"Is This A Kissing Book?"

Note: This post is *not* about romance novels or subgenres of romance (e.g. paranormal romance, romantic suspense, other genres containing the word romance). Romance, by definition, revolves around two characters getting a happily ever after. This post is about love interests in books that are *not* romance novels.

Despite being a romantic, I’m incredibly bored by actual romance. I don’t represent romance as a genre and it would be difficult to find a love story in books I represent that isn’t at least a little bit nontraditional. Don’t get me wrong; there are plenty of people who love cute, uncomplicated romances (and plenty of agents who represent them). I’m just not one of them. Why am I so heartless? 

Well, I’m not. I just need more convincing that these characters belong together. Romance readers (including the agents and editors who work with romance novels) have the ability to get swept up in the characters’ obvious devotion to each other. When we say “publishing is subjective” we mean it because the same way not everyone can suspend their disbelief for fantasy novels, I find it hard to suspend mine for romance. What I do love, though, is rooting for two characters to get together. Like tiny Fred Savage in The Princess Bride, I need to be tricked into liking romance. But once I’m hooked, I will shout for the main characters to just kiss already!

When I’m reading a novel and it’s clear love interests are starting to form, I prepare myself to ask the following questions:

1. Who are these characters outside of their attraction for each other? Do we see them do other things, have other friends, and have independent lives before the other person enters the picture?

2. Do they maintain that independent life even after the other person enters the picture?

3. Is the main plot of the novel (i.e. not their romance) strong enough to stand on its own?

4. Is it clear why they love each other? Is the writer showing me something deeper than an appreciation for good looks? 

5. Are the characters falling in love while they’re doing other things? Or do they just gaze at each other and call it love? (coughTwilightcoughcough)

Sorry I had something in my throat. Moving on.

If I can’t answer those questions then that type of romance is probably not for me. I don’t want to be happy the main characters got together because I was told I should be. I want to know it’s deserved and that they’ve both experienced life enough to make a real decision in the end. So that when Logan tells Veronica they should have been epic, I melt. Or when Jordan finally holds Angela’s hand, I feel her excitement. And while, yes, both of those scenes involve high school students, let’s not forget how we all feel right before a first kiss with a new person who just might be The Person. We’re all teenagers in that moment, and if you’re not you’re doing it wrong.

I’m a person who loves love, but I hate blind love. Give me two whole people coming together to share something because there’s no one else they can share it with, not because they need a second half. You characters deserve to find happiness on their own terms, and your readers deserve to feel satisfied by their decision.

Literary vs. Commercial

Last weekend I participated in the Writer’s Digest Conference Pitch Slam. After the event, an agent-friend and I discussed the pitches that got us excited, and there was one in particular that became the subject of a debate. I talked about a pitch for a magical realism novel that I couldn’t wait to read; she said the same about an urban fantasy. It took us all of ten seconds to realize we were talking about the same novel.

During the pitch, the author didn’t label his work with either genre, so we were left to fight over it. In her more commercially inclined hands, she would find an urban fantasy angle and exploit it to publishers. My tastes run more literary, so my mind ran with ideas of magical realism comparison titles and where I’d place it. (Keep in mind, neither one of us has read this manuscript yet, but this is what an agent needs to think about when hearing a 3-minute pitch.)

When I receive queries that claim to be literary fiction, it often turns out, after reading the synopsis, that they are very, very commercial. The flip side has happened too. I’ll request a supernatural thriller or dark mystery, with the intention of hopefully selling them to those specific markets, and the books turn out to be much more literary than the author probably realized.

I don’t think writers should get too hung up on labels, but it’s important to know the market in which you’re writing. You’re expected to give an agent an immediate sense of where they can sell your book, but even more than that you should be able to know who you’ll be next to on a bookshelf so that you can read your comparison titles accordingly.

