Thursday, August 28, 2008

What am I writing?

What am I writing? This is something I often ask myself, not because my writing is that bizarre or incoherent, but because I'm trying to figure out how to categorize it. Some things are easy to figure out, like whether it's contemporary or historical. Age group is usually pretty straightforward as well.

So, once I know whether a story is contemporary or historical and what age group it's for, then comes the more difficult task of figuring out the genre. There are a lot of genres in the book world, and a lot of them share similarities. Take the manuscript I'm currently preparing for submission. The main character is in her early twenties, independent, and meets a guy and falls for him. This instantly brings to mind three genres: chick lit, women's fiction, and romance.

The relationship between the main character and the guy she falls for is more of a subplot than the main plot, so the story isn't a romance. It doesn't have the lighthearted, cosmopolitan feel of a lot of chick lit, either, so I'm calling it women's fiction.

Of course, if we take a closer look at the story, that brings in more possibilities. Since the main character is an immigrant and the story involves two cultures (at least on a cursory level), some people might consider it multicultural. Given the content and some of the situations I threw the main character into, others might consider it social commentary. I'm sure if I kept analyzing the manuscript, I could find more genres it might fit in. After a lot of thought, I'm sticking with the women's fiction label because I think that's the one that fits best.

Now that I know it's contemporary women's fiction aimed at the eighteen to thirty-five age group, I have one last thing to decide. This last category is possibly the most important since it has a strong bearing on where I submit and how I word the query. Is it Christian or mainstream?

This is one I struggle with a lot. I tend to write from a Christian perspective, because I can't get away from my own faith. I don't want to, either. The problem comes in because my main characters aren't always Christian nor do they necessarily become Christians by the end of the book. But there is generally at least one Christian in the story who is important to the main character, either as a good friend or a relative. Sometimes my main character will attend church or just live by Christian values (i.e. live a moral life). However, my stories rarely include an obvious Christian message. I prefer to have a subtle, show-your-faith-by-living-it approach.

Which leads me to my submissions dilemma. Is that subtlety Christian enough for the Christian market? Are the subtle message, occasional Christian character, and possible church attendance too Christian for the mainstream market?

As much as I love Christian fiction, I feel most of my writing is better suited to the mainstream market. I have a few manuscripts that I know are destined for the CBA (Christian Booksellers Association) when I get them revised to my satisfaction. The rest of them, however, leave me feeling like I'm sitting on a fence between the CBA and the ABA (American Booksellers Association). Depending on which way the wind blows, I could fall either way.

I know that's not really how it works. Book publishing isn't left up to chance. Plus, even as I struggle to know which market my writing belongs in, I have one comfort; God knows exactly where each manuscript belongs. And when the time is right, it'll be published by that publishing house, whether it's in the ABA or the CBA.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Homeschooling and Publishing...

I know, the title sounds like two completely unrelated things. But in my experience, they kind of go hand in hand. I was homeschooled through high school graduation and I became a writer thanks to a creative writing class put on by a homeschool mom. Since then, I've learned a lot about editing and in January of this year, I finally achieved my goal of becoming an editor.

In the past couple of years, I've noticed something. I'm far from the only writer or editor connected to homeschooling. I know of at least two editors who are also homeschoolers and I've run into countless writers who homeschool. Is there some peculiar phenomenon that draws homeschoolers into the publishing world? Perhaps it's the love of books. I have yet to meet a homeschooler who doesn't love books. Some of the most avid readers I've met in my lifetime were homeschoolers or homeschooled kids.

It would be interesting to know if there's any research on the connection between homeschooling and the publishing industry. I wonder, are there any other careers with a high incidence of homeschoolers? If you know of one, let me know. This has really piqued my curiosity.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

It's live!

