writing

Just like the best people, some of the best books are an eclectic mix.

GenreCon

Just like the best people, some of the best books are an eclectic mix.

For those that don’t know, GenreCon (run by the fabulous Queensland Writers Centre)  is a meeting of the minds, a conference for the writers amongst us that have their stories shelved in their own corner of the book shop.

Whilst, in fact, that isn’t me, I decided to gatecrash anyway, and see what I could glean from their writing conventions, their readers expectations, and their valuable experience.

I write general women’s fiction, and at times, wish I had a few “conventions” to give me some guidance on what readers want and expect. But mostly I think I’m just not creative enough to invent parallel universes or my own species. Similarly to historicals, I’m just too damn lazy to research if a certain poem existed in Federation Australia, or when the zip was invented, before I include it in a novel.

I like to think that the strength in my writing comes from being “real”, the polar-opposite of most genre fiction. Even romance beds itself (pardon the pun) on escapism, with the fantasy hero and all those heart palpitations and visceral reactions. But we all need that escape sometimes, and it delivers that in spades.   After all, who want’s to read about taking public transport or changing nappies? Those experiences are real, but aren’t exactly entertaining.

Hopefully, my strength isn’t in the detailed description of world-building, it’s in the ability for readers to relate. (That’s not to say that people can’t relate to a two headed zombie having a relationship with a vampire, but I’m far too boring to pull that off.)

Whilst you could say I write love-stories, you could say I write suspense, I think I write reality. Reality Fiction. There’s a new genre for you.  I like to think I write in a frank manner that people can relate to – because it’s honest. About relationships. About friendship. About people. And whilst sometimes we want to be drawn away into another time and place, sometimes we just want to make sense of the world we’re in.  I know many of the conflicts of fantasy and sci-fi are universal, but it’s nice to read how someone not-unlike-yourself, got themselves out of a dilemma too.

GenreCon was great. I caught up with some old friends, and made some new ones, and enjoyed the variety of speakers and workshops on offer. But I came away wondering, what is Genre anyway, but a marketing tool? A way to define a work in order to sell it? I understand readers need to be aware of what they’re getting into.  I hate investing time in a breezy chick-lit, only to find the main love interest turns out to be a ghost part-way through (sorry, the ghost thing doesn’t do it for me. Yes. I’m a skeptic to the core).

Genre is useful for that, for creating expectations. But what about cross-genres, and stories with square edges that just don’t fit in the round holes marketers need? Can’t the world hear those stories too? Books are as individual as people. Whilst they have defined personality traits (a bit like genres), there is no accounting for those eccentrics that just rewrite the rules (and, from my experience, some of the best people (and books) are eccentrics).  I’m still not sure what genre Losing Kate is – a mystery? A love story? A general fiction? Who knows (and who cares?!). It is what it is. Eclectic. Skizoid. Weird. The fact that it straddles genres may have made it harder to pitch, harder to sell (and shelve) but it did get picked up. So your cross-genre story can too.

Write the story in you, not the one that fits into a popular genre or the next trend.

Is the very existence of “genres” sucking the originality of our stories, with writers grinding away those rough edges to fit their novels firmly into the pigeon hole their publisher/agent needs?  Let’s hope not.

That would be a sad story.

Will I ever just read again?

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I’m new to this gig. I am a shiny faced front-rower, wide-eyed and willing to take it all in, and I’m enjoying the ride. However, one thing I haven’t gotten used to, is that I can’t seem to just read a novel anymore without my editor cap firmly pushing on my ears. I hone in on opening paras, get suspicious of throw away lines, analyse hooks and red herrings. I assess tense, point of view, even commas get my attention. Whilst I’m learning, I wonder if I will ever simply read again!

I love books, and want to get to know them better. Learn how they tick.  But it’s a bit like watching your favourite TV show faithfully for years, enjoying the escapism, and suddenly being invited backstage. You see the actors, the scripts, the set, and come to realise … they’re not real!? They’re trying to fool me! Somebody made it all up! (Okay, I wasn’t actually sitting on my couch watching Grey’s Anatomy thinking McDreamy was living in Seattle all this time, but you can only dream…).

I blame it on the edit. It can be an all-consuming process.

I’m a “Pantser”, not a “Planner” when it comes to writing.  Unlike Stephanie Meyer, I wasn’t hit with a fabulously vivid dream and plotted a few best sellers from there. I made it up as I went along. It was great fun, but resulted in a hell of a lot of rework. Logic tells me I should rethink that second time around if only for efficiency, but I write because I enjoy it, and it just doesn’t seem as fun when you know the end before you type in Chapter 1. Perhaps a little of both is the right balance.

I spent longer editing my manuscript, than writing it.  For me, editing was far less enjoyable than the freedom and excitement of writing that first draft (and Lily Malone, you can vouch for the fact that it definitely needed a cut and polish from those early drafts!? Not to mention extensive panel work…).  I think I cut about 20,000 words (and missed none of them). There is something to be said for authors writing themselves into the story, only to chop it out. Start where the story starts…I can hear you saying it Lily!

As I leave the editing phase for a while, and embark on a second novel, perhaps I can also muster a quiet read for enjoyment, and appreciate someone else’s hard yards.

I can only hope.