Tag Archives: Stephen King

Pen Names

There has long been a debate in the writing world about the pros and cons of using pen names. I’ve read a lot of them, and there are good and bad points on both sides of the argument.

stephen_kingSome people use them to hide their true identities for one reason or another. One of the most famous is Richard Bachman, the pen name Stephen King used for a time. According to him, the main reason he did so was, at the beginning of his career, Viking would only publish one book a year from an author. But Mr. King had more material he wanted to get out, so he fabricated an entire biography for Richard Bachman and published some books under that name. He was discovered eventually, and even had a public funeral for the Bachman character after he “died” of cancer. He even published a supposedly posthumous novel discovered by Bachman’s widow years after he’d died.

Another example is JD Robb, the pen name Nora Roberts uses to write a series of near-future science fiction mysteries. This is a case of using a pen name to write in another genre, as Nora Roberts writes romance.

Then there’s Anonymous, the name used by Joe Klein for his novel Primary Colors, a novelized version of the 1992 Democratic Presidential Campaign of Bill Clinton. Mr. Klein, a political columnist, denied it for some time, sometimes vehemently, but eventually admitted to it.

But when I think of pen names, I always think of William H. Keith, aka Keith William Andrews, Robert Cain, Ian Douglas, Keith Douglass, Bill Keith, and H. Jay Riker, according to FantasticFiction.com. I discovered all these pen names by accident when looking him up on Fantastic Fiction, seeing how many books he had in his Galactic 51-GdRRDxxL._SX300_BO1,204,203,200_Corps novels—only to discover I’d already read him as William H. Keith in his Warstrider series of science fiction about a future where we use mecha as an elite unit to fight aliens. I’m not sure why he uses different names, since with the Keith and Douglas names he writes military science fiction. Under Keith William Andrews he has a series called Freedom’s Rangers about an elite commando unit traveling in time to fight battles in the past to save the present. The names Keith Douglass, Bill Keith, and H. Jay Riker are used for military fiction, so I’m not sure why he uses so many pseudonyms.

So as you can see, the reasons run the gamut. I bring this up because at Oghma, we have an author who’s about to do a big reveal for her pen name. I’m not gonna steal her thunder and explain it all, but we’re doing some synchronized blogging to talk about pen names, so I’ll talk about why I decided to use a couple.

Under Gil Miller, the name I was first published under (and which is itself sort of a pen name as my full first name is Gilbert), I write crime fiction. I try to make it gritty, and a lot of it will be based here in my home state of Arkansas, doing what is coming to be called country noir. I won’t stick strictly to that, of course, as I have in mind a novel called Bogus Deal that takes place in 1980s Miami. And who knows what else I’ll branch out into? The world of crime fiction is so wide open, has so many possibilities, that I don’t want to limit myself.

My current WIP is a science fiction mystery, written in a noir style, called Animal Sacrifice. I’m writing it for a couple reasons, the first of which is I read part of a science fiction mystery involving a serial killer and was bored to tears by page 80. It’s probably the first book I’ve read in which I told myself, “I can do it better than that.” So I set out to prove it to myself. This may be the first in a series—we’ll just have to see how it goes. I also intend to publish an ambitious space opera under this name. Basically, Scott McGregor is the name I’ll use for science fiction.

Then there’s Thomas Hawk, the name I’ll use for fantasy. If you’ve followed this blog much at all, you’ll know sf and f were my first loves, and I made attempts for years to write in both genres, most of which failed. Hence the sf mystery mentioned above. I found I have a talent for crime fiction, so I branched back out to sf using something I was familiar with and had reasonable expectations I could finish. I kept the criminal element in place as it’s something I’m very familiar with. For the fantasy side of things, I’ll likely do a rewrite of an old trunk novel I have called The Firstborn, an urban fantasy set in—wait for it—Northwest Arkansas. Right now I’m going through the process of having some people read it and make recommendations on things to do in the rewrite to improve it, and to get its magic system a decent distance away from a role-playing magic system I really admire and used during the writing in order to just get the story down.

As you can see, I’m doing it for genre reasons. I’m making no effort to actually hide these pseudonyms. In fact, if we can ever get the domain name to work, I’ll have a central author website listing all my books under each name as well as my reasons for using them.

