Psst! Are You Feeling …

blocked and blue

In the run-up to NaNoWriMo, some participants are already feeling like they’re trapped between a rolling boulder and a bottomless pit. They have a character, but no plot – or a plot, but no character – or a character and a plot, but no plan….

The last time I can remember feeling blocked was 47 years ago. I was in the fifth grade, and I had to write a book report. I had no problem with that concept: I’d learned to read and write by age 4, and had begun composing “stories” at 5. My mother taught me to be a touch-typist when I was 10, and I typed up a 50-page novelette from notes I’d been scribbling in a ledger. What blocked me at age 11 were “the rules:” we were restricted to reading and writing about the books in the classroom “library,” and a more insipid selection never disgraced a bookshelf.

I’d begun reading Kipling at age 6, Twain at 7, and had begun and finished all of Laura Ingalls Wilder over the summer I was 8.  I’d bought Verne and Doyle and Stevenson when I was 9, and from age 10 had been immersed in reading three sets of “supermarket” encyclopedias (one general, one American History, and one Natural Science). The closest I’d ever come to children’s “category” or “genre” fiction was to read one Red Ryder Adventure, two Tarzans, and a Hardy Boys Mystery.

From a shelf of stories that were supposedly appropriate for 11-year-olds, I had to settle for some dumb book about rabbits.

The rules also said we were to show what we’d learned from the book. Having long before learned all about rabbits from reading The Burgess Animal Book and the Natural Science encyclopedia, and observing them in my back yard, I was hard-pressed to come up with something new. I ended up tallying the baby bunnies every time the doe birthed a litter, and turned in a report about rabbit reproductive habits. I do not remember what grade I got for that paper, but the next time Mrs. B. assigned a book report, I refused to do one, and defiantly took the only “F” of my public-school career.

As an adult, I’ve always enjoyed writing, even when I was producing nothing but passive-voice academic papers. I was in the middle of graduate school when I started writing Irish Firebrands. It was not a product of NaNoWriMo, but after all the years of non-fiction writing, it may have come at the behest of the creative half of my brain, rising up to take a sword and pike out of the thatch, and demanding equal time. I can honestly say that I never felt blocked while I was writing it. I was having too much fun, for the most part (although there were a few unpleasant episodes the Muse on duty said I had to write).

576px-MarblequarrySo I love opening a fresh new ream of white paper. It lies upon its shelf like a pristine block of Carrara marble, full of unknown potential waiting to be released.

To my colleagues who are trembling in trepidation at the Thirty-day Challenge – or any writers who are currently facing a fight-or-flight situation over their fiction – I say this: Open a new ream of paper. Put it where you can see it from your writing chair. Admire its purity, its sharp, clean corners, and stroke its smooth, unblemished surface. Put a tray beside it.

Then turn to your keyboard. Write whatever you want to write, as much as you feel like writing, and whenever you feel like it. Scraps of dialogue. Beginnings, middles, or ends of scenes. Transcribe your research notes. And at the end of every writing session, take a blank sheet from the block of paper, and put it in the tray.

You are an Artist, your keystrokes carving your Art, as sheet by sheet, the ream is removed, revealing your masterpiece, until the moment you load the paper into your printer, and your finished work walks free.


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Is It A Guy Thing?

Gee, maybe I’m on to something, with my giving 40% of the point of view to the male main character, in Irish Firebrands.

J. B. Garner (“everyone’s favorite struggling author”), in his recent review of a paranormal romance, remarks, “The main PoV character for large sections of the book is the male lead…. Refreshing.”

Perhaps there’s hope for my kind of writing – among the Y-DNA Demographic.

Zane_GreyI’m not exactly sure why I wrote Irish Firebrands like that. I’m a pantser, and it just came out with one male and one female POV. Maybe I got it from Zane Grey, because he often wrote his novels that way. I grew up reading a 60-volume matched hardbound set of his western and adventure tales, and I still own and enjoy them. Most of his stories include a strong romance, although none of Grey’s good guys actually wear white hats.

I did do some male character development research while I was writing the story: I needed to know about the kind of home fitness equipment a man might invest in. Having birthed and brought up three testosterone-based life forms, and being the mother-in-law of a fourth, I took my questions to my local focus group.

