How to Train Your Inner Critic

Ray Liotta
Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

I used to ride horses. I know, right? Let me just say that these creatures are beautiful. And when the horse and rider are one, the experience can be magical. But horses are also dumb—and incredibly powerful. Not a great combination, if you ask me. If a horse doesn’t want you on its back, it will throw you. And there is nothing you can do about it. Ask a rodeo cowboy. We’re talking half a ton of raw animal power, people. Oh, and they bite, too. But—and I can only vouch for English riding—show a horse a thirty-inch riding crop, and things can change for the better. You don’t even have to use it—just let them see it out of the corner of their eye.

Lately, I’ve been reading posts by other writers moaning about their inner critics. You know what I’m talking about. The inner critic is that nagging little macher who’s always in your face whenever you try putting pen to paper (not to be confused with one’s Muse). And, as far as I know, it doesn’t matter what kind of writer you are. Mine is a guy, is shorter than me, and resembles Ray Liotta, for some reason. Though he smells like hand sanitizer, I gotta give it to him—he dresses well. Now, I have never met Ray Liotta, so rather than besmirch his good name, I’ll call the bane of my existence “Stan.”

The Prick Who Came to Dinner
Stan is not the kind of person who values relationships, so obviously, he’s single. He’s been known to vanish for most of the day—I have no idea where he goes. Maybe he’s torturing some other poor schmuck. Which makes me wonder. Does he talk about me? Never mind. Stan has an uncanny ear, and as soon as he hears me typing on my laptop, he’s in the room, standing directly behind me. Breathing through his nose. Watching every letter that appears on the screen. Well, that’s how things used to be, anyway. Sound familiar?

If he gets the chance, Stan will tell me what I am writing is crap and should be burned. He wonders aloud how I’ve managed to have any success at all as a writer and suggests I look into selling insurance. He enjoys laughing at my analogies, similes, and metaphors, and bawls comically whenever I attempt to craft a tender scene. In short, he’s merciless. Now at this point, I’ll bet you think I hate Stan, right? Well, I don’t. Because as annoying as he is, he’s smart—really smart. Okay, he’ll never invent time travel. But he knows a lousy sentence when he reads one.

Stan, ladies and gentlemen, is my inner critic, and I need him. There, I said it. But here’s the thing: I need him on my terms, not his. If it were up to him, I would never write another word. “The world will thank you,” he told me one time, leaving a trail of pistachio nut shells on the shag carpet. But I’m not listening. A long time ago, I decided to train him. Just like a horse. And although he doesn’t always behave, things have gotten way better.

Now, there are writers out there far more qualified than me to explain the phases of writing in a way that makes sense. Nevertheless, I’ll give it a go.

Writing Process

Dreams and Nightmares
An idea comes to me, and I jot it down in my Big Book of Ideas. This can happen when I overhear a piece of a conversation or in the middle of the night when I’m trying to fall asleep. There’s really no rhyme or reason to it. Most of the time, the idea just sits in that book, collecting dust like a lonely little toy no one wants to play with. Sometimes, I incorporate it into something else. And on rare occasions, it becomes a short story or even a novel. I do not control this process—it just happens. And as I record it, Stan is nowhere in sight.

The Dreaded First Draft
This is where I sit down to the blank page. Or, in my case, the blank screen. By the way, this stage applies to short or long fiction. I’m a pantser, so I have only the vaguest notion of how to write this thing. I have a protagonist and, if I’m lucky, an antagonist. But other characters come into the picture as I go. The minute I start writing, Stan waltzes into the room, ready to tear me a new one. But before he can take his place behind my chair, I show him the riding crop. His eyes get huge, and he slinks away, muttering something like “Just for that, I’m eating all the Häagen-Dazs.” But don’t be fooled. He’ll continue trying to get back into the room, usually pretending to be the cable guy. My job is to keep him out until I finish the day’s writing. And let me tell you, it’s exhausting.