Figuring out thriller vs. mystery vs. suspense vs. urban fantasy vs. supernatural vs. horror can be difficult, I know. In these cases, it’s best to just choose the closest and let a professional decide the best way they can sell it. But the line between literary and commercial isn’t as vague. You shouldn’t claim your book is literary fiction if it isn’t. For one, it’s rare you’ll find an agent who looks for literary fiction and commercial fiction with the same fervor, if they take on both at all. You don’t want to get a rejection based on a mislabel. Secondly, literary fiction can be quite different from commercial fiction, and not learning the difference can reflect a lack of research on your part.

The common argument, however, is that all books are technically literary. Right? Well, yes and no. Saying all books are literary is like saying all Young Adult novels are about characters under 25. Young is young, right!? Except, no. YA is for teens. Young is not just “young.” Like literary vs. commercial fiction, the genre labels can be misleading, which is why it’s important to know what they mean.

If you’re unsure about which you’ve written, here’s a quick definition of each:

Literary fiction: The focus is on character arc, themes (often existential), and the use of language. I like to compare literary fiction authors to runway designers. The general public isn’t mean to wear the clothes models display on the runway. They exist to impress the other designers and show the fashion industry what they can do. Literary writing is a lot like that, but on a more accessible level. Many dismiss literary fiction as “too artsy” and “books without a plot,” but this isn’t true. At least not most of the time. The plot is there; it’s just incidental. Literary fiction is meant to make the reader reflect, and the author will almost always prefer a clever turn of phrase over plot development.

Commercial fiction: If you write genre fiction, you are likely writing commercial fiction. There is also “literary genre” fiction, such as people like David Mitchell, Aimee Bender, Margaret Atwood, Gillian Flynn, etc. Meaning their use of language is equal to their attention to genre conventions. For the purpose of this blog post, let’s pretend that when I say “genre” in place of “commercial,” I’m talking about the ones that aren’t literary or “crossover” hits. I’m referring more to the ones that only fans of that genre know to look for, and usually come in a nice convenient mass market-sized package. [There is also “upmarket” commercial fiction, which I’ll get to later.] Unlike literary fiction, genre fiction is written with a wide audience in mind (aka “commercial”) and always focuses on plot. There is still character development in genre fiction, but it is not as necessary. Characters get idiosyncratic quirks, clever dialogue, and often learn something new about life or themselves by the end. The difference is that their traits are only skin deep. The reader stays with them in the present. Rarely do we see a character’s past unless there is something pertinent to the plot back there. Genre fiction has a Point A and a Point B, and very little stands in the way of telling that story.

An agent or editor will rarely prefer you play with these formats, especially if you’re a debut author trying to find (and build) your audience. If you’re writing a plot-driven genre novel that adheres to a sci-fi, romance, or thriller structure, don’t try to load it with literary devices and huge character back-stories that aren’t relevant to the plot. It won’t impress an agent if you have a super literary genre novel. It will more likely confuse us and make your book harder to sell.

“Upmarket” fiction is where things get tricky. Readers don’t know that word and don’t care, and there’s never a reason to pitch your book as “upmarket” if it doesn’t fall within a specific genre, but if you ever hear an industry person asking for “upmarket,” we mean the type of books that straddle a literary/commercial line. Books like The Help, Water for Elephants, Eat, Pray, Love, and authors like Nick Hornby, Ann Patchet, and Tom Perrotta are considered “upmarket.” Their concepts and uses of language appeal to a wider audience, but they have a slightly more sophisticated style than traditional genre fiction, and touch on themes and emotions that go deeper than the plot. Contemporary/realistic (a.k.a. “genre-less” fiction), “women’s fiction,” or other books your book club suggests are most likely “upmarket.”

With debut authors, I think the main source of uncertainty tends to come from what they set out to write vs. what they actually write. Genre fiction is written with a clear purpose. The author has an idea and writes a story to accomplish their goal. Literary fiction can be more accidental. A writer may start with an idea, and then discover along the way that they don’t want to write about that anymore. They’ve fallen for their character’s personal tale or the images they want to evoke within the reader. If the writing ends up falling somewhere in the middle, then it might be considered “upmarket.” Or, it could mean it needs more focus one way or the other.

