You Say Tomato…

Earlier in the week, I saw a literary agent proclaiming on Twitter the importance of knowing one’s genre. After all, she insisted, if all of the characters in your manuscript were of a certain age, could you really label your submission as Young Adult?

I understand her point in a way. After all, agents specialize in certain types of books. They have their niches, so to speak. If an agent represents literary authors and I send him or her a high fantasy novel claiming that it’s literary fiction, then I’ve wasted both of our time. Except, the line between those ideas…and, by that, I mean, what exactly do we call literary?…becomes blurred.

In my perspective, genre labels are used for two basic reasons. The first is to give the (potential) reader some idea of what to expect when they open the book. I’m immediately open to certain conventions when reading science fiction, for example, that might give me pause when reading a mystery. I know that an espionage thriller will contain certain plot formulae that would be resisted in other settings. In that way, I think that they’re useful.

The second is to allow booksellers to categorize them. When you’re in the mood for a certain type of book, you can find that shelf in your local bookstore, or browse to that category on your Nook or Kindle. In that way, brick-and-mortar bookstores aren’t all that different from digital storefronts…they have large amounts of products that require a hierarchical structure in order to organize them that they may better get them before potential readers.

And, I’m all for getting books in front of potential readers, because I want people to read my words, just as I want any writers’ hard work to be read and appreciated. And, earning money from that hard work, while it’s not really why we do it, is always an amazing feeling.

I foresee this near-future scenario, however,  in which our still somewhat basic genre categories become overbearing in their volume and weight. Those of us with a taste for these things can become a bit obsessive over the categories of what we read. To draw a musical parallel, you may be one of those people that disagrees with the genre labels for your iTunes purchases. When I buy music, I almost always go about editing the meta-data to reflect what I feel the true genre of the piece is, not what Apple’s marketing department felt that it is. We may enjoy listening to the same artist, but call the music different things. Alternative to me could very well differ from what you would consider alternative music, because there’s a perceptual lens that comes into play there. Think I’m wrong?  Let’s have a discussion about where the line between country and southern rock lies. You see my point.

Along those same lines, knowing that different readers will often gravitate to a writing style or a story moreso than a type of story, I think that genre descriptions are not foremost in many writers’ minds when we are crafting a story. Because of this, our stories can often cross the lines between those genres. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I think that, as new ideas for stories and characters are woven in an author’s mind, the equivalent to a new type of music can be created. How would iTunes have categorized hip-hop in a world where only jazz and R&B existed? How would we have classified science fiction in a world before Shelley gave us her Frankenstein monster? I don’t think that most readers are quite as fixated on genres as we might believe.

It’s in our nature to categorize things so that we may understand them. That’s what genres do. I don’t think that they’re a bad thing. I do think that making them laser-specific and rigid is a bad thing, because bending categories and creating things that prove elusive to labels is a beautiful experience in any art. It’s how an art form grows. And, when an art form grows, so do those who engage with it.

The Value of Inspiration

I’ve never claimed to be a visual artist.

I tried, mind you, when I was young, just as all children try their hands at drawing and painting. At the end of the day, though, while my drawing was a bit of an obsession for a while, my true sensitivity turned out to be auditory in nature, not visual. I think that’s why I’m a writer, because I hear the sounds of the words on the page the way they would be spoken. I’m just visual enough to do layout designs, which I’ve done in print and on the web, and I’ve done some scenic design work for the stage. I’ve done some lighting design, as well, but to draw or paint something beautiful on a blank canvas…that’s just not my gift.

Still, I’ve been friends with a great many visual artists over the course of my life, and I know how to appreciate the visual mediums. I’ve developed a taste for “what I like,” and Karen and I have occasional fun matching our disparate tastes in visual  aesthetics into a cohesive interior design. I find visual art inspiring for my writing. I’ve found some visual work on Tumblr that had a great impact on the character development of a major character in my work-in-progress.

I was thinking about this along the lines of when I see steampunk art or cosplays. I’ve never read anything in the genre, but seeing the art makes me want to read the genre. In fact, seeing the art makes me want to try my hand at writing it, as well, at some point in the future.

All that to say, it’s wonderful to see how one medium informs another. Our inspiration has to come not only from within our own medium or even our own genre, but from wildly different ones, as well.

Go looking. Stay inspired.

Waking to the New Year

Last night, with a quiet dinner, family, and a glass of wine, Karen and I relaxed as children played around us and the countdown to 2013 went on. The children were in bed by 9:00, the adults were soon in front of a movie (review to come…) and someone in the house was streaming some ball-dropping-coverage from Times Square. I made it a point to at least stay up to see that, because, as I determined last year, I needed some sort of marker in order to recognize the passing of one year into the next.

Of course, by 12:15, I was sound asleep. As I’ve said before…ah, parenthood.