N2071There are some who would argue using separate names for science fiction and fantasy doesn’t make sense as they’re almost the same thing anyway. There’s some merit to that, in a sense. Orson Scott Card (Ender’s Game) has written quite successfully in both genres. But I see them as two distinct genres whose readers have different expectations. Yes, there’s some crossover, and there are also authors such as Andre Norton who wrote what I like to call science fantasy—the characters maybe take a spaceship somewhere and then duel it out with magic. Star Wars falls into this category, in my mind, because of the Force. Never mind those stupid-ass midi-chlorians.

Our author wrote under a different name because some of her subject matter differed so much she was afraid it would damage the first name she’d published under. I have a different reason: Over the years, I’ve come to… not hate, but strongly dislike authors who write in multiple genres, and it’s because when I see one of their books, I’m not sure what I’m getting. I’ve been afraid to read Kurt Vonnegut for just that reason. Some classify him as science fiction, but he didn’t care for that classification, apparently.

So after a lot of thought, I decided to use pen names for one simple reason: you can associate each name with something specific. Gil Miller will be crime fiction, Scott McGregor will be science fiction, and Thomas Hawk fantasy. It all comes from me, but when you pick up a book by each “author,” you’ll know exactly what you’re getting.

Is it a good strategy? I have no idea. There’s the issue of branding—you’re not pushing your books, you’re pushing yourself. Stephen King is a great example. There are people who read him who probably have never read another horror novel in their lives. He’s a brand. Everyone knows who he is.
But very few people know who I am. I’m still, for all intents and purposes, at the beginning of my career, so I can advance each brand. Yes, it’s splitting my energies somewhat, but that’s okay. Better to do it now than later.

Stick with me and let’s see how it works out, okay?


The Costs of Publishing

It seems strange to me, but people who’ll spend ten bucks to go to the latest explosion fest at the theater gripe about the cost of a book and tout it as one of the reasons they don’t read. Maybe our special effects budget isn’t high enough or something.

So let’s look at the math, in a general way.

For the sake of argument, let’s say you spend that same ten bucks for a book. Mass media paperbacks are getting really close to that now, so it’s a semi-valid argument.

If you’re an author with a New York publisher, your cut of that ten bucks is gonna be in the range of five to ten percent. That means for that book, you’re gonna make somewhere between fifty cents and a dollar. Now, if you have an agent, he’s gonna get fifteen percent (based on industry standard. Some may be lower), which means you lose anywhere from eight cents (it works out to 7.5, and I’m sure the agent will round up) to fifteen cents, leaving you with forty-two to eighty-five cents.

Doesn’t seem so bad, does it?

But that’s not all. Now you have to figure out how much you actually made. How long did it take to write the book? You’ll have to break it down into hours, but after you figure in the writing and multiple edits, my guess is, unless you’re someone like Stephen King, you’re not making anywhere near the national minimum wage, never mind what those, um, people in Seattle thought they’d be making with their fifteen dollar an hour minimum.

So where’s the rest of it go? To the publisher. It’s expensive to print books, and if you’re with one of the Big Five, they do print runs based on how many books they project you’ll sell. Most of the time they’re wrong, judging from everything I’ve been reading online, so if they gave you an advance—something that’s shrinking and even disappearing in today’s publishing world—you likely didn’t earn it back. Which is why the Big Five are mostly losing money and are happy to have surprise hits like Fifty Shades of Grey, regardless of actual quality.

Things are a little different on the indie/small publishing side of things. For instance, at Oghma Creative Media, our standard contract is a 60/40 split, and we’re able to offer the forty percent to authors because we’re basically print-on-demand (POD). Still, to set up a book with Lightning Source, the premium way to go when it comes to POD because using them makes you look far more legit to bookstores and libraries, costs well over two hundred dollars (I can’t remember the exact figure).

Granted, it’s still not great money. You’re getting four dollars of that ten-dollar book, but since we’re still a struggling company, you’re likely not selling many books. Yet. But would you do better with one of the Big Five? Unlikely. I’ve read and heard that ten percent of Big Five authors get ninety percent of the promotional budget. Which is to say, they’re really only betting on sure things. It’s a system set up to fail, made to fulfill their prediction that new authors are money pits. It’s a closed loop that accomplishes nothing.