The Baby Edit
This happens the next day. I read what I’ve written and invite Stan to join me. That’s right. This pomaded idiot is like a kid in a candy store as he goes to work, pointing out lame construction and tired clichés. After allowing him to eviscerate me, I kick him out and proceed with the next day’s writing.

Keep in mind these last two phases continue until I finish the book or story. Sometimes, I get stuck and work on a different project. Currently, I have at least three unfinished novels kicking around. I’m pretty sure I will finish them. But even if I don’t, others will take their place.

The Mother of All Edits
This is where I edit the entire manuscript, with Stan at my side. I leave the crop on the desk so he can see it, in case he gets any ideas. Usually, he keeps his snarky comments to himself and provides useful suggestions on how to improve what I’ve written. This process takes days, and when I am finished, I set the work aside. I may go through this stage half a dozen times over the course of months. When I am absolutely sure the thing is perfect (nothing is perfect, but you know what I mean), I send the book off to my editor.

Wrapping Up
So, there you have it. Every writer approaches the process differently. No matter how you write, though, there is one thing I would advise. Never mix writing and editing. That’s like inviting Stan to sit down. And you don’t want that, trust me. For one thing, he’s never had an original idea in his life. Also, writing is miserable enough without saddling yourself with a banshee screaming in your ear over every ill-chosen bon mot. Not to mention those pesky adverbs. Anyway, enough. I’d love to hear how you deal with your inner critic. Why not post a comment? In the meantime, I’ll leave you with this quote.

You know that sickening feeling of inadequacy and over-exposure you feel when you look upon your own empurpled prose? Relax into the awareness that this ghastly sensation will never, ever leave you, no matter how successful and publicly lauded you become. It is intrinsic to the real business of writing and should be cherished. ― Will Self

What Writers Can Learn from “Pork and Beans”

[Pork and Beans]
Photo courtesy of Eli Duke

Talk about fortunate! My friend Jordan Dane,  who recently did a guest post on this blog, gave me a slot over at The Kill Zone, where only the coolest authors hang out. Happy reading…

I first heard Weezer’s “Pork and Beans” when my younger daughter was teaching herself the bass. She would blast it every day, following along on her instrument. Eventually, I found myself listening to the lyrics. I came to love that song and now have it on my phone. Yeah, I know. Talk about late to the party. Well, in my defense, I mostly listen to straight-ahead jazz, so. But enough about Weezer…

Trying Not to Be a Pompous Ass
As a writer, I can really identify with those lyrics. I won’t quote them here, but you can use this link if you want to refresh your memory. The point is, the books I choose to write are a product of my, shall we call it, pork-and-beans attitude. I really don’t give a crap about researching popular genres and writing the kinds of books I think people might like. I notice a lot of “experts” like to give that kind of advice to non-fiction authors. To me, that’s right up there with “write what you know.” Spare me. Now, on the surface, I might sound a little pompous. But stick with me for a sec. I am simply trying to stay true to myself. You know, like Lady Gaga.

I watched a lot of movies and television as a kid. My favorites were horror, sci-fi, and comedy. As I grew older, I came to appreciate thrillers. And in the last few years, I fell in love with Westerns. I guess I can thank Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood for that. I also love foreign films—especially those from Japan and Korea. As you can see, my tastes tend to run the gamut. I do lean toward horror, though. In fact, my first four books revolve around zombies and demons.

To read the rest of this article, please visit The Kill Zone.

Guest Post: I Hear Voices in My Head and I Like It

By Jordan Dane

So, my friend Jordan demanded that I turn over my blog for this post. In fact, she pointed to a picture of my dog and, with a sly grin, said, “You do the math, Sparky.” Fine. Anyway, she’s an outstanding writer with a sharp sense of humor. If you haven’t done it yet, check out book 1 in her Ryker Townsend series, The Last Victim. I just bought it, so look for my review soon. Over to you, Jordan.

