A Writerly Proposal: Collectives

This opinion piece from The New York Times, called, “The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Reader,” has sparked a small Twitter revolution this evening (one of many, I’m sure), and got my husband and I chatting once again about publishing.

Writers and readers like Colin Robinson, author of that post and—dare I say it—elitist reader, likely detached from “average” readers like myself, the voracious consumers of genre and commercial fiction, argues that the digital ADD of contemporary readers has led to the death of the midlist and the popularization of writing and reading generally, the so-called “displacement of literary culture’s traditional elite.” He says that current publishing models are leading to the death of the midlist author and a general decline in quality, both of written works and engagement of readers with books and each other.

That’s quite a mouthful.

Needless to say, I wasn’t a fan of the “article,” and I’m quite sick of seeing opinion pieces bemoaning the sad state of readership and fiction.

Yes, yes, anyone can self publish on Amazon, and yes, yes, cheap prices may be cheapening content. Yawn. I’m sick of the bitching and ready to start seeing some positive action to make things better.

I’ve gotten myself away from the point I wanted to make—you see, this is the drivel written by easily distracted, untrained female writers like myself!

*grin*

Anyway, husband and I were talking, and my recent infatuation with the marvelous and magical anthology Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells made me think that I’d love to see collectives of writers in similar genres and with similar styles producing serialized novels and/or collections of short stories in digital format.

Writers like, say, the Spellbound Scribes, could work together and release a monthly e-zine of fiction that readers could subscribe to for a low fee, and we split the revenue among contributors. Readers get to read writers they love and meet new authors, follow novel-length stories month by month, and read shorts from writers who aren’t contributing a long work at the moment. If an author I knew I loved joined in on such a project, I’d subscribe in a heartbeat.

Voilà. A new model, right there, one that benefits readers and indie writers. Yes, it’s a commitment. Yes, we would have to police our own quality, and yes, we would need to recruit an artist or two to contribute. But that’s why it’s a collective: authors work together to write, market, and publish their own work.

Easier said than done, but I’m nothing if not a dreamer.

 

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Friends and Heroes

I have been gently mocked—and more harshly mocked by some—for my abiding love of George R. R. Martin and his A Song of Ice and Fire series. But for better or worse, our heroes are our heroes, and we cannot shake their influence or absolve our love for them.

I picked up A Game of Thrones in (approximately) 1999. I’m guessing, here, because I really don’t recall. I was with my parents at a Barnes and Noble in Waco, Texas, visiting my older brother at Baylor University. I think it must have been 1999 because it was an early visit to Waco and because A Storm of Swords came out in 2000 and my copy is a first edition. (And now signed!)

Actually, I picked up A Clash of Kings first, because of its attractive cover. The golden cover, the woman in red, the description of the book itself pulled me in. I mean, look at it. It’s pretty.

But because I’m an OCD soul, I had to go for the first book first. I picked up A Game of Thrones, despite its less attractive cover (I own the infamous Harlequin Jon Snow version, which is, these days, hard to find: see image above), and took it home with me.

I’m not going to lie to you, readers. It was boring. I fell asleep on our couch reading it. But after a few false starts, I was intrigued. And when (SPOILER ALERT – have you been living under a rock??) Ned Stark died, I was hooked. HOOKED. Here was a writer who could create a nuanced, sympathetic, enjoyable character, and kill him off without compunction. Here was a writer I needed to know.

So I read the gorgeous A Clash of Kings, and received my copy of A Storm of Swords for Christmas the next year. I read it, enjoyed it, was shocked by it, then patiently settled in to read the next installment. How little I knew.

Fast forward eight years to a small apartment in Hayward, California. I decided the story bouncing around in my head during my commute from Hayward to Berkeley for my reporting job deserved some more attention. I said to my (now) husband that I wanted to focus on fiction, and I did just that. I began my first (trunk) novel, a huge epic about a pair of thieves who get embroiled in a political conspiracy to return magic and science to their stagnated nation. I stayed up until the wee hours of the morning rereading Martin’s books, learning about point of view and narration from his chapters.

