Category Archives: On writing
Of late I’ve noticed a bit of discussion about that never-ending topic, reviews. I’ve had a few things to say about that subject before today. But on this occasion I want to illustrate how ‘reviews’ are used in – shall we say – unexpected ways.
This is the one and only review of my book Morgan’s Choice on Smashwords. The reviewer awarded the book two stars. **— Here’s the review, in full – but feel free to check it out on Smashwords. Just click on the cover at top left of the article.
“Just wanted to tell you that I loved your book, Supertech, and couldn’t wait to read the follow-up, Morgan’s Choice, so I purchased it soon after. I would like to say that I enjoyed this book every bit as much as I enjoyed the first, but I ran into a problem. The copy of the book I purchased and downloaded to my Sony reader died at page 63. I cannot move past that page, in fact it shut my whole reader down. I can’t even read it on my computer. I wish you the best of luck with all your books and am saddened I didn’t get to finish Morgan’s Choice. What I did read, however, drew me in and made me want to read more.”
There’s no way an author can respond or contact a reviewer on Smashwords, but I contacted Smashwords, knowing they would have this person’s email address, and asked their support people to suggest that she contact me direct at my email address so I could send her a new copy of the book. Mind you, I don’t believe there was anything wrong with the file on the Smashwords site. I had downloaded it to check the content, and did so again. But it’s about solving a problem in the fastest possible way. The lady did contact me and I sent her a new version of the file, asking her to get in touch if she had any further problems. She didn’t, so I expect that was okay.
So… a few questions.
Was the review about the book? Definitely – what she read of it. And I have no cause for complaint on that score.
Was the complaint fair? Definitely. She’d paid for something she didn’t receive.
Was the complaint addressed to the right person? No. It was a technical problem which should have been raised with Smashwords – having first made sure the issue was not with the reader, or the internet connection.
But readers are people. They will do what they think is right for them. Suck it up, guys. That’s life.
“I hate it when women swear like navvies.” The comment had to do with fictional ‘kick-ass’ heroines, and it got me thinking. Oh, the power of the dreaded F-word. You know the one. Starts with F, rhymes with duck. In my own case, one of my books scored a one star review (would have given it zero) and a major reason appears to have been because the heroine ‘used the F-word’ a lot. Which is absolutely true. She swears when she gets mad. Another writer colleague received a two star review where the reviewer complained about the unnecessary use of the F word. The word appears twice in that novel, both times in context.
Why do we have such an obsession about what is, after all, just a word? And a very versatile word it is, available as a noun, a verb and (with ‘ing’ on the end) an adjective which can be applied to almost anything. Sure, it’s a profanity. I remember, as a tender young thing growing up in an environment where such language was not used, being somewhat taken aback when listening to a gaggle of young lads talking. Every second word began with F. But let’s face it, folks, it’s a very common word. I have become enured to its use through familiarity. If you’re surrounded by people who swear, you learn to ignore it. But I will add that I still shake my head sadly when I hear young people, especially girls, using bad language in loud voices as if that makes them ‘cool’.
Which segues neatly back to the use of swear words in fiction.
I’m not suggesting that the F-word must be used in novels, or even that it should be used a lot. I read a chapter or two of a book set in a rough and tough high school and the constant use of F*** became boring. Yes, that’s how kids talk but, like accents, realism can be overdone. I mentioned (obliquely) that my father didn’t swear (in front of us kids, anyway). Maybe that’s why I recall with startling clarity the only time I heard him say FUCK!! We were down the beach, sorting a catch from a prawning net and Dad pricked his finger on a fish spine. It hurt. A lot. So when Grand Admiral Saahren in The Iron Admiral: Deception uses the F word for the one and only time it makes an impact. The word is intended to signal his feelings of frustration and impotence.
With my ‘kick-ass heroines’ the use of swear words doesn’t signal toughness. It hints at back story, having been around people who swear routinely. Sometimes, it’s a defence mechanism. “I swear, therefore I’m tough.” And sometimes it means “I’m so angry I can’t think of a better word to express my rage.” All of those reasons are perfectly legitimate. Indeed, sometimes leaving out swear words is totally unrealistic. If you’re writing a crime novel involving bikies, for example, let’s face it, folks; they swear. If your dialogue leaves out the profanities, you’ll have a hard time convincing this reader.