What’s important to remember is that none of these types of fiction is better than the other. It’s all about personal preference, based on what you like to read and how you write. If an agent doesn’t represent a certain genre, it doesn’t mean he or she think it’s bad. It just means you’re better off with someone else. Be aware that a genre label can influence an agent, but be honest about what your genre is. It wastes everyone’s time – most importantly, yours – if you try to guess what you think agents want. We want books we can fall in love with that fall under in genres and styles we represent, whether they’re young adult, adult genre fiction, or literary to a Proustian degree. That’s all.

Putting the A in YA

Last week I had an interesting conversation about “New Adult” with the author of this article, “Where Are All The Young “Adults?” She lamented – with good reason – that there is nothing for her to read that’s written specifically for her, at age 22. The closest a genre has come to successfully targeting those in their early twenties is the sub-genre Chick Lit in the late ’90s/early ’00s. Twentysomething males or women looking for something in a different genre were out of luck. I understand why the 18-25 crowd is frustrated with their lack of options, and their confusion over why Young Adult doesn’t include them.

YA is a sub-genre of fiction written specifically for (and starring) high school aged teens. If they are out of high school, the book is not a YA. (Note: There is some leeway with freshmen in college and 18-year-old protagonists, but those are on a case-by-case basis, and truthfully, if you want the book to be marketed as YA, you better have a darn good reason for making them that old.)

I wish YA was called something else (Teen Lit, perhaps?). For one, the name implies that the intended audience are adults. They’re not. Teens are what happen before adulthood and after childhood. I mentioned before that the term “teenager” didn’t come into the mainstream lexicon until the 1950s, and it took almost 40 years for YA – as a genre name – to have its own section in a bookstore. That’s a long time to wait for recognition, and as we all know too well, YA – even in its Renaissance Period of today – barely gets the respect it deserves.

Bringing me to “New Adult,” a sub-genre of fiction trying semi-hard to exist in the post-YA, pre-adult marketplace for those between the ages of 18 and 25. I am all for this. The college experience, figuring out grad school, jobs, not living off your parents, etc. are hard to deal with and they are certainly not “adult” concerns.  They deserve their own literature. So why hasn’t it caught on yet?

To me, there are two reasons why New Adult isn’t a marketable genre, and why it probably won’t be for at least another ten years. 

Theory #1: Before “teenager” came into the lexicon, there wasn’t a need to think of them as something different. Pop culture hadn’t given them a voice yet. They didn’t have rock ‘n roll or heartthrobs or beach movies being marketed directly to them. The concept of marketing to teens separately from adults and children was something that lasted well through the ’80s. But then, the ’90s happened and the “twentysomething” was born. (OK, well technically they were born in the ’70s, but you know what I mean.)

Teens were still being directly marketed to, but now another group of people had their own language and pop culture – Gen X. They read books by Bret Easton Ellis (found in the adult section) and watched movies like Slackers and Dazed and Confused. “Grown-ups” didn’t understand them, and teenagers only looked admiringly at them from afar (like I did).

This idea of an extended adolescence wasn’t something that previous generations had the privilege of experiencing. Gen X was the first generation to come out of the Baby Boomers. Many of them were the first of their families to go to college, have a choice other than marriage or military, and live without mortgages and jobs and car payments just a little bit longer. 

When you think of how long it took for YA to become a genre after teenagers were finally given a name, New Adult even being discussed as a possibility feels like progress. Even a “Big 6” publisher has started looking for titles under that heading. Knowing this, I don’t think New Adult will take quite as long as YA to get recognized by the masses. The fact remains, however, that it’s not a sub-genre that exists yet.

When I get queries for New Adult, I’m torn. I can either request it, knowing I’m only going to tell the writer to make it older or younger. Or, I end up rejecting it if I know the story can’t be older or younger. As much as I think New Adult should be a genre, I know there’s nothing I can do about it all by myself. Writers can’t write for a marketplace that doesn’t exist, and agents can’t sell to a publisher if the publishers can’t sell it to a bookstore. So, for now, that 20-year-old protagonist who’s still in college who you think teens should read about is going to get placed in the general adult fiction section of most major bookstores.