I'm so excited! The short e-book I mentioned on Tuesday is live and for sale in the Kindle Store on Amazon. The title is Basics of Writing: Point of View by E. A. West. It gives a basic overview of point of view and offers suggestions for overcoming POV difficulties. Here's the description:

Point of view, commonly referred to as POV, is something many writers struggle with. New and inexperienced writers can find it particularly challenging. Basics of Writing: Point of View is designed to help both new and veteran writers master POV.

So, if you own a Kindle (or know someone who does) check it out and let me know what you think!

A quick side note: Literary agent Rachelle Gardner kindly ran a writing contest on her blog that ended last night. Of course I had to enter. I posted my entry August 20, 2008 at 9:47 AM if you want to read it. Be sure to check out all the other great entries while you're there!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Waiting, Waiting...

Last week was good, even if I did end up blogging a day late. I heard a response on a short story I submitted to a website a couple of months ago. It's getting published at the beginning of September! I'm ecstatic. I'll post a link to it when it's up on the site.

I played around with Amazon's Digital Text Platform over the weekend. It's remarkably easy to use and a great way to self-publish for the Kindle. I just have a little more to do, then I'll have a short e-book for sale in the Kindle Store. Yes, I'll post a link to that as well for you Kindle owners.

Now for the reason this post title mentions waiting. I submitted a short story at the end of last week, and now I have to wait for the response. The waiting is the worst part of submitting. I'm crossing my fingers that I hear good news on the submission. I'd like to think I'm on a short story roll. If you remember, I had a short story published in Cantos earlier this year.

One thing that's going to keep me busy while I wait for a response is revising a women's fiction manuscript. My goal is to have it done by October, but at the rate I'm going, it may be October 2009. I'm determined to get that thing done so I can submit it. I'll update you every once in a while to let you know how it's going.

Have a great week!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Oh, cool!

This is my 90th post! Ten more posts, and I'll really have reason to celebrate.

Please accept my apologies for not posting yesterday. Between an overabundance of email and work, I'm a little overwhelmed at the moment. I'll try to remember what day it is next week and post on Tuesday and Thursday.

Have a great weekend everyone!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Keep It Real

What makes readers fall in love with a story? There are many things, but the important one for me is realism. If it doesn't seem like something that could actually happen, I can't get into the story.

I hear all of you asking about fantasy and sci-fi. How can that stuff seem like it could possibly happen? That's where suspension of disbelief comes in. The important thing is to keep your reader from reading a passage and snorting with laughter as he says, "That is so not possible!"

No matter how far out there your plot, world, or characters are, they need to feel realistic even when the main character has three heads and a pet dragon.

Now, I'm going to stick with contemporary and historical fiction, since those are the genres I'm most familiar with. One thing I've run into a lot in my own writing is wondering how to make the setting realistic or give a realistic portrayal of an ethnic group and people in certain occupations. I can't experience everything firsthand. World travel is expensive and to gain the knowledge I'd need of various cultures would be prohibitive time-wise. Plus, if I'm working on an historical, I obviously can't travel back in time.

So here's what I do. I read books, watch documentaries, do a ton of research online. I talk to people who have the knowledge I need. The trick is not getting so bogged down in the research that I start writing non-fiction or, worse, don't write at all. My solution to that is to research when necessary as I write the story. Since I write by the seat of my pants (no planning or outlining before I begin the story), I never really know what information I'm going to need until I come across it as I write. Depending on the story, I may do some preliminary research to give me enough background to write the first scenes believably, but the in-depth research comes later when I need something more specific than the general stuff I've already learned.

Here's an example of what I mean. I've absorbed a ton of information on the military, returning veterans, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) through news reports, articles, and documentaries. In true writer fashion, my mind started going "What if..." and I had an idea for a story. I started writing with my limited knowledge, asking a few questions here and there, then my story took a turn I hadn't expected. I suddenly needed more than a brief overview of PTSD and what life is like for American soldiers in Iraq. I went online and started utilizing the wonderful search engines out there.

