Monday Musings: Micro-Genres?

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by Kathleen Valentine

genreRecently I received an email from Audible.com in which they offered a list of what they called “micro-genres” in their audio books. I found it pretty interesting and it got me thinking about quirky trends that I had been referring to as “sub-genres” but these are even more sub than that.

Awhile back, I came across possibly the most bizarre trend I’d ever seen and now I know it has to be a micro-genre. This is in the field of erotica—not a category I spend much time thinking about—and it had to do with dinosaurs. Yes, you read the right—sexy dinosaurs. I am not really sure if these are shape-shifting dinos. Shape-shifting seems to be a definite micro-genre so it could be either. I was not sufficiently curious to read far enough to find out.

So I looked up micro-genre and discovered the term has been around for awhile. Most of the references I found referred to contemporary music or to movies. Netflix, the huge online movie rental giant, has genres within genres, within genres. Those of us who publish with Amazon are also aware of these sub>sub>sub>sub genres when we try to find the best ones for our books. I have seen books on Amazon so deeply buried in sub-genres that it was hard for me to imagine more than one such book existed.

So here are a few of the trending micro-genres according to Audible:

Works on Art: This is mostly novels, but some non-fiction work, that revolves around an artist or a work of art examples being The Girl with the Pearl Earring, The Lady in Gold, and Vanished Smile. It seems to be genre that is growing in popularity as I have noticed writers like Alice Hoffman and Ross King producing these stories.

Communing with Animals: Some of these are loosely based in science others are just warm and cuddly tributes to animal friends and companions. Popular titles are The Genius of Birds, The Soul of an Octopus, and What a Fish Knows. I’ll let you sort them out.

The Drug Trade: The drug trade has captured the public imagination both the illegal trade as discussed in American Desperado and At the Devil’s Table, and the explosion of legal prescription drugs and their uses as in ADHD Nation and In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts.

Alternate History: I’m actually surprised to see this called a micro-genre because it has been around for awhile and is very popular from what I’ve seen. One of the best, in my opinion, is Stephen King’s 11.22.63 which I loved. The very popular Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell has recently been turned into a Netflix series. Other popular titles include The Years of Rice and Salt and Underground Airline. Hey, why not give it a try? It could have happened…

Handyman Romance, Cowboy Romance, Highlander Romance, Navy SEAL Romance: There is no end to this and all you have to do is go to Amazon and search one of those phrases. In fact, for your entertainment, I did that and the results show: Handyman Romance – 397 (including “handyman bear shape-shifter” I’m not kidding), Cowboy Romance – 500+, Highlander Romance – 500+ including a sub-micro genre, Medieval Highlander Romance, Navy SEAL Romance – also 500+.

There are a lot more micro-genres. For writers seeking a category in which they can see their books rise quickly through the ranks it can be worth your while to explore micro-genres that might fit. This could be your chance to rank #1 in a category—all you have to do is find it.

Thanks for reading.

P.S. I couldn’t help myself–I just checked and there are 500+ listings for “dinosaur erotica.” Just in case you wanted to know.

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Monday Musings: The [Write] Right Word

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by Kathleen Valentine

twainIt happens to all of us—we comb through our manuscript looking for the teensiest mistake. We have our first readers, our editors, our friends who owe us a favor—anyone we can think of—read that manuscript and let us know of any mistakes. We are convinced we have caught everything and then the minute we upload to digital or print publishing sites, we see it. And we want to die. Rats! How did that get by us?

Even big publishing houses publish books with glaring errors. I was reading a psychological thriller by a well-known author, published by a big name publisher and there in the middle of a chase scene, when I was fairly breathless following, the heroine “slammed on her breaks.” What a way to ruin a scene. Maybe there are readers who don’t notice these things, but I always do. Partly it annoys, but I also feel some sympathy because it’s happened to me and to most authors I know.

On my laptop’s desktop I have a chart explaining the notoriously problematic lay/lie/laid quagmire. I consult it frequently and still get it wrong a lot. And to this day I am prone to bungle effect and affect. I understand the distinction but I still get it wrong. Recently, I came across a list of words that cause confusion that caught my attention because, frankly, I never considered how easily confusable the words were.

