Finding Your Genre

Hello, hello!  When submitting to agents, one of the most common questions a writer has to answer is what genre they write.  Sometimes, this is a really difficult thing to explain, especially if you’re not quite sure yourself.  Granted, I know some writers who can tell you what they write down to the subgenre’s subgenre.  But, I’m not one of them.  And honestly, they kind of freak me out (but I still love them).  I never really understood how people could stick to such narrow categories in order to be a specific type of writer.  It always seemed constrictive to me.  But I eventually fell into a genre and it felt good to know where I belonged, even if I do have a tendency to wander away from it.  So, I thought I’d share how I found my genre.

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A genre map… and this is just the basics, not including YA and the like.

When I first got into Stonecoast, I had people asking me what I wrote and my go-to response was horror.  At the time, it’s what most of my writing vaguely (and not so vaguely) fell under.  But the truth was, I was still searching for what I was most comfortable writing.  I liked dabbling in all kinds of genres, and still do.  It was always fun for me when I stepped outside of my comfort zone, so I never really felt right restricting myself with genre labels.  Don’t get me wrong, horror was and will always be my true love, but it’s not an entirely accurate description of my writing.

It wasn’t until my fourth semester, during my first half workshop with Nancy Holder (who had also been my mentor my first semester), that I started narrowing in on what genre I felt most comfortable in.  When I was on the chopping block, Nancy said my story was “vintage Shawna.”  She went on to explain that in her time working with me, she noticed that I tended to write about younger (usually teenaged) protagonists who stumbled upon hidden worlds.  She wasn’t wrong.  Apparently, I had fallen into the YA (young adult) realm when I wasn’t looking.

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I admit this is totally what I thought of when I was accused of writing YA.

It wasn’t exactly my genre of choice, but YA chose me, so I couldn’t argue with it.  Granted, I’ve managed to keep my horror leanings even in most of my YA work.  Demons and psychological torture and all of that still play big roles in my writing, but there’s also a stronger thread of good old-fashioned fantasy as well.  Now, I mostly tell people that I write supernatural YA (not to be confused with paranormal romance) or just YA fantasy.  It’s closer to the truth for the majority of my work.  Though, I do have pieces that don’t fall anywhere near those genres, because writing is hard enough without restricting yourself to one genre.

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It really is sometimes.

So, I found my genre when I wasn’t even looking.  Actually, I guess it found me.  But I will always suggest stepping outside your genre, whether when reading or writing or both.  It’s fun and challenging and you can learn a lot when you’re working outside your comfort zone.

What about you?  Have you found your genre yet?  If so, how?  Do you like working within super specific boxes or do enjoy the freedom of vagueness and blurred lines?  Share your thoughts and comments here or on my social media pages!

Father’s Day Is Coming

Hello, hello!  Since Sunday (the 18th) is Father’s Day over here, I thought I’d tell y’all about my dad, Gary.  If you’re friends with me on Facebook, you’ve probably heard a lot of this before, so sorry in advance for the repetition.  Anyway, I’m not really good at the whole sappy emotional thing, so I know I don’t tell him how much I appreciate him enough.  So, I thought I’d give it a shot in writing (because I’m better at putting words on pages than I am at speaking).

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Dad and I at the MDA Christmas party in 2015.

Since Mom died in 2011, Dad has dropped everything to become my sole caregiver.  He learned to take care of me basically from scratch and my less than perfect instructions.  Yeah, he had an idea of what to do from watching Mom, but since she did everything before, he didn’t know all the ins and outs.  It’s one thing to see what has to be done with me, but another thing entirely to actually do it, to learn my limitations and how to work around them.  But he did it, and we’ve got a good routine going.

We compromised on a sleep schedule (I used to stay up until four or five in the morning and sleep all day while he was usually in bed by ten and up around six).  He always asks my opinion before doing any remodeling around the house.  I’m always in the loop about major purchases.  When it comes to things like life and the house and all that, he treats me like an adult and an equal because that’s the kind of person he is.

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The nightstand and part of the bed he built for me.

On top of all of that, he custom built all of my furniture to hide all of my medical equipment.  Who would guess there’s a ventilator hidden in that nightstand?  It started with a desk that comes out in a point, like the corner of a table, so I can get to it more easily than a regular desk.  You can see it here.  That’s nestled between two armoires.  The one on the left has a special drawer that used to house my Xbox at a reachable height back when I could still game.  Then came the bed, because I didn’t like the looks of my hospital bed.  And finally, the nightstand to hide the vent and for storage.

