Thoughts on THE BONE CUTTERS

Howdy, howdy!  It’s the last Wednesday of August, which means it’s book review time!  This month, I received an Advance Reader Copy (ARC) of my friend and fellow Stonecoast alum Renee S. DeCamillis’s new book.  It’s called The Bone Cutters and it’s due out on September 1st from Eraserhead Press.  I must thank Renee and the press for the opportunity to read this in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.  Anyway, I stepped slightly outside of my comfort zone with this one since I haven’t read much bizarro horror.  I’m more into traditional horror, but I do love me some psychological horror, which this book definitely falls under.  Now, onto the review.

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Lovely cover, though I’m not entirely sure why she’s naked.

The Bone Cutters follows Dory (our unreliable narrator) as she wakes up to find herself confined in a psychiatric hospital.  When she’s put in a counseling group for a very specific brand of junkie (one who snorts bone dust to get a “free” high), it has her literally pulling her hair out (something she has issues with anyway).  As if that’s not bad enough, the nurse who put her in the group refuses to believe that Dory belongs elsewhere.  Luckily, there’s a janitor who seems to believe Dory and even wants to help.  From there, things just keep getting weirder.

The story is nicely paced and keeps the tension up fairly well throughout the whole thing.  It’s a novella, so you could easily finish it in one go.  I broke it up into multiple reading sessions, but I really think it would benefit from reading it beginning to end.  I admit that I lost a lot of forward momentum each time I put it down, which was my own fault (stupid life getting in the way).  But every time I picked it back up, I enjoyed the ride.  In fact, I’ll probably pick a day in the next couple of months to sit down and read it all the way through just to see how the experience differs.

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The characters are interesting, but I wanted a little more flesh on some of them.  While we’re in Dory’s head, we don’t get to learn much about her.  Sure, she isn’t a Duster, and she’s super protective of the people she trusts, but she doesn’t really seem to grow much over the course of the story.  Her relationship with Tommy grows, but while she becomes more coherent, she still feels basically the same at the end.  Tommy, the janitor, is the most fleshed out.  We get to know his past and his motives.  The villains, on the other hand, are basically just junkies looking for a fix who are being manipulated by the big bad in the shadows.  I had no feelings about them one way or the other.  That being said, I like that the big bad in the shadows remains a distant mystery.  It really worked for the story.

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I like it when characters level up.

As far as the writing goes, it is lovely and poetic and musical.  The way Renee breaks up her paragraphs pulls the reader forward and aids in creating tension in all the right spots.  It’s a story worth reading to study the writing alone.

Ultimately, I really enjoyed The Bone Cutters.  I can’t wait to see more from Renee in the future.

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Overall, I gave it 4 out of 5 stars.  If you enjoy psychological horror with some bizarro thrown in, pick it up.  If you like beautiful writing that combines both poetry and prose, pick it up.

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!