Theory #2: Like I said, New Adult will happen eventually, but the fact remains that it will need to sell in order to prove itself. And, well, I’m skeptical. I think New Adult is great in theory, but as someone who’s no longer in that 18-25 age range, I speak for only for myself when I say it’s unlikely I’d look in the New Adult section of a bookstore to find something to read. While I make exceptions to any genre I’m not particularly drawn to, New Adult holds very little interest to me. So, why? After all, I read YA.

For one, maybe there’s just not enough distance between my current age and the New Adult age, so I’ve had less time to feel nostalgic for it. (And egad! Why on earth would anyone want to re-live being 22??) But I don’t read YA because I’m nostalgic for high school. I read YA because of the emotions it evokes, and knowing that the human experience at that age is pretty universal.

It’s true that not everyone goes to the same type of high school, or even goes to high school, but everyone goes through puberty. Everyone feels what it’s like to not understand any of your emotions or why they are suddenly happening all at once or why hugging your parents is much more embarrassing than it was the year before.

With New Adult, there is no universal experience. Within the genre, there are too many niche markets to consider, which makes it that much harder to place. Not everyone goes to college or makes the same choices when entering adulthood. Even within the group who goes to college, the experiences differ in ways that are much more polarizing than going to different high schools. No matter what kind of high school you went to, we were all forced to take the same general courses or participate in the same extracurricular activities. 

The Gen X definition of twentysomething created the template for the next generation, but it’s still considered a privilege to go to college, to live off your parents, to have an extension on avoiding adulthood. If you ask the person who opted to get married and have kids right after high school, or even right after college, their experience of being a New Adult will look a lot closer to what those who chose to wait consider Real Adult.

So, then, is New Adult really “College Lit?” That creates an even smaller market. There’s a reason “The College Years” of high school TV shows fail. There’s just not enough people who care. The original teen audience can’t relate, the adults out of college think of it as too young, and the actual target audience is too busy being in college, working, or starting families to watch TV or read for fun.

To current 18-25 year olds, I know this sucks for you. It’s not your fault you’re the 1st group of New Adults to exist after Gen X (unknowingly) gave you a name. And it’s not your fault no one thought of creating books for you, anticipating your arrival. Someone needs to be the pioneer, and unfortunately that someone is going to be you. Write stories about your experiences, as different and as wide-ranging as they may be. Give us something to listen to, and we’ll respond. We might just take a while. 

What Do You Write?

I know I don’t let her out very often, but I’m speaking to you today as Writer Sarah. As most of you know, I also write. By which I mean, sometimes I jot down a paragraph that could someday end up in a novel, and then let it sit for months without writing anything new because “free time” is a thing of myth and legend.

But, sometimes I write.

In New York, if you say you’re working on “a novel,” the response is not “Oh, how interesting. What’s it about?!” It’s more likely to be a subtle eye roll and a polite “oh” with the clear subtext: “Yeah, who isn’t?” I appreciate this about New Yorkers. Nobody here is special, and many New Yorkers will think nothing of reminding you of that fact. It’s one of the things non-New Yorkers think is “rude” about us, but it’s actually quite refreshing.

New Yorkers in general might not care about what I’m working on, but when friends and family hear I’m writing a novel, they ask the inevitable “What do you write?” It’s a harmless enough question, but I hate answering it. Mostly because this is what usually happens:

Q: What do you write?
A: Fiction.
Q: Yeah but what kind?
A: For teens.
Q: Is it a mystery? Scary? Romance?
A: No. Just fiction.
Q: That sounds boring. You should add vampires to it.
A: ::falls over and dies::

Or this happens:

Q: What do you write?
A: I’m working on a young adult novel right now.
Q: What like vampires?
A: No, like just regular fiction. But for teens.
Q: ::does not compute:: ::thinks I’m not a “serious writer”::

I feel the need to give my credentials when people give the “you write for teens?” look. It’s mocking and ignorant and I’m always tempted to quote Shakespeare and rub my MFA diploma in their faces (if I knew where said diploma was). But I don’t do that and instead just say to myself “Yep, YA. Oh you don’t know understand what it is? You must be really stupid then.” and merrily walk away. (I hope you other writers do the same. But seriously, only say it to yourself. Not out loud.)

