The Genre Game

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It turns out the hardest part of writing a query isn’t trying to fashion a snapshot synopsis, (although that is definitely not an easy task). The hard part comes in the “logistical” paragraph. Right after the title and word count, agents want to know what genre fits your novel. That’s a toughie for those of us who write something that doesn’t exactly fit into a precise pigeonhole.

The genre section of my query letter is a sentence with a blank space until I figure out what genre best describes my novel. I have a few choices that include sub-genres of YA: fantasy, paranormal, romance, urban fantasy, magical realism or a combination of two or more.

I decided the best place to start my research was at my neighborhood bookstores. The Young Adult section is divided into Fiction, Fantasy, Fantasy & Adventure, Romance, and Paranormal. I looked at various books on each shelf to find anything that had any sort of reference to Greek mythology or re-imagined myth. One bookstore had those books shelved under Fantasy, but another had them shelved under Paranormal. Yet another, had them shelved under Romance. Clearly, there is dissension among the ranks.

Now even more confused than I was at the start, I went online and researched general definitions for fantasy, urban fantasy, paranormal and magical realism. These are the four genres I feel have the strongest relationship to my work, but after researching them I’ve discovered the line dividing them is much thinner than I previously thought.

Fantasy: commonly uses magic and other supernatural phenomena as primary plot element, theme or setting. Many works within the genre take place in imaginary worlds where magic and magical creatures are common.

Urban Fantasy: sub-genre of fantasy defined by place; the fantastic narrative has an urban setting. Many urban fantasies are set in contemporary times and contain supernatural elements. However, the stories can take place in historical, modern, or futuristic periods, and the settings may include fictional elements. The prerequisite is that they must be primarily set in a city.

Paranormal: encompasses elements of the paranormal, such as ghosts, vampires, werewolves, shapeshifters, and any sort of magical or otherworldly creatures. This type of fiction often goes beyond fact and logical explanations to speculate about the things that cannot be seen or proven.

Magical Realism: magic elements are a natural part in an otherwise mundane, realistic environment. Magical realism portrays fantastical events in an otherwise realistic tone. It brings fables, folk tales, and myths into contemporary social relevance.

Hmmmmmm. A story about a girl who falls in love with a male muse could easily fit into both fantasy and magical realism. Plus, the fact that the bulk of the story takes place in a modern city gives urban fantasy a point as well. Heck, we can even give YA Romance a point! The only one I think I can safely eliminate is paranormal because it seems a little darker in subject matter. Muses aren’t remotely scary like a vampire or werewolf.

The Muse takes place in the real world for the most part, but also in a fantastical world towards the end. It includes human characters and magical beings. And mythology is re-imagined and ushered into the modern era. I’ve got fantasy on one hand and magical realism in the other. Can it be both??

Why all the fuss about genre? Agents are pretty picky about they want to see in their inbox. If I don’t label my novel correctly, it could end up in the slush pile without a single look.

What’s a writer to do?

I have no idea.

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c.b.w. 2014

Genre Information courtesy of Wikipedia and http://www.wisegeek.com

Stage

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Gathered beneath
a tick-tock sky
Strangers by name,
friends on the street

Blue in the face,
stiff upper lip
Cobblestone seats,
warm with the sun

Evening show
takes center stage
The players speak
unwritten lines

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Photo: Covent Garden, London, c.b.w. 2005
Words: c.b.w. 2014
Inspiration: Covent Garden is often the stage for street performers and is always full of people. Between performances and people watching, there’s never a dull moment.

Favorite Thing Friday: Leaving Cowls

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It’s halfway through September, so that means I’m all tangled up in knitting for Christmas. So far, I’ve got three gifts complete, two of which are the result of my new favorite knitting pattern.

Ravelry is a treasure trove of free patterns if you’re willing to do a little homework. Searching with the right key words and filters will reveal some pretty great patterns. For two of the people on my Christmas gift list, I knew I wanted to make a pretty cowl that would match the hats I made for them last year, so I searched for “knitting, free, cowl, leaves.”

Within seconds, I spotted a pattern called the Leaving Cowl. Beautiful interlocking leaves and simple edging convinced me straight away that this was “the one.” Within minutes I downloaded and printed it out.

Last year, I was smart and stashed some yarn that matched most of the hats I made for gifts last year. By sheer luck, the gauge on the Leaving Cowl matched two of the skeins I had saved. Let the cast on commence!

I made the first cowl using a gorgeous Harvest Yellow, (Paton’s Classic Worsted Wool). The golden tone really enhanced the leaves and made this piece feel extra cozy.

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Harvest Yellow Leaving Cowl

For the second cowl, I decided to make the edges a little more special. I pulled out another stashed skein, Grey Marble (Paton’s Classic Worsted Wool) and paired it with a skein of Plum Heather. The warm tone of the plum gave the leaves gorgeous definition, while the grey marble created a nice contrast.

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Plum Heather and Grey Marble Leaving Cowl

The pattern itself is very easy to read. It provides both a chart and written out stitch instructions. I’d recommend it for knitters who feel comfortable with stitches that go beyond the basics as there a couple of tricky stitches, including slip 1, knit 2 together and pass slipped stitch over. If you’re a beginner looking for a little challenge to build your skills, this is a great pattern to push yourself to the next level.