[Jordan Dane]Horror makes me giddy. There, I said it. I’m not into overly descriptive gore, but the titillating anticipation of what is about to happen makes me tingle. I like the bizarro world of Dean Koontz when he tiptoes through scary notions and the paranormal. I watched the seductive Penny Dreadful on Showtime with equal parts abhorrence and glee, yet I’ve never seen the movie Jaws, by choice. I don’t want to have nightmares about turning into shark poop, but I put my readers in a front row seat to darkness in my crime fiction books, without shoving them off a cliff.

In The Last Victim, my FBI profiler’s secret is a gift and a curse. Ryker Townsend sees through the eyes of the dead. The last images imprinted on the retinas of the dearly departing become macabre puzzle pieces for him to decipher. These creepy flashes come to him as he sleeps. Hence, the tag line – When he sleeps, the hunt begins. Ryker is an open vessel for the dead, and they reach out to him, sometimes beyond his nightmares in broad daylight, until he’s unsure which side of reality he should be on.

Ryker’s Basic Framework
In crafting Ryker Townsend, I wanted to look beyond his gift of communicating with the dead to solve heinous crimes. I formed him from two characters I love—Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes and Tom Mison’s Ichabod Crane from Sleepy Hollow. Ryker has an eidetic memory. His mind is like a computer that spits out facts without a filter. He’s socially awkward and highly intelligent, but not exactly macho.

As an author, I have firsthand knowledge of the perils of an unfiltered brain. Writers need to “hear” the voices in our heads, but it can get us in trouble at social occasions. This I know.

Ryker’s Added Layers
I wanted Ryker to have more layers to his personality and his past. I needed to heap on the right baggage to make his job more challenging. Being an odd child, he had a special bond with his mother who embraced his psychic gift. His father didn’t always understand it and Ryker’s sister Sarah became jealous of the extra attention from mom.

Ryker’s gift is at the center of all his strengths and his weaknesses to show how he lives with a trait most people would fear. When something happens to his dear mother, it creates a wedge between Ryker and his sister—and of course, it’s my duty as an author to torture him.

Ryker’s Journey
I couldn’t write about Ryker without delving into his personal life and heaping emotional heft into his Samsonite. It’s what makes him real. I force him to confront his personal demons while he’s up to his neck in bloody murder.

The Last Victim (Novel 1)
In book 1 of Ryker’s story, his life is laid bare. He’s in the middle of a hunt for a baffling serial killer who has eluded him. When a gory crime scene puts him in Seattle, home to his estranged sister (and her family that he’s never met), his life becomes an onion with layers to peel away.

He’s kept his psychic gift a secret from everyone and withdrawn into himself. His only outlet is his work, but he’s afraid of losing respect within the ranks of the FBI—and he risks his cases being overturned by the courts if it became clear how he investigates. He hasn’t told anyone about his nightmares, not even the trusted team who work for him.

After he realizes that the killer has targeted him personally, he must use his gift to hunt on his own terms—alone. Ryker learns what it’s like to become a victim and he’s forced to deal with his past, a theme that will become his journey through any story I write about him.

Following the novel that established him, I wrote novellas that allowed me to examine his life in different ways. A common theme for me is spirituality and how investigators deal with the violence they see. How does it change them?

Redemption for Avery (Novella 2)
In novella 2, Ryker deals with the aftermath of becoming a victim and nearly losing his life. He’s confided in a special woman, and the relationship carries more risk and complications. Because this story deals with a brother who lost his younger sister to a serial killer when he was only fifteen, Ryker and his notions of family are put through an emotional wringer.

In the Eyes of the Dead (Novella 3)
In novella 3, I wanted him to struggle with lingering PTSD from book 1 in a case involving Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) and superstition. He’s forced to confront his own beliefs on the afterlife. I had to examine the things that truly get my heart pumping—my own mortality—and the things I sometimes wonder when I can’t sleep after the death of someone I love.