I’m also not a fan of word substitution. I write space opera so it’s tempting to try to come up with a new, 23rd century F-word. But at the end of the day, people mentally substitute ‘fracking’, ‘fecking’, ‘frigging’ and so on with good old ‘fucking’, so why bother? And if you come up with something completely different – let’s say ‘bahl’ – you’re going to have to explain it. Maybe put in a footnote, which might read “bahl means the same as fuck”. If you don’t, you’ll throw the reader out of the story while they get their head around the unfamiliar word.
It’s quite interesting to consider what sort of word is profane in different languages. The worst Dutch swears have Christian roots. Goddamn is a serious swear. In English and many other languages, rude words have to do with sex and excretion. Thus we have shit, fuck, bugger and so on. Words like ‘damn’ and ‘hell’ are hardly noticed as swear words. And words evolve, their use spreading with familiarity – or maybe as their real meaning is lost. Like ‘bloody’, ‘bugger’ has become a perfectly acceptable soft profanity, despite its original meaning.
For me, swear words have their place. There’s no reason why a writer has to use them in a novel – provided the setting and the characters support that premise. Like adverbs, used sparingly in the right places, they can add to the realism and power of the prose. Personally, I’d rather see a swear word than gratuitous gore or weird sex.
Over to you. What do you think?
Esperance is down on the southern West Australian coastline, an absolute jewel for those willing to take the time to visit. Showers accompany us along the road from Albany and rainbows appear – on both sides of the road. By this time the Pajero’s windscreen resembles the surface of Mars, with a sprinkling of craters and two cracks that inch a little further every day. It has also acquired a patina of insect bodies but even so, this rainbow is a jewel.
We’re staying with friends I haven’t seen for twenty years, but we reconnected via Face Book and I’m looking forward to the visit. Needless to say, our sat nav isn’t much help to navigate to a farm but we follow the instructions given on the phone and find the farm entrance just on sunset. Yes, this is the right track. Well graded gravel, even the zig-zags between the wide puddles. It has been wet wet wet here. A couple of kilometres from the gate we find the third house and I get out to check we’re at the right place. We are.
We stay for three nights. Joe and Charlotte and their eldest son farm 23,000 acres where they plant canola and raise cattle and sheep. Their machinery shed is mind-boggling. They have headers and bull dozers and road trains and ploughs and I forget what else. The big machines cost close to a million dollars each, mostly high-tech with computer controlled functionality and air-conditioned cabs (the headers, anyway). Pete is fascinated by the sheer scale of the operation. It costs $3 million to plant a crop, and they might make $5 million. If they get to harvest. This season will be poor. Australia runs in cycles of flood and drought, and this year has been the wettest for decades. The canola stands in shallow lakes, the yellow flowers reflecting prettily in the water.
There’s always work on a farm and Pete goes to help the boys bring in sheep while Charlotte and I go off to do the tourist thing at an area called Duke of Orleans. The scenery here is breath-taking. The granite outcrops are just as spectacular as they are in Albany, but the rock seems more colourful. The sea is turquoise blue, and the beaches are brilliant white, full of silicon. The sand literally squeaks under your feet as you walk. The islands of the Recherche Archipelago dot the ocean, steep granite mounds, such a contrast to the pancake-flat platforms of the Abrolhos Islands. It’s late in the day, and the showers have stopped, although clouds still drift across the sky in groups and the wind is fresh, whisking up the white caps. I manage a few reasonable pictures and then we head for home, talking all the while.
Next day, Joe takes us out to a granite outcrop at the top of a hill to see if we can find some orchids. It’s quite an adventure. The paddock we cross is waterlogged and despite the four wheel drive, Charlotte is not the only one who wonders if we’ll be pushing the car. Oh we of little faith. We’re a little bit early for the orchids but a few have shown their faces. These outcrops are baking hot in summer. Only the toughest plants, like the dryandra, can survive. The delicate orchids wait their turn with the mosses and lichens, responding to the first rains. Charlotte tells me her oldest son was married here, overlooking the land. What a place for a wedding.
