Know Your Genre – Speculative Fiction

How many times have you heard that? If we are to ever write something worth publishing, we must know how our book differs from all that has come before. This is essential in marketing your book to agents, editors, and ultimately readers. As agents are fond of saying, your book’s genre is where it gets shelved in a brick-and-mortar bookstore.

With the rise of e-books and self-publishing along with the current trend of postmodern genre mash-ups, the importance of genre may be slightly decreasing, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t know your stuff. Consider it another part of the research process.

That’s why I’m so freaked out about attending Taos Toolbox next month, a two-week science fiction and fantasy novel writing workshop. I write speculative fiction, of course, but I know I’m not as well versed as I should be in the field.

Sure I’ve read Tolkien and Lewis; Le Guin, L’Engle, Bradbury, and McKinley; Susan Cooper and Lloyd Alexander; and later Phillip Pullman and Garth Nix. I also read my fair share of Piers Anthony and too many Star Wars novels to count. But current stuff? No so much. You’ll also note how much of the authors above trend toward more young adult stories.

So of course I started hunting around on the interwebs to see what was considered required reading for speculative fiction.

io9 provides a wonderful overview of the genre with their Syllabus and Book List for Novice Students of Science Fiction Literature. The list is described thusly:

It is not comprehensive. It is intended to introduce the novice student of SF literature to the major themes in the genre, as well as books and authors who are representative of different eras in SF lit (including the present day).

And I’ve read just 7 of the 24 titles listed. Yikes.

Last year, NPR ran a poll for the 100 best books in science fiction and fantasy. I fared better here, having read 29 of the top 50 books (and another 14 of books 51-100). But still, there are plenty of gaps in my reading.

Earlier this month, Kirkus Review ran a series on Social Science Fiction (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3). And while I haven’t read all of the books they mentioned, it’s clear that social science fiction is one of the areas I’m better versed in. That and young adult SFF up until two years ago (when I essentially stopped pleasure reading and started writing more).

This is good since I tend to write more socio-cultural speculative fiction stories in addition to YA. There’s still more work to do, but at least I’m not a complete slouch in the sub-genres I’m writing in.

What about you?

For more recommendations:

Adult SFF: David Brin’s List of “Greatest Science Fiction and Fantasy Tales”
SFF Short Stories: Bibliophile Stalker’s Short Story Collections for the Aspiring Speculative Fiction Writer
YA SFF: Book Review Blog Charlotte’s Libraryvar gaJsHost = ((“https:” == document.location.protocol) ? “https://ssl.” : “http://www.”); document.write(unescape(“%3Cscript src='” + gaJsHost + “google-analytics.com/ga.js’ type=’text/javascript’%3E%3C/script%3E”)); try { var pageTracker = _gat._getTracker(“UA-15029142-1”); pageTracker._trackPageview(); } catch(err) {}

Writing in First Person – Revisited

A long long time ago, I said I’d start writing solely in first person as my New Year’s resolution for 2011:

Based on feedback and my own instincts, I know character voice and reader empathy are weak points in my other stories. I’m just not going deep enough. And for a long time, I wasn’t sure what more I could do besides revising and reworking until the words blurred into nothingness. I made progress, yes, but it’s an arduous time-consuming process.

But now I think I know how to tackle this issue: by writing in the first person, even when I know I’ll revert back into 3rd person at some later stage of the project. By stripping away the artifice of she’s and he’s and making it all about me me me, I hope I’ll be able to strengthen my own engagement with my characters and up the emotional intensity and interest for my readers. (From First Person Works For Me)

Recently I received this comment from Motormind on that post:

And thought it was as good a time as any to revisit this and talk about this shift in my writing.

Yes, the writing in first person has worked quite well for me. I’m also writing a lot more… So it’s difficult to say whether experience hasn’t also had a hand in my improvements. But it’s also telling that the short stories I’ve sold so far, and have written since, have all been in first person.

I’m better able to get into my characters’ heads and get at the emotional content of the story that much faster thanks to writing in first person.

As to the second part of Motormind’s question about circling back to third person, I have a confession: I haven’t yet. Stories I’ve written in first person have stayed in first person. And the novel I’ve started since the original post is also in first person (and will stay that way).

I still have novel projects on the back burner written in third person, and will probably write in third-person again (else I’d cut out a lot of stories I could write), but I haven’t felt the need to yet. I will say the times I’ve gone back to tinker with the third person stories, it’s been easier to identify areas where there’s too much narrative distance or find opportunities for going deeper. It’s all anecdotal right now, but I think writing in first person has helped me a lot, even when writing third.