Maybe my “non-specialness” of being a New Yorker has made me shy away from this question. Truthfully, I’m more concerned about coming off like a novice, even though that’s exactly what I am. So, I’m curious what you real writers answer when asked “What do you write?” Do you downplay what you’re working on out of modesty? Do you proudly offer your genre even if it’s not taken seriously by the less-informed? Or do you just ignore people and keep typing?

Happy Writing this weekend 🙂

When You Should Go Back to the Future

Some of you may have heard me say (via the Twitter) that I don’t like historical novels, particular in YA. Then, as if by a miracle (or sheer hypocrisy), I may have tweeted last week that I had requested a historical YA manuscript. I surprised myself with this, and asked myself why this particular query stood out where the many, many others did not. Here’s what I came up with. (Editors note: For the purpose of this blog post, “historical novel” will mean any novel that takes place in the past, not necessarily centered on a specific event.)

This Story Can’t Be Told in Any Other Time.
The triumphs and struggles of human beings on a personal level transcends any decade. When deciding when to set your story, ask yourself if this story could be told just as easily in present-day. The Diary of Anne Frank, for example, cannot. The Vampire Diaries, however, can. It wouldn’t matter if Elena is a young hippie from the ’60s, a tech-crazy gamer in the ’90s, or (as it stands) fairly popular former cheerleader in present-day Mystic Falls. Likewise, it wouldn’t matter if Stefan and Damon were turned into vampires in the 1400s, 1800s, or last week. The plot is independent from personal attributes.

Most historical novels are centered on a historical event, making it so the characters’ lives have to be effected by it (i.e. the Nazis are coming, the British are coming, the atomic bomb is coming, etc.) That’s not to say that your non-event-focused novel wouldn’t still work in a different setting. If your characters are products of their time – say, sexual repression in the ’50s, sexual expression in the ’60s, or greed and excess in the ’80s – then those settings are just as important to the story as the plot or characters.

Too often, however, character-driven novels, or even plot-driven novels, are set in a time period that does not add to the writer’s intentions. It is simply there. Because references and technology and general language change from decade to decade (or year to year, if it’s this decade), most of the time these other time periods distract from, rather than enrich, the story.

The Novel Was Not Any More or Less Difficult to Write.
I see this more in YA. Or more accurately, when the generation gap between Writer and Intended Audience is wider than ten years. I was wondering why so many YA queries were being set in the ’80s and ’90s until I realized the pattern – the writers were teens during those decades. It’s true that I didn’t experience high school through a Facebook lens and that most of us did not even have cell phones in our YA days, let alone MG days. Like most people my age and older, I wouldn’t even begin to speculate how strange (and normal) it is now to grow up in world where no one thinks twice about having a “public life.”

But, no one said writing was easy.

It’s not your job as a writer to recreate your own experience, slap a historical label on it, and think teens will be able to relate. Sometimes they might, but usually they want someone to reflect their experience. YA and MG exists because teens are people too. They get adults telling them about how their generation doesn’t understand “real life” all the time. They turn to books to escape all that. And unlike previous generations, they don’t have to yawn their way through their parents’ bookshelves anymore.

The writer’s own experience is not always the reason contemporary stories get thrown to the past. If you’re writing a mystery, think of how much more suspense could be sustained if there was no Internet. You don’t quite get the same dark intrigue when the answer to “Let’s see who you really are!” is just “Oh, I already Googled him.” It’s true, you lose a little with technology and it is hard to know how to work around it or use it to your advantage. But like in all facets of life – especially in publishing – ignoring technology does not make it go away.