So the next time you feel you’re paying too much for a book, keep all this in mind. And remember that the vast majority of us writers aren’t making money hand over fist like John Grisham and Stephen King.



Long Books

HuffingtonPost.com recently published an article by Brooke Warner entitled “3 Good Reasons to Keep Your Book Shorter than 80,000 Words.” The reasons are as follows: 1) Attention spans are shorter, 2) Overly long books are a red flag to agents and editors, and 3) The longer the book, the more expensive it is to produce.

20f12-readingI think Point 1 is pretty much self-explanatory, but I’d like to single put what seems to be the central thesis of it in the article: Successful long books are the exception, not the rule. She goes on to cite examples from such authors as JK Rowling and Ken Follet, followed by this statement: “…most readers simply don’t have the attention span for long narratives. So if you’re just starting, aim short; if you’re running long and are pre-publication (and you can stomach it), work with an editor to cut cut cut. (emphasis added)”

Ms Warner is comparing apples and oranges here. Ken Follet and JK Rowling are not good examples of “authors [who] are the exception.” They are long-time veterans and bestselling writers, and they made their bones with long novels. Some, in Ms Rowling’s case, got longer and longer.

I will admit there’s some merit to the idea of making your first published novel shorter, but I would also contend that, on the whole, this article is New York-centric, or perhaps Manhattan myopic. You’ll see what I mean as this post progresses.

My first published novel is over 106,000 words. The one coming out next year is over 90,000 words. Both novels are—and here’s the key, a quote I’m hearing from every author I know—just the right length for the story being told. My second novel is cut down from its original length considerably. In fact, by the time I finished it, it was long enough for two novels (the second half will be my third crime novel), and that’s after cutting some 14,000 words from the original manuscript. I ended up with one 96,000-word novel and one 89,000-word sequel.

Bear with me here.

The second point Ms Warner makes is that long novels are red flags to editors and agents.

Well, yeah, they probably are in New York. And anyone who bothers to keep up with the publishing scene knows what’s going on there. Fights with Amazon over pricing. Books sitting in warehouses unsold. Publishing houses losing money. Advances going down or disappearing altogether. And I’m sure there are more sad stories I’m not aware of.

So, yeah, they don’t want to see long novels from first-timers. Why? Because they’re schizophrenic. Or something like that. In essence, the Big Five are always on the lookout for the next Stephen King, the next Gillian Flynn, the next JK Rowling. Or so they say. The reality is, they’re looking for that author, but they’re so afraid to take a chance on anyone being that author that they pass up what could be bestsellers because… they want to focus on the next novels from Stephen King, Gillian Flynn, JK Rowling, et al. In other words, they want the next big thing, but they’re afraid to take the risks necessary to make sure people know about the next big thing.

And that’s because of Reason 3: the longer the book, the more expensive it is to produce.

If you’re publishing with the New York model, that’s true. The New York publishers make big print runs. Essentially, they take a chance on every novel they publish. So, if you’re on the fortunate list of perennial bestsellers that includes the people I’ve mentioned above, that’s not a big deal. Though he may have fallen off recently, Stephen King is still guaranteed to sell big. I doubt Scribner has to worry too much about getting returns on his books.

Ms Warner goes on to finally acknowledge the world outside New York in this point—by citing self-publishing. Yes, if your book is long, you’re going to have to keep the price as low as possible in order to be competitive. But what she fails to mention is that many self-publishers go the e-book route because it’s essentially free, and it’s becoming the wave of the future. She also cites print on demand, another trend that’s gaining popularity.

She completely ignores the indie publishers, and that’s where the myopia shows itself. I can’t speak for other indie publishers, but at Oghma, we’re not concerned with book length. As long as it’s a quality story, we’ll stand behind the author and pay the set-up fees to produce a larger book. In fact, we’ve already done so with Beyond the Moon by Velda Brotheron and Type and Cross by Staci Trolio. And we’ll have more long books coming out in the future.

Most indie publishers use the print on demand that Ms Warner talks about in her article—the one she cites as the wave of the future. And she’s right. She just doesn’t cover all the bases when it comes to the world of publishing these days.

