have a certain amount of mystery, romance, history, and occasional flights of fantasy. Mixing genres in fiction enriches the tale and helps the reader place the story in the familiar.

While literary fiction is less about the story and more about the characters and why people do what they do, genre fiction is about plot. Read genre fiction because you enjoy certain types of stories like sci-fi, romance, mystery, or thriller.

But keep in mind that the stories you enjoy most will have a literary quality to them. The author went deeper than will be obvious when reading for the plot alone. A second or third reading will reveal theme, creative structure, word plays, character foils and other literary devices that make the book more enjoyable with each reading.

Literary is less about the story and more about the characters and why people do what they do.

Genre fiction is about what happens next in a certain type of story. Read genre fiction because you enjoy stories in the genre – sci-fi, romance, mystery, and thriller.

And speaking of thrillers, please consider Fulfillment, click here for Amazon or click here for paperback. It's pure suspense/thriller, horror, mystery, romance and spiritual warfare.

Here’s another novel idea…
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Monday, June 25, 2012

Reading Quality Writing


The challenge in calling some novels “literary” and some novels “genre” is novelists by their nature aspire to a certain level of literary quality. One of the challenges with quality fiction is it becomes difficult to fit a good tale into the confines of a single, simple genre. A good murder mystery also has a great romance, for example. Or a thriller turns on a new scientific breakthrough pushing the story into the sci-fi category. Fantasy writers have no problem mixing horror, suspense, romance, sci-fi, mystery or any other genre into a single story.

Mixing genres is not a sign of good writing, per se, but it does make it difficult for the writer of an excellent mixed genre story to have their work accepted by traditional publishing houses. That’s because traditional publishers think in terms of book sales. They want to know on which shelf to tell the bookstore owner to place their book. So a mystery story is about a mystery in their eyes. They don’t want a lot of other genres muddying the marketing waters.

For this reason, the better genre writers often end up self-publishing their work because it simply does not fit into a nice little single genre definition. Now, you may argue that writing single genre fiction is a discipline and the best writers master it the way a poet masters the sonnet form. And many single genre authors are producing excellent fiction. Dashiell Hammett is one such example whose work is considered classic in the mystery genre. And you not only would be correct, you also would be describing an easier path to traditional publication.

But in your admiration of pure form, don't miss out on the great works of a mixed genre sort to be found in the world of self-publishing. The best way to identify quality in any book, whether traditional or self-published is to read the first chapter. I usually make my decision with the first sentence. If I can walk away from the story after reading the first sentence, the novel isn't for me.

And speaking of tales worth reading, please consider my suspense/thriller novel Fulfillment, click here for Amazon or click here for paperback. It's pure suspense/thriller, horror, mystery, romance and spiritual warfare. Self-publishing at its best even if it is published by PromiseGarden.

Here’s another novel idea…
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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Literary fiction is… well… literary

Authors of literary fiction focus on the art of writing as the main interest of the author and the reader. Literary artists write novels that have plot, but they are more concerned about creating a sort of onion effect. The more you read the story, the more you discover. As you peel away one layer of story, say the plot, you find a second story built around the theme. Read the story once for what happens. Go back to ask why. Another reading gets you thinking about how the author created such a beautiful, cohesive whole. You may enjoy the way the author developed the character as the story moved forward. The main character goes through a big change of some sort. Literary stories may or may not have a beginning, a middle and an end.

One example of an artistic onion layer can be found in Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. Read the novel a few times and you begin to see that all the characters equate to bulls or cows of one sort or another. That’s why the author spends so much time telling you about bullfighting and the different types of bulls. Gaining that understanding from a single reading is difficult. Knowing it helps to make the story come together for you.

Meanwhile… back to suspense/thriller novels
Serious writers of suspense/thriller novels or other genre fiction will tell you they do the same thing literary novelists do in creating character depth and layers of artistic merit. And they will point out that most literary authors actually write genre fiction. For example, Charles Dickens, if not the first author of a murder mystery novel, was certainly an early adapter of the genre. So what’s the difference for you as a reader?

The first rule is to find novels you enjoy. Read other novels written by the same author or authors. If you enjoy the classics, you may enjoy modern authors who pride themselves in writing “literary” novels. If you enjoy murder mysteries, read them.

The point is simply this: the better authors invest themselves in developing the literary quality of their work as well as entertaining you with a good plot. “Literary” authors generally are not concerned as much about plot as they are character and literary tradition. They mainly write for themselves as artists. They trust that literary readers will find their work.

Genre authors emphasize telling a compelling story within their genre to entertain their readers. Their stories have a beginning, a middle and an end. They know how to develop a character so you can empathize with her. They know how to make you weep or laugh. They are not afraid to kill off a character, but also recognize there are consequences to their actions. They know how to make you want to turn the page, something literary authors are less concerned about.

Read literary novels when you enjoy an author who plays with the language, writes poetically and provides insights into philosophy and why the world works the way it does. Read genre fiction when you want to enjoy a good tale well told.

And speaking of tales worth telling, please consider my suspense/thriller novel Fulfillment, click here for Amazon or click here for paperback.

Here’s another novel idea…
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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

What kind of novels do you read?

