Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Genre Writing vs. Literary Fiction

Having recently published a fantasy novel, I scroll through the covers of the titles that amazon groups with mine. Some sell well, some not so much, but they all have covers whose sense of style is a bit 1970s. Their covers also tell a lot of story. Mine is reserved. I realize it probably won't grab the fantasy nerds who might browse here for titles. As I look at the many genres and sub genres of fantasy, I have to use wikipedia to figure out what mine is- you've got urban fantasy, high fantasy, paranormal, epic fantasy, young adult, and sword and sorcery. Turns out my lil' opus is young adult high fantasy with a dash of urban.

These readers are voracious (since I graduated college I have not read so much). They are willing, to satisfy their appetite, to risk buying, and reading, what could by nothing but the blather of some egotist. I do not read this way. I wait on recommendations from friends, or, the NY Times Book Section. I figure a book is an investment of three to ten hours, and I'm not wasting time on risk. What it all comes down to is that I've just written a novel in a genre that I don't know the ins and outs of, like I know literary fiction.

Why write fantasy and science-fiction, mystery, and paranormal when plain old literary fiction is the genre of masters? James Joyce and Virginnia Woolf stayed away from dragons and spaceships. My favorite living authors are Marilynne Robinson, who may not know of the existence of genre fiction, Cormac McCarthy, who writes only literary fiction.

One thing that has always made novels worthwhile to me is the story-telling. Story telling, going back to Homer, has two prized social purposes. One, after a long day, it gives you something to enjoy while drinking your evening beverage of choice. Story-telling doesn't lie, it reduces life to the essential moments, the moments out of which defeat and triumph grow- and this magical reduction makes it better than life, while still being life.

Secondly, story telling instructs. It gives meaning to life. Now, story-telling is a popularly beloved art. Shakespeare and Homer shared this appeal with J. K. Rowling. Some authors that I love and admire now write for a small portion of our population. Marilynne Robinson is not read by anyone not an intellectual. I always believed that great books could be for everybody. That's not completely true, but it is something authors can work toward. Genre writing does tell stories. It doesn't let art overrun the entertainment value of the work.

That's why I'm writing genre stuff.

Friday, August 24, 2012

I interview me

I was filling out an author interview at a website, the Mad Ones,, and figured I'd post my thoughts here. It's sort of amazing when you talk about where a book came from, how much there is to say.

I'm a teacher in Philly's public schools. You can see that in the "Illumen's Children" and how it focuses on young people and the challenges that they face. I've always loved books, especially those with strong story, good characters, and truth. Beyond that, I love my wife and the game of soccer.

TMO: What genera do you write and why?
That's a hard one. I love reading literary fiction, but it bothers me that it reaches such a small audience. I've written a literary thriller, a hard boiled mystery, a sci-fi novel, and now this is a fantasy novel. I love fantasy's exuberant world building. I admire Ursula Le Guin's ability to create cultures. I admire Tolkien's vast world and his characters. He mixes  humor, human weakness, and honor into almost every character.

TMO: Tell us about your book….

In the fantastical kingdom of Regna, a pickpocket learns of a plot to kill his king. He lives in an outer ring, Subagora District, of the city, separated from Citans like the king by two walls and class laws, so how will he warn his leader? In his efforts he enlists the help of two Citans, one of whom is actually the princess, daughter to the king. The Citans demand the respect that is their due, but the orphan pickpocket respects no-one. An antagonist relationship develops, and the princess is intrigued by the street-wise, fight-ready attitude of the Subagoran.

Meanwhile, a cleric acquaintance of the pickpocket comes to wield Illumen’s fire for the forest people he once hated. Will he be the next manusignis, prophet of legend whose blue fire protects the weak and mistreated? Another friend from Subagora District learns the ways of the wendigo, the forest people. He runs with the forest creatures, and wields a bow that was wrestled from the grove of the fearsome forest spirit.

Diverging roads lead each one to confront the evil of the world, and their own weakness, but will they be able to fight against the armies of the Citans?

TMO: What was your inspiration for this book?

I taught in North Philly, a really tough neighborhood, for four years. I was amazed at the kids there, how much they wanted attention, how angry they were, how hard they found it to trust anyone. All of that goes into the character of Hands, an orphan pickpocket in this fantasy world.

Another inspiration is growing up from someone who was self-righteously religious and prudish, into being challenged by faith to be more compassionate. That is evident in the Shyheem subplot. A young cleric thinks he's better than everyone, until a heretic kidnaps him, and treats him to endless harangues and takes him among the people whom Shyheem judged.

The last inspiration is the American wilderness, its greenness, its life. I also love Hiyao Miyazaki's portrayal of the forest spirit, and I think any reader familiar with that will see parts of it in Mishipeshu, the terrifying and beautiful forest creature that runs the woods.

TMO: Do you have a favorite character and why that one?

I'd say it's Hands. I want him to succeed so much, but he makes everyone so angry with his attitude; he keeps pushing away people when they try to help him.

TMO: What project(s) are you currently working on?

The sequel, tenatively entitled, "Subagoran Rising", and a book called "Super Hero Laundry List, in which a nerd uses newly acquired super powers to gain popularity and the attention of girls. It's whimsical and fun.

TMO: Do you have any advice for writers out there?

The obvious stuff. Work hard, finish what you start- even when you fear it's worthless, make it the best you can, before moving on. The discipline will make the next project successful. Less obvious, but still important is pursue truth, wrestle for it. We all now when we're reading something that a writer's soul worked for, and we appreciate that.

TMO: Where can we find you? (facebook, twitter, blog, website, etc)

Well, I water-color and used it to represent some of my ideas. I used those skills to make a book trailer. I know people say these are a dumb idea, and I don't think I'm reading any books based on them, but it was fun to make and you'll enjoy it.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Make Obsession Fruitful-

My last blog I talked about releasing my e-book and how awesome I felt. I've gotten some small reward now, hearing from one reader how much he enjoyed certain parts, and he was kind enough to also give me a few to-be-incorporated tips on zipline mechanics. We also discussed the carrying capacity of the Golden Eagle (it was carrying rope, not coconuts).

But mostly it involves me checking how it's selling (slowly, and to folks I know mostly) once a day. I could check more often, but that's sort of like watching the water not boil. I've also spent a little time googling the book, and this is clearly a waste of time- so I've been searching for ways to make all the time I spend obsessing about how many folks are getting a look at the adventure actually work.

Along the way, I've discovered some things. First, there are these amazing and voracious readers who read self-published ebooks and review them all over this vast internets of ours. Many of them have received complimentary copies of "Illumen's Children". Lucky folks, I know. Second, people make little teaser/preview videos for their books. This is crazy. I mean, I read reviews, and mostly listen to friends to find out what I should read. By the way, friends, have I got a recommendation for you!

Anyway, I'm going to continue trolling these interwebs for reviewers, but I'm going to make a preview video. Or try. I'll post it here at some point. Yoda said do or do not, there is no try. 

A picture from the novel (not actually in it- that's for later)