Genre – the bane of my writing life

Hello to everyone finally officially in Spring from me in Autumn / Fall.  To combat the reverse envy I’m now sensing, at least Melbourne has a long weekend for Labour Day. :-)

Ruth Snyder's blog hop

This fortnight’s post for Ruth Snyder’s Blog Hop is “My Favo(u)rite Genre”.  Again, I fail miserably to fit into mainstream thinking on this topic!  Oh, I absolutely understand the need for genre classification, especially now that e-books are flying across our e-noses from all sides, but for someone who’s endeavouring to draw readers towards a topic to which they may not have previously been exposed, I constantly bump up against the walls.  And they’re not padded…

We live in a world of drop-down lists, check boxes and radio buttons, for which I’m partly to blame, since I’ve been involved in many such abominable creations.  These nifty, high-tech methods of filtering and sorting clearly enable us to group the abundance of treasure into manageable slices of information.  The more we depend on websites to make our selection of reading material, the greater the need for some speedy classification mechanism.  Genre in the Internet age has found renewed purpose.

I also understand that genre is a convenient way for authors and readers to connect on common ground and feed their shared passions.  It’s a signpost to direct supply and demand to consummate that magic transaction, and in the absence of a better solution, I suppose I’d better “suck it up”…!

As a reader, I spread myself shamelessly across as many genres as I have time for, but still there are a few I avoid.  My least favourite subject at school was History, and on the whole I tend to steer clear of reading historical books, whether fiction or non-fiction.  Yet why then do I list my all-time favourite authors as Victor Hugo, Honoré de Balzac, Eugène Ionesco and Fyodor Dostoyevsky?  My conclusion is that they too were generalist observers and change agents who sought to breach boundaries rather than to exist within the constraints of tradition and convention.  I wonder what the Blog Hop posts of these esteemed gentlemen would tell us about genre in bygone days?

Therefore, as a writer with social justice aspirations, I have to target my favourite genre as Contemporary Fiction.  Mention the words “love” and “romance”, and most men run in the opposite direction.  Throw in “star” or “celebrity”, and the work may be dismissed as superficial or lacking in substance.  Mention “inspirational”, as I did before I realised its connotations in North America, and I find myself stalked on social media by evangelists promising to save my e-soul.  And dare to discuss “depression”, “post-traumatic stress disorder”, “deathwish”, “nightmares” (sans vampires) and “inescapable social exclusion”, and everyone except fellow sufferers is disaffected.

Contemporary Fiction is, by definition, an overwhelming buffet from which it’s often difficult to decide or even identify what might take our fancy.  On the other side of the coin, however, strict genre classifications tend to “preach to the converted”.  What I’m seeking is the “I’m willing to open my mind” genre; the “teach me something I don’t know, and entertain me at the same time” category.  Now that would be the perfect genre for me, and one which would have allowed my post to be a whole lot shorter!

Best wishes from a cloudless Melbourne Sunday!  There’s writing to be done.

Re-blogged interview from my host, The Complete Self-Publishing Indie Authors Resource Site

Hello!

The end of January already!  Where did that month go?

I’m halfway through my first book blog tour, put together by Fire and Ice (please see this link for the remaining dates).  Today’s stop is at The Complete Self-Publishing Indie Authors Resource Site (http://selfpublishingindieauthors.blogspot.com.au/), whom I thank for publishing my Qs&As.  Here is a transcript, which delves into why I am writing the “A Life Singular” serial:

What inspired you to write A Life Singular?

My earliest inspiration came from a wonderful English teacher who brought our language to life! As a teenager in a leafy London suburb, I grew up revelling in the richness of words and obsessed with perfecting the art of stringing them together to convey a deeper meaning.

The enduring love story at the heart of the “A Life Singular” series emerged from an adolescent fascination for pop stars and the music world. I developed a habit, purely for my own entertainment, of writing journalistic pieces that presumed a backstory about my favourite celebrities, and as I grew older and began to understand the world’s complexities, I longed to discover why so many of our ‘rich and famous’ seem to struggle in their private lives.

Later on, when my own life took several wrong turns (and continues to do so), I found myself coping with severe depression and an inescapable death-wish, and so took refuge in writing, writing, writing… From here, the notion of a serial sprang forth, transforming the cute romance between a pop star and a rock guitarist into a sharp yet tender examination of the human condition.