Of course, if you go with an indie publisher, you’re going to have to go with whatever they want. If they want you to cut your book considerably, then that’s what you’ll have to do. Also, listen to your editor. We work hard to make your book the best it can be, and if we see long sections that really don’t advance the plot or are irrelevant to the story in some way—or can just be done in a way that makes them shorter and more concise—we’re not asking you to cut it in order to torment you or make your life harder. We want you to put out the best product possible, and that almost always entails cutting something, even if it’s just a few words here and there. Chances are, if you’ve done your homework and learned your craft the way you should, there won’t be a lot of cutting involved.

Besides, we’re all going to write some novels long and some short. If you want to persevere on the New York route and want to attract a lot of attention, push one of your shorter novels as your first work. My first published novel wasn’t the first one I’d written. Far from it. It wasn’t even the first crime novel I wrote after embarking on that genre. It was the second. I was still revising the first (the one I mentioned above that ended up becoming two novels), so I decided to make Spree—a nice standalone story-my first published work.

The final decision, of course, is up to you. But if you want my opinion, if you’re gonna dream, dream big. And if that means making your first novel a longer one (I didn’t even touch on the way Ms Warner totally ignores taking genre into account), then go for it.

If it’s good, they’ll want it.


Learning from Stephen King

If you read this blog with any kind of regularity you know I’m a Stephen King fan. Not so much of his recent works—Duma Key is one I have a hard time remembering the title, let alone the story, and Under the Dome was something of a disappointment as well—but when it comes to his older stuff… well, that’s where my heart is.

The-Stand-Book-CoverFirst off, there’s The Stand, probably his magnum opus, at least in my opinion. It is a close second, and a novel I love to revisit on occasion. And ’Salem’s Lot will always hold a special place in my heart as it’s the first Stephen King novel I ever read—after seeing the second half of the miniseries back in the day and wanting to know what happened in the first half. In our book-poor county, I had a heck of a time finding a copy, but once I’d read it I was hooked.

There’s no way I can count up the pleasurable hours I’ve spent lost in Mr. King’s worlds, from his Dark Tower series, to The Dark Half and his short story collections (he’s one of the few authors I’ll read when it comes to shorts), his words played a big part in my decision to be a writer.

Now, whatever you may think of Mr. King and his works, I think we can agree on one thing: he’s a good benchmark when it comes to a writer’s dreams of success. He’s a regular bestseller, and even he has lamented on more than one occasion that he could probably publish his laundry list and it’d be a hit.

Mr. King is good for inspiration, and I won’t dissuade you from reading him. He knows how to string words together in a way that usually makes you want to keep reading (I’m in the middle of Finders Keepers, his newest, as I write this, and it has me reluctant to put it down), andfinders keepers his nonfiction On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft is pretty much at the top of my list when it comes to recommending books, well, on writing.

But you don’t want to follow Mr. King’s methods too closely.

As Inigo Montoya said, let me ’splain.

Stephen King began his writing career in a day when the standards were different. For instance, author intrusion was an accepted way of storytelling that it would be hard to get away with today. The literary landscape has changed, and I won’t get into an argument as to whether it’s for the better or not, because I can see it from both sides (note to self: this might make a good post in the future).

Back in the seventies, when Mr. King and his contemporaries such as Dean Koontz and Peter Straub (neither of which I’ve ever been able to get into nearly as much as I did Mr. King) started their careers, author intrusion was normal, even expected. Let me give you an example from page 126 of Finders Keepers:

Pete lay awake for a long time that night. Not long after, he made the biggest mistake of his life.

It’s that last sentence I want you to pay attention to, because it breaks deep POV, and that’s a no-no these days. Writers like Mr. King can get away with it for a few reasons. His readers expect it. It’s how he learned to write, and he became a bestselling author writing that way, so why fix what ain’t broke? And probably most important, see the aforementioned reference to his laundry list. It don’t matter what the boy writes, his fans is gonna buy it.

Why change?

But I have a news flash: You’re not Stephen King. Or Dean Koontz. Or Peter Straub. You don’t have decades of bestselling books on your résumé. Your name isn’t a virtual guarantee of being on the bestseller list.

