Rejection dejection!

Are you an aspiring author who is feeling down about the number of rejections you’ve received? Instead of engaging in some retail therapy this Black Friday, take five minutes out of your writing schedule to peruse this incredible collection of rejection snippets.

Future best-selling author.

Future best-selling author.

Here are a few good ones:

Despite 14 consecutive agency rejections Stephenie Meyer‘s Twilight goes on to sell 17 million copies and spends 91 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list.

“An absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull.” Rejection letter sent to William Golding for The Lord Of The Flies. 15 million sales.

“You have no business being a writer and should give up.” Zane Grey ignores the advice. There are believed to be over 250 million copies of his books in print.

Apparently, continual rejection may even be a sign of future success, so hang in there!

Photo credit: KatLevPhoto / Foter.com / CC BY-NC

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Kevin Spacey: “The audience has spoken. They want stories. They’re dying for them.”

As everyone knows, time flies when you’re having fun. And also when you’re writing a novel (which can sometimes be fun as well). So this video from 2013 of Kevin Spacey giving a speech about the importance of good storytelling has now become an “oldie but a goodie”. It recently popped back into my mind because I finished watching the third season of House of Cards on Netflix, in which Spacey stars as Machiavellian US president Frank Underwood. That, by the way, is a fantastic name for his character. He seems frank, while Underwood is a white-bread Anglo-Saxon surname that matches Frank’s down-home public persona. But on a subconscious level, the “underwood” is a dark place where things crawl, scuttle and lurk. This is the seedy underbelly of Frank’s political trajectory – the rotten roots of a gnarled tree that he and his wife Claire have watered with murder, deceit, sex, and drugs. Come to think of it, House of Cards is basically a Shakespearean supervillain tag team featuring Richard III and Lady MacBeth.

Spacey

Click on the photo to hear about storytelling, Spacey-style.

All this to say, storytelling is the currency of great entertainment, whether it appears on the small screen(s), big screen or the pages of a book. Just as television series such as The Sopranos, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and House of Cards are now arguably more artistically and culturally relevant than motion pictures, multi-novel book series have also increased in readership, relevance, and publishing income over recent years. Was the trend started by Harry Potter or the Twilight series? In Young Adult fiction, series have certainly become the norm, with subject matter varying from the Hunger Games to Mara Dyer and pretty much everything in-between.

The opportunity for an author is to do what Kevin Spacey describes in his speech: weave a storytelling web over literally years that features characters who change, grow, love, and sometimes unexpectedly die, leaving fangirls and boys wringing their hands and cursing the authors (all the while secretly loving the epic level of emotion, or as the parlance has it, the “feels”).

If done badly, a series of YA books becomes nothing more than a constant re-hashing of the storyline from book one. That’s just lazy. It means the author realized he or she had a cash cow and then milked it dry. The other option is to create a fictional world then keep expanding it in every direction. That’s keeping the cow and building a farm around it. And that’s what keeps readers coming b

The fiction of genre

Rod Serling, creator of the classic TV series The Twilight Zone (not a big field full of vampires, btw) once said that, “Fantasy is the impossible made probable. Science fiction is the improbable made possible.” It’s a neat definition, but unfortunately not super helpful when trying to define the genre of my upcoming book, Starley’s Rust. Why? Because the young people and medium-aged adults who buy YA lit don’t apply Serling’s definition; they apply their own, which in turn is based on how the marketplace defines the wide variety of genres and sub-genres that books fit into.

I’ve covered this subject before, with a little help from Shakespeare (he just did some proofreading) and came to the conclusion that book 1 of the trilogy, Silent Symmetry, was a paranormal mystery love story. But this always bugged me because it over-emphasized the paranormal aspect and didn’t mention either fantasy or sci-fi. The reality is that the Embodied trilogy is very soft sci-fi with major elements of fantasy. Yes, there’s love, but it certainly couldn’t be called a romance in either the Twilight or Harlequin sense. There’s a mystery, but it’s not what drives the plot, and the main character is no detective. There isn’t really any paranormal activity in the traditional sense either. But here’s where things get tricky, because the trilogy’s same fuzzy borderline between sci-fi and fantasy also borders on paranormal phenomena (not ghosts, but “psychic” mind control). The trilogy is actually straddling three genres. Good thing it has three legs.

Romance-anatomy, genre fiction, and romance.

I call them all novels, but apparently they’re a romance-anatomy, a genre fiction novel, and a romance.

Things get even more complicated when you start to research the academic analysis of literary genres. It turns out that a few hundred years ago, the novel itself was a genre because all people read were poetry and biographies and other non-fiction work until Cervantes and Defoe came along with their really long, made-up stories. The current New Yorker magazine has a fascinating article about the history of the genre in fiction and how tangled it has become.

