Are genres a trend?

So I just read a tweet by a lit agent who said, “Sci-fi and fantasy are hot right now. Which means the trend is over.”

As a writer and reader of sci-fi and fantasy, this tweet made me want to break through a brick wall, Kool-Aid Man-style. “How can an agent, a professional in the industry I’ve been busting my butt to become part of all these years, talk about my passion in such a cavalier fashion?”

Given the amount of fantasy novels photographed and Instagrammed in the #BooksArentDangerous campaign last week, I seriously doubt the verity of this agent’s statement.

It basically dismisses not only my desire to read immersive, inventive, epic new fantasy, but dismisses my livelihood. And it leads me to the question: are genres considered a TREND in publishing? I mean, obviously there are times when one genre is overselling others, and it flip-flops around, but it never occurred to me that agents (and publishers) may look at a book’s genre and immediately dismiss it based on their belief/assumption that that genre is old hat and no one’s interested.

That makes no sense to me, as a reader. SFF has been my favourite genre since age 6. That’s never going to change, even if a parade of sub-par trope-filled titles endlessly hit the NYT bestseller list over the next decade. I will ALWAYS be a fan of fantasy and sci-fi. For all the other genres I enjoy reading, I have my favourite authors and favourite types of stories, but I will never say, “Ehh, I’m sick of SFF. So. Played. Out.” I may say that there are, for example, too many YA fantasies out — and still being published — about teens training for competitions; that’s a trend that feels as worn as vampire-sexy-times. But that doesn’t mean I’m sick of fantasy in general, or that SFF needs to stop BEING A THING.

Even if time travel is a trend within fantasy that’s “over,” do I give up on that? I wrote a manuscript with time travel in it before the (current) trend began, and am trying to get it out there now that the trend is probably way past its prime. Does that mean shelve it? Maybe, but I’m not doing that yet. Does that mean give up completely and pretend I never wrote the thing? Hell to the NO.

I’m curious what others think about this. If you read a similar statement from someone in the industry who said the genre you write in is “over”, would it bother you? Would you stop writing that genre? Would you even consider changing your path?

Probably not. It’s one person, and yes, maybe this opinion is shared the industry over, but as everyone is keen to point out, you should never write to trends because they fly like bullets. Write what you want to read, in the hopes that others will want to read it as well. Regardless of “what’s hot.” Regardless of what film producers are hoping to turn into the next big blockbuster because original screenplays are sadly considered “too risky” these days. Write what you would be ecstatic to find on a bookshelf. 

If you think about it, publishing is a bizarre industry. In most industries, the designers/engineers/creators are buildings things that are needed, for market, to fill a requirement. We are told to write what we’re passionate about, because that will show in the writing, and the whole don’t write to trends thing. And yet we have to rely wholly on the agents and editors who are looking for very specific things that fit what they feel will be the next big wave in the industry. So we can’t aim for a specific requirement to fulfill; all we can do is place our hopes on the fickle winds and wait and see whether they’ll be carried onward and upward, or torn apart.

But back to the agent. That agent must know what they’ve said isn’t going to change most writers’ minds, and yet they still said it — why? Because they’re sick of SFF in their inbox? That’s absolutely fine. But it seems somewhat irresponsible to diss an entire genre to the Twitterverse. Why not just say, “I can’t sell fantasy right now, so please don’t send it my way”? Maybe others are selling it and this agent’s missing out. Who knows.

All I know is I’m weary of trying to second-guess and wonder what the industry wants or doesn’t want, loves or scoffs at, and Twitter has lately been doing its best to steal my joy about what I do. Some pros in the industry out there have no qualms about tweeting snark like, “Oh YAY, another (fill in the genre) in my slushpile. *rolls eyes* FORM REJECTION.”

I’m not finding that useful. Twitter a great tool for connecting, but when you’re still in the writing/not-yet-published stage, it can be a minefield of hope-shattering shrapnel. I’m choosing to keep my joy in what I do, and I will be a rebel and keep on pouring my heart into sci-fi and fantasy because it makes me happier than just about anything.