You don’t got clout, man.

foreshadowingI know, too, why Stephen King does things like he did in the example above. It’s a form of foreshadowing that heightens the tension a bit. You’re given a tidbit that bodes ill for the character, and that’s why we read books, isn’t it? To see what happens to these poor people and how they deal with it. And we really want Mr. King’s characters to get out of their predicaments because his strength is in his characters. Story is almost second in importance in a Stephen King book. We care about the characters because Mr. King rounds them out so well we can’t help but care about them—even the bad guys, in a lot of cases.

But in today’s publishing atmosphere, if this was his debut novel, an editor would tell Mr. King to go back and find another way to tell us that foreshadowing detail, one that doesn’t tell us something Pete couldn’t possibly know. Because, as much as that little detail heightens the tension, Pete can’t know it, so you can’t tell it to us that way. Mr. King can, because he got that clout I mentioned above.

The clout you ain’t got none of.

And that means you can’t get away with it, unless you find some old-school editor, and I think there must be a lot of them out there, from what I’m seeing in some published works.

And here’s the thing: if you use deep POV properly, the fact Pete doesn’t know he’s about to make the biggest mistake of his life can be used to heighten tension just as much as Mr. King’s little snippet of author intrusion does. One method might be to drop little hints, small clues, that the character (and, by extension, the reader) would see as signs of danger if only he were paying enough attention. And even if the reader sees these things and Pete doesn’t, it still heightens the tension because the reader is screaming at him to wake up and pay attention already!

There are some other authors who break these rules as well—James Clavell and Mario Puzo come to mind, as they do what is commonly called head-hopping, a huge no-noShogun these days—but you’ll notice they, too, are from the seventies.

I’m not suggesting you can’t learn anything from these authors. You can learn from any author, and there’s some merit to the argument you can learn more from a bad author than from a good one (if you can get through the book, that is), because a good one makes fewer mistakes. But you don’t want to mimic them too closely (for one, that would be plagiarism) or you’ll be making mistakes that won’t fly with most publishers these days.

And, hey, like I said, Finders Keepers is a good book so far. Last thing you want to do is ignore pleasurable reading, and there are a lot of good things you can learn from Mr. King. Such as excellent characterization.

Just don’t follow in their footsteps exactly.


Big Books

I’ve been encountering something here lately that—to me, anyway—is a bit strange: People think I write big books.

Really? My debut novel, Spree, is a bit longer than I like at 106,000+ words. Startup, due out in June, is currently (it’s undergoing some revision, so the word count will likely bump up a bit) at 90,000+—the ideal length for a crime novel, as far as I’m concerned.

lotr singleI think my books are about average length, maybe even a little short. But you’ve got to keep in mind I cut my teeth on big books. For instance, The Lord of the Rings probably totals close to half a million words, split among three books. But you’ve got to keep in mind that JRR Tolkien originally wrote it as one volume divided into six “books.” His publisher was the one who decided—probably rightly—to divide it up into the trilogy we know today, or so I’ve read. Professor Tolkien never really liked it that way, and, if you’ve got the money to drop on it, you can buy hardback editions that put it in one volume.

But even Professor Tolkien’s “kids’ book,” The Hobbit, is just over 95,000 words long.

And look at Stephen King, a writer famous for producing big doorstops. My two favorite books of his—The Stand (especially the Original and Uncut Edition) and It—are huge. The Stand clocks in at approximately 464,000 words, and I can only find page counts for It, but rest assured it’s almost as big. I’ve read both books more than once, and enjoyed them every time.

Then there’s the Harry Potter series. The first three books aren’t bad, but Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire has to be close to as big as the first three put together. goblet of fireAnd let’s not even get started on The Order of the Phoenix. These, too, are kids’ books. And lots of kids read them. Probably more than once.

Now we can argue that some of these are wasted space. I certainly believe the Stephanie Meyer books are—sorry if you’re a fan—and they’re not exactly Louis L’Amour westerns (a writer who was, for most of his career, on the opposite end of the spectrum from the above-mentioned authors, word-count wise). There are folks who don’t like Stephen King, and I’d have to agree with them on some of his later books, but if you criticize The Stand or It, I’ll hit you with one (just kidding; that would be assault with a deadly weapon).