The Year Is Not Overemphasized.
After you’ve considered the above, and you still decide that your novel needs to be set in a year that is not the current one, remember to let your story speak for itself. Otherwise, your completely necessary setting ends up becoming a gimmick. Nobody wins when something is a gimmick. Even TV shows like That ’70s Show ended up abandoning that premise in favor of actual character development. Instead of a parade of bell-bottoms, disco mockery, and vague jokes about oil embargoes, the show ended up being about a group of young people who rarely even mentioned the decade they were living in. They just wore Kiss t-shirts and bad hairstyles.

Once you’ve established what year your novel is taking place, trust your reader to know that. Overemphasis happens more – at least when I see it – when it’s recent history, things the author has lived through. Avoid sentences like “Tiffany spilled her Crystal Pepsi all over her new L.A. Gear high-tops, making her late for her jazzercise class.” If your story takes place in the ’50s, your character doesn’t necessarily need to try on a poodle skirt or swoon over Bobby Rydell. Over-referencing a decade will only take your reader out of your story, which is the last thing any writer, agent, or editor wants.

Another sentence that makes me want to get out my proverbial red pen often happens in nonfiction or in 1st person. It’ll go something like “Back then, we didn’t have [insert technological advancement here].” These sentences are always awkward to read and they are detrimental to the story for two reasons:
1) They abruptly speak directly to the reader, who may or may not have been spoken to before this moment.
2) They remind the reader they are being told a story, rather than have them experience it for themselves.

On the whole, I suppose I do have to admit I enjoy historical fiction. Sure it’s not my favorite, but when it’s done well and done for a specific purpose, it can be really great. Personally, I like stories to be told in the present if only because I prefer stories that are character-driven and those are the stories that are timeless.

My broken-record advice on this blog though is always to write the story you want to write. You’re the only who can decide the most necessary way to tell your story. But forcing a setting on your readers might end up being a fruitless attempt. What your readers take from your story is out of your hands, so you might as well focus your efforts on telling it in the best possible way.

You Are Not Original (and that’s OK)

We want to believe we are unique little snowflakes. As writers, we create, and we want to believe that what we create is the most original concept that readers will ever see. Nine times out of ten, this just won’t happen. We are not snowflakes. We are barely a box of multi-colored pencils. And for writers, that’s just fine. In most fiction, genre fiction especially, the same premises get repeated. It’s not plagiarism; it’s just normal. In fact, it’s how some sub-genres form in the first place. That said, most of these books use this basic, universal premise as simply a guide. How the writer chooses to enrich that structure is what separates good writing from the forgettable, regrettable wannabes.

I don’t know what it is about January so far, but it seems as if everyone’s New Year’s resolution was to finish their novel and start querying agents right away. While I appreciate the motivation, this is more damaging than good. To put it another way, the number of queries I’m getting per day this month are almost double that of what I was getting in December. The number of manuscripts I’m requesting, however, has more than halved. This is in part because of what I’m talking about above. People seem to be so quick to get out their manuscripts that they’ve forgotten to enrich their basic plot to make it stand out.

Before you send out your query to agents, make sure that when you sum up your book in those few, precious sentences, there is more to it than what’s implied.

Paranormal Romance & Non-romance: I recently tweeted, “In a severely crowded paranormal market, your plot needs to be more complex than ‘MC becomes/is/loves a non-human & must deal.'” I can’t stress this enough, especially since I get more queries for paranormal than any other genre. Agents and editors only want “the next Twilight” in terms of wanting another massively successful series that will make boatloads of cash for everyone involved. This does not mean we’re asking for “girl falls in love with a vampire and is conflicted about it.” It’s been done to death (undeath?)! It’s also not a twist if the person who falls in love with the non-human is a boy, nor does the female character become “strong” simply by being a vamp, wolf, zombie, etc. Sorry.