The Darkness Within Him (Novella 4)
In story 4, Ryker must recreate a horrific moment in a young runaway’s life, the night his mother murdered his sister and tried to kill him. Imagine someone like Ryker—who had a close relationship with his mother—how would his feelings of failure with his own family affect him? He’s forced to confront the guilt he has for the way his mother died.

Fiona’s Salvation (Novella 5)
In story 5, the reader sees his compassion for the dead, no matter who they were in life. He feels a profound duty to them in a grander scheme as if he has a role to play in death. He protects Fiona as she deals with her haunting demons, something he knows about.

Ryker’s Journey Is My Challenge
Each character Ryker encounters becomes a mirror for him to see into his dark corners—and his journey becomes my own voyage of self-discovery. My characters explore where I sometimes don’t want to venture, but I push to discover things about me through them. They are my teachers. The old adage to “write what you know” never worked for me. I believe you should write what you fear and dig deep for the truth to breathe life into your pages.

Discussion
For Writers.
How do you tackle adding layers to your characters to make them memorable?

For Readers. What novels have remained with you long after you closed the book? What made the story and the character(s) memorable?

Links
The Last Victim
Redemption for Avery
In the Eyes of the Dead
The Darkness within Him
Fiona’s Salvation

Author Bio
[Jordan Dane (Twitter)]
Bestselling, critically-acclaimed author Jordan Dane’s gritty thrillers are ripped from the headlines with vivid settings, intrigue, and dark humor. Publishers Weekly compared her intense novels to Lisa Jackson, Lisa Gardner, and Tami Hoag, naming her debut novel No One Heard Her Scream as Best Books of 2008. Dane is multi-published in crime fiction thrillers, has books in over seven countries, and has written young-adult novels for Harlequin Teen. Formerly an energy sales manager, she now writes full time. Jordan shares her Texas residence with two lucky rescue dogs. www.jordandane.com


Better Writing Through Reading and Research

Lately, I’ve been reading a lot more. Mostly, I stick to contemporary fiction—especially in the genres I write in. This helps me in two ways. First, I get a look at the competition. And second, I see what’s hot and what’s not as far as reader tastes go. But there’s another benefit and, depending on what you buy, you can take advantage of another writer’s research.

But wait, you say. I thought writers just make crap up and hope they can fool you. Well, that’s true—for bad writers. Good ones take the time to learn about the world they are constructing and endow their stories with a rich undertone that immerses the protagonist—and the reader. Here’s an example. I just finished a novel about a journalist who gets caught up in a conspiracy that involves soulless corporate giants and an assassin with a love of greasy food. To be honest, the book isn’t great. Though the story is well constructed, I felt the principal characters lacked believability. In other words, they just didn’t ring true. Nevertheless, I am so glad I read the book. Here’s why.

The Only Source of Knowledge Is Experience
Einstein said that, and I happen to agree wholeheartedly. The author of the book in question is a former journalist and, when it comes to dogged reporters on a beat, he knows what he’s talking about. I really enjoyed learning about the mindset of the journalist, as well as hearing the faint praise and jeering commentary about the profession as a whole. The author has also peppered the story with discussions of the power of big media and print vs. online. I’m not saying that after reading the book I could go off and write my own novel about a journalist/detective. But I could certainly create a secondary character who’s a journalist and make them sound authentic. Experience counts.

Reading for Pleasure and Learning
When I was a kid, I always compartmentalized my reading. There were books I read to learn and those I devoured for pleasure. But it was rare that a book served both ends. I say nuts to that! Providing you pick good material, every book can be a learning experience. Often when I read, I like to pore over the language. This is what helps me to write better. But I am also aware of the setting and the jargon a character uses. Recently, I reviewed a horror collection. There was one, in particular, I fell in love with—“The Corpse King” by Tim Curran. Now, I could be wrong, but I am of the opinion that the author researched the hell out of the period and in particular about how resurrectionists plied their trade. This is an excellent example of a story that is pleasurable to read and teaches you something in the bargain.