Bated vs. Baited: I knew one waits with “bated breath” but did not realize the reason for it–”bated” is short for “abated” meaning “held in anticipation. Of course, “baited” is what fishermen have done to hooks for centuries.

Loathe vs. Loath: “Loathe” means to hate or despise. It is a verb and its usage is fairly obvious. “Loath” is a little trickier. It is an adjective meaning “unwilling” or “reluctant.” It is almost always followed by the word “to.”

Torturous vs. Tortuous: These are tricky because something can actually be both, but they have different meanings. “Torturous” means “causing the feeling of being tortured.” “Tortuous” means “twisty, winding, full of twists and turns.” Mostly I relate this to writing—when a plot becomes overly tortuous it can feel torturous.

Hearty vs. Hardy: These are fairly close in meaning but there is a distinction. “Hearty” implies things that are warm and nourishing—things that have heart. “Hardy” implies tough, rugged, durable—things that are hard.

Insure vs. Ensure: Again, these are very close in meaning because they imply making sure something does or doesn’t happen. But when we “ensure” something, we are providing assurance that this thing will or will not happen—it is a personal commitment. “Insure” is more of a guarantee from an external source—such as purchasing insurance.

There are a lot more words that can be added to the list. Are you aware of words that you have a tendency to confuse? Are there words you often see misused that drive you crazy? For me, it always seems worth taking the time to look it up.

Thanks for reading.

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Monday Musings: The Author & Social Media Hang-Outs

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by Kathleen Valentine

Lola2As I continue my never-ending quest to navigate the ins and out of social media marketing for books, I, like most independent authors, spend a lot of time wondering what on earth I’m doing. Lately I have been reading about “social media hang-outs” for fans of an author’s books or series. It took me awhile to figure all this out, but what it amounts to is creating a place on social media—Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter seem to be popular platforms—where an author can interact with readers in sort of a secret club. Some of these groups are by invitation only and are closed to the uninvited, others are open to whoever wishes to join. Since I don’t belong to any, I don’t know what goes on in them and, frankly, I prefer not to think about it.

However, recently I started thinking about how to go about creating one. I have a personal account and an author’s account on Facebook. I have a blog that gets a decent amount of traffic. I’m active on Twitter, less active on Pinterest, so I sort of felt like I didn’t need another social media distraction. Besides, as I contemplated my books I thought it would make better sense to focus on a series and create my hang-out with that series in mind. My Beacon Hill Chronicles are my best selling books and they are all set on Boston’s Beacon Hill. However, that setting is a little scary—people get killed there. A lot. Who wants to hangout at a crime scene? And my Halcyon Beach series is set in a dilapidated, run-down, off-season tourist trap and is filled with ghosts. Not enticing.

Lolas

Then there are my Marienstadt books. They have not been as popular as my other series but they have very loyal followers. The fourth book in the series, The Legend: A Marienstadt Story, came out in February and the people who have read it tell me that they love it. So I had an idea.

In all my Marienstadt stories, no matter what is going on, everybody is always popping in to Lola’s Strudel Shop on Main Street, a few doors down from the police station, to get coffee, order strudel for parties, give themselves a treat, and catch up on gossip. If it happens in Marienstadt, it gets discussed at Lola’s. So bearing that in mind I started a Facebook community page for Lola’s Strudel Shop. I was lucky to snag the URL www.facebook.com/Marienstadt, too.

One of the ways I amuse myself is by writing scenes that may or may not find their way into books. Since finishing The Legend, I was missing my Marienstadt people so much that I wrote half a dozen scenes. I do not know whether they will turn into a book or not but I decided to share them in Lola’s Strudel Shop. I’ve also posted links to pages of interest to Marienstadt fans, and several of the pretty quote-graphics that I make for Twitter and Pinterest. When I had a few posts that I thought might be of interest, I made the page go live and invited friends. In two days nearly a hundred people joined and my posts began to gather Likes.