My two main ambitions for “A Life Singular” are firstly to inspire sufferers of mental illnesses to rise above their symptoms to achieve happiness and success, and secondly to appeal to non-sufferers for their understanding, love and support in our efforts to live a ‘normal’ life.

Did you run into any snags along the way?

‘Snag’ is Australian slang for sausage, by the way; a favourite at barbies…

Well, I never suffer writer’s block, that’s for sure! Quite the opposite is true. The need to establish a career and earn money, coupled with a gipsy tendency which has spirited me all over the world, conspired to limit the relentless flow of words from my fingers. I seldom get more than a couple of hours’ sleep at a time, because my story ideas wake me and demand to be recorded, or else they refuse to let me fall asleep again. An array of sticky notes covered with scrawl on both sides typically litters my bedside table by the time morning rolls around!

Snags a-plenty in the publishing journey however, more of which can be found in the question below about my publishing experience. The regular rejections from agents and traditional publishers are somewhat discouraging of course, as they are for everyone. Also, my series is predominately set in Melbourne, and it has been important to preserve my characters’ use of Australian idioms and vocabulary in a way that’s clear enough to American and Canadian readers to prevent confusion, but without boring them by explaining every nuance or creating a glossary!

Genre classification was fraught with danger. I didn’t wish to restrict my audience only to women, readers of contemporary romance or people in need of help. It was the classic case of “all of the above”. Unwittingly, I fell into hot water when I used the word “inspirational” in my synopsis, suddenly being inundated with evangelists tweeting to save my soul. After checking with a reliable source, I realised that this word in the US and Canada suggests a Christian or religious message, which is conspicuously absent in my writing!

My most recent bugbear is the fact that Amazon does not consolidate customer reviews across regional markets. Australia is an enormous island continent with a tiny population. Consequently, an aspiring author from the southern hemisphere, whose early reviews are likely to come from local contacts, friends and family, will find it difficult to gain exposure in the larger markets of North America and Europe without some indication of the quality of their work. Amazon’s regional sites do not currently copy local reviews to other “stores”, and therefore we are required to impose upon our reviewers to paste their reviews in up to 12 places.

How did you remain motivated?

Motivation is an eternal challenge for someone with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Without venturing too far into the morbid, living each day depends on garnering considerable motivation from external sources. Mine comes from my old dog, volunteering for non-profit organisations and the promise I made to outlive my alarmingly healthy parents.

I have vowed to accomplish this mission through completing all six parts of the “A Life Singular” serial, thereby giving new meaning to ‘a life’s work’. So far it’s going well, and I remain driven to help destigmatise mental illness and to encourage people to embrace it as one of the many complex non-negotiables of the 21st century.

Part Two was released in December 2013, and I’m currently working on Part Three. I aim to publish at six-monthly intervals, which will see a story which spans nearly fifty years reaching its conclusion in contemporary times.

What was the publishing experience like for you?

There were several false starts at the hands of the off-shore publishing elves with their westernised pseudonyms and lack of awareness that Australia has more than one timezone. Wake-up calls at 6am were a regular occurrence, so much so that I have now migrated three hours forwards and 4,000 kilometres eastwards to accommodate them! These issues derailed progress until we grew accustomed to each others’ ways of working. Thankfully, my IT career has helped me greatly in dealing with far-flung people whose culture and interpretation of language are very different from my own. They key is to be very precise and unambiguous with their instructions.

My most unwelcome hurdle was being censored by this self-publishing company due to what they termed ‘under age sex’. Despite Part Two of my serial containing no abusive or exploitative content and certainly nothing below the age of consent, their ‘customer satisfaction specialist’ informed me that their policy is black and white. Life is not black and white, I tried to point out, but to no avail! A reminder that his company had happily published underage drinking and drug-taking in Part One was not considered a valid defence either. I expect to use Amazon’s CreateSpace for Part Two onwards, given the freedom it offers authors who seek to be unconstrained by such outdated, self-righteous and overprotective policies.