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#WIPMarathon April Check-in

Outlandia path in Glen Nevis
Outlandia path in Glen Nevis

Okay, so it’s April’s check-in for WIP Marathon but I’m here to say, we’ve still got four whole days left in this month! And I will finish what I said I’d finish in April by the time the 30th rolls around. Maybe we should start doing these on the last day of the month, whenever that day falls? :}

Oh, and here are more gratuitous shots of yet another set of Scottish adventures.

Last word count:
116,587. What was a first draft of my WIP has become a second draft, really. When I was drafting it in Nov-Jan, I started to change my mind on characters by the time I got to the last third of the ms. And I also began to develop more worldbuilding ideas. So when I wanted to do a quick read for continuity of the first draft before sending it to CPs, I realised a lot more work had to be done for them to receive a coherent story. (Or something vaguely resembling one, anyhow).

I also realised there’s no point in sending out a mish-mash patchwork story to anyone, if those ideas are all likely to change. So rather than work on a new WIP for Camp NaNo, I’ve spent the month giving this story a much more detailed clean-up. Terminology confuses me sometimes, but this was no revision. This was just trying to get all the subplots to make sense!

Current word count:
119,336. I’m happy with this. As I said last month, this is unfolding to be a rather epic tale, and if I have about 120k to send to CPs/betas, then when they tell me everything that’s wrong with it (haha) and I have to turn into Edward Scissorhands to clean it up, I’ll have plenty of buffer.

WIP Issues This Month:
I think this story is a bit schizophrenic at the moment, so trying to fix that has become trying to accept it. It will have several more drafts before it’s ready to go, but in the meantime, it is what it is. And until I chip away at it to find out exactly what kind of story it wants to be (apart from fantasy, obviously), it has a handful of elements in it that *I* would want to read. The fact that they’re currently all mixed together is something I’ve decided is okay, for now.

Loch Tulla near Bridge of Orchy

Four things I learned this month while writing:

1. Get characters talking. I’m pretty sure I “learned” this before, but it’s an important point. I just finished reading RED SEAS UNDER RED SKIES by Scott Lynch — second in the hugely engrossing Locke Lamora series. Actually, I listened to the audiobooks for both because the voice actor is perfect. Lynch is one of the most incredible world builders and the detail he delves into makes you believe in his world implicitly (though some might say that detail gets a little rambly at times, but on audiobook I don’t mind it so much since I’m usually multi-tasking).

Lynch is also amazing at dialogue. They’re never talking heads. And what I realised is how much time he spends in dialogue. He has his interludes of descriptive language of setting or how an aspect of his world works; but when the characters are talking, it’s never boring. It’s always entertaining, always revealing conflict, always upping the tension. He’s a master at this stuff and highly recommended.

Of course, not all books share the same style, but it’s helping me be unafraid of pushing the dialogue envelope. I have a tendency to leave them in their heads and that’s BAD, and boring after a very short while, but most importantly, misses out on conflict.

Yes, a character can be in conflict within themselves and that’s often a large part of the story; but it can’t be the only part.

I also read an article by KM Weiland where she discussed one of the easiest ways to fix a boring scene is to get the characters interacting. The most basic of concepts… but I’ll take that reminder as often as I can.

And I’m leaving it at just the 1 item for this month because it’s a biggie 😉

What distracted me this month while writing:
Apart from a long Easter weekend trip to Glasgow (8 hour drive because of traffic so a VERY long trip) and two fun, peaceful, rejuvenating days camping and hiking in Glen Nevis/Glencoe, I’ve not had a lot of distraction. Mostly had my head down trying to plough through the most difficult stage of editing (to my mind) — when ideas are still forming. I find polishing much easier than arguing internally between various characters’ traits or personalities, for instance. Once I know them well, I’m much happier!

The north face of Ben Nevis.
The north face of Ben Nevis.
Buachaille Etive Mor. We’ve been up there 2x! NEVER ceases to amaze me 🙂

Goal for next month:
Send out A SIGHT OF NEVERSEA (this WIP) to my CPs.
2. LEAVE IT ALONE while they have it.
3. Read, brainstorm, and return to the first draft of my space opera.
4. As for other matters of which some are aware, grow in the areas of patience and belief I’m on the right path, no matter what the outcome is.