While Joe and his son move another mob of sheep, Pete fixes Charlotte’s ride-on mower and Charlotte and I drive out to Cape Le Grande. You’ve probably noticed the French place names. The French poked around the Australian coast many times, in lots of places but they seem to have left their mark especially around that southern coast. Bruni d’Entrecasteaux visited this area in 1792, and named both Esperance and Recherche after ships in his expedition. The weather is stunning, with blue skies and light breezes, an absolute invitation to climb on the rocks and walk on the beaches. We admire the scenery and the wild flowers, and encounter a kangaroo fossicking around on the beach. She seems untroubled by our presence, apparently grazing on something. We have no idea what.
Looking over the sea at the islands I’m reminded of a story I read somewhere, that a black American pirate operated out of here. My recollection is correct. Here’s the story of Black Jack Anderson Australia’s only known pirate. And here’s a link to a book about him.
From here we’ll be heading for home, east across the Nullarbor. Join us, won’t you?
Quite a number of psychopaths have made a name for themselves. Hitler, Napoleon, Stalin. Ted Bundy is another, more recent, example and the picture at left is, of course, Hannibal Lecter. What about Jeronimus Cornelisz, erstwhile under merchant on the merchantship Batavia, who for a few short months in 1629, strode his tiny island like a colossus, or a God, dealing out death and destruction on a whim. What’s makes a person a psychopath? How do you pick them from the rest of humanity?
In my novel To Die a Dry Death, I had to try to get into Jeronimus Cornelsiz’s head and understand – or at least explain – his behaviour. So – to try to understand.
To quote from a handout produced by Oregon Counseling;
The psychopath is one of the most fascinating and distressing problems of human experience. For the most part, a psychopath never remains attached to anyone or anything. They live a “predatory” lifestyle. They feel little or no regret, and little or no remorse – except when they are caught. They need relationships, but see people as obstacles to overcome and be eliminated. If not, they see people in terms of how they can be used. They use people for stimulation, to build their self-esteem and they invariably value people in terms of their material value (money, property, etc..).
A psychopath can have high verbal intelligence, but they typically lack “emotional intelligence”. They can be expert in manipulating others by playing to their emotions. There is a shallow quality to the emotional aspect of their stories (i.e., how they felt, why they felt that way, or how others may have felt and why). The lack of emotional intelligence is the first good sign you may be dealing with a psychopath. A history of criminal behavior in which they do not seem to learn from their experience, but merely think about ways to not get caught is the second best sign.
The following is a list of items based on the research of Robert Hare, Ph.D. which is derived from the “The Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised, .1991, Toronto: Multi-Health Systems.” These are the most highly researched and recognized characteristics of psychopathic personality and behavior.
- glibness/superficial charm
- need for stimulation/prone to boredom
- shallow emotional response
- parasitic lifestyle
- promiscuous sexual behavior
- lack of realistic long term goals
- many short term relationships
- revocation of conditional release
- grandiose sense of self worth
- pathological lying
- lack of remorse or guilt
- callous/lack of empathy
- poor behavioral controls
- early behavioral problems
- failure to accept responsibility for their own actions
- juvenile delinquency
- criminal versatility
Michael G. Conner, Psy.D Has this to say.
A psychopath is usually a subtle manipulator. They do this by playing to the emotions of others. They typically have high verbal intelligence, but they lack what is commonly referred to as “emotional intelligence”. There is always a shallow quality to the emotional aspect of their stories. In particular they have difficulty describing how they felt, why they felt that way, or how others may feel and why. In many cases you almost have to explain it to them. Close friends and parents will often end up explaining to the psychopath how they feel and how others feel who have been hurt by him or her.
They can do this over and over with no significant change in the person’s choices and behavior. They don’t understand or appreciate the impact that their behavior has on others. They do appreciate what it means when they are caught breaking rules or the law even though they seem to end up in trouble again. They desperately avoid incarceration and loss of freedom but continue to act as if they can get away with breaking the rules. They don’t learn from these consequences. They seem to react with feelings and regret when they are caught. But their regret is not so much for other people as it is for the consequences that their behavior has had on them, their freedom, their resources and their so called “friends.”