Fast forward another three years to 2011. I met the wonderful Emmie Mears through WordPress and a shared experience of familial tragedy. We discovered a mutual love of Buffy and all things fantastic, and suddenly we were fast friends who had never met in person.

Now, in 2013, I had the great privilege of flying out to Maryland and meeting Emmie in real life.

e and k

Bosom friends meet at last.

Aww.

In case you haven’t noticed ’round these parts, Emmie has been a huge part of my life in the last two years. We’ve commiserated, celebrated, even long-distance watched movies together. Though it started as an Anne of Green Gables joke, she IS a bosom friend, and one I’m so very grateful to have in my life. My sanity would have suffered much more in the last 18-months without her supportive, bosom-friendy presence.

So what does my abiding love for Emmie have to do with my abiding love for GRRM?

Well, come Capclave and our time together, we encountered guest of honor, George R. R. Martin himself. Emmie sat beside me in the front row while he did his first reading and I blushed every time he looked toward us.

Then, at nearly one a.m. after a Scotch-tasting party, when I gushingly said I wanted to tell him that I used to stay up late rereading A Game of Thrones to learn about perspective and how much that helped me, Emmie said four simple words:

“You should tell him.”

So I did. I fanned out so hard. I told him how he was a huge influence on me, how his writing gave me the courage and the inspiration to try writing a ridiculously huge novel with multiple point of view characters. And then, because there was an awkward pause, I said it must have helped, since I now have an agent.

And because he’s awesome and kind enough to hang out with his fans, George R. R. Martin asked about my agent. And our writing. And our process. And told us about his own childhood.

We got to take a photo with him, too.

Photo does not include mental squeeing.

Photo does not include mental squeeing. Also, yes, I am this short.

Lifetime achievement: unlocked.

Since this photo, people have teased me. Said I should have it framed and hung in my bedroom. Above my desk. Treasure it forever.

And you know what? I’m totally going to do it. These two writers have influenced me more than I can say. I would be honored to hang them above my workspace.

Friends and heroes. What’s the difference?

Why Write: YA with Steph Sessa

Today Steph Sessa is here to talk about YA and why teen stories have such a profound effect on people of all ages. Enjoy!

Hello, Steph, and welcome! Tell us a little about yourself and your work.

Hi! Thanks for having me! I’m a Philadelphia-based writer with obsessions in linguistics, music and ultimate frisbee. When not writing, I work part-time as a linguistic researcher and go to grad school for education. I write primarily YA, particularly speculative fiction, though recently I’ve been dabbling in NA contemporary.

What made you decide to write for young adults?

I think I’m one of the few people who loved high school. Like absolutely loved it. Yes, at times it was tough. But the experiences I had there are some I’ll never forget. It’s the time when everything matters and there’s so many emotions and you feel everything. All the emotions are amplified and part of the reason to read is to feel, so YA was just the obvious choice for me.

You also describe some of your work as speculative fiction — what exactly does that mean?

Speculative fiction is just a broad term for the fantastical genres, so fantasy, urban fantasy, paranormal, horror, scifi, dystopian etc.

What types of stories does young adult make possible? How about speculative fiction?

So many! YA is the time for self-discovery and new relationships (whether it’s boyfriends or just new friendships). It’s about finding out who you are and how to navigate relationships with other people. Speculative fiction allows the reader to get lost in a different world and to take a break from reality for a second. Readers can discover new worlds and situations that they can’t get in their every day lives. It’s an escape.

Aside from the obvious, what audience do you think YA attracts? Why do you think so many adults love to read YA fiction?

With YA it’s all about the feeling. As I said above, emotions are amplified so everything is terrible or amazing. Insecurities come out in the characters and all readers can relate, because everyone is insecure about something. I think adults like YA because it reminds us of a time in our lives when everything mattered, but we weren’t bogged down with car payments or rent or other boring things like that. It’s about relationships, which really are the most important things in life, and I think young adults and regular adults like to see that.

How does the audience alter the types of stories you tell and characters you write?

Everything has to be intensified. Since teenagers tend to have shorter attention spans (as do I!) things have to get going right from the beginning. Tension in the first page, first paragraph, first line. Hooking the reader early on is incredibly important because they might not give the book a chance otherwise. So the plot has start early on or the characters have to be interesting enough for the readers to want to spend 250+ pages with them. The characters have to change from the beginning to the end more prominently, because YA is about growth.

How does YA affect the stakes for your characters and your audience? And speculative fiction?

The problems aren’t going to be the same things I face on a day to day basis. For YA, they’re going to be problems that sixteen-year-olds usually have, so a fight with a friend, boyfriend, parent. They’re inter-personal problems. But including speculative fiction means including scenarios that you might not see everyday because of the setting. So maybe there are different species living in that world that’s hostile, or there’s a dystopian government that affects every aspect of life. So it’s the relationship problems plus a big picture problem.

How do you think your genre affects your audience?

My audience is going to be the people who read to feel and read to get lost in a world. Speculative fiction tends to have a lot of world building which can be a lot to take in sometimes. But it also has the chance to enhance the story significantly. It’s growth and emotions of the main character, with a fantastical plot.

For fun, what is your favorite genre to read? Why?

I read almost exclusively YA, and usually it’s either fantasy or light scifi. I do like contemporary YA as well.

Where can readers track you down?

https://twitter.com/stephsessa
http://stephsessa.blogspot.com/

Thanks for stopping by, Steph!

Why Write: Erotic Romance with Jennah Scott

J.ScottReaders, today we have writer Jennah Scott here to talk about erotic romance! Jennah’s a cross-genre writer, and today she has some great things to say about why people love romance, some of the differences between erotica and erotic romance, and why we all love a good steamy scene in the books we read. Enjoy!

Tell us a little about yourself and your work.
I’m still pretty new when it comes to the publishing community. I’ve been seriously writing for about three years now. I self-published my first book, Making His Mark, in January and just sold Scrap Metal to Liquid Silver Books. Scrap Metal is a contemporary romance that I wrote with my critique partner and very good friend, Alexi Raymond.

What made you decide to write erotic romance?
It was a challenge. When I originally decided I wanted to pursue a career in writing I started writing YA. All of my characters were older, more along the lines of New Adult, but at the time New Adult still wasn’t accepted. Then I decided to push myself and see if I could write romance. The romance challenge turned into writing erotic romance. I wanted to know if I could bring in the physical act of sex and layer in the emotion that comes along with physical attraction. There is so much vulnerability in opening yourself up to someone like that. I wanted to show that, let my readers experience the joy and complications sex can add to a story. A romance will always have tension, but being able to experience that tension play out to pleasure adds to the development of both the characters and relationship—in my opinion.

What types of stories does erotic romance make possible? Does the addition of the classification “erotica” influence the romances you write?
I think any story idea with the right characters could be erotic romance. Certain genres, like YA, don’t allow for erotic romance, which is fine with me. Personally, I don’t want to read about teenagers getting down and dirty. That should be a time they are exploring, so I’m good keeping it behind doors. Other than that, let the creativity flow. The thing about erotic romance is that the sex enhances the story. It’s not THE story. When it’s THE story then it’s erotica. Big difference. Erotic romance has a plot, character development, and a happily ever after. Writing erotic romance, for me, allows me to write without any restrictions.

What audience do you think erotic romance attracts? How does that alter the types of stories you tell and characters you write?
Good question! I’m usually surprised by the people that tell me they like erotic romance. In general though, I think the audience is women in their late twenties and up. The great thing about it is that you can love any genre and find an author that writes erotic romance in that genre. So it’s not limited to contemporary. The audience doesn’t alter my writing. If I’ve got a story I want to write, I write it. More than once I’ve decided to write a story because I couldn’t find one that I wanted to read. For instance, I just finished a story whose main characters are both in the video game development industry. There aren’t a whole lot of nerdy type males in books, so I wrote one.

How does erotic romance affect the stakes for your characters and your audience?
It increases the stakes. When you bring that layer into the mix it’s harder to leave and when the characters face problems the heartbreak is greater. Taking that step from a simple relationship to a more physical relationship can be a big deal. Depending on your character and their desires, there is a lot of trust building up. When that’s broken, it hurts. If I’ve written the story well enough, then my audience feels the pain and heartache.

Why do you think people love to read erotic romance?
Because you can let go of all your inhibitions. The characters do. Even if they have worries about what friends, family, etc. thinks they find a way to move past that. I think erotic romance gives readers a chance to let go of the stigma about sex and just enjoy.

For fun, what is your favorite genre to read? Why?
Contemporary romance is my favorite. But I’ll read almost anything. My favorite authors span across multiple genres from paranormal to historical, YA, New Adult, and everything in between. I love contemporary because I can easily relate to the locations, characters, etc. But there is something to be said about a good paranormal or fantasy that takes you into a whole new world you don’t want to leave.

Where can readers track you down?

Twitter: https://twitter.com/jennah_scott

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/authorjennahscott

Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/jennahscott/

Website: http://www.jennahscott.com

Thanks for stopping by, Jennah!

Why Write: Contemporary Fantasy with Jason Crawford

Readers, welcome Jason Patrick Crawford, a fantasy writer and one of my very cool Tweeps. He’s here to talk about contemporary fantasy and he has some fantastic things to say about how a contemporary setting gives traditional fantasy a fresh new way for modern readers to relate. Check it out! 

Hello, Jason, and welcome! Tell us a little about yourself and your work.

I’m a 31-year old veteran who has been married for 9 years this May. I have three sons, aged 6, 3, and 5 months, and I work as a high school chemistry teacher at Pete Knight High School in Palmdale, CA. I’ve always been interested in writing, ever since my own high school experience when I was in gifted English classes and we did creative writing assignments, but I never really made an effort until my sister-in-law decided that she was going to write a book. She, my wife, and I all thought it would be a great idea to have a “writing circle” to support each other, and I found that I enjoyed writing more than…well, more than pretty much anything else I’ve done (besides my family, of course!)

What made you decide to write contemporary fantasy?

It was the first story that popped into my head. Seriously. I’ve had the germs of the ideas for my first two novels, The Drifter and Chains of Prophecy for years, kind of the “wouldn’t it be cool if there was a book about this” thing. I love the idea that there could be magic hidden in our world, where most people can’t see it, don’t recognize it, but are affected by it.

What types of stories does contemporary fantasy make possible?

I think that contemporary fantasy allows an author to tell archetypical stories in a way that make readers comfortable and make the characters more relatable. For instance, while I love epic fantasy and ancient mythology, it is easy for me to look askance at, say, “campfire scenes” where the author writes for pages about the discussions around a campfire simply because I’ve never been on a months-long quest in the wilderness; if, however, a contemporary fantasy author writes about a conversation on an airplane, it’s easy to imagine. Easy to buy into. This lets me tell legends without losing my audience’s interest.

What audience do you think contemporary fantasy attracts? How does that alter the types of stories you tell and characters you write?

I think that contemporary fantasy attracts a few different types of people, but the people that I try to speak to most (because I am one of those) are the ones who think the world would be a better place with a little more magic, a little more mystery, a few more heroes. I like to tell stories about relatively normal people who get thrown into situations they couldn’t have predicted, couldn’t have expected, and yet they decide to do the right thing anyway, even when it’s easier to walk away.

How does contemporary fantasy affect the stakes for your characters and your audience?

Contemporary fantasy allows the reader to get truly invested in the characters. It’s easy to imagine yourself in the place of, say, an accountant from California, but it might be harder to visualize being a sword-swinging barbarian from Kaledonia (I have no idea if that’s been used in a novel, any resemblance is coincidental). Of course, epic, sword-and-sorcery fantasy is amazing, and if the writing is good then it’s completely engrossing, but I like to put myself in the character’s shoes when I read, and the more connections I can make with him/her, the better.

As for the characters, they have to deal with the fact that, generally, what they’re doing, what they’re experiencing, is NOT known to society at large. No one would believe Sam, the protagonist in Chains of Prophecy, if he ran to the police to tell them that someone stole his mother’s ancient book of spells and they’re using them to enslave angels. They have to discover what is real, what isn’t, and, usually, they have to figure out how to deal with it by trial and error, which is always fun 🙂

Why do you think people love to read contemporary fantasy? How do you think the genre affects its audience?