I've spent a lot of time on the Army's website and the Veterans Administration site, as well as reading soldier blogs and blogs of their family members. PBS has been an invaluable resource as well. They've shown a few documentaries about soldiers, including one called "Voodoo's War" that sent cameras with a unit when they deployed to Iraq. The series "Carrier" also helped, even though that's Navy instead of Army. And I can never say enough about how great "Frontline" is.

I know I still have more research to do, and I'll probably find a veteran or two willing to read my story (if I ever get it finished) just to make sure I've accurately portrayed everything. Since PTSD plays a role in the story, I'm also considering finding a psychiatrist with the VA who'd be willing to look over the manuscript. Research is great for a writer, but nothing can compare to the insight of people who actually have experience with what you've written.

I'm sure I'll be rewriting several times, and in fact already know of one spot that needs some rewriting, but the extra effort is worth it for the sake of realism. If I can draw a reader into the story and have him experience everything with my characters no matter how far outside the reader's realm experience it is, I've done my job and made it realistic.

Those of you who write fantasy or science fiction and still achieve the goal of realism, you have my admiration. I couldn't do what you do.

Keep writing and remember to keep it real!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

What Am I Writing?

Have you ever started a story with one idea in mind, then suddenly realized your story was heading in a completely different direction? I go through this on a fairly regular basis, but that could be because I'm a pantser (someone who writes by the seat of her pants). Of course, I've heard from plotters (people who outline and plot before ever writing a word in the story) who get surprised by their characters.

Just a little while ago, my sister told me she'd started a story she thought was going to be a fantasy, but it was turning into a romance. She's never written a romance that I know of and I'm pretty sure she doesn't read them. I've talked enough about the romance genre (since I edit for a romance publisher) that I'm sure she's picked up a few basics. She didn't seem too thrilled about inadvertently starting a romance story, but here's the advice I gave her: just write the story and let it go wherever it wants to go.

She's a panster like me, so it's fairly easy advice to follow if she's willing to just let the words flow and not try to control the characters too much. One thing I've learned through my 13 years of writing fiction is that the characters can easily take control of the story. Once they do that, you just sit back and watch the story come to life as you type. If you try to get the character to do something he doesn't want to do, the story stalls out.

When you write like I do, and like several writers I know, you have to be flexible. If you have a set idea in mind for what your story is going to be and you're not willing to change that when the characters seem to have other ideas, you're going to spend a lot of time frustrated. I know, I've been there and done that. Once I let go and just wrote what I didn't want to, the words flowed freely and I fell in love with the new tack my story took.

So is it important to have some idea of where your story is going? Sure, because it'll give you a goal to work toward. But you also need to be willing to adapt your ideas as necessary or you're likely to end up with mechanical writing. Just because you want your story to go in a certain direction doesn't mean your characters (once you get to know them a little better) will want to go in the same direction.

Be flexible. Work with your characters' personalities and reactions to situations instead of against them. Your writing life will be easier and your readers will enjoy the story more if you don't try to force your characters into a story where they don't quite fit.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Storms, Storms, and More Storms

The one thing I don't like about summer (other than the high temperatures and humidity) is thunderstorms. Don't get me wrong, I love a good thunderstorm when I don't have to work and it's not the middle of the night. But we had storms yesterday, which cut into my work time since I work on a computer, and then last night we had more storms with a ton of lightning. Have you ever tried to sleep through a strobe light with an occasional clap of thunder? Not easy, I tell you.

I did manage to get a few hours of sleep. I woke up this morning planning what all I needed to do today since thunderstorms kept me from getting everything done yesterday, and guess what greeted me almost as soon as I opened my eyes? Yep, more storms. The weather is not my friend this week.

As you can tell since I'm writing this post, the storms are gone...for the moment. I have no doubt they'll be back soon. Probably right when I'm in the middle of something. Hopefully, the power won't go out before I can turn off my computer. That's already happened twice in the last month, and I lost data both times.

So, before the next rumble of thunder comes, I'm off to work. Have a great day and stay cool!