They can be very sad for their self. A psychopath is always in it for their self even when it seems like they are caring for and helping others. The definition of their “friends” are people who support the psychopath and protect them from the consequence of their own antisocial behavior. Shallow friendships, low emotional intelligence, using people, antisocial attitudes and failure to learn from the repeated consequences of their choices and actions help identify the psychopath.
Armed with a description like this, it wasn’t so hard to get into Cornelisz’s head. In some ways it was more difficult to sort out Lucretia, who had to deal with this man at a very intimate level, always conscious that the slightest mistake may have cost her her life.
It still stops me in my tracks to think that this one man was effectively responsible for the deaths of around one hundred people. Put that into perspective. There were about one hundred and eighty people on Batavia’s Graveyard when Pelsaert and Jacobsz headed for Java. Cornelisz’s thugs killed over half of them. Yet Cornelisz never accepted responsibility, never showed any remorse, always kept coming back to the fact that he himself never killed anybody.
But you know what? The most frightening thing of all was how easy it was for him to recruit people more than willing to carry out his orders.
Ah, the frailty of the human psyche.
‘Reviewing’ is such a subjective business. You might recall I wrote a glowing review of Linnea Sinclair’s Hope’s Folly recently. Out of interest I went back and read all the other reviews on the book’s Amazon page. Most are 4 or 5 stars, but a few – aren’t. One person thought the book was far too long. Another objected to all the time spent on ‘feelings’. Somebody else thought the pace was slow, another thought the romance moved too fast. Some were disappointed that previous characters didn’t appear. And, of course, none of those opinions are right or wrong. Obi-wan Kenobi’s comment to Luke on Dagobah comes to mind. “So what I told you was true… from a certain point of view.”
All of this had me mulling on my own reviewing style. I always rate books at 4 or 5. Now, some people will think that’s – oh I’m not sure what. Something negative. Something suspicious. But it isn’t. You see, I don’t often finish a book. I think life’s too short (especially at my age) to waste time on reading something that doesn’t grab me. In that case, I don’t write a review. It wasn’t to my taste. Neither is liver, or tripe. So if I finish a book properly (as opposed to skim reading from where I lost interest to see if my judgement was correct – Dan Brown’s The da Vinci Code for instance) that’s an automatic 3 out of 5. If I was critiquing a story, I would list the points where I thought improvements might be made. If I know the author, I might do that anyway, via email. But I won’t write a review.
If I enjoyed the story with only a few reservations, the book will score a 4 and I will offer my opinion. If I loved it, the book scores 5.
Mind you, I’ve sometimes changed my perception. Jack McDevitt’s Slow Lightning comes to mind. I tried to read it a few times and gave up quickly. But then – and don’t ask me why – I persevered, and the novel has become a favourite. Here’s my review. Another example is Terry Pratchett’s Small Gods. I LOVE Pratchett. But this book didn’t press my buttons the first time through (although I did finish it). When I read it again at another time, it was a better read than I remembered.
I guess I should add that by now I’ve acquired the necessary thick skin about my own writing. Somebody doesn’t like my work, that’s okay. No one can please everybody. Other people have a different philosophy about ‘reviewing’, and simply see it as a way of recording their reaction to however much they read. Loved it, great, okay, ordinary, diabolical. And that’s perfectly valid. If I followed that approach, I’d be writing a pile of reviews that said ‘failed to capture my interest, never got past chapter 3’. The sad thing is, I’d have to give it a score out of 5 – and that doesn’t work for me. Pity they don’t have DNF (did not finish) as a category. I wonder how many of those negative review on Fifty Shades of Grey were really DNFs?
What do you do about reviewing? I’d really like to know.
I’ve recently read Linnea Sinclair’s novel Hope’s Folly. Twice. I tend to do that when I really love a book, getting details I missed the first time around. If you’d like to read the book’s blurb, you’ll find it here.
