Friday, April 29, 2016

Gothic or Horror, or Gothic Horror?

Horror of horrors, I realized while researching and preparing for a talk at the Hanford Library here in California tomorrow, that I write Gothic Fiction. And all along I thought I wrote Romantic Suspense—and I do, but there’s this little fact that erupted to bring in a whole other dimension. (Oh, and I’ve also been told I write horror fiction—you have to read my short stories to see that.)

My early influences in life were fairy tales before I was in First Grade. I can still remember viewing the fairy tale murals on the walls while listening to the stories read aloud. When I began to read, I absorbed every fairy tale from every country I could get my hands on, and

the Grimm fairy tales were my favorite—the ones with dark themes (not the Anderson/Disney ones)

When all the fairy tales and folk tales were exhausted, I switched to Gothic Romance; Jane Eyre, Rebecca, Wuthering Heights, Phantom of the Opera —moving on to other Gothic fiction; Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Frankenstein and Dracula and Interview with a Vampire. I never really thought about the fact that those were all Gothic (a branch of the larger Romantic movement in the late 18th Century).  

Oh, and did I mention Poe? Yep, popped his Gothic horror stories into my brain like I was eating candy.

According to Wikipedia on Gothic Fiction, there's a heavy emphasis on atmosphere (check!), using setting and diction to build suspense and a sense of unease in the reader (check!). The common subject matter was supernatural, family curses, mystery and madness (check!). So, yeah, I guess I do write Gothic fiction, only updated from settings in European castles and dark foreboding houses to the dark jungles and caves in Mexico’s Yucatan—filled with supernatural elements.

But wait!. Amazon lists it under: Science Fiction & Fantasy, Fantasy and Paranormal & Urban. Jeeze! Is it any wonder I can't settle on a niche?

I always felt odd that I couldn’t nail down what I was writing (Was it women’s fiction? Suspense? Romantic suspense with paranormal elements? It was all very slippery and none of those quite captured what I write thoroughly enough. 

So I guess I could describe Dance the Dream Awake as Gothic Romance meets Romancing the Stone with paranormal elements of Carlos Castenada’s Don Juan’s supernatural escapades. Add that it might be Fantasy or Sci-Fi. Whew! See why I have trouble with this?

But wait, Wikipedia weighs in with another possibility; Romantic thriller--think Hitchcock.

"Romantic thriller in discussion of genres, is more a metagenre that merges two or more genres together. It is different from established and historically specific cinema movements like Gothic horror or Golden Age detective. A genre works on two levels. First a specific theme exists. Then general relationships, patterns and structural elements are interwoven to the specific theme. This is why there can be a large variety of visual styles and story structures in romantic thriller."

You see why I'm in a mobius loop with this?

At lease my second novel, Haiku Dance, fits into the Romance genre--historical romance (uh, with erotic overtones and supernatural leanings--oh, well . . .  I'll try to figure it out another day). 
(You can read more about Haiku Dance on my website.)

So, now, your turn—comment and tell if you’ve had that problem with your novel(s), or did you always write clearly in one genre? (I’m jealous if you say yes.)

Am I the only one who’s had this issue?

Monday, April 4, 2016

Reflections of LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION!

Or, How to get your novel noticed by Hollywood.

Sisters in Crime (created to promote the ongoing advancement, recognition and professional development of women crime writers.) is not:
  • As the police or sheriff officers that have come to speak at our meetings thought—that we are ex-prostitutes or women who have committed crimes.
  • Or, as the woman at the registration counter at the hotel I was at this past weekend thought; a support group for women who have been abused.
What we are is an organization that has ongoing support for women writers in any of the sub-genres of crime (suspense, romantic suspense, thrillers, cozy detectives, etc.). And, I just finished attending a wonderful conference put on by Sisters in Universal City, CA. on adapting your novel to Hollywood.

So, what were the challenges and processes that got me to the doorsteps of Hollywood this past weekend, thinking I could pitch to the gatekeepers and maybe have my novel adapted to film or T.V.?
  •  I wrote a story. 
  •  I improved and re-edited that story until I was convinced I had the best crafted novel I could achieve at that point in my writing career (which is an ongoing process of improvement for which at some point I had to say, “enough!” And pry my fingers from the manuscript and let it go).
  • I went through the process of getting it published; a whole other skill set in learning to deal with the time line of a publisher, editor—edits and re-edits, maybe cover artist or formatting expert, and the waiting. . . ..
  • I'm still learning effective promotion, because unless you are a Stephen King, promotion is in your hands.
  •  And, I'm crazy enough to want to see my story adapted to film or some visual medium. So I pitched to Hollywood – another whole skill set because you don’t just walk in and hand over your book and expect to have it made into a film or T.V. series.
This past weekend was a premium eye opener for me. There were wonderful, intelligent writers, script writers, producers and gatekeepers of all types that I had no idea were a part of the process. A whole other world from the author’s world—which is the key point. You need to be knowledgeable and smart about what you are doing when pitching to that end of the business. The key here is “business.” You approach it from a business perspective with facts and figures at the ready.

Sisters in Crime did a wonderful job of sponsoring this event. Many kudos to those who organized it, steered it, and in anyway were a part of making it work. And it did work, magnificently.

When looking to Hollywood, you will have to see your ‘product’ with new eyes. There are so many ‘cogs in the wheel’ who will have a different take on what they see in your novel, what their personal feelings are about what they read, what their bosses want/need at the moment and that fit with their goals for their publishing house/business/outlet/venue. Producers, directors, actors, script writers, screen writers, money people—the list goes on and on in the many meetings that will be an ongoing process (but not for you as the writer) if your book fits with what they are looking for at the moment. (And next year what they are looking for will probably be different so your project might be dropped, or shelved.)

The sometimes ethereal process of writing a novel (pantsers especially) all the way to the concrete aspects necessary to translate it to the visual mediums are fraught with pitfalls, delays, money troubles, artistic differences—the list just goes on and on.

But, the bottom line that the producer I pitched to wants us to remember above all else: They Need Us!

Without that story idea to work off of, there can be no Oscars or BAFTAs or any other awards. No jobs, no money to be made—nothing without that story.

So take heart, but get smart about how to pitch, and above all remember that the person you are pitching to is a person—so engage them as you would any person you meet for the first time and want to make a favorable impression on. You are, first of all, appealing to the emotions and feelings of another human being who just has a different job than you.

But remember, after you get your foot in the door, it’s nothing personal—it’s all business. And if your project doesn’t fly this time, you’ve made a favorable impression on the person who might then consider your future projects.

During one of the panel sessions a woman in the audience was complaining about her novel not getting in the door. The producer I pitched to later was on that panel and responded succinctly (though she later confided to me she hoped she hadn’t offended anyone—still she said it, which brought the house down in laughter).

This producer told us that when she wakes up in the morning, to make sure she’s in a positive frame of mind (which the woman asking the question was obviously not) she asks herself, “Am I fuck-able today?” If you keep that mindset, you will avoid being unpleasant and grumpy about life not giving you what you want.

So, stay positive—stay fuck-able!

I've been posting excerpts from my new novel, Haiku Dance on my website this month. Go take a peek!

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