I say: What’s wrong with big books? They’re like a big meal: lots to enjoy there.

I have to admit that my tolerance for long novels has gone down in recent years. I think part of it is switching to reading so many crime novels, which have lower word counts. And it may be that I’m discovering so many books I want to read that I don’t want to take too long on any one of them.

The-Stand-Book-CoverBut I still have a reverence for those huge tomes from my childhood, and I guess I’ll go ahead and keep writing my “big” books.

After all, if you’re gonna tell a story, why not tell all of it (that’s said with tongue firmly in cheek, by the way)?


Genre Bending

I started wondering while ago: do we really need genres?

Let’s work this out together.ridgeline

I know of at least three authors who work in more than one genre. Pamela Foster, who has written—or is writing—a literary Western series, contemporary fiction, and even what might be called somewhat speculative fiction, a book called Bigfoot Blues that—you guessed it—has real Bigfoots in it.

Then there’s Velda Brotherton. She writes Western historical romance, contemporary stories about PTSD (her latest, Beyond the Moon, was originally written in the eighties, long before anyone else had PTSD on their radar), a series of mysteries, and she has a forthcoming horror novel.

Then there’s Greg Camp, who writes in two genres predominantly: science fiction and Westerns (they’re not so far apart, if you think about it). And he’s working on a horror short story for an ezine we (Oghma Creative Media) have in the works.

ChangelingFrontCover-200And there’s my friend JE Newman, whose forthcoming novel Changeling is set a couple hundred years in the future after a virus caused a small percentage of the population to become what we call superheroes/villains. But all the superheroes are gone, now, except for one bad guy who’s still around killing people who don’t need killed. Science fiction? Yeah, there’s some of that there. Fantasy? Sure, in the urban sense, what with the supers. But can you pigeonhole it? Not really.

I dare you to tell any of these people they can’t write in multiple genres.

That’s exactly what the major publishing houses will do, though. They argue that your name will come to be known for a certain type of story, and if you write something different, it’ll dilute your audience because they won’t know what to expect from you.

Bull—er, balderdash!

Let me use just one example, and I use him because I’m so familiar with his work: Stephen King.

When you hear his name, what do you think? Oh, he’s that horror writer. And even Mr. King calls himself that.

But I beg to differ.

Yes, almost all of his stories have an element of horror in them, and that’s okay. I could argue with you that even science fiction can have horror in it. What’s more horrible than being trapped in a spacesuit with no way back to a ship or planet? But okay, let’s go with the stipulation that, to be horror, there must be something otherworldly about the story.

FiFirestarter_novelne. Firestarter is about a little girl whose parents partook in some of those (in)famous drug trials college students went through in the sixties. The result is that she has pyrokinesis—the ability to start fires with her mind. That’s straight speculative fiction, with his usual dash of horror thrown in. After all, Charlie—the little girl in the story—has the potential to cause a nuclear reaction, she’s so strong.

Then there’s The Tommyknockers, which involves a crashed UFO full of aliens who have a very bad effect on the humans who discover them. Dreamcatcher has much the same type of monsters. Ditto for Under the Dome, though the aliens in this one are the most appealing to me: they played with the people in the story simply because we were like ants to them. Very realistic, in my opinion (even though I don’t think this is one of his better books, awesome cover notwithstanding).

Then there’s his entire The Dark Tower series, which is so much different from anything else he writes that many of his mainstream fans refuse to read it. Predominantly, it’s dark fantasy, but there’s also the distinct flavor of a Western there, with Roland being a gunslinger. There’s also a dash of Arthurian legend, as well as some rift hopping through dimensional doorways.

Pin that one down, New York Editor!

Want a couple more? Okay, there’s the Low Town series by Daniel Polansky, wherein we have a protagonist who is basically an ex-cop turned drug dealer in a fantasy world who—in the first book, at least—solves a murder. WTF is that? The publisher calls it fantasy, and it mostly is, since the setting is an entire fictional world.

