Most Unlikely to Write

I found this great ceramic Dia de los Muertos doll a couple of weeks ago. It’s difficult to tell from the pic, but she’s made entirely of ravens. I would have bought her in a heartbeat if she weren’t so expensive. For those of you who’ve read THE SHIFT OF THE TIDE, there’s an aspect to this doll that reminds me of Moranu with her many faces. Even the cover of that book is reminiscent of the same images for me. Do you all see that? 

There’s a key difference, however, between the two – and that links into this week’s theme at the SFF Seven , which is the genre we are mostly unlikely to write. Come on over to find out what I mean. 

Embracing the Tropes – Love, Not Hate

CAtbD34UsAAdpInSpring definitely begins in March here in Santa Fe. I spent a few hours sitting outside reading with my coffee in the sunshine this morning. Lovely!

This week at Word Whores, we’re discussing our favorite genre tropes. Since we get to pick the genre and I write in three at the moment, I’m talking about one from each. Also, since I’m the topic-kickoff girl, I’ll take on the job of defining “Trope,” for those who aren’t familiar.

What Do You Mean Paranormal Romance Is Dead???

034I haven’t done many sunset pictures lately. Wouldn’t want you all to pine away for lack of them!

And you can focus on the pretty clouds and take deep, calming breaths while I explain why everyone is saying Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy are dead genres.

I’ve participated in this very conversation several times over the last few weeks – in meetings, panels and online – so I thought I might as well write out my take on it, as something to point to.

But yes, this is the industry message we’ve been hearing and was probably one of the key takeaway messages from RWA 2014. Agents and Editors are just not buying new Paranormal and Urban Fantasy stories.

I’m sorry. Look at the pretty clouds. Take a deep breath.

But, but, but… Jeffe! I hear you all saying. But your Twelve Kingdoms books are doing really great and you said the other day that if presales on The Tears of the Rose are good enough you’ll get to do three more!

But I see new paranormal and urban fantasy books coming out all the time!

But I love to read those genres and know *tons* of other people do too, how can it be dead??

What do they even mean when they say a genre is dead?

Okay, so here are some simple answers for you.

“Dead Genre” – WTF??

You’re right – it’s a misnomer. Even the agent who declares on a panel that PNR is dead will agree ten minutes later that genres don’t really die. She means that it’s on a downcycle. When industry people say this, they mean that agents can’t sell that genre to a big publishing house and editors can’t justify acquiring it. Will that change eventually? Of course. Will certain books circumvent that rule? Of course. Will yours? The odds are not in your favor.

If editors say they won’t acquire, then why did [insert famous PNR/UF author name here] get another big deal?

 Because they *already have an audience.* It’s not a gamble to buy more books from an established author. It is a gamble to give a book contract to a new or midlist author. Having that uncertainty on top of a downcycle genre stacks the deck against the decision to go for it. This is why the big authors get big deals, to keep doing what they’ve been doing. This is why umpteen books still come out on the shelves. This is also why digital and smaller publishers are more likely to give a book in a downcycle genre more of a chance, because they have less investment to gamble.

But the READERS!

Okay, there are a few things to consider here. One is that these people see the sales and you don’t. Just because the big authors (see above) are selling lots of books, does not mean that all books in the genre are doing likewise. I can vouch that a number of authors I know writing in these genres are not selling that phenomenally. There are a LOT of books out there – the market is glutted, which is what causes a downcycle. It’s hard for a new author to break in, be different, catch reader attention. One thing to consider is, between you and your PNR/UF loving friends, how many of the books that you’ve bought lately were from totally new authors? Not new-to-you, but debuts? If can list some, think about why those debut authors caught your attention.

So… does this mean you’re screwed?

No.

EMPHATICALLY NO.

First of all, remember than genre is something of an artificial construct. If you can find a way to spin your story or the description to make it clear that it’s not yet another example of this dead genre, do that. Some of you cleverly pointed at my books and that I, as NOT a big author, am doing okay getting them out there. That’s because they’re Fantasy. If you were paying attention last week, female authors did great in the Hugo Awards. Keep in mind that the SciFi/Fantasy (SFF) publishers are not the same as the PNR publishers. Other romance subgenres may be hotter now, but there’s hunger for female voices and stories in SFF.

And besides, the wheel goes round, right?

 I’m giving you perspective and advice on the market right now. That’s totally different than the advice I’d give you as a writer, which is to write what you love. As an artist, as a storyteller, you have to follow your heart. Now, if your heart is polyamorous and can be just as happy with you writing an idea in an upcycle genre? Do that. But don’t chase the market. Put the book in a drawer and wait for a better season. I have one that’s a great book, could be an amazing series – and the market is all wrong right now.

Write something else.

That’s what writers do.

Seal of Most Excellent Validation

june14soeIf you were anywhere near the Internet yesterday, you will have already heard my squeals of shock and astonishment. Totally out of the blue, the amazing gals at RT Book Reviews tweeted me that The Mark of the Tala was chosen for the June Seal of Excellence. They describe it like this:

Each month the RT editors select one book that is not only compelling, but pushes the boundaries of genre fiction. This book stands out from all the others reviewed that month, in the magazine issue and on the website. June 2014’s RT Seal of Excellence — the editors’ pick for best book of the month — is awarded to Jeffe Kennedy’s fantasy romance, The Mark of the Tala.

I’m not sure how many books they review each month in magazine and on the website, but it must be hundreds. You can see the list of past selections here. Sharing this honor with those books and authors? Just UNREAL. Seeing my book listed alongside ones like Written in Red, The Hunger Games Trilogy and Gone Girl (also a June selection!) is powerfully moving.