Apply Your Knowledge
I’ve read a lot of nonfiction books about the demonic and possession. I’m not saying I’m an expert, but I do bring that background to the stories I write. The last thing I want is for someone in the know to read my work and dismiss it as uninformed drivel. And this is apart from the writing. Readers either like my work, or they don’t. I just don’t want to be accused of ignorance when I could have just as easily researched before I wrote. And neither should you! Remember, writing isn’t just about the words—it’s about what’s behind them. Have fun.

2016 Top Ten Posts

“[Sparkler]”
Photo courtesy of Evan Long via Creative Commons

Personally, I won’t be sorry to see 2016 go. Good riddance, I say. Rather than dwell on all the bad news from the past year, though, I thought I would list my top ten articles instead. Here’s to a better 2017!

 

 

 

Damn You, Netflix—Another Distracted Writer
Fiction and Profanity—F-Bombs Away!
Free Fiction—Something to Hold
Free Fiction—The Traveler’s Tale
Getting Away with Murder
How to Write Better Dialogue ‘Schitt’s Creek’ Style
I Used to Write Poetry
Pulp or Poet?
What in the World Is “Family Fiction”?
Writers, Your Cell Phone Is out to Get You!

And if these aren’t enough to put you in a better mood, check out this Bruce Willis mashup. Seriously, the man just won’t die!

How to Write Better Dialogue ‘Schitt’s Creek’ Style

[Schitt’s Creek Poster]
Photo courtesy of IMDb

I’ve read a lot over the years—not as much as some of those insane speed readers who seem to devour a book a day, but a lot. In fiction, my tastes vary between pulp and literary. And I have to say, a lot of literary writers write dialogue that is wooden and boring. I mean, I know this stuff is supposed to be highbrow and all, but honestly! Sometimes, I want to reach in between the pages and strangle the writer with his typewriter ribbon while screaming, “Nobody talks like that in real life!”

If you are, like me, a modern writer, and you suspect your characters’ speech is less than scintillating, then I have a tip for you: watch more movies and television—especially TV. And I’m not talking about network sitcoms. There’s nothing worse than trying to pass off bad writing by adding a laugh track. ‘Schitt’s Creek’ is a Canadian show I had the pleasure of watching on Amazon Prime recently. At least two of the stars—Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara—you will recognize from their work in many of Christopher Guest’s mockumentaries like ‘Best in Show’ and ‘A Mighty Wind.’ This outing, if you check the credits, seems to have required the entire Levy clan. Nevertheless…

It’s Not What You Say
Let me start by saying that the show is hilarious. Not so much the situation, though. Essentially, this production is a reimagining of the old fish-out-of-water series ‘Green Acres.’ You know, cultured, affluent people finding themselves in the middle of Armpit, USA. What’s funny is the dialogue, which is very well written and real. And it’s different from what you’d find in a David Mamet script (think ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’) where words are more weapons than communication, or in an Aaron Sorkin show (think ‘The Newsroom’) where everyone is super-smart and acts accordingly. (Both are outstanding, BTW.)

In ‘Schitt’s Creek,’ the way people speak is authentic. I mean, I’ve heard people in the street who carry on like this. I’m not going to go into the plot; you can watch the show for yourself. I want to focus on the dialogue. Now, I’ve identified four qualities I think writers will find useful:

  • Everyone is passive-aggressive.
  • People speak past each other.
  • Characters lie their ass off.
  • There’s a boatload of upspeak.

I Love You—I Hate You
Practically every time someone attempts to give a compliment, what comes out is laced with venom. But in a nice way! Here’s an example. Johnny, Moira, and their son, David, arrive at the Mayor’s house for dinner—a meal none of them are not looking forward to sharing with their hosts Roland and Jocelyn.

DAVID

You have a really lovely home. It’s really, um,

understated.

JOCELYN

Thank you. I get a lot of my ideas from magazines.

MOIRA

Don’t be modest. This is one hundred percent you

and only you.

