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Genre Writing: My Questions and Answers

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Charles Yallowitz at Legends of Windemere made a great post today concerning genre writing and asks some interesting popular questions. I took up his challenge to explore these questions with this post and encourage you to do the same. Pay Charles a visit and get the list of questions.

1. What made you choose the genre that you write in?  If not working within a genre, why did you go that route?

I don’t think with my first book that I chose a genre, the genre chose me. I was simply writing a story and where it fit was not a concern.

2. What do you think are the strengths and weaknesses of working within a genre?

Strengths: Practice makes perfect. Writing, writing, and writing in the same scope is bound to help an author hone their craft. Having a specific genre aids marketing for sure…you know exactly where your work fits and have a pretty good idea where to find your audience and who they are.

Weaknesses:  Creativity. Genre reading and writing can become mundane and too predictable. I read a crossover of many genres and can’t understand how some readers can stay so genre dedicated, for example to romance, or historical fiction, or reading only crime novels/thrillers. I like expanding my knowledge base and testing my comprehension. It is part of the perpetual student in me.

3. Do you think genres crossover a lot more often than we realize?

Traditionally, no. Most recently, say in the past five years, yes. I think breaking away from traditional publishing control has helped that. Some don’t think it is a good thing, but I feel it is fantastic for broadening horizons, thinking outside the box, creative expression…that sort of thing.

4. Would you try another genre or are you locked into your area as a specialist?  Do you believe this hurts you as an author?

As a reader, yes! I love exploring other genre. As a writer, I tried, and though some readers thought I was successful, I did not feel it. It was uncomfortable to my linear stream of consciousness writing style and required more plotting and outlining than I like to do. I don’t think it hurts you as an author to try other styles of genre writing, if anything, it contributes to developing other talent.

5. Would you write within a genre that you don’t like, but is currently popular in order to get your foot in the door of the business?

Again, I tried. My work is literary and historical. The crime novel was/is an adventure. I would like to go back to it at some point and see if I can accomplish it. My husband loved it but, to me, it seemed shallow and superficial. I like my work to have a deeper moral or historical value.

I write for fun and making a profit is not my goal. My focus has been on presenting evidences, stimulating thinking and introspection through fiction and letting the reader make up their own mind about issues presented. More informative than entertaining in that these are real life situations not reality escapes…yet, they are presented in a creatively imagined world with creatively developed characters.

Surviving Sister: A Melody of Madness

This is a tattered photograph that I have carried around for 43 years since the age of ten. It was retrieved from a scrapbook that my grandma had in an old trunk that held my mother’s personal effects after she died in 1969. The scrapbooks were filled with the sorts of things teenaged girls and young women collect, postcards from places visited, movie and theater tickets, coupons for dancing lessons, pressed corsages, letters exchanged between friends and lovers. On the back it is signed, “Love, Carol.” I don’t know who the intended recipient was supposed to be, but it became the only tangible image of her that I possessed for thirty years.

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My aunt, my mother’s only sister, had a few photographs. They were mostly small pictures taken in their childhood years and there were only a couple that my aunt had of her sister as an adult. There were other pictures, but they were given to my older sister for safe keeping and we became estranged over the years of separation that followed Mama’s death.

In 1997, after coming to Florida and connecting with a cousin, the one who owns Cypress Cove Nudist Resort and Spa, I learned that my uncle, his father, who started the resort back in 1964, had been a photographer with the Miami Herald during the 1950s. When my Aunt Pete, his wife, died in 2000, my cousin was cleaning out boxes in their home and ran across some photographs of my mother and her sister that were taken in their teen years. There is now a vast treasure of black and white 8X10s, and smaller photos of the two sisters. I was overjoyed to be gifted this collection and shared them with my mother’s sister, who was also thrilled.

I want to ask you to take a look at two sets of these photographs that hang on my wall. You don’t know the story of these sisters, Claudette and Carol, but I would like to ask you to tell me if you see anything that hints of a story in these images.

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The images alone demonstrate the differences in these two sisters.  My mother, Carol, a ballerina and dance instructor died of suicide at the age of 26, and Aunt Claudette, a pianist and horticulturist, is 74 years old now.

Carol was a hopeless romantic and a dreamer, and Claudette was a hopeful realist and pragmatic. Carol was cosmopolitan and sophisticated. Claudette was countrified and domestic. Carol, a soprano. Claudette, an alto. Carol was open and free-spirited. Claudette was closed and restrained. As young adults, Carol was dressed in stockings and heels, and Claudette wore jeans and penny loafers.  Both were well educated and cultured in their youth, but their childhoods, teen years, and young adult lives were tumultuous. Music and dance were where they mutually sought solace.

That side of my family is riddled with mental illness and addiction.  Of all the many cousins and aunts and uncles on my maternal side of the family there are geniuses who became entrepreneurial millionaires, and there are paupers who suffered epilepsy, neurological conditions, psychiatric disturbances, multiple tragedies, became institutionalized, or died trying to overcome the obstacle that is madness.  There is a fine line between madness and genius. Mental illness and neurological disorders were cloaked in a veil of secrecy in their era and still have a degree of stigma associated with them that needs to be overcome.

Very few were able to walk the middle of the road, but the strength found in faith, time, and modern science and medicine has made a huge impact. My aunt is one of those who did, although she had severe issues with bipolar and addictions.

