Searching for a Genre

I had a book I wanted to write, so I wrote it, following the dictates of the story without regard to the conventions of genre. Now that book — Light Bringer — is close to publication, and I have a problem. How do I sell it?

I received several rejection letters from publishers and editors over the years saying they liked Light Bringer, that the story was unique and well-written but they’d have to pass because they didn’t know how to sell it. My reaction each time was, “What????” I mean, it’s a book — you put it on the shelf in a bookstore and wait for people to buy it, right? Not quite.

Genre is how we classify books, but more than that, it’s about reader expectations. For example, a thriller is a wild ride with a hero and a villain in mortal combat. Readers expect the story to be exciting, the conflict to involve high stakes, the suspense to be cutting. Generally, the story is told from both points of view — the hero and the villain. Light Bringer is suspenseful, does involve high stakes —  the fate of the Earth — and it does have a villain and a hero, but (here is the crux of the matter) which character is the hero, and which is the villain? Besides, as those publishers and editors told me, the book has too many science fiction elements to be sold as a thriller. They also said it doesn’t have enough science fiction elements to be sold as science fiction. Since they didn’t know how to classify the book, they didn’t know how to sell it.

Now that Light Bringer is about to be released by Second Wind Publishing, I need to figure out who will be most interested in reading the book. Readers are quick to penalize writers for failing to live up to genre conventions, and Light Bringer has no clear genre. It’s too contemporary for science fiction, too outrageous for mainstream, too straightforward for a literary novel, too philosophical for action/adventure, too mythic for an historical, too mundane for fantasy, too scientific for magical realism, too western for urban fantasy, too . . . well, you get the point.

In truth, Light Bringer is  more “myth fiction” than science fiction. Instead of basing the story on science (though there is much that is scientific in the book), I based it on myths: ancient myths, modern conspiracy myths, UFO myths, flood myths, historical myths, pyramid myths. The story is the culmination of a lifetime of research, and in following the research wherever it led, I ended up the premise of Light Bringer. Perhaps I discovered some long-hidden truth. Perhaps I created a separate truth. Perhaps I conjured a fantasy.

Whatever it is, Light Bringer deserves a chance. Suzanne Francis, author of The Heart of Hythea called it brilliant. Malcolm Campbell, author of The Sun Singer said “Light Bringer is TYPICAL BERTRAM: plots within plots, multiple characters with multiple agendas, fast moving, more than enough mystery and intrigue for everyone, satisfying conclusion. Great book.”

So now comes the hard part — finding readers.

If you’re interested in taking a peek at Light Bringer, you can find the beginning of the story here.

Win Free Books For A Year!

Everyone who leaves a comment on this post will be entered in Second Wind Publishing’s best contest ever — a chance to win a copy of every title Second Wind will publish in 2011.  (People outside of the United States will win ebooks. Those inside the United States can choose and either ebooks or print books.) This will include a copy of my upcoming novel Light Bringer, which is scheduled to be released in the spring of 2011. (Suzanne Francis, author of The Song of the Arkafina Series, and first person ever to read my new book said Light Bringer is “brilliant.” My favorite word!)

Light Bringer tells the story of  Becka Johnson, who had been abandoned on the doorstep of a remote cabin in Chalcedony, Colorado when she was a baby. Now, thirty-seven years later, she has returned to Chalcedony to discover her identity, but she only finds more questions. Who has been looking for her all those years? Why are those same people interested in fellow newcomer Philip Hansen? Who is Philip, and why does her body sing in harmony with his? And what do either of them have to do with a shadow corporation that once operated a secret underground installation in the area?

So be sure to leave a comment. If you don’t want to receive mailings from Second Wind about other promotions and new releases, let me know. You will still be entered into the contest. Also, three people chosen at random will win an ecopy of one of my published books — your choice! (Pick from the three on the right sidebar of this blog.) Both contests end at midnight on December 30, 2010.

Best of luck to all of you.

Blog Jog Day: Introducing Light Bringer

Welcome to Blog Jog, a one-day jog around the highways and byways of the blogosphere. Feel free to rest here for awhile before you trot on to the next blog in the jog. If you don’t know where to start exploring Bertram’s Blog you can scroll down to see my latest posts, or you can check out the index of all my posts: Archives.

Everyone who leaves a comment on this post will be entered in Second Wind’s best contest ever — a chance to win a copy of every title Second Wind will publish in 2011. This will include a copy of my upcoming book Light Bringer, which is scheduled to be released in the spring of 2011. (Suzanne Francis, author of The Song of the Arkafina Series, and first person ever to read my new book said Light Bringer is “brilliant.” My favorite word!)