In lesser hands, this scene would have been written broadly, with someone making a tasteless wisecrack about an ugly table lamp. (Cue laugh track.) In this scene, however, everyone knows what’s being said, and no one is fooled. But each character still manages to maintain a razor-thin veneer of social grace. Think about adding this layer of subtlety to one or more of your characters and see what happens to your scenes.

Hello? Is Anyone Listening?
There’s a wonderful exchange when the motel manager, Stevie, lets David know she’s going to a “sketchy” bar later. David immediately invites himself, but it’s clear she’s not comfortable with that.

DAVID

We’re going to be each other’s wing people tonight.

Um… Now, how diverse is the clientele at this local

drinkery?

STEVIE

I would say, very diverse.

DAVID

Do you remember what life was like before dating

apps? Both excited and terrified for tonight.

STEVIE

I don’t think I ever said you could come.

DAVID

Okay, so what time, though? Um… And is there a

dress code? ’Cause I want to come prepared.

For me, this scene illustrates so well that each character is determined to further their own agenda. So, even though these two are having a conversation, they are actually talking past each other toward the outcome they desire. Stevie doesn’t want David to go, and he wants to.

I Can See Why You Would Think That
Lying is a staple in television comedy, but these guys do it with elegance and grace. So much of it is used to cover something up, but sometimes, it’s to shield the other person from reality because, well, it’s just too much trouble being honest. In this exchange, David has reluctantly decided to find a job, and he’s asking for Stevie’s help:

STEVIE

Do you have any other skills or areas of expertise?

DAVID

Uh, I’ve been told I have really good taste?

STEVIE

Uh, well, that’s good. Um, let’s see… Oh! Bag boy at

the grocery store.

DAVID

I don’t know what that is.

STEVIE

You put groceries in bags so that people can carry

their groceries out of the grocery store.

DAVID

Okay. And how much do you think that would pay?

STEVIE

Mm… I’m gonna say minimum wage.

DAVID

Which is what, forty, forty-five something an hour?

STEVIE

Exactly.

This Is a Statement of Fact?
I’m not really sure where upspeak (or uptalk) came from. I want to say it all started with the movie ‘Valley Girl.’ But today, everyone does it—even me, sometimes. And if you don’t have at least one or two characters speaking that way in your book, you’re probably not trying hard enough to get some variety in your dialogue.

In ‘Schitt’s Creek,’ David and his sister, Alexis, do it a lot. In fact, most of the townies don’t speak that way, so there’s a nice contrast. I won’t provide any dialogue examples here because there are too many. But here’s a clip to get you started:

Wrapping Up
So, there you have it. For me, a big part of writing great dialogue is introducing variety. A good test is to switch the names of characters speaking and see if the scene still makes sense. If it does, you’ve got a problem. Getting back to literary fiction, as far as I’m concerned, many characters are interchangeable regarding speech. Some great authors have an incredible ear, though. Whether or not you like Charles Dickens, the man knew how to make each of his characters shine through dialogue. (I’m thinking in particular of Inspector Bucket in Bleak House.)

As writers, we spend so much time figuring out the plot and writing about a character’s inner life. But don’t forget, when someone reads your book, they are saying the words aloud in their head. And when they get to the dialogue, they hear your character’s voice. Make sure they can distinguish one person from another. Now, enjoy the trailer from Season 1, available for free at Amazon Prime.

Pulp or Poet?

[Size Mismatch]
Photo courtesy of Miguel Castaneda
via Creative Commons

A writer’s life is nothing, if not angst-filled. Each day, we struggle with dilemmas—most of our own making and many imagined. As for me, I like to battle my demons in private. The best course, I feel, is to put that kind of drama into my writing and let my characters live in Hell. But, frankly, I just can’t take it anymore, and I need to spill. So please, bear with me.