I had a brief adventure with drugs and alcohol between the ages of 17 & 19, but addiction was never a problem for me. I was hospitalized for an acute psychotic episode when I was 19, and have been on medications for bipolar and in therapy ever since that event. I drink socially on rare occasions but the experiences of me and my aunt have paralleled many times…either on a personal level, vicariously, or through my patients in my nursing career. My moods are relatively stable now. I am still “driven” at times and “depressed” at times, not to extremes, but such has not always been the case. I would like to tell my story someday, but not before I tell the story of the two sisters, my mother and my aunt.

When I wrote “Red Clay and Roses”, I was telling a story that was wrought with historical tragedy and the serious issues of racial tension and reproductive rights and responsibilities. I wrote passionately about events I witnessed personally or events that had been shared with me by others who had lived the experiences. I did not set out to write a novel by a specific formula or template. I documented a harsh reality. It was open and candid. I have never been one to shy away from that which is painful or shameful. A wounded society does not heal itself by looking the other way, and neither do individuals. At the same time, I tried to be as unbiased as possible and approach these unapproachable issues with sensitivity. On that level, I feel it was successful.

In addition to numerous short stories, I have three works in progress. One is a crime novel. I am about 30,000 words into it and my husband, who reads them daily, loves it. I feel that it is superficial and shallow, amusing and entertaining in its own way, but I am not certain that it carries the weight that makes me comfortable in my own writing skin. Another is a murder mystery. It is more a psycho thriller than a crime novel and I am about 15,000 words into it. I liked the beginning of it, but it doesn’t seem to be going in the direction that I planned for it. Sort of hard to explain, but it, again, doesn’t flow with the passion from the pen that I feel most comfortable with…it feels forced and I am beginning to see that in the way that it reads.  At any rate, I am not so sure that this genre of crime/murder is where I need to be right now. I don’t feel like I am in my element. Perhaps this is something that I can come back to at some future point. The final work is an autobiography of sorts that is almost unbelievable as a memoir.  It is a complex life that I have lived in foster care, an orphanage, on the street, in the islands, small town USA, the countryside, the nudist resort, and the big city. So I am not sure what to do with this either, whether to continue it or shelf it for a while.

Which brings me to questions that I need your help with. It seems to be the passion that I felt when writing “Red Clay and Roses” that I am missing.

For those of you who have read “Red Clay and Roses” (A fictionalized true story set in the 1950s-60s, but involving relatives on my father’s side of the family), you already know that Carol is mentioned twice in that story…once by Hannah in relating her memories of her mother and her mother’s death, and again by her cousin, Sybil, in relating the death by suicide of her cousin, Henry’s, wife, leaving three little girls with no mother.

If I decide to write this book, I would approach the writing process much differently, not as a fictionalized true story being told to a narrator, but as pure fiction (which is always, in part, based on some truth).

Without knowing the details, do you think the story of Claudette and Carol is one that you would find interesting? Particularly, how Claudette coped in the long run to turn her life around. I have been all over Amazon reviews this past week and there seems to be quite a market for this sort of thing as well as the era…people are saying that they are too old to enjoy the drama of Paris Hilton, and too young to relate to the 1930s and 40s, about which so much is written.  Finding and connecting with these people will be another challenge.  People my age and ten years older are beginning to retire, have the time to read, and they are dissatisfied with what is on the market.

As a family saga, beginning in the mid-fifties and moving into the mid-nineties, do you think this story would make a worthy sequel to “Red Clay and Roses”?

For those who have not read “Red Clay and Roses”, what are your thoughts about “Surviving Sister: A Melody of Madness”?

WIP: I need help concerning nicknames!

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I need help from readers and writers concerning nicknames in published works.  Everybody knows McDonald’s by the nickname Mickey D’s.  At least, I think they do.  I named my youngest son Daniel, and I refused, though, to allow anyone to call him Danny or Dan, because I liked and wanted Daniel.

I have come to a point in my work in progress where I seriously need to decide on a name for my detective.  Right now, I am using a Scrivener name generator produced name for my detective and I don’t like it.

I have decided on either Robert Richardson, or Richard Robertson and I will tell you why.  It has to do with nicknames.  Many nicknames can be made from Robert: Bob, Rob, Bert, and from Richardson: Rich.  Likewise many nicknames can be made from Richard; Rich, Ricky, and Robertson. These can be used interchangeably between Christian and Sir names, if need be.  This is most likely going to be a series, so this name will follow him throughout.

Questions though:  Do you really care for nicknames in what you are reading, or do they bother you? Do they get too confusing?  If the name stays the same in narrative, are nicknames more acceptable in dialog?  Or do they still trouble you?

I have read books that used nicknames in dialog without problem and it was easy to follow.  I have also read nicknames used in narrative and dialog that became too difficult to follow, especially at the beginning of a book.  I have a couple of humorous scenes in my WIP wherein the detective could get into trouble because of the use of nicknames, but I am unsure if the reader would enjoy that, or would it be too confusing?  This detective takes his work seriously, but has a rather not so serious sidekick.  The detective is fortyish, comes from a small town outside of Atlanta, GA (no, I won’t call him Bubba), and currently resides in Orlando, FL.

I know that he has sold 19 million copies of The Bat: The electrifying first appearance of Jo Nesbø’s detective, Harry Hole.  But I can’t go with anything like Hairy Hole…I just can’t do it.

What are your thoughts on reading books with nicknames? Do nicknames make a storyline too challenging to follow?  Do you have any suggestions on; perhaps, a different name besides the two that I am debating?