Literary fiction: People in the suburbs are not what they appear to be. Marriages that are seemingly perfect are actually rooted in resentment and possible adultery. Professor at a liberal arts college has an affair with a student. People living in Brooklyn do things that are seemingly more meaningful than what you’re doing (yep, looking at you, 90% of literary fiction authors!). Sure, these premises continue to work in literary fiction (hey, I still buy them), but unless your last name is, in fact, Franzen, you will need to give your mournful suburbanites a little more depth.

Mystery/Horror: While these two genres are not the same thing, I’ve been getting a lot of cross-genre queries lately that read like tag lines from teen scary movies from the ’90s. A group of people win a trip to a haunted house. A person who believes in ghosts begins seeing them for real. A killer runs rampant in a small town and is more often than not, the main character’s boyfriend/best friend/long-lost relative. Usually all of these premises are offered with a wink. They’ll provide a character who speaks for the audience by his or her cynicism and references to classic movies. There is nothing inherently wrong with doing this. It’s fun to write and it’s fun for the reader. But try not to rely solely on formula here. It’s harder to resist the temptation to do so in these genres, so make sure to add a little twist here and there that strays from the expected. What’s even more difficult is that in these particular genres, the “unexpected” is now what’s expected. (Thanks a lot, Hitchcock!)

Contemporary YA:Your main character’s parents are dead or otherwise absent, so he or she grows up too fast by either a) being overly responsible, mature, and “good” or b) drinks and parties, but is still wiser & wittier beyond his or her years. Then they meet or come across a catalyst for their path to self-actualization. Congratulations, you have a character portrait! But, this is not an engaging story by itself.

Science fiction: A boy (usually a boy) who is an orphan (usually an orphan) must defend his planet/galaxy/race/family because he is The One. A quest is involved. He also has some personal connection to the Force of Evil. This is called Every Sci-fi and Fantasy Novel You’ve Ever Read or Movie You’ve Ever Seen. Luke, Harry, Ender, Frodo, Jesus, Perseus – all of our heroes have the same story when it’s boiled down to one sentence. Think of how these stories stand out from each other before starting your next project. (To my fellow nerds, please refrain from yelling at me about why I’m wrong to compare Frodo to Perseus.)

Dystopian: The world as we know it has been destroyed by a virus! The world as we know it has been destroyed by climate change! The world as we know it has been destroyed by economic turmoil! The novel has been destroyed by Find & Replace! Writers, no matter how the world as we know it ends and no matter what the world you’re writing about is like, make what happens in that world worth caring about. Romance? Adventure? Mystery subplot completely unrelated to how the world has changed? All examples of how to bring your dystopian (another insanely crowded market) to the next level.

I could go on to give the basic formula for “chick lit,” but I’ll save you all some time and say that no one should use that phrase anymore and please don’t write it anyway. Thanks 🙂

Have a good weekend, everyone!

Genre Pressure

Since we’re all friends here, I feel comfortable admitting the following to you all…

I’m just not crazy about Battlestar Galactica. There, I said it.

Oh, and you know what author I just cannot, for the life of me, get into? Gary Shteyngart.

I know. Those two things have absolutely nothing to do with each other. Not on the surface anyway.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I recognize Gary and Battlestar for their objective superiority in their given genres and even would go so far as to say I like them. I’m afraid that’s just not enough for me though. You see, I’m supposed to love them.

This is what I call Genre Pressure. As a fan of well-written science fiction, and as a fan of literary fiction, I should be ALL ABOUT these things. I even love all Brooklyn Jonathans. In fact, I continually pick up stories about self-obsessed writerly types in NYC even though it’s so incredibly lazy and cliche… I eat ’em up though! So why don’t I love Gary?

Genre Pressure works in mysterious ways. It’s the literary equivalent of “he’s just not that into you.” Only, it’s much harder to admit to yourself. No one wants to betray their favorite genre, especially when everyone you completely respect tell you all the time that “OMG You would totally love this!” So usually, I lie.

But nope, not today. I’m coming clean. Well, at least about these two specific examples.

What about you? Who else among us have secretly betrayed their genre of choice for the sake of fitting in?

What’s Your Genre?

A question to ponder on a Monday…

If your life were a novel, what genre would it be?