Remember the bride’s rhyme: “Something Olde, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue, A Sixpence in your Shoe?” Novels are like this. You have lots of options. Most readers of fiction I know focus on reading one type of novel. But some like to mix it up. They’ll read a classic (something old) followed by the latest best seller (something new). They’ll switch from suspense to mystery to sci-fi to romance to literary to whatever captures their fancy.

No matter what kind of novel you prefer, you’ll bring more enjoyment, knowledge and understanding to your reading if you mix your novel choices on occasion.

Novels fall into two main categories: literary and genre. Genre fiction is what most of us read. Genre includes… well… all the genre types such as romance, suspense/thriller, science fiction, fantasy, and mystery. Bookstores, if you can still find one, organize their shelves by genre.

Read literary novels when you enjoy an author who plays with the language, writes poetically and provides insights into their philosophy of life and why the world works the way it does. Literary novelists dive deeper into the emotional storms of life to explore the passions that motivate us to action. Literary fiction builds on the tradition behind it so the more you know about the American novel, for example, the more you gain from reading it. Same is true for the English novel or South American novel. The literary tradition provides a wealth of novels to explore and enjoy.

As you consider your next novel purchase or library visit, consider following the bridal advice by choosing “Something Olde, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue, A Sixpence in your Shoe.”

And while you're choosing, please consider my suspense/thriller novel Fulfillment, click here for Amazon or click here for paperback.

Here’s another novel idea…
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Monday, June 18, 2012

Three Steps to Murder

My current series of blog posts is focused on how to read a suspense novel rather than how to write one. Today, let’s look into the way an author goes about the business of offing a character. There’s no one correct way, of course, but for what it’s worth, here’s how I go about the writing process when I want to dispatch a character in one of my novels:

Step 1. I become a method actor and play the role of the killer. What's the killer's motivation? What's the killer's back story? Is the killer ex-military? Ex-police? A drug-crazed psychopath? Is the murder a planned execution or a crime of passion? The weapon comes out of the character's back story and motivation. Where does the murder take place? The killer in a crime of passion finds his or her weapon at the scene usually because there is no premeditation. The exception is a case like the O.J. Simpson trial where the killer clearly premeditated his or her actions by bringing a knife to the scene. In this case, you would want your character to have extreme anger issues and a history of violent behavior.

Step 2. I describe the scene as a dark place. Even in the bright sunshine of a usually happy place, I look for ways to describe the scene as dark. If the killer strikes on the fifth fairway of a golf course on a sunny Saturday afternoon, I bring in an unexpected cloud cover. I kill off some bushes or trees so the place starts to look like a graveyard. I have the groundskeeper neglect this particular fairway so it's weedy and overgrown in spots. Nobody replaces their divots on this fairway. The idea is to make the reader feel the darkness.

Step 3. I focus on moving the plot forward and hooking the reader to want to continue. While learning "Whodunit" is usually sufficient reason to turn the page, I might break the scene just before the crime. Or I might break the scene with the reader knowing the crime was committed but not certain the victim died. Or do something to make the reader want to know more. I want the reader to go: "Huh, is that it? There has to be more. Oh, wait. Look, there is more. There's another chapter."

Choose your weapon
Unless you are making the weapon a kind of character or important plot device like the yellow Rolls Royce in the film "The Yellow Rolls Royce" (sorry, couldn't think of a new movie), the weapon isn't important but the reader likes to know specifics. If using a pistol, the reader wants to know not only that it's a Glock, but also which model and why the killer chose that model (it's compact and hides well in your pocket).

You can get that sort of information with a Google search. Since most of the time, the weapon is not as important as the fact that someone got bumped off, the weapon is only important to the investigation, not the crime itself. What does that mean? It means that the candlestick is just as deadly as a well-placed homemade explosive device that required the killer to spend six years in the military perfecting his or her craft. You don't need an exotic weapon to make your story interesting. You need an interesting story that makes the reader want to turn the page. The choice of weapon is at best the icing on the cake, not the cake.

Free weapon ideas: In an episode of Alfred Hitchcock's TV series, the wife murders her husband by clobbering him with a frozen chunk of meat, probably a leg of lamb. She then cooks the lamb and serves it to the investigating police officer. Another great weapon is the ice cycle which is a self-destructing chunk of evidence.

The Literary Weapon
Sometimes the author chooses the weapon because he or she wants the reader to connect the weapon to some larger point the author is trying to make. For example, if I want to convince you that war is evil, I’ll blow up a school filled with children with a misplaced artillery shell. If I want to make a point about the villain’s sexual prowess or lack thereof, I’ll choose a weapon for its phallic import, such as a Bowie knife.  If I want you to think the victim is the true villain, I’ll have the killer hang them or electrocute them or give them a chemical injection. And If I just want to make a mess, I’ll have the victim visit a busy industrial machine shop at the wrong time.

As a reader, consider the author’s intent in picking the weapon. In some cases it’s simply a plot device to remove a character from the stage. But when the author connects the weapon in some additional way to the story, making a symbol of it, you are in for an interesting read beyond the plot itself.

Sometimes to kill off a character, I'll let Satan do my dirty work. To learn more about my suspense novel Fulfillment, click here for Amazon or click here for paperback.

Here’s another novel idea…
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Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Ever Run Into Yourself?

Here's another Scary Suspense Theater episode. Watch at your own risk. You may see somebody you know.


To learn more about my suspense novel Fulfillment, click here for Amazon or click here for paperback.

Here’s another novel idea…
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