Happy writing (regardless of which POV you use)!
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Lucky Seven Meme

I knew it was inevitable, and sure enough, I was tagged by Lori M. Lee and Laura Lee Nutt to participate in the Lucky Seven Meme.

The Lucky 7 Meme Rules
• Go to page 77 of your current MS/WIP
• Go to line 7
• Copy down the next 7 lines–sentences or paragraphs–and post them as they’re written. No cheating.

So here we are without further ado, seven lines from the first draft of my ya scifi adventure. Emphasis on first draft.

I hear rustling, then Dad’s muffled voice. “Not yet.” It’s like Christmas morning when he goes downstairs first to see if Santa’s come. But I’m pretty sure there are no presents up there. There’s more rustling and a few grunts before Dad’s masked face appears over the hatch. “All clear.”

I’m a bit wobbly when I reach the top – it’s the first time I’ve exerted myself in weeks, and my heavy new clothes aren’t helping.

I swear it makes more sense in context… Everyone probably says that 🙂

If you wanna play, consider yourself tagged.

Happy weekend!

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Artist Dates and Creative Breaks

Yesterday, I had the good fortune to join two of my writer friends and road trip to a nearby town, all for a poetry reading that might or might not be awesome.

For all intents and purposes, it was what Julia Cameron calls an Artist Date:

a once-weekly, festive, solo expedition to explore something that interests you. The Artist Date need not be overtly “artistic”– think mischief more than mastery. Artist Dates fire up the imagination. They spark whimsy. They encourage play. Since art is about the play of ideas, they feed our creative work by replenishing our inner well of images and inspiration.

Although I didn’t do this artist date solo, the conversations the three of us had over lunch and in the car about craft, our writing, as well as more mundane things were in some ways more valuable. You see, I spend most of my days solo already, writing, reading etc. So some times I need to be around other people, artist date or not.

The day was sunny and gorgeous, so we walked around, letting the weather hinting of Springtime and the new locale inspire us after a delicious meal. And the poetry reading? Well, it kinda sucked. But the point was to change things up a bit, expose ourselves to something new, something different, regardless of the outcome. You can’t write unless you keep yourself open to experiences of all kinds.

For me, the day was about changing up my writing routine. I also realized just how nice it can be to spend time with my writing friends outside of critique group, which doesn’t always allow for deeper socialization when everyone has at least five manuscript pages to get through.

And I already have plans for more artist dates – solo this time – while my husband is traveling for two weeks near the end of this month. Trips to museums, and exhibits, and science talks (I am such a dork), and new restaurants in parts of town I haven’t explored yet. I will treat myself well, and hopefully my writing will benefit from it.

How to make artist dates work for you?

The good news, for me at least, is that I live in a sizable city that supports a lot of different events. There’s also an alt weekly, in print and online, that does a good job of highlighting events that occur throughout the area. I’ve made a habit of checking it every week to keep my eye out for new things, new experiences, that I’m interested in or would enrich my life.

Other resources, depending where you live, could be your public library, chamber of commerce, or even local university. Universities often have a wide range of events, performances, and talks to keep the students entertained, but that doesn’t mean folks from the greater community can’t get involved.

Online message boards and forums dedicated to your community could also be a good resource and put you in touch with people with similar interests.

And never be afraid to take a road trip to somewhere new. You never know what you’ll discover.

Happy writing!
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Taking the Time to Tinker

My father is visiting me this week. It’s been a good visit so far, and tomorrow we’ll be having an early Thanksgiving, making a mini version of the turkey, stuffing, and other goodies since we won’t be able to celebrate together at the end of the month.

But there’s a twist. Instead of pumpkin pie, we’ve made a key lime pie. Instead of mashed potatoes and gravy, we’re having a sweet potato and butternut squash gratin. And we’re trying out a new recipe for cooking the turkey instead of the traditional standby method we’ve used for years.

Part of this is for practical reasons. As great as Thanksgiving is, two full-blown meals just a few weeks apart is just too much for any mortal. Changing up the menu is a way to preserve the symbolism of the meal but keep it fresh for the palate.

It’s also an excuse to try something new. Something different. It’s also a way to practice something we both love to do: cooking. Maybe we’ll find a new method or recipe that will replace the old one. Make a new tradition for ourselves. Or, then again, maybe not.

But we won’t know unless we try.

Just like revising, until you take the time to rework that problem scene or brainstorm ways to invigorate the third act of your story, you won’t know what works unless you try.

And in the mad dash to produce a draft, to get an agent, to get published, time is at a premium.

This November, even with NaNoWriMo in full force, I encourage you to take the time to tinker. Take the time to try something new, something different with your writing.

Give yourself the mental headspace to consider the possibilities of what can be in your story.

Your craft will thank you for it.
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