I’ve been writing for more years than I care to admit. In my twenties, I devoted my energy to screenwriting. Great idea, jefe. Get to the end of the line behind the thousands in LA already slaving away at what they hope will become the next ‘Captain America.’ Though I did manage to sell one screenplay and see it made into a movie, I never really enjoyed the success I was hoping for.

When indie publishing came along—mostly thanks to Amazon—everything changed for me, as it did for many other aspiring authors. For years, I had been amassing ideas for novel-length books, and the only thing stopping me from ordering my sport coat with the suede elbow patches was the terrifying thought of trying to secure a literary agent. Weak, I know. But enough about that.

My Eternal Dilemma
I’ve always aspired to write well—as opposed to banging stuff out fast for the money. And, believe me, if you’ve ever downloaded free books to your Kindle, you know what I’m talking about. There’s a lot of crap out there—a lot. And what frustrates me is the fact that this drivel sells—way better than anything I have written. Which brings me to my current dilemma—am I a poet who wants only to create beautiful things (that don’t sell), or a successful pulp writer who’s in it for the money?

My personal belief as to why a lot of indie books sell has nothing to do with quality. Sure, they have to have some semblance of plot and structure. Of course, the cover shouldn’t make you puke. And the formatting has to be at least good enough for you to be able to read the thing without getting vertigo. But what these books have going for them, I feel, is that they are catering to a successful genre. Like Romance.

Now, before you get all huffy and threaten to take my lunch money, let me explain. I am not trying to say anything bad about Romance writers. In fact, sometimes I wish I were one so I could sell more books. What I am saying is, must I write in genres that sell, rather than what I am interested in? It’s a great question.

Romance Rules
So, why did I pick on the Romance category? Take a look at the May 2016 Author Earnings report, which you can find here. This is what they say about indie author earnings (bold text is mine):

Turns out there were 43 [invisible authors] lurking unseen in the dark spaces between Amazon’s bestseller lists, including one author invisibly earning more than $250,000 a year. Unsurprisingly, 30 of the 43 invisible six-figure earners — including the top earner — were self-published indie authors. Most were writing in the Romance Fiction genres, but there was also an indie author of editor’s-choice Cozy Mystery Fiction, and even more surprising, a traditional-award-winning indie writer of Literary Fiction. We happen to think that’s pretty cool.

Cool, indeed. I have a number of writer friends—many of whom publish Historical Romance, Regency Romance, Contemporary and New Adult Romance. It’s my sense that they are doing pretty well. But here’s the thing—from what I can tell, they actually enjoy writing Romance. So for them, this is the best of all worlds.

A Genre Comparison
Not to put too fine a point on it, but I would like to provide an illustration of what I am talking about. The following excerpt is from my horror thriller novel, Even The Dead Will Bleed: Book Three of Tell Me When I’m Dead. Notice that the writing is purposeful and dark—just the thing for pulp fiction:

The girl was pretty with long, light brown hair and frightened blue-grey eyes that were almond-shaped—slightly Asian—and ringed with dark circles. Her full lips were pink and moist, her skin fair and blemish free. She couldn’t have been more than nineteen or twenty. I looked at the back of her hand and noticed a red needle mark—probably from an IV.

“Are you in danger?” I said.

Still nothing. I glanced left and right to see who might be watching. Then I released her arm and took a step back, my open hands away from my pockets. I thought she would bolt, but she stood there unsure, looking at her bare feet, which were dirty. Her shoulders jerked up and down and I realized that she was crying. I remembered what Becky had said when the alarm went off—someone’s escaped.

I wasn’t sure what to do. She must’ve broken out of Hellborn, and now they were looking for her. I didn’t want to leave her there—not like this. She needed help. But I didn’t want to get mixed up with a kid. Griffin, the girl Holly and I had rescued in Tres Marias, had turned out well—and I thanked God for her—but I needed to be alone to complete my mission.

“I’m Dave,” I said. “What’s your name?”

She looked at me steadily. I didn’t know what new hell I was signing up for. It was pretty obvious that it would involve more than slipping her twenty bucks and wishing her good luck. When she spoke my blood went cold.