Besides the qualities that make anything worth reading, I’d say that contemporary fantasy is popular because it provides an element of escapism and wonder. Just imagine if the world of, say, Harry Potter or Percy Jackson were real; how would that change the way one sees, hears, perceives everything? Imagine knowing that there was magic about, but not knowing where to find it, exactly. You’d see it everywhere! I think that this is a gift given by the authors of contemporary fantasy to their audiences – the banal, everyday monotony of existence can be broken up, just a bit, by magic.

For fun, what is your favorite genre to read? Why?

I’m a fantasy reader, loving both contemporary and epic. I just finished book one of the Seeker of Truth series by Terry Goodkind, Wizard’s First Rule. It was amazing. I devoured Harry Potter and Percy Jackson – the books, not the people 😉 – and loved the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I just like stories with heroes that are willing to do what is right, to give of themselves, and to prove that Good triumphs over Evil.

How can readers track you down? 

If you’d like to learn more or follow my process as I try to publish my work, you can reach me at @jnewmanwriting on Twitter, I have an author page on Facebook, and you can read my blog and other cool stuff on my website at http://www.jasonpatrickcrawford.com!

Thanks for stopping by!

Thanks for having me, Kristin!

Guilty Pleasures

*cough* This is a really old post that’s been in my drafts folder since January. I thought you guys might actually like to read it!

I spent most of today out with a friend and running errands, so I haven’t had time to write.

Translation: I didn’t get home till three and that felt too late to get any real work done, so I decided to do some less productive crafty work and watch old episodes of The Vampire Diaries. Episodes I’ve seen before. Episodes that aren’t particularly noteworthy except for the abundance of pretty people moping about who’s not sleeping with whom.

Yep. I’m a shameless lover of teen vampires. In fact, while I’m confessing things, I’ll admit that I’ve read Twilight. More than once. The Kindle was a godsend because it meant I no longer had to deal with my husband’s mockery when I wanted to read something really and truly awful—now I don’t have to face the shame of, say, the cover of Breaking Dawn staring at him from my nightstand, giving away my weakness. I read Twilight like some women read bodice-rippers, the ones with shiny, shirtless men on the covers: furtively, pop-eyed, and generally while hiding the evidence.

Come to think of it, that sounds rather like one of the signs of addiction. The one where you lie about your problem. Also the one where you feel guilt and shame. And that other one, where you put time and effort into your habit.

I only know about those signs for research, of course. Totally.

I like literature, too, I’ll have you know. I reread Jane Austen’s complete works every year. A Farewell to Arms is one of two books that makes me cry. I am capable of exerting some self control and occasionally reading things that actually merit my love.

But, damn it, every now and then I just like to lose myself in a fluffy, high-stakes romance between two pretty (and often fanged) people. I also like dipping my fries in mustard. Whatchu gonna do, sue me?

I AM NOT ASHAMED.*

The fact is, I’m not alone. Twilight sold a flobbity-gillion copies. Margot Adler incorporated her obsession with vampire novels (including Twilight) into a series of academic lectures. How many people watch The Vampire Diaries? More than a few, judging by Twitter on Thursday nights.

Everyone has a few guilty pleasures. Maybe for you it’s not teen vampires. Maybe it’s wealthy teens who sleep around a lot. Maybe it’s those afternoon soap operas. (Do those still exist anymore?) Maybe it’s some terrible sitcom.

But you know… you can tell me.

This is a safe space. No one here will judge you.** C’mon. you know you want to share. What’s your guilty pleasure?

 

 

*Okay, I’m a little ashamed. Fine, a lot. That doesn’t stop me, though.

**Much

 

Why Write: Contemporary Romance with Liv Rancourt

Liv #2Today we have the lovely Liv Rancourt here to talk about contemporary romance! She’s been ’round these parts before to discuss the Southern Vampire Mysteries and steampunk (though not at the same time), so I’m always glad to have her back!

Hello, Liv, and welcome back! You’re a familiar face around these parts, but I think we’ll talk about contemporary romance instead of sexy vampires this time.