Looking forward to seeing how everyone else did this month!

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Must Be Nice.

Yesterday at a social gathering, a few people near me were discussing their similar careers and companies. After several minutes of this, one of them — someone I don’t know well but see a few times a month — turned to me and said, “Well, what do you do?”

I have grown to hate this question, and that’s really sad, because I love what I do with every fibre of my being. But experience has taught me that 75% of the time, the response to my answer is not something I’m good at dealing with.

I told this person I’m a part-time freelance writer/editor, and write novels from home, his response was the perennial favourite,

“It must be nice.”

In case you’re thinking he said this in a wistful manner, let me gently nudge you more toward sarcastic with a hint of judgment and a dash of superiority, as he looked around at the other two he’d been chatting with.

It must be nice? What must be nice? That I don’t work a 9-5 job with a respectable paycheck, therefore I live on some kind of perma-holiday?

What I wish people who don’t write or create art knew about those that do is its often thankless. We do it because there’s an overpowering desire in our heart — not for money, or prestige, and certainly not fame — and if we didn’t siphon things out of this well inside us on a regular basis, we would go stark raving mad. Or as my friend and critique partner Megan Peterson recently put it, it would poison our whole being.

“It must be nice” infers we sit around in our jim-jams watching Netflix and letting the laundry pile up around our heads while we’re chugging back beers and covered in biscuit crumbs.

Let me be the billionth writer to say, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

On top of this, his comment was, in a word, degrading. But I suppose if I stepped back from the situation I could say the question reflects on him more than it does on me, or any of us who choose to pursue something that garners very little acclaim or money or, in most circles, respect. For reasons like this — as if we twiddle our thumbs and play Candy Crush (I don’t even know what that is) all day.

Not as if I work my butt off, taking online classes, studying craft books or published novels daily, working with critique partners through their own manuscripts, researching, enrolling in bootcamps and shelling out bucks to get professional feedback as often as means allow.

Not as if I get my heart ripped out after putting it on the page and then having to light it on fire and start over again on a regular basis.

Not as if I get next to no recognition for pursuing this dream that I love and believe will matter someday, and maybe inspire one other person to dream and write and create worlds that they love as well.

It makes me wonder, what’s harder? Working in a field that will always need employees, is guaranteed a nice paycheque, holidays, and a retirement plan? Or putting your heart and soul into a misshapen lump — one that you hammer out day after day, with no one overseeing your work or making sure you’re DOING the work (or making sure you’re taking breaks for your physical and mental health), with no accolades, no guaranteed paycheque, no water-cooler socialisation, very little respect, endless assumptions and suspicions about how you spend your time and your “REAL” motivation, cyclical self-doubt, the desire to change one little word or one entire character from the moment you wake up until you finally fall asleep at night (usually quite late) — all with the hope that one day that lump will become a shining work of art that you’re proud of, grateful to have been able to construct, and hopeful will inspire others, whether through the imagination, the entertainment, or simply the craft used to cobble it all together. Hopeful that the work will someday make it all up to the family and friends who were your moral support from day one.

The answer? I don’t think one is harder than the other. I think people are best suited to one or the other. I’ve been on the 9-5 desk job side of things, with the decent, reliable paycheque and the retirement options and the healthcare package. I know that that is bloody hard work, and most times, work that you don’t actually care about but need to do in order to live.

On the flip-side, another person at this gathering who I know even less well and see maybe twice a year not only remembered that I’m a writer, but asked me how it was going, and encouraged me with supportive comments about my current (positive) set of circumstances. I wanted to hug her. These sorts of responses are few and far between, but I’m beginning to learn not to expect them. And again, that’s sad. But that’s life. What matters is I believe in what I’m doing. I am confident in what I do. I just wish I could come up with a better response in the midst of conversation to people who say, “It must be nice.”

. . . But then, that’s why I’m a writer. Because I can’t come up with this stuff on the spur of the moment as the words are falling from someone else’s lips. They form in my head and are put down on a screen, and edited, and critiqued, and polished, and torn apart, and edited again, instead of coming out of my mouth and lingering on the air, unable to be taken back or fixed.

