Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Welcome to my writing blog. Here you can read about works in progress, as well as novels already launched or about to launch. I am exploring a two-pronged approach in my novel-writing career: self-publishing some novels while going the conventional publishing house route with others. It’s an uncertain time in writing and publishing. Some see doom and gloom in the digital publishing revolution, while others see enormous opportunity. I personally think that change is good. Stasis is death. And the future happens regardless.

 First, I must pause to say a few words about this gorgeous website created by Maddee James of www.xuni.com. Maddee has truly captured the personality and emotion of my writing with her skillful use of imagery, color palette and texture. Maddee also created the stunning cover of my gothic suspense novel, Angel of Highgate. Truly, the girl has mad skills.

As Oscar Wilde famously said: “I have the simplest of tastes; I am always satisfied with the best.” My tastes precisely echo Wilde’s. In my opinion, Maddee is the best: a visual magician, easy to work with and a true professional.

The same is true of the literary agency I am currently signed with, Kimberley Cameron & Associates. Kimberley is a terrific agent—wonderfully kind, supportive and responsive. Conventional publishing is weathering a stormy time, and I consider myself fortunate to be teamed up with a seasoned pro with a terrific track record in order to navigate the choppy waters.

In addition to updating readers on my writing adventures, I also plan to give back to the writing community by creating blog entries with tips on novel writing and fiction technique.

Bookmark this site, I plan to post frequently. Once again, welcome, fasten your seat belts, and I hope you enjoy the ride.

Genre-Bending or . . . Paradigms Lost

That’s genre-bending, not gender-bending. (No Boy George references here, thank you.) Much of today’s cutting-edge fiction is a volatile admixture of two or more established genres combined to create something new. Of course, this kind of practical alchemy is precisely what agents and publishers have been admonishing writers not to do for years. Conventional wisdom has always urged writers to being by determining “where in the bookstore your novel will be shelved.” That is, unless your novel can be pigeonholed into a traditional genre: mystery, horror, literary, etc.—it will not find its target audience.

I’m sure many brilliant novels have been lost to literary history, rejected out of hand because they ignored this literary shibboleth.

But writers, being the unruly, creative types they are, have proved unable to resist the urge to build a new beast by cutting-and-pasting disparate elements into new forms. That, after all, is the definition of creativity. Sometimes this leads to a Frankenstein monster, but it can potentially spawn a modern Prometheus.

In recent times, the blurring of boundaries, once a slow, steady creep, is now landsliding onto on the bookstore shelves aisles and into the great wide open of self-published eBooks. Many genre-benders have not only been best sellers, they’ve accomplished the unthinkable by forcing bookstores to relabel their shelves and agents and publishers to accept the legitimacy of new genres. Hence, we now have urban fantasy, where the creatures typically confined to a fantasy world—wizards, warlocks, werewolves, dragons and demons—now lurk in the shadowy alleys of large cities, or hold down day jobs as parking meter attendants or may even be the kid in the drive-thru window asking “would you like fries with that?”

The huge success of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series has led to the creation of an entire “time-slip” genre. More recently we have entered the age of the literary mashup, with Regency heroines doing battle with zombies and sea monsters, and hard-boiled detectives and their vampire sidekicks cruising L.A. freeways chain-smoking Marlboros while solving murders.

One of the masters of the mashup (arguably, the earliest exemplar of the form) is the British writer, Kim Newman. Typically pigeon-holed as a “science fiction writer”, Kim’s novels feature a mélange of literary classics, Count Dracula, Sherlock Holmes mysteries, sixties British TV superspies, historical fiction, historical fantasy, and whatever else fell to hand when Newman was cooking up his mashup mulligan.

A perfect example is one of Newman’s most recent novels, Professor Moriarty: The Hound of the D’Urbervilles. The title alone gives the reader a wink and an elbow in the ribs and foreshadows the literary hijinks Newman gets up to in a novel where “The Napoleon of Crime” and his head henchman serve as an inverted Holmes and Watson. Moriarty’s sidekick, Colonel “Basher” Moran, supplies a first-person narrative voice that is bitingly British and howlingly funny. I snortled from beginning to end.

My own novel Angel of Highgate (which I describe as a “Victorian suspense novel”) received a dance-on-my-desk-and-whoop-with-joy review from Kirkus Reviews in which the reviewer described it as:  “a romantic, mystical tale of adventure set in Victorian Britain that seamlessly blends elements of history, fantasy, and horror . . .”

Uh . . . okay . . . whatever. I’m not sure I would have gone as far as horror (which for me conjures images of ghosts, werewolves and similar supernatural beasties) but I’m not about to quibble with such a stellar review. Still, I think it illustrates that modern fiction, like Alice, has stepped through the looking glass into a realm where genre boundaries are as porous and shifting as panes of mist.

So my advice to new writers formulating novel ideas? I would argue that you can never go wrong staying firmly in the established genres. By doing so you stay within the comfort zone of agents and editors. Alternatively, if you produce something wholly original that fits in no established genre, you face a very hard sell. I have committed this sin myself with novels that are gathering dusty bunnies under the bed right now. Agent-Speak for this is: “I love it but I don’t how to sell it.”

That said, if you were the kind of child whose crayon invariably strayed outside the lines, flex your creative muscles, but remember that editors and agents want familiar materials with a unique twist. Good luck inventing the “next hot thing” in literature.