As mentioned earlier, my books don’t slot nicely into a conventional genre. It has been tricky to come up with the single-sentence ‘elevator pitch’ for those chance encounters either face-to-face or via the metaphorical elevator of the little blue bird. Social media is an exhausting necessity that takes authors away from their true passion. However, the unprecedented access it affords us to new audiences far outweighs the annoyance of having to constantly generate catchy soundbytes.

Is there anything you wish you would have known about writing when you started?

I was particularly naïve about the publishing process prior to beginning my journey to authordom, and my lessons are too numerous to mention here.

Without question, the value of an editor is huge, yet the cost is prohibitive for a new writer. Oh, for a magic curio capable of spotting errors and repetition in my work more quickly than my own reviews. This would save me hours, if not days of effort!

Using friends or relatives as a substitute for an editor is good for general feedback, although they don’t generally say anything more specific than “I loved it” or “It’s not my kind of book”. I also find that people who know me often cannot remove themselves adequately from the author to truly get into the story, and neither do they have eagle-eyes trained to spot those annoying misspellings and grammatical bloopers.

Lastly, I was also disappointed by the snootiness of some creative writing professionals, especially from academia. Aren’t lecturers supposed to educate? Attending the Perth Writers’ Festival this year as an e-chick looking to self-publish, I have never felt so inadequate as when seeking information from the literary cognoscenti of the world’s most isolated city. All power to independent authors who are proving these learned fellows wrong via the bestsellers lists!

What did it feel like when you finished the book?

Amazing! I’ve spent almost thirty years writing business cases, system specifications and project plans, leaving me in no doubt that I had the discipline to finish what I started. However, I was not prepared for the euphoria of receiving my first printed copy of “A Life Singular – Part One”. My cover design, my name on the cover, my picture on the back… A true sense of achievement, even though it’s the first of six!

More surprising though was how much the physical book meant to me, as a technocrat who converted to e-books many years ago. With an e-book, we only get an idea of how “long” the book is by our progress along the blue line at the bottom of the screen. When I saw Part One as a paperback and checked the number of pages, I was blown away with how long it is!

Have you made any changes to your book based on reader feedback?

Yes, a few changes have been made to Part One, mostly correcting errors that slipped through. I am definitely incorporating readers’ comments into the subsequent parts though. One piece of constructive feedback I received from a respected work colleague was that I use too many adjectives, which I later discovered was criticism levelled at JK Rowling. I might sit on that one for a while… At least until my second or third billion.

I am fortunate to have lived and worked in various corners of the globe, and I like to try my writing out on friends in different countries to make sure there are no more strange interpretations that might get me into trouble.

I must also mention my mother here, who’s opposed to any form of swearing and explicit sex scenes. I tried to create a swearword-free version for her, but abandoned it almost immediately because the dialogue no longer suited the characters and the result made me laugh out loud. Also, her e-mail response to the first sex scene was “Phew! Brings back memories.” Sorry, Mum, I couldn’t resist!

Do you have any advice for new writers?

Thanks for asking! In truth, I still consider myself a new writer, so don’t yet feel qualified to give advice. My biggest obstacles were my lack of self-confidence and the fear that no-one would like my writing. Yet the moment I took the plunge and released my story into the wild, this terror miraculously vanished and I became comfortable with talking about my work and what I’m hoping to achieve.

In terms of the technical quality of my work, I find that regularly downloading a digital draft and sitting down with it in “reader mode” enables me to pick up inconsistencies, overuse of particular words and other typographical errors much more easily than in “writer mode” in front of the computer.

To conclude, my mantra has become ‘Be true to yourself.’ If you feel compelled to write about something, then write about it with all your emotions laid bare. Particularly if people are battling a persistent mental health condition, they tend to live a life of pretence in their day-to-day existence. I know that writing is the only place where I can truly be myself.

Many thanks for inviting me to this interview. Best wishes for 2014 to you and all your readers from the blisteringly hot Melbourne summer.  And thank-you, Shelly from Fire and Ice Blog tours, for organising a month of interesting blog travels for me!

Goals for 2014 – to finish what I started!

I’m delighted to be part of a blog hop run by Ruth Snyder. The group’s first topic is “Our Writing Goals for 2014″, so here goes!