They also say this about their selections:

The RT Seal of Excellence is awarded to the one title each month that stands out from all the rest. The RT staff nominates contenders which the RT editors then read and discuss at length. Sometimes a book is propelled to the top of the list by an innovative twist on a familiar story, or a villain that leaves readers chilled to the bone. In other instances the setting or the author’s writing style has set the story apart. But every title that wins the RT Seal of Excellence is our pick for the best read of the month.

I think that’s the best part of all. For those of you who’ve been following this blog lo these five years (can you believe that??), then you know I struggled for a long time to find a home for my particular blend of fantasy and romance. At one point, an agent I was pitching to at a national convention put me in tears when she icily told me my books fell in the cracks between genres. She was particularly cruel, the worst of them by far – which led to my writer friends referring to me as the Crack Ho ever since – but everyone had a similar refrain. No place in the market for my kind of thing.

Yes, the market has changed in these last five years and there’s more room for different and more interest in permutations on fantasy – so I’m dead lucky  there. Some wonderful people have taken chances on my work and that’s been huge. Carina Press bought into my Covenant of Thorns trilogy when no one else would and those books led directly to my Twelve Kingdoms books being picked up. 

So, to have this book be celebrated for standing out, for pushing genre boundaries – incredible validating.

I feel as if I’ve been fished out of the cracks.

Making Conversations Be More Than Talking

012It’s a funny thing, living in the desert. Like getting junk mail that so does not apply.

So, you all know that I’ve been busily drafting Rogue’s Paradise, the third book in my Covenant of Thorns trilogy. Well, maybe you don’t breathlessly follow my daily doings and so wouldn’t know, but I am. And – I think this isn’t spoilery – there are *ahem* dragons in it. Because, you know, they were in the first and second books. I’m just indicating the trajectory continues is all.

But it’s funny because, as I deal with the ins and outs of dragons and their role in my overall story, I keep remembering this conversation I had a few months back.

I was at a writers conference and, when I arrived at the area where the workshops were being held, I saw Agent Pam talking to this guy. She spotted me walking up and introduced me to the guy. I can’t recall exactly what she said, but it was along the lines of “Jeffe writes fantasy and [Guy] writes some kind of fantasy, too.” And then she ducked away really quick, which should have given me a clue. But I was freshly arrived, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, feeling generous and friendly, so I made a little joke, something like “oh, one of those, huh, who doesn’t know it exactly what kind of fantasy it might be?”

I mean, come on – I have internet conversations almost every day where we debate if something is epic fantasy or urban fantasy or contemporary fantasy or fantasy romance. It’s not like our stories come pre-pigeonholed.

 At any rate, Guy gives me a look (you know, the mansplaining kind) and says to me, “No, I know exactly what kind of fantasy I write. It’s [insert some way-too-specfic term here].” Seriously I can’t remember what he said, because as soon as the words came out of his mouth, I started to glaze over. Then he proceeded to give me his resume, which largely included his “near-misses” along with the books he had written. A near-miss happens when, say, your book makes it all the way to the second meeting of the editorial team at TOR and they ultimately decide to pass. I total “I coulda been a contenda” moment. Agonizing for the author, yes. Not a good way of introducing yourself.

Writers, of course, discuss and commiserate over the near-misses all the time. But they never count for making you more legit or important. (Pro-tip, there.)

Anyway, Guy tells me about a near-miss. Then also tells me how this prestigious role-playing game (which meant nothing to me, since I don’t know that world) wanted him to write a spin-off of book. He, however, refused! “They wanted to me to write about dragons sitting around discussing war,” Guy said, in a disgusted and dismissive tone. “No amount of money would get me to write about a conversation. I write action!”

Okay then.

So, as I write about my dragons – who are, by the way, not sitting around discussing war, for what it’s worth, though there may be other, similar conversations – I keep hearing Guy’s voice. And thinking how he just didn’t get it.

I mean, yes, write action! That’s great stuff. Nothing wrong with writing action. A good writer, however, can make a conversation into a fight scene. Or a love scene. Hell, look at Hemingway’s Hills Like White Elephants or Dorothy Parker’s Here We Are. Conversely, I’ve read tons of fight and battle scenes that I skimmed because they were all about the blow-by-blow and contained no emotional tension.

I think that’s why the conversation with Guy keeps coming back to me. The thing is, while the STORY is key, it’s the writing that makes it come alive. Written well, a conversation adds to the overall tension and climactic build of the plot. Written poorly, the most dramatic fight scene can, well, droop and fail to satisfy. 

I’ll leave you with a snippet from the amazing Dorothy Parker’s Here We Are.

“Well, you see, sweetheart,” he said, “we’re not really married yet. I mean. I mean—well, things will be different afterwards. Oh, hell. I mean, we haven’t been married very long.”

“No,” she said.

“Well, we haven’t got much longer to wait now,” he said. “I mean—well, we’ll be in New York in about twenty minutes. Then we can have dinner, and sort of see what we feel like doing. Or I mean. Is there anything special you want to do tonight?”

“What?” she said.

“What I mean to say,” he said, “would you like to go to a show or something?”

“Why, whatever you like,” she said. “I sort of didn’t think people went to theaters and things on their—I mean, I’ve got a couple of letters I simply must write. Don’t let me forget.”

“Oh,” he said. “You’re going to write letters tonight?”

Guy would no doubt disapprove, but something also tells me he wouldn’t get it.