It’s too soon to know how this will turn out but I’m having a good time doing it and what is more important than that? I am using Facebook’s Notes feature to post my stories and am hopeful that I’ll get some feedback. It might be fun to co-create stories with readers.

So, if you want to take a look, please do. I hope my efforts will serve as inspiration for other writers trying to figure this marketing business out.

Thanks for reading.

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Monday Musings: Writing Advice To Blissfully Ignore

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by Kathleen Valentine

Never miss a good chance to shut up.” – Will Rogers

lucyFor several years now I have begun my writing day by creating a little graphic that consists of an attractive photo and a quote from a writer that I find interesting. I gather these quotes from the internet and am frequently amused by the really bad advice I encounter in the process. I’ve always loved Somerset Maugham’s quote, “There are three rules for writing a novel, unfortunately no one knows what they are.” The truth is that over the years I’ve found some books of writing advice that have been truly helpful, but just because someone has successfully written a few books that have done well, does not mean they know how to write. Picasso once said that you should learn the rules of your craft so you can break them like an artist and I think that is good advice.

Edgar Allen Poe once wrote that a writer should “include a beautiful woman with raven locks ad porcelain skin, preferably quite young, and let her die tragically of an unknown ailment.” That might have worked for him but it certainly has no useful information for the rest of the writing world. Elmore Leonard said, “Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.” Clearly he was not a fan of Marcel Proust. But even non-Proustian writers can write deliciously thrilling descriptions. One of the scenes that will live in my memory forever is from A.S. Byatt’s Possession. When Roland and Maude go into Christabel’s old bedroom for the first time and find the cradle full of dolls that conceals her love letters, I got a chill down my spine that recurs when I think about that scene.

In addition to that writers are often advised to avoid adjectives and adverbs but anyone who has read writers like Salman Rushdie or Alice Hoffman know how beautifully those words can be used to paint pictures in the reader’s mind. Kurt Vonnegut was not a fan of semicolons. He called them “transvestite hermaphrodites” and claimed all they did was prove that you went to college. Of course, Virgina Woolf, who never went to college was quite fond of them. They worked for her.

Then there are the old canards that many writers accept as true, but are, in fact, not. Probably foremost among these is “write what you know.” It is true that writing out of one’s experience can often create exciting reading, but where in the world would J.K. Rowling have experienced the world she created in her Harry Potter books?

Don’t forget all the advice about creating outlines for stories. To me, this is one of those concepts that may be very true for one writer and a complete disaster for another. Some writers have a gift for “story.” They can sit down and begin to write and watch with fascination while their characters appear and develop, and plots unfold. Their characters can change direction and do crazy, unexpected things and the writer is just along for the ride. Other writers need a road map. One is not a better way to write than the other—what matters is that you know what works for you and write accordingly.

Of all the writing books I own, the one I most often take down to peruse is Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing. In it he says, “Work. Don’t think. Relax and work.” It’s hard to add anything to that.

Thanks for reading.

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Monday Musings: Advice from Dorthea Brand, Eighty Years Later

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by Kathleen Valentine

DBThis afternoon, while searching for something else, I came across an old copy of Dorthea Brand’s 1934 classic book Becoming A Writer. I had not thought about it in years and, because it was a lovely day here, I took it out to my back porch and began re-reading parts of it. I am not sure whether it is because I am now much older and have been writing for a long time, but I found the book surprisingly dated. Now I am wondering if that is just me, or if it is possible for a book such as this one to become dated.

To be fair, there was some good advice in it. One of the chapters, on learning to see, was something we cannot be reminded of too often. It has long been said that a writer is someone who misses nothing—a thought that I agree with. As an exercise, prompted by Brand’s suggestions, I decided to spend some time looking at the bushes that separate our backyard from the cemetery beyond them. This is quite a large bunch of bushes that have grown up over the years that run the length of the yard. From the ground they are towering and many people do not even know there is a cemetery back there, but from my perch on the second floor the view is different.