Yes, I suppose this is a review. But for me, it’s also a statement of what works in science fiction – for me, personally, which, let’s face it, is what a review is – a subjective point of view. This is a writer I admire – right up there with my all-time faves. So let’s do the review thing. But if you’re a writer, take note of how well this story has been built.
Hope’s Folly is a love story, set in a time of political conflict and approaching war. The human Empire is being run by Tage, who has usurped the power of a weak and failing Emperor. Tage has decimated the ranks of the Admiralty, replacing senior fleet officers with people more likely to dance to his tune. But not everybody is going quietly. A rebel Alliance has risen to oppose Tage. Amidst the turmoil, the two alien species in the Galaxy see their opportunity to expand their own borders.
When the story opens we meet Admiral Philip Guthrie, who escaped the purge of the Admiralty by the skin of his teeth. He’s 45 years old, with a shattered right leg healing slowly and the weight of the deaths of many colleagues on his conscience. Tage used Guthrie to plan his purge. Now, Guthrie is determined to join with other Alliance leaders to build a new fleet and defeat Tage’s Imperial forces. But the Empire wants him dead and the Farosians want to capture him to swap him for their own leader, who Tage has imprisoned. On top of all that, Guthrie’s new flagship is a very old ex-fleet cruiser which was disarmed, decommissioned and used as a freighter, and he has to enlist a crew from wherever he can, knowing some of them will be plants.
Lieutenant Rya Bennton is the daughter of Guthrie’s captain and mentor, back in the day. A 29 year-old Imperial Security assassin, she turned rebel when her father was killed in that purge. She’s no dolly bird, tall and built with curves and a lovely ass – and a spare thirty pounds she could afford to lose. She remembers meeting Guthrie when she was a pudgy 9 year old and he was a 25 year old lieutenant who showed her how to fire a laser pistol. She, like Guthrie, has a love bordering on obsession with hand weapons. The description when Rya first sees Guthrie’s Norlack laser rifle is a wonderful piece of innuendo. In this scene, too, we see the connection between the two, the way they think alike.
“Is this,” she asked hesitantly, “what I think it is?”
“What do you think it is?”
“Norlack 473 sniper, modified to handle wide-load slash ammo.” There was a noticeable reverence in her voice.
He pulled the rifle out, hefting it. She had a good eye. Norlacks weren’t common. But recognizing it was modified for illegal and highly destructive charges … Then again, she’d seen it in action. “It is,” he confirmed, amused now by the expression on her face. It had gone from reverence to almost rapture.
“That is so totally apex.” Her voice was hushed. “May I,” and she glanced shyly at him, her eyes bright, spots of color on her cheeks, “fondle it?”
He stared at her, not sure he heard her correctly. Then he snorted, laughing. Fondle it, indeed. He handed it to her. She took it, cradling it at first, then running her fingers lovingly down its short barrel. Sweet holy God. He didn’t have enough painkillers in him to stop his body’s reaction to the smokiness in her eyes, or the way her lips parted slightly, the edge of her tongue slipping out to moisten them, as her hands slid over the weapon.
Ahem. Back to the review.
The love story between these two is gorgeous. Rya keeps insisting she has a huge crush on her commanding officer – that’s all. What would he see in her, anyway? And that thirty pounds… Guthrie keeps realising that not only is he too old for her, but he has a duty to her father’s memory to protect her, not lust after her. He also has to get his almost defenceless ship past Farosian raiders and Imperial warships, regardless of Rya and a broken leg. But circumstances fling them (often quite literally) together in what used to be Rya’s father’s ship as Guthrie tries to build a cohesive team from a bunch of disparate people who don’t know each other. And one of them is a mole.
So why did this story grab me and not let go?
Because it’s so real. In Linnea Sinclair’s universe the ships are not run by all-powerful artificial intelligences. To me, they’re not much different from what we have now, with engine rooms, weapons systems and the all-important environment systems all run using computers but with people running the show. Guys get to cut code, hack, mess about in the systems. The ships have blast doors. The pipes gurgle and knock, metal pings as it cools, or creaks and groans. Everything smells – hot engine oil, leather, soap, food, hair. The ex-freighter has a ghostly smell of oranges that comes and goes. And then there’s the cat. Captain Folly, who comes with the ship, leaves white fur all over the place and prefers women to men.