The consensus was that while a “normal” guy (their description, not mine) would buy only one piece of large exercise equipment, a bodybuilder would own several. Result: one male character owns a treadmill, while another has outfitted his house with a complete home gym, including an attached shower room and a rack stacked with fluffy white towels. (He also has a huge flat-screen TV hanging on the wall over a glassed-in fireplace.)

Garner also commends the paranormal-romance writer for not being afraid “to blaze off of the over-used pathways other writers in this genre have tread.”

Irish Firebrands is Fusion Fiction: it mixes the Contempo-Ro, Boomer-Lit, social controversy, supernatural, visionary-inspirational, and psychological-melodrama genres. As such, it doesn’t always adhere to the traits, tropes, tableaux, and themes that are supposed to be traditional in romance-focused writing. So far, so good.

It’s also a minor-epic-length stand-alone, not a boxed-set novelette. Thus, promotion has focused on how this big story is flexible enough to meet a variety of literary-indulgence needs.

IrishFirebrandscoverartBut this approach has also been “gender-generic,” which may not have helped the cause. For example, Irish Firebrands also does not have a bosom-and-biceps cover, which probably inhibits sales to readers of both sexes who look for that sort of thing, when skimming actual and virtual bookshelves for a romance-based read.

Changing curb appeal seems to be an obvious fix. But conversely, the Sixty Shades of Chartreuse phenomenon has a very understated, almost plain-brown-wrapper set of covers, compared to the hordes of headless, half-naked torsos that hunker down on the covers of most love stories. And if there are women who report the embarrassment of having to carry around such covers, there also must be men who prefer not to have some other dude’s pecs and abs pushed under their noses, every time they pick up their current choice of fiction.

kimballWriting is an Art, and there are no Hydra’s Teeth that Authors can sow, which will sprout patrons who come screaming to buy our books. In addition, my sales have undoubtedly suffered because of constraints that are beyond my control. But I did study marketing and professional selling at university, under Dr. Bob Kimball, who also recruited my middle son to act in a marketing video he directed, back in the late ’90s.

I just have to figure out how to bring the content of Irish Firebrands to the attention of the Y-DNA Demographic. Unfortunately, I haven’t met many men who have this kind of eclectic taste in reading (only one of the Plouvier fellas has read his mom’s magnum opus, although the son-in-law is awaiting the audiobook).

Or is Irish Firebrands a sleeper that’s just waiting for its prelude to come out?


Here’s what my market research has found on the Web, so far:

The Romance Genre
Romance stories for men
Smart Men Read Romance Novels
Men Reading Romance: Meet the Romance Man
The Real Men Who Read Romance Novels
Are Men Writing Romance?


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Genre fiction vs. Literary fiction – Can’t we all get along?


There is so much about my writing that is genre, and so much about it that is literary, that it is impossible for me to “market” it, because so many people have bought into the notion that all writing needs to be labeled, when the truth is that the labels were invented, and their inventors are trying to get all writing to be made in the image of those labels, which in and of themselves are meaningless.

Life is not lived in one dimension: it is a continual mix of sagacity and silliness, of profundity and pettiness, of rousing dreams and daunting realities; so why should the Art that possesses the most power to express Life be any different? And yet, Authors as Artists are bound and gagged by the expectation that they will censor their communication, in conformance with discrete categories. Other Artists and forms of Artistic self-expression do not submit to obiter dicta that polarize and isolate them and their works in this manner.

And so, in order to cope with this conundrum, I have had to come up with an appropriate label on my own: Fusion Fiction. I do not call it a label “of” my own, for I am not the only writer who has endured this dilemma, and I do not want it to be “my” label, but for it to be adopted by the multitude of writers whose voices are not heard because their unique works are hidden by the system.

Originally posted on Ibukun Taiwo:

literary vs genreI’m pissed right now. Really really pissed.

If you read what I just read, you’re be pissed too. See for yourself:

How does [the writer] seemingly climb into our heads—and not even “our heads” but “my head,” because it feels so personal, so specific—without actually knowing us or our circumstances, and from that vantage point proceed to unfold a narrative that we are certain was written only with us, only with me in mind? I don’t know how it is done. It isn’t taught in any school, not even in the schools of writing. But here’s my guess: the writer takes us into her confidence, but does it without appearing to do so. This invitation into the writer’s thoughts is there in all works that really get under the reader’s skin….

Now, if you are reading a romance novel or a thriller, all of this is irrelevant. There are…

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