As I studied the bushes, I immediately picked out the multiflora rose bushes that smell so lovely in Spring, then the privet bushes with their lacy leaves. Other than those I counted the wild choke cherries that the squirrels get drunk on and stagger around the yard. But there were more. By the time I got done, making note of differences I’d counted a total of seven different bushes, some which I cannot identify. It was a good exercise and I learned that, though I’ve looked at those bushes for years, I’ve never really seen them.

In another chapter she talked about the method of writing. Obviously a lot has changed since 1934 and I could not help but smile at her annoyance with the use of typewriters (typewriters?) For writers accustomed to writing long-hand, the mechanics of pushing down those keys, watching the letters fly up and whack against the ribbon, then see the platen advance, was, apparently, arduous. Not to mention the fact that you had to then use your hand to mechanically return the carriage so you could type the next line. I can only imagine what Ms Brand would think of contemporary keyboards.

But to me the most interesting chapter was about originality. She made some excellent points about staying true to one’s own voice. She also pointed out some examples of writers who tried too hard to be original and wound up sounding pretentious in the process.

Which led me to wonder, do most writers think about being original these days? I wonder about that specifically when it comes to genre books. It seems that so many authors aim to produce the next Harry Potter, or the next Fifty Shades, or the next Game of Thrones. I often see books advertised as “if you liked The DaVinci Code, you’ll love this.” Has this type of advertising always been prevalent?

I have several vintage writing books that I love—especially those by John Gardner—and I know at one time I must have learned a lot from Dorothea Brand if I kept her book all these years. I am a firm believer that we can always learn something new and today I learned there are at least seven different kinds of bushes out back. I really should find out what they are.

Thanks for reading.

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Monday Musings: Creating Visual Inspiration

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by Kathleen Valentine

halcyonOne of the most wonderful things about the internet is all the resources it offers for writers. The amount of research writers can do without leaving our desks is mind-blowing. Google Books offers millions of fully indexed books that you can search in seconds. I can remember the days of driving around to half a dozen libraries when a book I wanted wasn’t available through inter-library loan. No more. If you are working on a story and need a name that was popular in a certain period, the Social Security Administration lists most popular baby names by decade for over 100 years. One of my favorite things that I ever found on the internet is a Name Generator for your belly dance troupe. Yes, I used it and the Sirens of the Undulating Dream will be in my next Halcyon Beach story.

One of the best and most useful helpers that I have found is using a site like Pinterest (Instagram, Flickr, and other image storage sites can work, too) to create galleries for projects I am working on. Back in 2010 when I started work on my Halcyon Beach Chronicles series I knew that I wanted it to be set in a rather seedy, run-down beach town that was a vacation playland in the summer but a virtual ghost town the rest of the year. As I tried to envision the location I thought of many resort towns that I had driven through in the past. I made several trips—from October through January—up the coast from Newburyport to Kittery, stopping to shoot pictures whenever I saw a business or a building that I thought might fit in my story.

Back home I sorted through my photos and decided to make a gallery of the best images on Pinterest. This proved to be an excellent tool and I wound up just leaving it open on my desktop as I worked so I could refer to it often.

A couple years later I started work on my fourth Beacon Hill Chronicles story, The Crazy Old Lady’s Secret. Because I love weaving obscure historical details, legends, and unusual locations into my writing, I again made a Pinterest gallery. Only this time instead of taking pictures, I made a gallery of stories and images that I collected from the internet that all related to my story. Elements that I wanted to weave into my story included the existence of an abandoned music hall buried four stories under the Common in downtown Boston, and a legend about four angels that had been stolen by an eighteenth century privateer that are on display in the Old North Church. This proved to be so interesting that I wound up making an image gallery that I included at the end of the book so readers could find out more about the legends and locations contained within.

Another useful tool that writers have suggested to me is keeping a gallery of interesting-looking people for when they are creating characters. I’ve started doing this on my hard drive. Maybe some day I’ll put them in an online gallery.

I believe that the more visual we can make our writing, the more we can keep our readers engaged. Thanks to the internet we now have more resources than ever to help. It is fun and it certainly fires up the creativity.

Thanks for reading.

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