The people are real. Guthrie is tall, smart, the son of a rich family (which has its own drawbacks). But he’s not a superman. He makes mistakes, has his own foibles, calls himself a Galactic-class ass on more than one occasion. I’ve mentioned Rya’s issues with her weight. She’s also impulsive and not much good at saying ‘sir’. The secondary characters are just as convincing, ordinary people forced to cope with extraordinary circumstances.
The politics is real. I have a history degree and these things matter to me. I can see the Empire disintegrating in this way. If I were to be asked for a similar situation in our recent past, I’d go for Stalin taking over in the USSR.
As always with Linnea Sinclair, things move apace – except for the opening chapter, which I enjoyed more the second time around. This is the third book of a series and the first chapter orientates the reader, I guess. From there on, the author works on the basis of ‘if things can go wrong, they will go wrong’. Guthrie’s relationship with Rya plays as an underlying complication to all the other issues the two face. Take out the romance, and yes, you’d still have a great story. But man, you’d miss out on soooo much.
Oh, and before I finish, I must mention the sex scenes. They’re not many and they’re intense, steamy and sensual, but not a how-to manual.
I loved this book, I loved Philip Guthrie. He is very definitely my kind of man. Sigh. I’m too old to be a fangirl. Five stars. But you knew that already.
So that’s the review done. What can I learn as a writer?
- Make the cause worthwhile – things people will lay down their lives for.
- Engage all the senses.
- Introduce a bit of quirkiness (the cat and the oranges).
- Use humour.
- Make sure ALL your characters are real people, with a mix of strengths and flaws.
- Keep the pace up.
- When your heroes are in trouble, pile it on.
- Introduce the unexpected to add twists – but don’t suddenly introduce cavalry without the reader knowing it’s out there.
- And probably other things like great use of words and getting into a character’s head.
Anything else you’d like to contribute?
Some people swear by Amazon, especially Kindle Select. Some won’t touch Amazon with a barge pole. I don’t fit either of those models. I don’t like the idea of Amazon becoming a monopoly and frankly, I like Adobe Digital Editions (free here) and the way it displays epub content. So when I was forced to self publish (the story is here) I decided to go for Draft 2 Digital, which allows me to consolidate sales to several outlets in one place. I’d never made many sales at Smashwords anyway, so I made that choice. Here’s the story.
What changed my mind? Two things. I noticed a few searches on my blog for epubs by me. And secondly I went looking for a book myself; Jack McDevitt’s Echo, for those interested. It was published a year or two ago, but I’d missed it. So I ended up at the Amazon site, where I’d bought McDevitt’s later book, Firebird. Mind you, I’d winced at the price. $7.99 for a paperback and around $12 for an ebook? The major publishers need to take a long, hard, serious look at themselves – but that’s another story. To my absolute consternation, Echo was not available in kindle. Don’t believe me? See here. So I went to the Penguin site, where I couldn’t buy through Paypal and was expected to give my street address even though it wasn’t needed. Then I went to Barnes and Noble and after several tries which resulted in system errors, discovered I couldn’t buy the book because I don’t live in America. FFS, didn’t we go through all this? Isn’t it time publishing caught up with the rest of the world???
So then I did a Google search – ‘Jack McDevitt epub’. And received a flood – a deluge – a tsunami – of pirate torrent sites offering free downloads. This got me to thinking. Maybe if I wasn’t an author myself I would, in desperation, have downloaded a free book. Maybe people don’t know that Nook, Sony, Kobo etc all offer epubs that should work on any platform that supports epubs. If people put in ‘greta van der rol epub’ I’d rather they found Smashwords than a pirate site. So I loaded my books back on Smashwords. I still publish to Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble and Apple through Draft 2 Digital. I’ve found ‘Channel Manager’ on Smashwords, which allows me to opt out of distributing to outlets that already have my books. But they’re there on Smashwords for you to enjoy. Here’s my page.
And here are a few SPECIAL deals
You’ll see a list of my other books down the left hand side of any of those books.