Then there’s Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Thomas Sweterlitsch. It’s set in a future where Philadelphia has been obliterated, and our protagonist works for a company that investigates all the deaths for insurance firms to see which ones they actually have to pay out on. He’s hung up on this one girl he discovered while accessing the Archive, a repository of every camera feed in the city. He uses the Archive to determine the true cause of death, the hope being that it will save insurance companies billions of dollars. The girl he discovered looks to have been murdered.

I’m not finishing this book, even though it has some nice touches of hard-boiled noir to it. It’s a little too literary for my tastes (the author has a literary degree, don’tcha know), and he also has an irritating habit of ending probably 98% of his dialogue with em dashes—as if everybody constant interrupts one another. Probably one of those literary devices that shows he’s A Serious Writer. All it does is throw me out of the story.

Still, there’s a bit of a mishmash going on there, isn’t there?

So…do we really need genres? I think Western author Dusty Richards said it best: “We’re all writing the same thing, we’re just using different costumes.” Heck, most of ushaunted mesa read in more than one genre, so why can’t authors write in more than one? Even Louis L’Amour stepped outside of Westerns by writing some detective stories for the pulps back in the day, and experimenting with other kinds of stories just before he died. The Haunted Mesa is probably best described as magical realism with a touch of horror, while The Last of the Breed is a modern adventure story.

I have found my calling in writing crime fiction, but I’ve been toying for a while now with the idea of a science fiction story set on a tropical planet involving drug smuggling. Sort of a Miami Vice in Space, if you will. I don’t know if it’ll ever get off the ground or not, but it might. I also have my ambitious space opera I’d love to try and finish someday, too.

So, yeah, some of us are comfortable staying inside a niche, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Maybe we have a particular talent for that genre, as I seem to have for crime fiction. And maybe we have no desire to stray outside our genre. That’s fine, too.

But what if we want to? They’re all, at heart, stories, and that’s what we tell as writers: stories. We have to help the reader suspend his disbelief, transport him into the world of the novel, and get him to stay there for the length of our tale. We have to have characters the reader cares about, and we have to put them in a situation the reader can identify with. Everything else is just stage props.

Independent-PublisherI think this is another area where the independent publishers are going to overtake the Big New York Conglomerates: they’re able to think outside the box, and allow their authors to do the same.

Yes, in a sense, we need genres to give us a handle on what we’re getting into. But can’t good authors do just the same, no matter how many genres they choose to write in?


Words to Live By

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

—Stephen King

This little tidbit was posted to my Facebook page by The Writer’s Circle, a group I found at random, and I’d have to say I’m living proof of that. I haven’t even been able to make a post here on my blog for the last two weeks. Finals are coming up, though, and actual homework is slowing down, so I’ve been able to do a little more reading than I have for the past four months or so.

And that makes me feel more like writing.

Not just blog posts, either, I’m hoping. My Lyle Villines prequel is gathering electronic dust on my computer, and I don’t like that. But ideas have been coming to me a bit more here recently, and I hope it’s a trend that’ll last.

Mr. King is right, though. Reading is like fuel for writers. We get our inspiration from it. Sometimes we get whole ideas from it, situations we can put in our stories. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen what I call throwaway lines in other writer’s novels that I decide need more attention. I’ve rarely actually fleshed one out, at least in writing, but they’re good exercise for your imagination muscles. Like going to the gym, only it’s a mental thing.

I know that’s been a big part of my problem lately. I’ve had to devote so much time to schoolwork (and I’ve still got a lot I need to devote with no less than three class projects) that I’ve not had much time for recreational reading—everything’s been geared toward getting homework of some kind done.

That means my imagination engine’s been running on fumes and not doing a very good job of feeding me material. I don’t blame it. It’s not its fault I haven’t had time to write or read. But I’m going to school to put food on the table and all that. We all have to make choices in life, and I have to be practical and say I’m not likely to make a living from my writing any time soon.

Besides, having a skill to fall back on—in my case, networking and web programming—is a wise choice, in my opinion. Very few writers manage to be full-time writers, supporting themselves with their wordsmithing.

So take Mr. King’s words and put them up in your writing space or on your fridge or somewhere that you’ll see them, because they’re words of wisdom and it doesn’t hurt to be reminded of them from time to time.

Read so you can write.

Write so you can enjoy life.