Light Bringer tells the story of  Becka Johnson, who had been abandoned on the doorstep of a remote cabin in Chalcedony, Colorado when she was a baby. Now, thirty-seven years later, she has returned to Chalcedony to discover her identity, but she only finds more questions. Who has been looking for her all those years? Why are those same people interested in fellow newcomer Philip Hansen? Who is Philip, and why does her body sing in harmony with his? And what do either of them have to do with a shadow corporation that once operated a secret underground installation in the area?

So, be sure to leave a comment, then jog on over to visit novelist and writing coach Emily Hanlon at: Fiction Writing: the Passionate Journey.

You can find the entire list of participants for Blog Jog Day at: Blog Jog Day.

Note: If you don’t want to receive information about upcoming releases and contestsfrom Second Wind, be sure to note that in your comment. You will still be eligible for this contest.

Aaaarrrgggghhhh!!!!! Now I Have to Write a Review!

StaccatoWhile most of the world is talking about the new Dan Brown bestseller, Second Wind Publishing, LLC has quietly released a thriller of its own — Staccato by Deborah J Ledford. You won’t find all the elements that have become Brown’s hallmarks: cartoonish characters, amateurish prose, tin-ear for dialogue, internal inconsistencies. What you will find is a well-written, well-constructed story that will keep you enthralled.

The product description on Amazon says it better than I could: Performed against the backdrop of the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina, Staccato transports readers to a behind-the-scenes glimpse of professional musicians, the psychological twists and turns of its characters, and in the end, retribution that crashes in a crescendo of notes played at the literary pace of a maestro’s staccato. The only drawback to Staccato is that it doesn’t come with a soundtrack — each meticulously chosen piece of music enhances the mood of the scene it accompanies, and unless you are much more informed about music than I am, you will miss some of the brilliance of this composition.

Readers are in for a treat, and me? Aaaarrrggghhhh!!! I have to write another review! Well, I don’t have to, but the book deserves all the attention it can get. So, I will add it to the stack of other books I’ve promised to review, yet haven’t:

Lacey Took a Holiday by Lazarus Barnhill
The Medicine People by Lazarus Barnhill
Steel Waters by Ken Coffman
Toxic Shock Syndrome by Ken Coffman
Mazurka by Aaron Lazar
Heart of Hythea by Suzanne Francis
and now, Staccato by Deborah J Ledford

Although all these books are much more literate, readable, and enjoyable than Dan Brown’s pap, the best I can come up with as a review for each of these deserving novels right now is, “Good book. I liked it and you will, too.”

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Bertram’s Global Blog Blitz

As part of my week-launch book party, today I am appearing as a guest on several different blogs. Please stop by and say hi.

I am in New Zealand with Suzanne Francis, author of the Song of the Arkafina cycle. We are celebrating our shared firsts. Visit us at Scriber Rescribus.

I am in Canada, with A.F. Stewart, author of Inside Realms. We are discussing one of my favorite topics: the new era in publishing. Visit us at A.F. Stewart’s Blog.

I am in Canada, with Cheryl Kaye Tardiff, bestselling author of Whale Song. We will be talking about the psychopathic personality. Visit us at Criminal Minds at Work.

I am in the United States, featured on a blog by Laurie Foston, author of  The Next Phase Chronicles. Visit us at Pat Bertram’s Blog Tour

I am also in the United States with . . . me. I posted a new 100-word story for the occasion. Visit me at Mini Fiction.

(If this doesn’t seem like much of a blitz, several of the people who invited me didn’t get the articles posted. And two got my name wrong. Which just goes to show . . .  I Don’t know what, except that we are in the grip of something beyond our control.  From the first, these two books have attracted problems like metal filings to a magnet. I keep telling myself it means that everything will be wonderful in the end, but until then, metal filings.)

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Feeling Like a Guest on My Own Blog

I’m starting to feel like a guest here on my own blog. I’m getting so many visitors to my “guest event” on the future of books, that I spend my allotted blog time wandering from one “referrer” link to another to see where everyone is coming from, and I never get around to posting my own work. If I’m not careful, I’ll forget the reason I started writing this blog: me. A month ago I decided I would stop inviting guest bloggers and reclaim my blog, but that resolution died even before the new year began. It’s just too much fun finding new voices (and established voices) to come guest, and for me, that’s the real purpose of this blog: fun. As addicted to the Internet as I’m getting — or as seduced by it — I still find this blog to be the most enjoyable online activity. I like saying what I want and just throwing it out there. Sometimes people agree, sometimes they don’t, but I’ve met some of my best blog buddies (bet you can’t say that three times!) because of discussions resulting from this disagreement.

So, here I am with a blank slate, and nothing to say. Actually, the problem is that I have too much to say, and it won’t all fit in a single bloggery. I want to talk about how amazing it is that writers such as Suzanne Francis, author of the Heart of Hythea books can make up such wonderful-sounding words and worlds. When I needed a name for my disease in A Spark of Heavenly Fire, the most exotic one I could come up with was . . . ta da! . . . The Red Death. It fits (people get red eyes and vomit bright red blood) and it’s probably what it would have been called if such a disease really had decimated Colorado. (And that is the correct use of the term decimated — about a tenth of the residents of Colorado end up dead.) But it isn’t a clever, made-up word.

Another thing I would like to talk about is the incredible journey a novel takes from that first glimmer of an idea to a book in the hands of a reader. Each step is a big one: the first word, the first chapter, the first draft. You think you are unique because there is a good chance you are the only person you know who writes.  And then you start querying, and find out you are one among millions, and no one cares. Finally, you find someone to publish your opus (or you decide to self-publish) and have you entered the rarefied atmosphere of the few? No. For some reason, once you start promoting your work, everyone you encounter is also promoting a work. So who buys these books? Someone, I hope, because eventually the delays will be over, and my books will be available.

Another thing I would like to talk about is . . . oops, my allotted blog time is up. I’ll get back to you tomorrow. Unless I have another guest blogger.

Pat and Mike (Couldn’t Resist the Title)

I have had an incredibly exciting week. First, I got the proofs for my novel A Spark of Heavenly Fire, but that wasn’t the most exciting thing that happened.

More exciting was finding out I’m a blurb on the cover of Suzanne Francis’s book, Heart of Hythea. Seeing my name on the back cover of a book really made me feel like an author.

Even more exciting was having Michael Palmer accept an invitation to be a guest on my blog. Yep, that’s right — the Michael Palmer, author of thirteen bestselling novels, is going to be on my blog tomorrow. Oddly enough for these cyber times, he’s never guested a blog before, so this is an historic occasion. Most exciting of all, he wrote the article just for me, rather than sending me one he’d already written.

I hope I’m not going against email ethics by making our conversation public, but our little discussion was interesting (to me anyway) and I wanted to share it.

My Sort-of Interview with Michael Palmer

Be sure to stop by tomorrow to check out Michael’s blog post.

Style: The Search for a Voice — NWJC Writing Discussion #44

My writing group on — No Whine, Just Champagne — meets every Thursday at 9:00pm ET for a live discussion, and you are all invited. Tonight’s host is Suzanne Francis, author of the Song of the Arkafina series from Mushroom Books, and her topic is Style: The Search for a Voice. Suzanne writes:

Where do you find it? Is it lurking in the keyboard, in the classroom, or in the back of your mind? How do you know when you have a voice to call your own?

Today’s discussion will focus on how we, as authors, find authentic style.

Style begins with competence. (Unless you want to be known as one of those writers for whom ineptitude seems to be a defining trait. I won’t name names…)

One of my friends, a teacher, once told me that competence has four levels.

They are:

1. Unconscious Incompetence–This is where I started. I wrote and wrote, thousands of words a day, and I thought every one of them was pure gold. I was surprised and offended when my critiquers pointed out that there were flaws, inconsistencies, poorly constructed sentences, flabby paragraphs etc. etc. Sadly, many writers these days seem to be published while they are still in this stage.

2. Conscious Incompetence–The great eye opener. You realize that your work is mostly crap. Some people quit here, because they don’t want to do the work of objectively editing their work down into something readable. But if you keep at it, you’ll eventually graduate to…

3. Conscious Competence–I like to think that I am here, on a good day. I can see when the pace drags, when I am telling instead of showing. I work hard, examine my prose, recognize the flaws and fix them! I don’t get them all, but when my writing buddy finds something else I fix that too.

4. Unconscious Competence–Sometimes, very rarely, I get to visit this place, but I don’t live here. I’m sure you have had those moments when the words just pour from your fingers. Perfect fully formed sentences spring forth like Athene from the forehead of Zeus. I imagine there might be some writers who are able to keep this up long term, but I am not one of them. 

So once you have achieved level 3, or level 4 if you are very talented, do you have a style?


Now you have to do a little detective work–look at your writing and listen to your instincts. Which words sing out from the page? Where do the characters say just what they need to? What settings add heft and bedrock to the action, or transcendent beauty?

That is where your style is hiding. Read those passages again and again. Zero in on what makes them tick; why they are so successful. Then, slowly, carefully, begin to put those discoveries to use in other places. The more you do it, the easier it gets. And eventually you find your style, a distillation of your very best writing, enriching every page.

Let me make one thing clear…

Style isn’t about following rules, despite what I said about competence earlier. We have all read things that were grammatically correct and well-structured, but still left us cold. The warmth in writing comes from our ability to know when to break a convention in order to add impact. It takes time, and the patience to write and read many, many thousands of words. There is no substitute for the hard work involved. But the moment we realize that we have written something that is recognizably ours and ours alone, can be very rewarding.

So–how and when did you discover your own style?  Do you think style should be dictated by genre, ie hard boiled for mystery, flowery for romance?  Are there any authors whose style you particularly admire?  Is your style evolving and if so, in which direction?

The group No Whine, Just Champagne will discuss these questions and more during our Live Discussion on Thursday, December 4th at 9:00pm ET. Hope to see you there! (A reminder: to participate, you need to be a member of gather, but it’s free. And to see the discussion, you will have to keep refreshing the page. It’s not like IM.)

Faith and Fiction

Suzanne Francis, author of Heart of Hythea, Ketha’s Daughter, and Dawnmaid, has kindly consented to be my guest today. On the subject of Faith and Fiction, Suzanne writes:

We can all think of a series or two where religion plays a major role in the plot-like the Left Behindbooks by LaHaye and Jenkins or the Mitford Series by Jan Karon. Whether or not you agree with their beliefs, these are authors who have placed their own faith squarely at the center of the books they write.

Should we do the same? I can think of three reasons why we might.

–Spirituality is a deeply personal attribute, part of what makes us individuals. No two people, even two who belong to the same faith, believe in exactly the same things. Our faith, even if it is atheism, is a fundamental part of who we are. That is something we can use to differentiate our writing from all other authors, something that will allow us to claim it as our own.

–Most of us with religious beliefs feel that these tenets make us better people-that is why we follow them, after all. Many authors of fiction-like Ayn Rand or Jack Kerouac-have used the voices of their characters to present their own beliefs to the world. If we have an understanding, something that helps us, should we not also share it with others?

–Every author wants their characters to be multi-dimensional, to come to life for the reader. If we do not give our creations a spiritual dimension, then they are lacking one of the most essential qualities of humanity-the one thing that separates us from all other animals. Even if our character never discusses his or her faith or lack thereof, it must still be in the background affecting everything he or she says and does.

But how do we go about placing our beliefs in the context of our fiction without sounding artificial or preachy?

It pays to spend some time thinking about what you actually believe and how it affects your everyday life. That becomes the starting point. Do you have doubts? Have you suffered for your faith? Do you speak of it with others, or is it private?

Once you have a handle on that, then you can decide how much or how little you wish to include. Maybe you will put a single line in the mouth of a minor character. That might be enough. Alternatively, you can give a main character some of your convictions, and let it emerge little by little through their actions. Or perhaps, like C.S. Lewis, you can write a whole series of allegories around the things you believe. (But I think the Chronicles of Narnia is very preachy!)

In Song of the ArkafinaI gave one character, Arkady Svalbarad, a faith very much like Buddhism. I am not a Buddhist, not really, but I find the some of the philosophy very useful in my day-to-day life. Here is an example from Ketha’s Daughter:

—Nodding, he turned to his pack, and retrieved his tin plate and a small knife. He was hungry, and the rabbit smelled good, though it had been a year since he had last eaten any flesh. That was another thing he learned from his teacher in T’Shang — respect for all living creatures. But Dawa had also impressed upon him the importance of kindness to others, and that meant accepting any gift without complaint or reservation. So he ate the rabbit with pleasure and shared what food he had in return.—

Everything about this character is colored by his faith-both his successes and failures are measured against it. It gives him a genuineness I could never create otherwise.

My own belief system I would loosely describe as Paganism, though probably not the kind you are thinking of. I don’t own any robes, or do any rituals or chanting. But I do believe in the immanence of God in all things, and I hold the Earth to be sacred. I gave my convictions to a group of wanderers called the Firaithi. From Ketha again:

—“Still,” insisted Arkady. “It must be very difficult – always traveling like this. Do your young people not grow tired of your rootless existence?”

“Of course, some do,” admitted Huw. “Perhaps two or three each year decide to leave the Kindreds and make their way in the world of the Gruagán. But we raise our young ones to honor Asparitus, so most come back to us after a few years.”

“Asparitus? What is that?”

Huw stared thoughtfully at his sister Eira’s neatly painted caravan. “I don’t know a word in Maraison that means the same thing. Asparitus is our way of life. It means to tread gently on the Yrth, to use as little as we are able, and put back as much as we can.” He frowned. “We have very little, compared to the Gruagán in their fancy houses. They think of us as impoverished tinkers and thieves, when they think of us at all. But truly, Kadya, few of us would give up our place here amongst the Kindreds for all the gold of the Gruagán. Asparitus is all the treasure we need. Do you understand, my brother?”—

That is very, very close to the heart of my own faith, only lightly cloaked in the language of the Firaithi.

How will you clothe your faith in your fiction?

To find out more about Suzanne, read excerpts, or buy her books, check out her fictionwise book page.