Saturday, August 3, 2013

More from that interview

Remember that interview with me . . . where they couldn't use ALL the questions we talked about? Well, here's another snippet from the leftovers.

Q. What’s your attitude toward the standard advice: write what you know?

A. I would say that you'd better know what you're talking about, because readers will call you on any mistake or typo! But I also say, "Don't be boring." That is rule one. If your work becomes boring and mundane and repetitive (notice how this sentence is an example of what it describes), readers will begin skimming, then skipping, then quitting.

I believe that a book set in an unusual place or with a protagonist who has an uncommon profession will appeal more to readers who are sick and tired of the usual tropes. For instance, I can't stand one more mystery/suspense tale in which the heroine is a recent widow, starts going out with the detective immediately, and holds all her scenes in the car on the cell phone or in some boring coffee shop. People like to learn something when they're reading, so why not do some research and set your next book in the Grand Canyon or on a hot-air balloon--or at least something different from the usual fare? I have found that if I call just about ANYONE and tell them I'm a novelist and need their expertise on Amtrak trains, automobile engines, ham radios, or cave exploring--take your pick--those people are eager to tell me all about what they do and how it's done. I usually pick up some fun factoid or two that'll fascinate the experts and make them think I've actually done whatever it is I have my characters doing. I've even called the local police to ask them about police procedure . . . I'm probably listed as a "person of interest" by now. (LOL)

You're competing with hundreds and hundreds of FREE and cheap Kindle books and with authors who give away dozens of copies of their books in blog contests. What makes your book catch a potential reader's eye? What makes it different? Haven't we all read so MANY books that are "eh," that don't have huge flaws, but are just the same old boring tropes? Wouldn't you rather read something with a few scenes set in a lumber mill or a hot-air balloon or just anywhere except the car and the cell phone?

What I see over and over is the mystery that starts with the "alpha" protagonist waking up, stretching, showering, feeding the dog and cat, thinking about whatever it is in the backstory that the author wants you to know, getting to work, discovering a body, being questioned, going to a restaurant with gay best friend or other sidekick to grouse about the questioning, beginning to sleuth by making dozens of phone calls and going to mundane locations such as more restaurants or offices (instead of someplace interesting that could be fun for readers to learn about), making several stupid mistakes that are not to be questioned (because they'll bring on a turning point) even though we are constantly told how smart the sleuth is and how she went to Harvard and so forth, starting a romance with the detective while still being told "stay out of it" and "don't leave town because you're still a suspect," sleuthing a bit more with disastrous results, having a confrontation with the perp in which he/she spills his or her guts while holding a gun on the sleuth . . . and then the door behind the perp slams open into him/her and knocks him/her out, and we're rescued. The End. Wake up, reader . . . it's the end!

Make yours different. NICE WORK takes my naïve Snoop Sisters into a convoluted maze of BDSM clubs and hangouts and requires them to navigate the hidden Internet sites these groups communicate in as well as to commit burglary. MURDER BY THE MARFA LIGHTS takes my sleuth (and later her reluctant sister) to mysterious Marfa, Texas, where she must handle the eccentric residents as well as the Marfa Mystery Lights themselves, while she investigates an algorithm for encryption that everyone seems to want (software weenie stuff). LITTLE RITUALS explores the superstitions and rituals that just about everyone uses to structure their lives, and asks the questions, "Is there really such a thing as luck, and if so, can we affect our luck, or are we powerless against Fate's forces? What is right action and how should we live? What are we meant to do, and do we have a mission in life?"

In other words, they're not stuffed with the same old scenes in coffee shops. They're different. If you have a strong voice and your hero/heroine does too, then your book is going to be different. I think that's a Good Thing.

I write books. It is only in recent years that authors have had to create a "brand" and stick with one genre or subgenre. Once upon a time, Twain or Dickens could write what I call a BOOK book that wouldn't be categorized except as literature. You didn't get the "this is a mystery, this is young adult," labeling. Anyone who picks up a book should be ready for an adventure without worrying so much about what the genre is. But that's just my take on things.

Love to hear from you in the comments!

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