“Don’t let them find me!” she said.

 

Here is another excerpt—this time from my latest, unpublished Young Adult novel, Chainsaw Honeymoon: A Ruby Navarro Disaster. Not to brag, but this might even border on the literary. See if you agree:

A loud yawn startled me. It was Dad. How long had he been standing there?

“Come on, Rube, it’s late,” he said.

And by the way, when did he get all parental? Mom must’ve had a talk with him.

“No-uh,” I said. “I need to figure out this sequence.”

Between you and me, I was struggling to keep my eyes open.

Gently, he closed the laptop and guided me to my bed. As I dug through the duffel bag for my pajamas, I felt something foreign. Removing my hand, I saw Mr. Shivers. How had he gotten in there again? I thought I’d left him in the closet back home. Too exhausted to care, I tossed him into a chair, where he landed in a sitting position.

“Tomorrow, I could use your help setting up the Roku,” Dad said.

“Aghh, you’re so pathetic. Fine, I’ll see what I can do.”

I let go of a major yawn. Smiling, he gave me a bear hug, practically squeezing the air out of me.

“Ooh, I thought I heard a fart.”

“Dad, that’s so rude!”

“It used to make you laugh.”

“When I was five.”

“Good night, Rube. Brush your teeth.”

He and Mom had definitely spoken. I wondered vaguely if he was going to go off and practice The Beggar’s Sideshow per Mom’s instructions. Before he left, I broke down and decided to spill. After all, the man deserved to know the truth. I picked Ed up and put him on my lap for moral support.

“Dad?”

“Yeah, baby?”

“She is moving on, you know.”

He was leaning against the doorframe, staring at me intently. I could almost see the man hormones keeping his emotions in check. Barely. His face was a mosaic of disappointment, anger and disbelief. He smiled sadly and, without another word, closed the door behind him. See, this is the difference between women and men. I would be throwing things at this point.

 

The point is, I didn’t research the markets for either of these works—I just sat down and wrote them because I felt like it. We’ll see if the charming and perspicacious Ruby is enough to help me sell some books.

Sage Advice
I am currently reading How to Make a Living as a Writer by the well-respected author and teacher James Scott Bell. His book offers clear, practical advice on how to actually pull off what he promised in the title. One thing he suggests is studying bestselling categories on Amazon and making a conscious decision to master that market, then cranking out your own novels. Here is what he has to say:

I believe a writer should love his genres. But you can learn to love a genre. Sort of like an arranged marriage.

Nicholas Sparks did this with his own career. He went into it like a businessman. He looked at the bestselling genres and discovered that each one had two big names that dominated. At the same time, a surprise book emerged called The Bridges of Madison County. It was a tear-jerking love story written by a male author. And it exploded.

Sparks decided he could be the second name on this unique subset — men who write tear-jerking love stories.

He’s done pretty well.

Now, from a business point of view, he’s absolutely right. But in the words of Jerry Seinfeld when asked to wear the puffy shirt, “But I don’t want to be a pirate!”

If I were more practical, I would begin immediately my own market research and get to writing that puffy shirt book. But to be frank, Romance isn’t really my thing—unless guns or time travel are involved. Besides horror, I am drawn to Thriller, Mystery and YA. Having said that, though, if I follow Mr. Bell’s advice, I am still going to have to research what sells within those categories. And I’m not sure I want to write a political thriller, for example. So, I am almost back where I started.

In On Writing, I seem to recall Stephen King referring to himself as a “journeyman writer.” Here is a guy who consistently cranks out solid work in a genre he loves—and who makes a very good living. But he is practical, too. He knows he is a business. I’m still working on that concept.

What to Do?
As I said, I have a new book coming out, written without the benefit of checking in on bestselling categories. I hope it does well. If it doesn’t, I may decide that my next novel needs to have the word “girl” in the title. It doesn’t take a ton of research to know that those seem to be doing very well lately.