I’d like to think of mine as magical realism (hey, I can dream) with a hint Salinger-esque coming of age angst, but it’s probably more “literary chick lit.”

What’s yours?

Black Monday

Now that Thanksgiving is over, it is time to think about Christmas shopping. I know some blogs (like Moonrat’s) have already started their gift-giving guides, but I just couldn’t bring myself to think about such things pre-Thanksgiving. Obviously, the best gifts you can give someone are not those from fancy department stores or even those you make yourself out of the kindness of your hearts. They are BOOKS!

In case you are at a loss of what to buy, here are some suggestions by genre that I hope will help/influence:

Nonfiction: Eating the Dinosaur by Chuck Klosterman. Klosterman is best known for his spot-on commentary on pop culture. Last year he ventured into fiction territory with Downtown Owl, but now he’s back with a new collection of essays that makes me very excited. If you like debating whether Barack Obama is the best spokesperson this country has ever seen, or how ABBA and AC/DC really aren’t all that different, then this book might make you excited too.

Literary Fiction: Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby. In true Hornby style, this book has musical obsessions, mid-life crises, and emotionally stunted characters. I admit I wasn’t a huge fan of Hornby’s past couple novels, but this book is definitely back in the same league as High Fidelity and About a Boy. I also want to give a shout out to Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead, which has been on my “I know I will love this!” list all year.

Sci-Fi/Fantasy: Wicked Game and Bad to the Bone by Jeri Smith-Ready (for your vampire needs, and for your VAMPIRE DEEJAY needs!) OK, I know. We’re all vamped out. But these vamps are not sparkly, nor do these books feature a mousy damsel just waiting for a purpose when suddenly a brooding, sexy vampire walks into her life. Smith-Ready’s heroine is a con artist who runs a radio station and her deejays are vampires who only play music that was popular when they “turned.” Let’s face it: vampires are, and always will be, awesome. And these books are a welcome change in the my-boyfriend-is-a-high-school-[insert something supernatural here] trend that won’t go away.

Mystery/Thriller: In the Woods and The Likeness by Tana French, and The Sookie Stackhouse Mysteries (yes, more vampires) by Charlaine Harris. French and Harris write mysteries in that their books open with crimes and end with culprits. But what happens in between isn’t just a set of clues routinely found by some down-and-out cop or young, handsome detective. They create wonderfully complex and interesting characters, strong female leads, and plots that keep you hooked.

Children/YA: Lips Touch Three Times by Laini Taylor. This book for young teens features three fairy tale novellas, each dealing with the simultaneous excitement, pain, beauty, and consequences of a first kiss. For those less fantasy-inclined, Love, Aubrey by Suzanne LaFleur is heartbreakingly real. In it, eleven-year-old, Aubrey, copes with the deaths of her father and sister, and the absence of her mentally unstable mother, in this novel written in a series of letters.

Cookbook: The Pleasures of Cooking for One by Judith Jones. This book was written for people like me who, when left to my own devices, think nothing of microwaving some popcorn or licking a spoon clean of peanut butter and calling it dinner. I love the title and its subtle empowerment for single people. It could also be a great gift for couples. What’s sexier than competing over who prepares their single serving first? Loser does the dishes.

Comics: OK, I’ll admit I’m not that into comics or graphic novels (I only support those written by or associated with Joss Whedon), so I may not be the best person to take gift suggestions from. However, one webcomic that I read daily is Dinosaur Comics, which to me is what greatness looks like. Lo and behold, its creator, Ryan North, put out a tangible “best of” collection, appropriately titled, The Best of Dinosaur Comics: 2003-2005 A.D. Amazon’s author bio simply reads: “Ryan North is awesome, all the time.” So true.

If I’ve missed any genres, it means I probably don’t read them enough to have real suggestions, and therefore don’t want to mislead you. However, Publisher’s Weekly has a pretty comprehensive list if you’re so inclined.

So Happy Shopping everyone! And remember – buying books says you love, but buying books from your local independent bookstore says you care.