If that’s my choice, I’ll take it.

And I suppose the best response to this comment is it’s more than nice (and since I’m a writer, I don’t use words like “nice”, right? *grin*). I am grateful to be able to spend the majority of my time doing a job that I LOVE, and will never grow tired of. A job that challenges me every day, and when I face a hint of sarcasm or judgement, it only works to remind me that despite what anyone else thinks, I’m not going to give up.

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Writing Retreats

Back in January (which, somehow, both feels like last week and about 6 months ago), the Scotsman went on a snowboarding excursion (I was originally going to go, and ended up not going, which worked out in my favor in more ways than one :), so while he was away I figured I’d be super productive AND have fun. I planned a mini-writing getaway to Cornwall.

Pendennis Point
Pendennis Point

I did a film degree at Falmouth University (when it was still University College Falmouth), and those 3+ years are legendary in my mind. Whenever I visit now, I’m infused with the same anything-can-happen mentality I had when I was at uni. Maybe because it was my third attempt at finishing a degree, maybe because it was my first year living in the UK, and most definitely because for the first time in my life, I worked my butt off and was genuinely HAPPY about it. Whatever the magical combination or alignment of planets, I feel like it still lingers when I visit. So for me, it’s the perfect writing retreat destination.

Gyllyngvase Beach
Gyllyngvase Beach

Ignoring the fact that I do NOT work in film, I don’t regret a day of that degree (okay… maybe ONE day, but that’s another story 😉 because I got to research things I love, learn about different cultures and perspectives and theories, and most importantly, surround myself in storytelling. (Not to mention the amazing people and memories).

I booked four nights in a hotel on the beach. On the 4.5-hour train ride down alone I wrote about 5k. Every sunrise I did a 4-mile run along the coast (which I do NOT do where we currently live because there’s nowhere remotely pretty nearby), and soaked in the pool and sauna in the evening, but during the day, I took my laptop on a writing tour of Penryn and Falmouth and wrote over 30k. In 4.5 days. And I didn’t go home and delete it all (MONSTER WIN!).

I realise not everyone can get away from home for 1 day, let alone 4.5 by the sea, but the change of scenery is what’s most important. I work in my home office most of the time, and somedays, even changing CHAIRS makes a noticeable difference.

It wasn’t even that I didn’t have distractions — there were loads. I still know people in Falmouth and met up with some of them. I wanted to go in all the shops and could’ve spent the day at Gylly Beach just staring at the horizon. Reflecting on why it worked, I’ve concluded that:

a) It wasn’t a place I’d never been, therefore there was no urge to go off adventuring and explore EVERYTHING. Yes, I could’ve just walked around for 5 days and been content, but if it had been somewhere new to me, I would’ve done that without hesitating.

b) …and at the same time, it holds a place in my heart, good memories, though I was mostly surrounded by strangers, so I was able to tuck into the corner of a cafe or restaurant I knew, but eavesdrop and even partake in conversation, and all the familiar sights mixed with the unfamiliar, and made it refreshing without being overwhelming.

One afternoon, I sat in a Penryn cafe and listened to locals converse about everything under the sun and I LOVED it. They were so friendly and inquisitive and open, and while I didn’t get as much writing accomplished there when I had my headphones off, what I heard fed my head. Nothing of what they said or did ended up in my draft; it was simply being outside of my daily settings, and even outside of somewhere I can physically GET to on a daily basis.

Even if your writing retreat is just part of a day (and I realise, even one whole day, or one whole afternoon can be very pricey both time and money-wise), I highly recommend finding a way to make it work. The ideas flew out of me. It wasn’t about not being distracted; it was about having new distractions.

Over the past year, for awhile I was going to a coffee shop in a nearby town where we used to live, and writing there. It’s only a 20-minute drive yet it takes me out of my regularly scheduled program. I need to get back to that.

Have you gone on a writing retreat, big or small? What works for you? I’d love to hear about it. I need to stock up on some ideas for other ways to swing it 🙂


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WIP Marathon March Check-in

Wow, it’s like I just did one of these!