I love these cowls so much, it’s going to be tough to let them go. At the same time, I know those receiving them will be very happy! I’ll definitely be making one for myself once the Christmas knitting madness comes to an end.

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What’s your favorite thing this week?

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c.b.w. 2014

Scribble Diary: Storage

Scribble Diary, September 5, 2014
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This week’s Scribble Diary seemed to be all about different ways I store the things I care about or wish I could let go. It’s amazing how one day can reveal so much about life as a whole when I consider how I package my feelings, apprehensions, and physical objects.

Wake-up call:

My day always starts before the sun rises. I wake up at 5:20 a.m. just about every day whether I want to or not. Sleep has never come easy to me and mornings are my favorite time of the day. That combination leads to an early start!

Saving up for:

I’ve always been a penny pincher, so this prompt was pretty easy for me. Aside from saving for a rainy day, I’m always looking to add to my yarn stash or my bookshelf.

With two elderly dogs, it’s only logical to keep a little money stashed for unexpected medical issues. While my boys are doing very well at the moment, I am constantly aware of how that could change in an instant.

After three years of minimal traveling, I’m starting to feel the itch to explore new places. I have my eye on Seattle and Amsterdam in the coming year. Even though I’m confident about finding a great deal, I’m still stashing some cash for what I hope are two memorable trips.

On a side note, this little doodle reminded me of the three containers I use to save spare change. Perhaps, it’s about time I took those to the bank!

Something(s) I can’t let go of yet:

This prompt took the longest for me to complete as I had just gone through pretty rough day. So many things were beyond my control and I was left feeling incredibly helpless and frustrated. If anything, this prompt arrived right on cue, but I had to sort through myriad emotions to get to the core of why I was feeling so frustrated.

After some contemplation I came up with two things that are always inside my little cage. When it comes to my job, I am always worried about getting called into the principal’s office. Regardless, of how well I do my job, there is always that fear that I’ve unwittingly broken a big rule because of my unorthodox methods. I’m usually very cognizant of what I can and cannot do, but school policies are constantly changing and not always well communicated. On this particular day, I was called into the principal’s office because they thought I was involved in something. It turns out I had nothing to do with it, but this little visit woke up my old fears.

When it comes to everything else in my life, I can’t let go of my perfectionist tendencies. I know perfection is impossible, but that doesn’t stop me from striving for perfectly straight lines, perfect stitches, or perfect writing. While I’ve gotten better about my nitpicking ways, the bars on this particular cage are still pretty rigid.

In my belly right now:

Perhaps this is the place where my perfectionism is at a standstill. After reviewing what I ate that day, I am astounded at the crap I managed to eat in such a short period of time. It’s like my stomach became a storage unit for junk food. For the record, I ate a much healthier array of food over the next week, (including grains, vegetables, and fruit).

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What storage containers are in your life?

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c.b.w. 2014

 

Query Letter Madness

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While I’m in the midst of reading the commented version of my edited manuscript (more on that later – what an eye opener!), I’m busy putting the finishing touches on my new and improved query letter.

The inspiration to write a new query letter was the result of going through the process of hiring an editor. I figured my manuscript was getting a make-over, so it made sense for my query letter to go through a similar transformation. After all, my previous manuscript and query letter were rejected six times. I know that is a very small number of rejections, but deep down I knew I could do better on both fronts.

At the same time, the fact that I got any sort of response from six agents told me I had something worth pursuing. Even though they rejected my work, they took the time to give me a written response (most agents don’t bother with queries they aren’t interested in representing). One agent even went as far as to encourage me to keep searching for the right agent for my work. It was that response that made me realize I am not chasing a lost cause.

Despite getting those responses, I understood I had to take things a step further. That’s when it dawned on me: If I could get multiple responses with a fourth draft manuscript that was never touched by an editor, imagine what could happen with an edited manuscript and a better query letter.

After reading so much about query letter formats, do’s and don’t’s, and countless articles on the subject, my head was stuffed with information. Too much information. Every time I sat down to write a new query draft, I went into panic mode from worrying too much about writing the so-called perfect query letter. The result was a stiff, hesitant query letter. Who wants to read that??

I decided the best way to escape the panic was to sit down with the same ease I had when writing my novel. I didn’t care about whether I was doing it right or if everything fit into some prescribed format. The story mattered to me and nothing else. So, that’s the attitude I decided to take on when writing my query letter. I let go of all that stuff that was making me nervous and just started writing.

The letter I now have is decidedly different from any other draft. The stiffness is gone and the personality my writing style is much more vivid.  A strong voice is key in selling any novel, so it makes sense for my query letter to match my novel on that level. In addition, I think I’ve laid the story out with more clarity. In the past, beta readers have told me the summary didn’t tell the complete story. Now that I’ve identified the holes, I think I’ve got the leaks plugged!

The only problem I’m struggling with is length. A standard query letter is usually around 250 words, but my current query is 325, (and will potentially go up to 340 when I add personalized details for each prospective agent). I’m tempted to go in and start slashing words, but I’m also trying to remember that I purposely let go of the rules. Perhaps, its time to go with my gut and see what happens.

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c.b.w. 2014