I always hesitate to set goals, simply because experience has taught me to expect the unexpected. For example, when I moved back to Melbourne from Perth in September last year, I never imagined I would still be unemployed in January. My old dog has failed to keep me in the style to which I’d like to become accustomed and is also well past retirement age now. Hence, while I’ve put this extended “holiday” to very good use for my writing and building a social media profile, my priority must remain securing a PAID job!

Tiresome necessary evils aside, my goals for 2014 can be broadly categorised as “more of the same”:

(1) Having self-published the first two parts of my “A Life Singular” serial last year, I hope to finish Part Three in June and Part Four in December. I have abandoned the idea of using a self-publishing company in favour of Amazon’s CreateSpace after Xlibris Publishing censored my work to the extent that the whole premise of Part Two was negated. The CreateSpace experience was not only significantly cheaper but also allows authors complete flexibility with content and design.

[Note on Goal 1: as an e-chick with 28 years in the IT industry (and hopefully more!), receiving the first copy of a paperback with my name on it, my cover design and my words inside was probably THE most significant event of my life! My first e-book was certainly satisfying to finish, but I was totally unprepared for the pride and sense of achievement I felt when holding a printed book with physical dimensions and weight! So, to all authors hoping to publish in print for the first time this year, I can assure you that your soul will not be disappointed with its reward!]

(2) Consolidating my social media platform is high on the priority list too. Currently I run my own website, through which I sell books whole and by chapter and also post news about launches, trailers, etc. However, a recent invitation to renew my web hosting subscription has prompted me to take better advantage of WordPress’ features, which these days allow us to create almost fully-functioning web presences at a very low cost. This will cut down my e-maintenance effort considerably also!

2013 saw Twitter’s coming of age, and indeed it’s now considered the marketing tool of choice for many authors. I can’t help but think of it as spam though, given the volume of tweets that flash past and then disappear before we get a chance to read them. Despite the proliferation of retweets, follows, mentions and advertising clogging up my ‘phone, tablet and browser, I must get over this aversion quickly and worship the little, blue bird as my hero!

In short, the objective of Goal #2 is to find a more efficient way of optimising my time across Twitter, blog / website, Facebook, Pinterest and all the various services which promise to increase my reach. I am experimenting with SocialOomph and Hootsuite to accomplish this without spamming my friends to excess.

So far – and here’s where my cynicism refuses to let go – none of these endeavours has led to an increase in book sales. Perhaps this comes with critical mass, which segues perfectly on to Goal #3…

(3) World domination! No, I am not signing up to fight in Syria and indeed fervently hope for peace in the Middle East as soon as possible… I only seek to continue standing up for the rights of Australian and New Zealand writers. Living on a huge island continent with a tiny population and wishing to break into in the larger markets of the USA, UK, Europe and Asia, I am hopeful that 2014 will see a more integrated global market in Amazon, Goodreads and the like.

Amazon’s Australian outlet, Amazon.com.au, was “opened” a couple of months ago, before which time all Australian and New Zealand books were sold from the US “store”. Luckily, any pre-existing customer reviews were transferred into the Australian “store” with our books. Not so for our Author Profile however, which still needs to be set up for each regional site separately. This in isolation is not a huge issue and actually makes perfect sense for non-English-speaking markets, when it’s important to translate at least part of one’s profile into the domestic language.

However, the segregation of customer reviews is a HUGE issue and a grave disadvantage for new authors from smaller markets, who are more likely to obtain their early reviews from friends and family, who in turn are more likely to be local. Amazon does not make new customer reviews visible across all stores, and consequently potential US and UK readers are not aware of the quality of our work and we do not advance in the search rankings.

Mailing physical books internationally is prohibitively expensive too; it costs AU$56.55 to post one copy of my book to a US or UK address, which is obviously more than the book sells for! Many reviewers, giveaways and competitions are still only accepting books in print format, which I will also add to my campaign for this year!

(4) My last goal is to read more. Again, my unforeseen sabbatical has afforded me time to read as well as write, which I never could have accomplished while working my 50+ hour week. I aim to read a wide variety of books, both to support other independent authors and also to improve my own writing and general knowledge.

Four goals in twelve months is probably enough. Please visit the other blogs on Ruth’s hop and check out their writing goals.  Let us know yours too! Happy hopping :-)

Ruth Snyder's blog hop