For those interested, I DID find Echo as an ebook on Amazon (Here it is) Please note there are no reviews on this novel. There are lots on the other editions. Maybe Penguin made an oopsie.
Not so long ago a reader told me that when the main character in my Iron Admiral books, Admiral Saahren, fell in love pretty much at first sight, the character was diminished. That reader didn’t believe in love at first sight. Another reviewer said much the same thing. But I am unrepentant because I KNOW it happens. I’ve seen it and heard about it too often to not believe.
- Two days after my brother met his new girlfriend, he brought her home to meet mum and introduced her as the woman he was going to marry.
- A good friend told me that her father danced with a girl he met at a function, went back to his friends and said, “I’m going to marry her.”
- A well known broadcaster was interviewed on the radio and told how he knew when he met his future wife for the first time, that he was going to marry her.
- I’ll even throw in Michael Cain, who saw his wife-to-be on a TV commercial
But don’t take my word for it. Let me quote from Allan and Barbara Pease, in their book Why Men Want Sex and Women Need Love. ‘Scientists now agree that love at first sight is a real phenomenon.’ (p13) Why? Well, to put it into pure animal terms, because it makes sex and procreation easier and that’s a survival behaviour. It’s also more prevalent in men than in women because men use their eyes to evaluate a potential mate, while women are more inclined to look for ongoing support and nurturing. After all, if they don’t they’ll be the ones holding the baby. Literally.
So… what do you think? Do you ‘believe’ in love at first sight? Would you care to share any examples? And what do you think when love at first sight happens in a book you’re reading?
I was idly scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed this morning and came across an interesting promo for a book. So I had a look at the blurb and the cover and noticed a reference to “a great new NA book”. (Or words to that effect.) I frowned. NA? Not applicable? New Age? And then I twigged.
‘New Adult’. I’d seen a reference to it somewhere before. It’s a market segment. Hey, segmentation is a perfectly legitimate approach and it’s why Facebook keeps asking questions like where do you live? In my case, they’d know not to bother trying to push ads for American restaurants at me.
So how is NA different to YA – young adult? Mind you, I’ve always had a bit of a problem with YA, too. What’s a ‘young adult’? If you’re still at school, do you qualify? If you’re fifteen and an apprentice does that qualify? To my mind, a ‘young adult’ might be somebody who has left school, turned 18 so they can legally drink, have sex, get married. Or is that 16? Or 21? Having a thing called ‘New Adult’ just makes it worse. Do you graduate from YA to NA when you turn 21? When you leave school? And when do you move from NA to… whatever’s next? GU (grown up)? MWK (married with kids)? AD (adult divorced)?
One author explained to me that the NA category gives the buying public an idea of what to expect. A young person newly arrived at adulthood but without experience, somebody in the eighteen to twenty-five age group. It’s a bit like saying YA is for readers in their teens, and this is likely to be a coming-of-age story.
So now, if I want to get a list of books to satisfy my reading needs I guess I have to say ‘science fiction but not dystopian, no zombies or werewolves or vampires, romance ok but not erotic, not GLBT, not childrens, not YA…’ But isn’t that why we have genres, blurbs and covers, and why (if we have an ounce of sense) we read the first few pages before we buy? And why wouldn’t I buy an NA book? Just about every war story involves young people in that 18-25 demographic facing horrible situations. That’s just one example.
As far as I’m concerned, if it’s not for kids it’s for grown-ups. I was reading ‘grown up’ books at quite a young age and now, at quite an old age, I’ll still read books labeled as YA (or younger) such as Harry Potter. It’s hard enough sifting through the myriad micro-slices of genre without adding to the confusion.
Rant over. We will now return to normal programming. Feel free to hit me with your opinions.
The recent brouhaha over science fiction and science fiction romance has got me thinking about genre. It’s a necessary concept. When I walk into a bookstore (or look up an online bookstore) I don’t what to have to trawl through the eleventy-billion books I really won’t be interested in reading, so I’m glad the shelves are marked. Personally, I’ll head for the SFF section first (Science Fiction and Fantasy – they always seem to be lumped together). There, you’ll find books by Anne McCaffrey, Elizabeth Moon, Elspeth Cooper, George R. R. Martin, Jack Mc Devitt, C.J. Cherryh, Star Wars, Star Trek and also vampires, werewolves and the like. But not science fiction romance – not on physical shelves, anyway. I found Linnea Sinclair’s books in the romance section. The only reason I found them was because I was looking – I do not normally read romance.