Thanks so much, Kristin. It’s great to be back, especially because your topic – writing – is something I love so much.

Tell us a little about yourself and your work.

I was always a great reader and love telling stories, and writing down my own stories has been part of a natural progression. I write romance because of the happy endings. If I want messy, complicated drama, I’ll go work at my day job as a nurse practitioner. I also enjoy a good joke, so while my stuff isn’t slapstick romantic comedy, I do try to keep it light. I’d love to be Janet Evanovich when I grow up, you know?

Me, too! She was a big influence on the voice of Mitzy Morgan, one of my protagonists!

What made you decide to write contemporary romance?

Last year I wrote a couple short stories that (gasp!) didn’t involve vampires in any way, and found I had fun trying to work out how people love in the real world. Now I’m easing my way into contemporary novellas and novels. For me, the biggest challenge in contemporary romance is coming up with interesting conflict. I mean, you drop in a vampire, and there’s an automatic life-or-death factor. I find it harder to make the risks compelling when neither of the main characters is a potentially murderous entity and the Big Bad is a cranky boss, not an Evil Genius Who’s Trying To Take Over The World. Challenge is a good thing, though, so I’m sticking with it.

What types of stories does contemporary romance make possible?

By definition, contemporary romance stories are set after 1945. There are a number of standard tropes (friends become lovers; enemies turn into lovers; a couple gets reunited after a long separation; a marriage of necessity becomes something more) that all pose the same basic questions. Are both the heroine and the hero willing to risk opening themselves up to pain by falling in love? And when they do fall in love, do they have what it takes to keep it going, and what are they willing to do to make it work? The fun is in how you dress those ideas up. You can tweak the plot in all kinds of different ways, as long as you get at the heart of it, which is the relationship between the hero and heroine.

What audience do you think contemporary romance attracts? How does that alter the types of stories you tell and characters you write?

Hard question, and one I should have a better answer for. In general, romance is growing faster than any other genre in publishing, and contemporary romance is the biggest subgenre of romance. Romance readers come from all across society, and there are enough sub-subgenres in contemporary romance (gazillionaires and the women who love them, hospital/medical stories, vacation love that turns into more) that there’s pretty much something for everyone.

Given that background, I think it’s important to write what you love, because readers can tell if you’re just phoning it in. There are some basic requirements for the genre, like the ending MUST involve a happily-ever-after or happily-for-now, the love story MUST be the main storyline, and the hero CANNOT mix it up with any other woman except the heroine. There’s a safety factor at work here. If a reader chooses a novel with a half-naked guy with six-pack abs on the cover, they have certain expectations. If you vary too far from the standard framework you’ll hear about it (or you won’t because you won’t get published). But there’s a lot of room to color within the lines, and a huge audience for your work.

How does romance affect the stakes for your characters and your audience?

The romance is the heart of the story, and while the stakes might not be life-or-death, like in paranormal or urban fantasy, it should feel that way for the characters. They have to be completely invested in the relationship in order for readers to be invested in them. This isn’t a place to explore the grey areas (thank you, Emmie Mears).

Why do you think people love to read romance? How do you think the genre affects its audience?

I think the majority of people who read romance do so because it’s fun. They’re not looking to dive into the existential vortex that we all know is there – that’s for black-clad twentysomethings with literary pretentions. They like knowing there’ll be a happy ending, they like living vicariously through a heroine who gets to do stuff they never would, and quite a few of them also like the naughty bits. I’m just sayin’…

For fun, what is your favorite genre to read? Why?

Hmm…does she practice what she preaches? Yes! I read urban fantasy, paranormal romance, contemporary romance, and some erotic romance (don’t tell my mother). I also love mysteries, and hope someday to have the chops to write one. It’s a good thing you didn’t ask for a list of my favorite authors, because I could probably fill the whole page with it.

How can readers track you down?

I can be found on-line at my website & blog (www.livrancourt.com), on Facebook (www.facebook.com/liv.rancourt), or on Twitter (www.twitter.com/LivRancourt).

Thanks for stopping by!

Thank you, Kristin. It’s always fun to be here…