…oh, wait…

Gorgeous view from Mirador Morro Velosa, F’ventura

At least this month, I’m (sort of) on time! I promise my next post (which might be today, who knows) will be about stuff other than my word counts, because I realise that for non-writers and even non-WIP Marathoners, that might be about the most boring thing in the world to read. Sorry.

Last report word count: 120,000. This is my WIP’s first draft, version 1.2 😉 (Not a 2nd draft, oh no).

Current report word count: 116,587. As I said last month, I like to have a lot of padding before I dig into a serious edit. I’m still at the “Does this story follow any kind of cohesive narrative whatsoever?” stage. So… As they used to say in Infocom text adventures, Maximum Verbosity.

WIP Issues This Month: I find myself feeling like, “Is this enough?” and wanting to add side plot after character backstory-reason-for-doing-X-Y-Z after side plot. I know I’ll have to scale back, but this is going to be my biggest (not just size-wise, but cast/world-wise) story yet, and I’ve yet to find confidence in the balance between enough complexity and too much. :-l

Is there a writing craft book called “Knowing When You’ve Got Enough Actual _Story_ And You Can Stop Adding Bits Now”?

Four things I learned this month while writing:

1) That it would be awesome if I was a meticulous JKR-like writer who has spreadsheets out the wazoo about what characters do/reveal when and related symbolism, flashbacks, foreshadowing, and what-have-you. I am not.

I have typically one journal per story, and keep notes in as organised a fashion as I can, as well as using different docs within Scrivener for keeping track of world building, but I’m constantly afraid I’ll miss some Post-it or scrap of paper or Evernote stream of consciousness where I’ve written something of UTMOST IMPORTANCE to the unravelling of this story’s universe that I’m stressing myself out.

Last Sunday I heard (and saw) Diana Gabaldon speak for the second time, this time at the Oxford Literary Festival at the Sheldonian Theatre. She was brilliant. I’ve heard and read her how-I-got-here story many times, and each time is increasingly inspirational. She said she doesn’t outline, she doesn’t usually even write chronologically, and often writes conversations or scenes where she may not even know who the characters are yet. And she offers no apologies. She does her research, finds something interesting, and finds a way to work it in. As much as I admire JKR for her sheer imagination and ability to weave plot threads from Page One of Book One with, apparently, God-like awareness of how it will all pan out, I loved hearing Diana explain with wit and refreshing self-confidence that no, she doesn’t know precisely how the series will end until she gets there. And that might bring me to …

2) There is no right way. There’s the way that works for you.

3) If you could use some great examples of plot points, head on over to KM Weiland’s website here: This particular example uses It’s a Wonderful Life, one of my favourite films, with a very concise and helpful look at how structure holds that story together so neatly.

4) Keeping Twitter/HootSuite/TweetDeck/whateveh shut for 3 hours = 4 scenes edited. BAM. Thus, henceforth I’m going to try to limit Twitter to breaks. I’m way too easily sidetracked. (Though I believe that sometimes this is a GOOD thing, and inspiration sneaks into cracks and crannies (what a word!) through means such as internet distraction. But for real, I need to be more disciplined right now).

What distracted me this month while writing: Besides Twitter, we went to Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands at the start of the month, I had a monster cold, and then I went to Oxford for the following weekend. That and my previously mentioned Writer’s Ass, but in the past few days it’s gotten much better! I discovered something called somatics, and it seems to be helping. Praise God!

Goal for next month: Finish this draft by April 17th, then write 20k of Camp NaNo story in the days left in the month.

Next blog post around, no word counts! I promise.

And one more thing, infinitely more exciting than my WIP progress, is the amazing, generous, and talented Susan Dennard (author of SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY and writer of words over at Pub(lishing Crawl) is giving away a bound copy of her upcoming TRUTHWITCH! Check out this link to enter — it’s exclusive to subscribers of her Misfits & Daydreamers newsletter, which you can subscribe to RIGHT HERE. Run, don’t walk! Her newsletters are packed full of magical cookie GOODNESS. OMNOM.

See you next time!


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