Genre, you see. It’s all about marketing. Into which pigeonhole does this book fit? I had some fun drawing a diagram to illustrate some of the complexities of genre.
Some genres are pretty easy. In romance, the romance must be the focus of the plot, and it must have a happy ever after (HEA) ending or a happy for now (HFN) ending. I talked about the rules of romance here. But every genre has ‘shades of grey’ (yeah, yeah). Science fiction ranges between hard SF and soft SF. I discussed that here. On the hard SF – soft SF line, I’d put most space opera sort of in the middle. Star Wars and Star Trek would definitely be down the soft SF end, McDevitt’s books would be down the hard SF end. Romance has its continuum, too, often expressed in degrees of ‘heat’ (ie explicit sex scenes). In ‘sweet’ romance, the scene stops at the bedroom door. In erotic romance, the sex is explicit.
Now we get to science fiction romance, which is a combination of two genres. The SCIENCE romance – ROMANCE science line indicates what is the most important focus of the work. Would we have a story without the romance? Would we have a story without the science? I would suggest that real SFR should be down the science ROMANCE end – I think Avatar is a good example. Without the romance, there is no story. The science is of less importance. And in Avatar the explicitness of the sex component is most definitely ‘sweet’. Interestingly enough, one of McCaffrey’s early works, Restoree, is listed in science fiction. Yet Restoree is without a doubt science fiction romance, with a ‘sweet’ tag on the sex register.
It’s a pretty complex combination of components.
So what is this analysis all about? I’m reviewing where I want my own work to fit.
When I started writing, I knew I’d write SF because that’s what I like. But I wanted to add a bit of emotion to my writing. Most SF either seemed to leave out love and sex (Asimov), or it was so understated that it almost disappeared. An example of the latter is Moon’s Serrano series. SF was pulp fiction, with an expectation that it was fast-paced action-adventure. A response to a query I sent to a publisher around 2008 reinforced that belief. “Well written, but needs more action.” So I added more action. Still no cigar.
Okay, what about science fiction romance? Ah, but the SFR books are in the romance section. This has an advantage in one way, because romance sales are way, way more than SF. But it seems only a small subset of romance readers will read SF. Moreover, the expectation for the romance genre is that the romance is the core of the book. No romance, no story. I can honestly say that not one of my books fits that definition. Of them all, the Iron Admiral duo come closest and even with those two I had to do some serious tweaking for my editor to agree it had earned a romance tag.
We are told that sticking to one genre when writing is a good idea. And it makes sense. Let’s go back to that bookshop and see where we go shopping, how we go shopping. I can give an example from my own experience. I read Elizabeth Moon’s SF books. So I bought Speed of Dark. But that book, award winner though it is, is about her son’s autism. I wasn’t in the least bit interested. I had a similar experience with a Ruth Rendell novel that wasn’t what I had expected,
With that in mind, I resolved to write SFR, albeit with less emphasis on the romance. However, it meant I had to come up with convincing HEA or HFN outcomes for my protagonists. And I’ve come to the conclusion that it hasn’t always been a satisfying outcome for me – or my readers. I’m now going back and making some changes to Starheart, removing the HEA ending and downplaying the romance element. I’ll do some tweaking to Morgan’s Choice, too. Some of the rules of romance just don’t sit comfortably with me.
What’s the outcome? Well, if you’re looking for a fast-paced, action-packed read with a complex plot – come on in, sit right down. Would you like to call that pulp fiction? Sure. Will there be some emotional elements, some sex? Sure. Love is a powerful emotion, sex is a fundamental driving force. You’ll find those things in everything I write. Do I do my research? You bet I do. I try to make my science sound, my history correct, my settings convincing. I suppose, when it comes right down to it, I’d prefer to see my books in the science fiction section. Both they, and I, feel more comfortable there.