Last year around this time, I put up a post about my goals for 2012. I’ve made some progress on most, less on some than others. In order to keep myself in check, here are my various states of progress:

1. I am in the process of changing careers for my day job. This was partly a need for a more creative outlet, and partly the need to be in a better position to meet family obligations. I’m attending an arts school for a quick technology certification that will be finished in May, at which point I will making a living in the world of the web and all of that snazzy code-writing that happens in the background. To that end, I’ll probably be brushing up some visual aesthetics around here, and I’ll be launching a page that will direct to all of my various adventures soon, and that will ultimately be my official author site when I finish this novel.

2. Speaking of the novel. I had a spurt of progress just as winter set in, during which I completed all but the most final section. That final section lives in outline form, so that all I have to do now is actually write it, which will bring me to the completion of my rough draft. It’s hard to believe that I’ve been working on Part II for a year now, and the entire project for over two, but it’s been a learning process as I’ve never written anything this long before, and I’m discovering just how much work goes into it.

3. I haven’t read nearly as much as I like, mostly because I’m a full-time student again, and so my reading is reading for class, not so much for pleasure. My two-books monthly rhythm has digressed into one novel per semester at my current rate, but, as I said, I’ll be finished in May. Until then, my to-read list keeps piling higher with each visit to Barnes & Noble.

4. Time for family has become a priority in that it’s such a precious commodity right now. That’s kept me from doing other things, but it’s been worth it. Comparing photos of our daughter from a year ago to where she is now takes my breath and makes my mind reel in disbelief at times.

Oh, and we moved to New England. I’m finding myself sorely in need of better gear in order to deal with these winters, but it’s a nice cultural change.

So, what does 2013 hold? The career change, firstly. I’m also determined to complete this novel and at least make serious editing progress to get it into the hands of beta-readers this year. Also, there are some side projects that have presented themselves to my word-smithing brain, and I’m hoping to dive into those, as well.

I wish you, my faithful readers, the best success and the most happiness in 2013. Let’s go on some adventures together…

Novel Update: Power Levels and Personalities

So, I promised more updates on the novel that has been my side project for…well, I don’t want to think about how long it’s taken me to get this far.

When I last wrote an update here, I guessed that I was within 100 pages or so of having a finished rough draft. I think that’s still the case, but I couldn’t progress any further with the actual writing until I had finished the planning process. I’ve been working off of the mind-map that I had originally put together for the project, and then outlining individual sections in detail. I’m a very detailed outliner…it makes the actual writing the last step in the process, but a much easier one. So, while Karen and our daughter were out of town for the weekend, I had time to spend thinking through a couple of plot issues that had arisen, and finish the outline for the last section of the novel.

The problems that I found myself having to work through…and I’m still tinkering with solutions to some of them…is tying together the point of the whole book while staying true to my protagonist’s personality. It works, just not in the way I initially envisioned. I had to re-structure the final conflict of the novel a bit, and I’m thinking that I may still need to do some tweaking.

In doing so, I realized that I’m walking dangerously close to making my villain too powerful. She has to be pretty bad news in order to offer a big challenge for the heroes to win over, but I’ve made her power level almost too high, and now I’m trying to decide how to compensate for that. Likely, I’ll end up doing some re-writes on earlier sections and pulling back some of the wild extremes of her ability. I’m guessing that, when I look at those sections with fresh eyes, that the extremes will feel out of character in any case.

So, the end result of the weekend’s work is a completed structural outline for the final section of the novel, with almost all of the small details finished, as well. With a little luck, I’ll have the entire rough draft finished by the beginning of the year! Here’s to optimism…

A Title, A Name, and Second Thoughts on an Ending

Writing seems to come in stops and starts even more so than usual, lately. What with starting school again for a few months, I’ve managed to spread myself pretty thin once more, and so my ideas tend to be transformed into lists that get placed on the proverbial “back burner” until I have time to flesh them out…which usually happens about once every other weekend, or so.

Since my last writing update, I don’t have any working outline for the final section of my novel. Which is actually a good thing, because there’s a part of the ending as it originally transpired in my head that I think is just going to have to be changed because, no matter how I approach it, it feels too gratuitous to me. I feel like its one of those writing moments in which I have to stop the bad stuff from coming out in such amounts that it poisons the good things. It’s going to take some work, too, because it’s a moment of epiphany for a major character, and without that epiphany, the entire plot is essentially pointless. That’s going to require some thought.

On the upside, though, I made a decision on the name of my protagonist…and that is that her name is going to stay what it is, because re-naming her would be way too forced and just wrong. I think I’ll change the way that she spells it, though…that doesn’t leave me with the bad taste that changing her name altogether did.

And I am close…oh, so close…to having a title. So close I can taste it.

That’s the odd part, because I’ve almost always worked from the title down in the past. That is, the title has always been one of the first things to pop into my head when I have an idea for a new project. That leaves me alternately really excited and really uncertain about this project. One thing is for certain, though…it’s going to be different. This project has turned out to be the culmination of this obsession I’ve developed lately with the nature of a hero. If nothing else, I need to finish this for myself to wrap up these thoughts into a coherent whole.

And, in other news, I sold a script today for an old project, and nothing gives you encouragement like knowing that people want to read your work.

Here’s to positivity on Mondays!