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That time he made a stack of panaffles (waffle inside a pancake) with Nutella and raspberry puree.

He’s also the best cook I know.  He makes a pastrami from scratch, smokes all kinds of things (including mac and cheese once or twice), and that’s just his bbq skills.  I’ve been spoiled by his Italian, since I’d rather he cook it than go out for it.  He also likes to experiment with new things.  Yeah, I’m definitely spoiled.

Okay, maybe I’m just bragging now, but these are just a few things I appreciate about him.  So, happy (almost) Father’s Day to my dad and all the other dads who might be reading this!  Feel free to share something about your own father figure here or on my social media pages.  I’d love to hear some of your stories.

Chase Them Up A Tree…

Howdy, howdy!  I was recently talking to a friend about putting our characters through hell (whether literally or figuratively).  He was a little worried that people would be upset and accuse him of torturing his young female characters simply as a catalyst to turn them into “strong, empowered women,” as if that’s a bad thing (the torture as a catalyst thing, not the strong women thing).  We talked about the story and that certainly doesn’t sound like the case, but so what if it is?  What’s wrong with strong female characters having a tragic background?  A lot of male characters have it pretty rough before becoming heroes, so why should female characters be any different?  It got me thinking about some of the most common writing advice I’ve heard: chase your characters up a tree, then throw rocks at them/make them walk through the fire/etc.

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What does that even mean, chasing them up a tree?  Well, it means that you should put your character in a bad situation, then pile on some more trouble.  Nobody wants to read about a person who goes to the beach, where it starts raining, and they immediately find shelter in a dingy little restaurant where they have a nice meal, then they go home.  For genre readers, make the restaurant haunted or infested with pixies or run by some super attractive person who seduces the protagonist.  If you’re more into literary fiction, throw in some existential angst or a discovery of some lost love or an awkward conversation with a guy who knows the protagonist but the protagonist can’t remember him or whatever.  In other words, it means you need to keep things interesting.

Another piece of advice to new writers, usually used as an explanation for running characters up a tree, is to make them walk through the fire.  This kind of thing is especially easy to understand if you’re into genre fiction, because the Hero’s Journey often requires entering an unknown world (sometimes actually made of fire) and having the hero traverse the treacherous land.  Whether they come out unscathed or not is really up to you.  Either way, they’re forced to face numerous obstacles or trials along their journey and it transforms them into the people they become.

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In my humble opinion, I don’t think we should really worry about whether or not people will approve of our stories.  If your character needs to be tortured physically or mentally to move the plot along and help them develop into who they need to become, whether male or female, go for it.  That’s not to say that something so drastic is always needed.  Maybe your character grows up in a loving home and stumbles upon an adventure randomly.  After all, one of my own characters is surrounded by supportive and caring family throughout her adventures.  That’s great too.  Trust your story to tell you what it needs, not judgmental people who think violence has no place in literature.

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Disclaimer: I am by no means endorsing gratuitous violence or anything that’s done “just because.”  It has to move things forward and serve some sort of purpose.  That being said, don’t worry so much about what people might think and just write your stories.  If things feel a little excessive, that’s what revision is for!  You can always change things up later on.

What about you?  Do you find yourself worrying about things like this or are you all about running characters up trees and pelting them with rocks?  Share your thoughts here or on my social media pages!

A Short Reading List

Hello, hello!  As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been slacking on my reading lately, but I’ve started up again.  I thought I would use this week’s post as a chance to share the next five books on my ever-expanding reading list.  I’ve decided to keep them in the “fun” category, at least until I get back into a good rhythm, then I’ll probably add in some craft books and maybe some classics.  After all, part of a writer’s job is to read.  So, here are the books, in no particular order.

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1. Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey.  This is actually the book I’m currently reading, because a friend recommended it.  I’m only 75ish pages in, but my initial thoughts are that I really like the story, there are just a lot of words (it’s kind of flowery, which makes it difficult for me to read more than a couple of chapters at a time).

From the back cover:

The land of Terre d’Ange is a place of unsurpassing beauty and grace. It is said that angels found the land and saw it was good…and the ensuing race that rose from the seed of angels and men live by one simple rule: Love as thou wilt.

Phèdre nó Delaunay is a young woman who was born with a scarlet mote in her left eye. Sold into indentured servitude as a child, her bond is purchased by Anafiel Delaunay, a nobleman with very a special mission…and the first one to recognize who and what she is: one pricked by Kushiel’s Dart, chosen to forever experience pain and pleasure as one.

Phèdre is trained equally in the courtly arts and the talents of the bedchamber, but, above all, the ability to observe, remember, and analyze. Almost as talented a spy as she is courtesan, Phèdre stumbles upon a plot that threatens the very foundations of her homeland. Treachery sets her on her path; love and honor goad her further. And in the doing, it will take her to the edge of despair…and beyond. Hateful friend, loving enemy, beloved assassin; they can all wear the same glittering mask in this world, and Phèdre will get but one chance to save all that she holds dear.

Set in a world of cunning poets, deadly courtiers, heroic traitors, and a truly Machiavellian villainess, this is a novel of grandeur, luxuriance, sacrifice, betrayal, and deeply laid conspiracies. Not since Dune has there been an epic on the scale of Kushiel’s Dart-a massive tale about the violent death of an old age, and the birth of a new.

51l3TFMwN6L2. The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater.  I ran across the opening of this one while searching for quotes for my website and decided to check it out.  I’m looking forward to reading it.

From the back cover:

Some race to win. Others race to survive.

It happens at the start of every November: the Scorpio Races. Riders attempt to keep hold of their water horses long enough to make it to the finish line.
Some riders live.
Others die.
At age nineteen, Sean Kendrick is the returning champion. He is a young man of few words, and if he has any fears, he keeps them buried deep, where no one else can see them.
Puck Connolly is different. She never meant to ride in the Scorpio Races. But fate hasn’t given her much of a choice. So she enters the competition – the first girl ever to do so. She is in no way prepared for what is going to happen.

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3. Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones.  I’ve seen the anime a few times, and there was always something missing from it for me, so I’ve decided to read the book to see if I can figure out what that missing bit is.

From the back cover:

Sophie has the great misfortune of being the eldest of three daughters, destined to fail miserably should she ever leave home to seek her fate. But when she unwittingly attracts the ire of the Witch of the Waste, Sophie finds herself under a horrid spell that transforms her into an old lady. Her only chance at breaking it lies in the ever-moving castle in the hills: the Wizard Howl’s castle. To untangle the enchantment, Sophie must handle the heartless Howl, strike a bargain with a fire demon, and meet the Witch of the Waste head-on. Along the way, she discovers that there’s far more to Howl—and herself—than first meets the eye.

51kTIlXatRL4. Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor.  I came across this one a while back while browsing books on Amazon.  It sounded interesting, so I bought an ebook copy, then forgot I had it.  It’s about time for me to get to it.

From the back cover:

Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.

In a dark and dusty shop, a devil’s supply of human teeth grown dangerously low.

And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherwordly war.

Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real; she’s prone to disappearing on mysterious “errands”; she speaks many languages–not all of them human; and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she’s about to find out.

When one of the strangers–beautiful, haunted Akiva–fixes his fire-colored eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?

611CsCj3YML5. Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey.  This book was recommended reading for a lecture I attended at Stonecoast, but I never got around to reading it.  It sounds interesting, so I think I’ll give it a shot.

From the back cover:

“You’re Ellie Spencer.”

I opened my mouth, just as he added, “And your eyes are opening.”

Seventeen-year-old Ellie Spencer is just like any other teenager at her boarding school. She hangs out with her best friend Kevin, she obsesses over Mark, a cute and mysterious bad boy, and her biggest worry is her paper deadline.

But then everything changes. The news headlines are all abuzz about a local string of serial killings that all share the same morbid trademark: the victims were discovered with their eyes missing. Then a beautiful yet eerie woman enters Ellie’s circle of friends and develops an unhealthy fascination with Kevin, and a crazed old man grabs Ellie in a public square and shoves a tattered Bible into her hands, exclaiming, “You need it. It will save your soul.” Soon, Ellie finds herself plunged into a haunting world of vengeful fairies, Maori mythology, romance, betrayal, and an epic battle for immortality.

Well, that’s (a tiny excerpt from) my current reading list.  Feel free to share your list or recommend some books for me on here or on my social media pages!

Thoughts on Gaiman’s Norse Mythology

Howdy, howdy!  I recently finished reading Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman and thought I would share some of my feelings about it.  Let me start by explaining that it’s the first book I’ve really sat down and read in a long time.  I’ve started others, but nothing has held my attention beyond the first few pages lately (not that they were bad, I just haven’t been in a mood that’s good for reading).  So, I thought maybe a book of short stories by one of my favorite authors would get me back into a reading rhythm.  It worked and here we are.

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You have to admit it’s a pretty book.

If I’m being honest, I can’t think of a single Neil Gaiman book I’ve read that I don’t have mixed feelings about.  Norse Mythology is no exception.  Yet his stories hold a special place in my heart despite everything I question (or even hate) about them.  Why?  Usually because there’s something memorable about the worlds or because I can relate to the characters.  Not to mention that I simply enjoy his writing style, which is clear and simple and easy to get lost in.

But Norse Mythology is different, because this isn’t one of Gaiman’s worlds and these aren’t his characters.  These stories have been around for centuries.  This collection is just those stories written with his voice.   These are the tales of the gods of Asgard.  We start with a brief introduction to the main players, then get into the creation myth and work our way through a number of notable moments until we get all the way to Ragnarok.  These are tales many of us have heard before in one form or another.  It makes it really difficult for me to figure out if I liked the stories because I’m familiar with a lot of them already or because of the way Gaiman tells them.  I like to think it’s a little bit of both.

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If you read it, don’t go into these stories expecting the Marvel version.

As I mentioned, though, I had some mixed feelings about Norse Mythology.  While I loved the stories, I kept running across moments that I wanted to see better, rather than just being told about.  Don’t get me wrong, I know that this collection was written more in the vein of oral storytelling, which is vastly different from the written story in that it needs to be quick and easy to understand and entertaining, whereas you could spend ten pages of a written story describing a flower (you shouldn’t, but you could).  I get that, but one of the golden rules of writing is to show, not tell.  It’s really hard for me to ignore that rule.  There were just a few parts that I thought would’ve benefited from a little more action.

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Because Loki’s kids were awesome and got the short end of the stick.

Ultimately, I enjoyed Norse Mythology.  It’s definitely a book I would recommend to people, especially if they’re new to the mythology and want to get a quick, but fairly in depth introduction to it.  What about you?  If you’ve read the collection, feel free to share your thoughts here or on my social media pages!

When In Doubt…

Hello, hello!  I thought I’d share a little update on the agent search saga.  I received a rejection from the agent who requested a full copy of my manuscript.  It was the first rejection that I couldn’t attribute to slush reader denial, and I admit it threw me a bit, emotionally.  They loved Bailey (the main character), but they suggested reworking it into a non-fantasy book because they felt my writing was strongest in the non-fantastical parts.  I panicked.  How was I supposed to rewrite this particular story without fantasy and keep it from turning into a memoir or something similar (there’s too much of my younger self in Bailey to keep her in the realm of literary fiction even if I managed to peel the fantastical parts away)?  I’ve always been against crossing into CNF, especially when it involves elements of my own life (I’m not that interesting, I swear).  I have nothing against people who want to write that type of stuff, but it’s just not who I am.  So, I let myself be overcome by doubt for a couple of days.

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Me normally?  Kyoya.  Me on rejection day?  The twins.  I will never be Tamaki, though.

It’s been a long time since I’ve received a critique (no matter how small) from someone who held my inner writer’s fragile little ego in their hands and had the ability to crush it.  I love my critique group dearly, but I know they’ll give honest feedback in a friendly manner.  When I was in school, I actually liked the people who were brutal with their feedback.  I welcomed it.  But over the past couple of years, I kind of forgot that a critique is just someone else’s opinions, whether that someone is a friend or a teacher or an agent or whoever.  It’s simply one person’s opinion.  Yeah, it’s harder to hear some people’s thoughts than others, but the story is still mine.  I can’t help but feel like I’ve gotten a little weak for forgetting that.