The article quotes Canadian literary critic Northrop Frye, who divided novels into four distinct categories: novel, romance, anatomy, and confession, with a definition for each. It took me about thirty seconds to pick out three books mentioned in the article from my bookshelves, each of which, according to Frye, isn’t just a different genre, but an entirely different kind of book (of the three, only Crime and Punishment is a novel, apparently).

So now that I’m editing my editor’s edit of Starley’s Rust and requesting reviews in advance of its January publication date, the genre question has reared its ugly head again. The thing is, there’s an overarching category for these kinds of novels with non-realistic settings or features, and that’s “speculative fiction”. Sounds great, except that label doesn’t help readers figure out whether they might enjoy reading the book. And the main reason for that is that readers have so many options available to them that each genre has splintered and splintered again into a multitude of sub- and sub-sub-genres (not even counting market-based categories like “young adult” and “chick lit”).

Readers seem to be looking for very specific kinds of books. Even “vampire” isn’t accurate enough because there are “scary” vampires and “sweet” vampires and never the twain shall meet on the same nightstand. That’s why I designated Silent Symmetry as belonging to a clumsy, hyphenated mutant genre (could “sweet mutants” be a niche genre too?). But that’s really not good enough, I realize now.

Yes, the Embodied trilogy is speculative fiction. Absolutely 100%. It has distinct elements of fantasy, but also distinct elements of sci-fi. What you don’t want is to mislead anyone though, or put people off who might actually have enjoyed the book just because they saw the words “science fiction” and immediately thought they were zipping off to faraway planets or futuristic times. Fortunately, there’s another element in the trilogy that I’d overlooked and is an accepted sub-genre of speculative fiction: urban fantasy. Eureka! the Embodied trilogy isn’t swords-and-sorcery like The Lord of the Rings, but it does have a fantastical (spoiler!) and a terrifying (spoiler!) so fantasy fans will be happy.

There you have it. Right now, the Embodied trilogy is an urban fantasy. With some soft sci-fi. And a love story. With paranormal overtones. And a mystery. Although the biggest mystery of all is whether I’ll change my mind again when I write book three.

 

TMI

I’m not sure exactly when I learned what TMI stood for, but I’m guessing it was a couple of years ago. I also don’t know where I first heard it, or who explained to me that it means Too Much Information. The information in question isn’t an overload of data in the sense of Homeland Security staff being submerged by millions of intercepted emails from would-be terrorists, but instead in the context of, “Whoa, dude! It was kinda funny when you told the story about your grandmother’s colostomy bag exploding in the kitchen last night but, like, TMI! I totally did not need to know what came out of the bag.”

TMI presumably emerged from the texting generation (Gen Y) along with LOL, OMG, BTW and other acronyms/initialisms (though I can’t be bothered to research it; this is a blog post, folks, not a magazine article or academic paper) and has spread upward through the generations to mine, and maybe beyond. This migration of vocabulary from teens to older generations has been going on, like, forevah! Sorry, I slipped into teenspeak there. Which brings me to the matter in hand, which is the Young Adult novel. Since YA concerns teens by definition, an author working in the genre needs to make a conscious decision whether to go full-on teenspeak when writing teen dialog.

A young adult conversing with another young adult.

Unless you hang out with teens all the time or have teenage kids (neither being the case for me) if you want to write accurate or at least believable teenspeak, you need to do some research. It’s not that hard to, like, add the word “like” all over the place in your novel’s dialog, but North American teens use a wide range of specialized vocabulary, not all of which has yet become as mainstream as, say, “bling” or “homey”.

But this is where a big warning siren goes off in my head. Because the very last thing you want to do when writing YA fiction is to look like you’re trying too hard to be a teen. That’s just, so, like, WTF? Fo sho!!! And since I’m not publishing my YA novel Silent Symmetry under a pseudonym or trying to pass myself off as an actual teen, I need to have faith in my own ability to realistically render  my teen characters’ dialog, while also having faith in my readers’ willingness to suspend a modicum of disbelief (in the same way that they happily digest stories about vampires or futuristic death matches) and overlook teen dialog that sounds too “old-school”.

One funny thing I found out while I was researching teenspeak is that the young people of the world have now achieved an etymological breakthrough by finding a way to abbreviate the word “abbreviation” to “abbrev”. Or, maybe words just get shorter as they evolve, in the same way that technology gets smaller? I haven’t read The Hunger Games but now I’m wondering whether the novel’s futuristic teens speak solely in acronyms? I’m as much a culprit as anyone else in whittling down words, however. I often write Thx at the end of an email or find myself texting “k” instead of OK, which is really taking things to the limit.

Now that I’m rewriting Silent Symmetry, my conclusion is that the novel’s teenspeak is just fine. A real-life 19-year-old girl has read a draft and didn’t pick out anything untoward. But what do other YA readers or writers out there think? By all means share your opinions in the comments. K?

[Photo credit: Raymond Larose / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND]