This year was a year of subtleties for me when it came to storm and sky photography. A late storm-chasing season meant less time in Tornado Alley than I would have liked. I saw only one “good” tornado, and my video of it was better than my stills. Lightning wasn’t so great this summer in Florida, either. But I still managed to see a variety of atmospheric spectacles, and I’ve put together several photos in a slide show that looks back on the year. You can find it here.
I’ve heard it said that one of the issues novice writers face is figuring out to what genre their writing belongs. This very question makes a lot of assumptions: that a writer will stick with one genre; that her book will fit neatly into one genre; and that genres have any meaning at all for regular people who just want to read a good book.
Genres have always been important to marketing books, so many writers write to a genre. They want their books to fit well into a BISAC category (which classifies your book and helps determine things like bookshelf location and Amazon categories), so booksellers know where to put it and readers know where to find it.
Then there are those of us who write the book we want to write and have more than a little trouble figuring out where it belongs. It’s an adventure story with literary ambition, drama, humor and a touch of romance, for instance (is it literary? upmarket? general fiction? or simply adventure?). That’s how I’d describe my first novel, “Funnel Vision,” but a description like that doesn’t much help a writer choose one genre. Problematically, no matter what genre you choose or how you market a novel, readers are going to have their own idea of what the book is.
Science fiction means a lot of things to a lot of people, from speculative tales to hard-science space epics. “Women’s fiction” is a loaded term, given that some folks (like me) don’t want to see women placed in some sort of literary ghetto, but then again, maybe it’s a good marketing tag. At least you know it’s not going to be about machine guns or explosions; it’s going to be about relationships. And romance is an amalgam of so many different genres these days, I’m amazed the category is still so well-defined. But one thing I’ve learned from interviewing various romance authors is that books placed in that genre are still expected to have one essential ingredient: the HEA, or Happily Ever After, in which Girl A and Guy A end up together (unless it’s three creatures or something, which is really outside my reading experience).This concept is really important to people who expect the HEA when they pick up a novel labeled Romance. I recently read a review of my novel that was filled with frustration, partly because “Funnel Vision” didn’t follow the conventional romance path. Well, that’s because it’s not a romance. I’ve resisted marketing it as such; I call it an adventure. It has strong romantic elements — it has relationships — but they are part of a larger story, and the ending, which I hope is a satisfying one, may be unexpected.
Complicating matters: Some of the kind people who have reviewed the novel on Amazon have called it a romance. And some of those folks are not regular romance readers, and don’t know about the HEA rule, and see the relationships and sensual scenes and figure, well, that’s a pretty good descriptor. As a writer, all I can do is sit back and wonder (a) whether I don’t know what genre my book is in; or (b) if the romance genre should be a lot wider than currently defined.
I’ve always been a big fan of what used to be called Romances — romantic adventures with strong chivalric elements, such as Dumas’ “The Three Musketeers” — which had tales of love but were more driven by adventures and characters than whatever the ending “had” to be. Don’t many of the best stories have great love stories without being labeled romances? And don’t many of those stories conclude with tragedy or bittersweet partings? The kind of ending filled with longing that makes the heart ache at least as much as any neat-as-a-bow HEA? Would “Casablanca” have been what it was if Rick and Ilsa had run off together? Would “Gone with the Wind” resonate so much if Rhett had actually given a damn and not walked off into the fog?
And would you call these stories romances? Maybe. I’d call them great stories, period, with great characters and great writing (movie or book). Romance — that is, love or lust or longing — is such an important part of life, and such an important shaper of character, that it’s vital to any story that involves people interacting with one another. So I suppose I’ll keep writing what I call adventures, with romantic inclinations and actions I draw from the characters, whose lives are not all that tidy.
I have no beef with HEA romances. They’re great fun and wonderful escapism, and after years of pretty much ignoring the genre, I started reading a smattering of romances a couple of years ago, inspired by all the smart, talented local authors I’ve met. They’ve written terrific stories. I think we even share some of the same sensibilities. But I’m a sappy romantic and a cynic wrapped up in one, with an inclination toward satire, and my books reflect my slightly twisted view of reality. You’ll see that approach even more emphatically in the pending sequel to “Funnel Vision,” “Tornado Pinball.”
Writing to a genre may help you find a traditional publisher or cash in on popular categories as a self-publisher, but one beautiful thing that comes along with self-publishing is the freedom to write the book you want to write, write it well, and damn the rules. As a writer of fiction that defies categorization, all you can do is pick the best genre for your book and hope readers are willing to forget definitions and preconceptions and go along for the ride. And if you’re not sure, there’s always Fiction / General, even if that’s a tall mountain to climb on the Amazon charts.
I’m excited to be doing a book signing with three other Space Coast authors on Dec. 7 at Eau Gallie Arts District’s First Friday from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. This time, in addition to the gallery walk and vendors, there’s a Christmas tree lighting complete with a visit from Santa and entertainment. We’ll be in a tent on Highland Avenue. Who’s “we”? There’s Terry Cronin, who will be signing his entertaining “Skinvestigator” mysteries, about a crime-solving dermatologist; Karlene Conroy, co-author of “The Don Quixote Girls,” about four sandwich generation girlfriends and the issues they face together; and Carol Ann Didier, author of the “Apache Warrior” romance trilogy. And I’ll be signing my storm-chasing adventure “Funnel Vision.” I’m very close to finishing the sequel, “Tornado Pinball,” and I’ll be writing a lot more about that and my National Novel Writing Month experience, which is almost over … just a couple more chapters …
The Eau Gallie Arts District is the Eau Gallie neighborhood of Melbourne, Florida, centered at Highland Avenue and Eau Gallie Boulevard. There’s a lot of great energy there right now, with new galleries and big changes at the Foosaner Art Museum (formerly the Brevard Art Museum). This will be a fun night.
Signed books make nice Christmas presents. So there’s your commercial announcement du jour. Have a great day.
First, if I were really serious about National Novel Writing Month, aka NaNoWriMo, I wouldn’t be wasting time writing a blog post. But I am serious about using NaNoWriMo as a tool to push me into a high-speed dash to finish my Funnel Vision sequel by the end of the month.
I haven’t signed up on the site, which exhorts participants to finish 50,000 words by month’s end. That means 18,000-plus by the end of today, or 1667 words per day. My goal is slightly more modest, since my novel was already started – an average of a thousand words a day, though I’m trying for more. I think I’ll need a better average to finish on time, since I think the novel’s going to be a bit longer than the last one, but I’m on target right now.
Why pull a stunt like NaNoWriMo, you might ask? Well, there are a lot of people who call themselves writers who have lots of ideas but just don’t write them down. And there are those of us who have jobs and a multitude of other distractions who write, but have trouble writing enough. I fall in and out of that category. What I want out of this month is not just a good draft of Tornado Pinball, but better habits. And so far, I’m finding high productivity pretty addictive.
I’m off to Orlando Public Library at 3:30 p.m. today to give a presentation about storm chasing and Funnel Vision. But sometime today, those thousand words or so are coming out of my brain, no matter what.
Are you writing?
Yeah, that video’s trippy.
Let me put on my photographer’s hat for a moment – it’s time to think about getting the family photos in order for this year’s holiday cards. To me, cards are more fun and personal when I can see the smiling faces of friends and family. Can I help you get the photos you want for your cards this year? For $95, you’ll get an hourlong photo session in a pretty location of your choice; an online gallery where you can order prints; and a CD so you can do whatever you wish with the photos. Typically, these sessions yield 25 to 30 diverse, nicely edited photos. The session will be casual and fun, and feel free to include pets — I love taking their photos, too! Even if you don’t want to use the photos for cards, the images will be perfect to share and treasure. Contact me to schedule a session. For ideas, see the galleries from other portrait sessions.
If you need a portrait of yourself or publicity photos, I’ll shoot an hourlong session with you for the same price through Dec. 31. Contact me if you’d like to give a portrait session as a gift certificate.
I’m taking advantage of the weather with an outdoor book signing of “Funnel Vision” Friday. I’ll join Karlene Conroy and Mia Crews, authors of “The Don Quixote Girls,” among the other artists and vendors at First Friday in Eau Gallie – specifically EGAD, or the Eau Gallie Arts District. Look for us near the intersection of Eau Gallie Boulevard and Highland Avenue. The event, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., should be a blast, and you can always get started on your holiday shopping.
I recently took a week to visit family and shoot portrait sessions in Pennsylvania. A wonderful bonus was a road trip through west-central Pennsylvania in quest of covered bridges, many of which I saw in Somerset County. It’s funny, the romantic notions we have of covered bridges, but this was no Bridges of Somerset County romance novel. Many of the bridges are no longer in regular use; they sit parallel to the main road’s bridges, or are even blocked off in historical parks. But with a little imagination, you can frame them nicely and transport yourself in time. So much of photography is illusion – or call it artistic choice, if you like. I chose to go for a saturated look that brought out the middling fall colors. I love catching the flashy foliage as the trees throw their annual party before going to sleep for the winter, as much as I love coming home to the perpetual green of Florida.
I also took a few shots of a sunflower field in Lancaster County – home of so many Amish buggies, rolling farms, and fruit stands overflowing with pumpkins. Sunflowers always make me think of Kansas, now that storm chasing is in my blood. Seeing them in full bloom in Kansas is something I haven’t yet experienced, since I live in Florida; that’s a trip I look forward to. See more covered bridges and sunflowers here.
First, come out to the Melbourne Independent Filmmakers’ Festival tonight and Saturday. There’s a full slate of fascinating films and other programming planned, from the comedy show tonight to the Florida Filmmakers Matinee Saturday starting at 9 a.m. That’s when you can see my documentary, “Hourglass,” about sand sculptors battling the weather and the clock to prepare for the Art of Sand festival. Get tickets and see the schedule for the event, at The Oaks Premiere Theaters in Melbourne.
Also, at noon on Monday, you can hear me chatting with Seeta Durjan Begui on “Seeta and Friends” on WMEL-AM radio. You can listen online.
Monday evening at 7 p.m., come to a free storm-chasing presentation at the Eau Gallie Library (sponsored by Friends of the Eau Gallie Library). I’ll be talking about the realities of storm chasing, showing video and photos and my short documentary “Chasing Reality,” and signing copies of my novel “Funnel Vision.” That’s the storm-chasing adventure to which I’m writing a sequel right now!
Learn more about upcoming events in my calendar.