For a couple of days after I received the rejection, I stopped working on my current WIP (the second book in the series).  What was the point if I was just going to have to change the first book completely?  Then, I remembered something my mentor for my thesis semester (Elizabeth Hand) wrote in my evaluation.  She basically said that I was always extremely open to suggestions for edits and revisions, but that I had zero qualms about saying no to things because I knew what was best for my story.  That was when I started working on my WIP again.  This series started as litfic and went nowhere.  It wasn’t until someone suggested I write it as the kind of stuff I actually enjoyed reading that it started moving forward on its own.  I just can’t abandon that story yet.

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My usual reaction when I come across suggestions that don’t fit my stories.

Sometimes, we all need a little reminder that we’re the creator of the worlds we write about.  We choose which suggestions and comments to implement and which ones to ignore.  That’s our decision to make as writers.  I know it’s hard to ignore some people’s critiques, especially when they’ve been in the business a lot longer than you and when they’re successful and you’re just getting started.  Be open to suggestions, but don’t be afraid to say no if it doesn’t feel right.  You know what’s best for your stories.

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No matter how hard it is.

So yeah, when in doubt, trust yourself.  I’m going to try to remember this as future rejections roll in.  I can’t promise I won’t temporarily panic, but I’ll get over it given time.  If you’re in a similar situation, you’ll be okay too.  Let yourself freak out a little if that’s your thing (I, personally, prefer to avoid that step), but then remember that you know what you’re doing.  We will succeed… eventually.

On Accomplishments and Regrets

Howdy, howdy!  A friend recently sent me a questionnaire she received from a career coach, so that I too could experience the equal parts torture and enlightenment (her words).  I fully admit that I’ve never been able to take things like this seriously.  My answers always range from sarcastic to literal (and occasionally both).  For instance, one of the questions is “what would you do if you knew you could not fail?”  My initial reaction was “Walk!  No, wait… telekinesis!  No… take over the world.  That’s my final answer.”  I mean, if I can’t fail, why not aim big?  But anyway, one of the questions actually managed to get to me: “What accomplishments must, in your opinion, occur during your lifetime so that you will consider your life to have been satisfying and well liveda life of few or no regrets?”  So, I thought I’d answer it here since I don’t know what else to ramble about today.

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If that’s not achievement enough, I don’t know what is.

I suppose this is the kind of question where people write down things like having kids or becoming a CEO of some big company or founding a charity or whatever, which are all  wonderful goals to have, but I don’t think they’re musts.  I actually don’t believe any accomplishment is a must in order to lead a fulfilling life.  For me, that kind of thinking is sad.  I mean, do I hope to publish a bunch of books and become a famous author?  Hell yes.  If I die tomorrow without achieving those goals, does that make my life any less well lived?  No.  I’ll be dead.  I won’t care about that kind of unfinished business.  So, why should I put that kind of pressure on myself while I’m alive?  If I fail, I fail.  It’ll be disappointing, but ultimately, it doesn’t make my whole life unsatisfying.

The accomplishment itself is just the reward at the end of a very long journey.  I believe that journey, with all its little setbacks as well as its forward momentum, is more important than being able to point at a finished project and say “look what I did!”  Don’t get me wrong, achieving a goal feels great, but when you look back at it, you remember the path you took to get there more than the moment of completion.  At least, I do.  As long as the good parts outweigh the bad and as long as I know I’m trying, then I consider my life a success whether I have anything to show for it or not.

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Success is awesome, but don’t forget the rest of this stuff.

As far as regrets go, I think they’re useless and that’s probably what bugged me the most about the question.  I’m not going to have a bunch of regrets simply because I fail to accomplish my goals.  If I’m trying my best, why would I regret that?  I suppose when most of the things you would change about your past are out of your control, it puts all potential regrets in perspective.  Are there things I wish I could’ve done differently?  Yeah.  Would I have actually done them differently?  No, because then I wouldn’t become the person I am now.  Plus, my experiences that led me to those decisions would be the same, so the likelihood of me making different choices even if I had a do-over are slim to none.  So why worry about it at all?  Regrets change nothing.

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Because Uta no Prince-sama.

I guess maybe I’m weird to not worry about big accomplishments.  Or maybe it’s part of the whole cripple privilege thing that I can focus on other things without people judging me and making me feel like I’m wrong (not that I’d care what they thought anyway).  Or maybe I just worry more about the every day stuff than I should.  But to me, being happy, enjoying life, and knowing that I’m trying my best are more important than actual success (not that accomplishments aren’t exciting and fulfilling).  What about you?  How would you answer the question?