Many Genres, One Craft: Lessons in Writing Popular Fiction

Edited by Michael A. Arnzen and Heidi Ruby Miller

Headline Books, Inc. Terra Alta, WV

Many Genres, One Craft: Lessons in Writing Popular Fiction
Edited by Michael A. Arnzen and Heidi Ruby Miller
copyright ©2011 Michael A. Arnzen and Heidi Ruby Miller
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any other form or for any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording or any information storage system, without written permission from Headline Books, Inc.

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Headline Books, Inc. P. O. Box 52 Terra Alta, WV 26764 www.headlinebooks.com

Tel/Fax: 800-570-5951 Email: mybook@headlinebooks.com www.headlinebooks.com Michael A. Arnzen arnzen@gorelets.com www.gorelets.com Heidi Ruby Miller heidirubymiller@gmail.com http://heidirubymiller.blogspot.com http://manygenres.blogspot.com

ISBN-13: 978-0-938467-08-3

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Many genres, one craft : lessons in writing popular fiction / edited by Michael A. Arnzen and Heidi Ruby Miller. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references. ISBN 978-0-938467-08-3 1. Fiction--Technique. 2. Popular literature--Technique. I. Arnzen, Michael A. II. Miller, Heidi Ruby. PN3365.M265 2011 808.3--dc22 2011006932

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Many Genres, One Craft

Putting Our Heads Together: An Introduction to Many Genres, One Craft
by Michael A. Arnzen
Once upon a time, writers worked with editors like apprentices under master craftsmen. Writers were understudies to their editors, who would patiently walk them through every step of the revision process, teaching them about the finer points of style and training them in the business side of publishing along the way. Editors were a kind of educator, and writers were their students, working on their final thesis: a published book. Yes, once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away, the writer-editor relationship was like getting your Master’s degree in fiction writing. Writers, once they got their foot in the publisher’s door, worked with mentors who they could call or lunch with for advice as they collaborated on a title, refining a raw book into a best-selling work of great merit. And, just like Pygmalion, these advisors would transform the writer from a hack dreamer into a celebrated master wordsmith along the way. As you might guess, this “My Fair Manuscript” scenario is a nostalgic fantasy. It simply doesn’t work that way in publishing. Today, more than ever, economic need drives the business—which in most cases is a relatively cold corporate business that can’t afford the luxuries of yesterday’s independent operations—and editors have to answer to a publishing house’s marketing team more than they do the literati down the street. It is true that writers learn a great deal of their art from their editors, and editors often do have to educate their writers about the way the book business really operates. But the rules of the game have drastically changed since the early days of publishing and the writer-editor relationship has sadly suffered. Editors don’t teach writers so much as they manage them and usher their manuscripts like footballs through the corporate goalposts. Writers are already expected to be “masters” of their art when they first come knocking on their door; there is no time for teaching and that’s not what editors are paid for. The competition for an editor’s attention, moreover, is tougher than it’s ever been, because so many of the manuscripts that come over-the-transom are written by well-educated writers. Publishing is more like Donald Trump’s The Apprentice than a true apprenticeship, and if you don’t know what you’re doing when you enter the boardroom, you’re going to get fired (imagine the trademarked finger point when you open your letter: “You’re rejected!”). Writing is a tough business and it’s only grown colder as the trade has evolved.

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That’s why writers turn to each other for a little human warmth. They find communities of like-minded people on the internet, whether on genre fiction discussion boards or in mutual support systems like National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo.org). They join local writing workshops or travel to conventions; they take seminars and read scores of how-to books. They find mentorship in writer’s groups or unions or graduate schools, or they head to the library or the bookstore to give themselves a crash course in the art and business of writing. They turn to books like the one you are holding. Many Genres, One Craft is like a graduate writing program housed between the covers of a book. We mean this quite literally: every author in this collection of instructional advice is a college teacher, published graduate, or visiting writer of merit attached in some way to Seton Hill University’s MFA program in Writing Popular Fiction—the country’s only graduate writing program exclusively dedicated to writing novels intended for the mass market. Our program is custom-tailored to commercial novelists who want to write genre fiction well. We are an educational community like any other graduate writing program, but unique because we are more interested in helping writers produce books that are actually read by a wide audience than we are in debating inside the funhouse of literary theory. Our pragmatism sets us apart, but we are not a hack factory: We are driven to help others succeed as freelancers and entrepreneurs, and our advice about the entertainment industry is hard-nosed and realistic, earned from hard-won experience. Our teaching is not crassly commercial: we know that writing popular fiction takes as much craft and thoughtfulness as any other form of storytelling, and that it carries as much influence on our culture as fine literature. Perhaps its writers carry even more responsibility for what they write because of their potential impact on readers worldwide. If you’re just getting started, you might be surprised to learn that your interest in writing in the genre you love may identify you as a lowbrow hack. A bias exists against those who want to write for profit and fame, because writers—ostensibly— are producing literary art in the service of mankind. But all books serve mankind equally, and it is a shame that our society tends to separate books into “literary” and “popular” works of fiction. We know this boundary between “high” and “low” culture is arbitrary, based on the assumption that it takes one part genius and one part schooling to become “literary” and write the books that will stand the test of time, while —the logic goes—any dumb clown can write the dross that the masses consume like so much prefab macaroni and cheese. Yes, and anyone can write a book, right? If you’ve tried, you know how hard it really is. And how many obstacles there are along the way from inventing an original idea to seeing it ushered into print. Even Shakespeare and Dickens—some of the most popular writers of their day—knew how hard this craft really is.

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Everyone enjoys a good read, and most of the literati will concur that yesterday’s pop fiction is today’s classic literature, but the prevailing attitude that genre fiction is gutter entertainment still circulates—especially in academia—because, for many, entertainment is a guilty, almost bodily, pleasure. The notion that popular fiction is easy fiction is a self-congratulatory myth perpetuated by elites. Most graduate schools won’t teach it, not only because it is “mere entertainment,” but because their faculty are trained in scholarly approaches to highbrow literature that eschew popular genres. And, perhaps rightfully so, they know that teaching good writing in general will benefit any writer, whereas teaching, say, science fiction writing will likely only make their students better at writing science fiction, and worse, may produce formulaic rubbish. Thus, most grad schools focus only on the craft and spend time amplifying the writer’s individual voice—and often will reject genre writers from their ranks without ever lending them their ear in the first place. We’re a little different. We realize it takes good writing to break into the literary marketplace at every level. Whether highbrow or low, literary mainstream or categorically genre, there is ultimately one core skill that all writers must have: the ability to tell a good story through effective writing. But when a writer is spinning a yarn of a particular type, a genre tale, then even more special knowledge is required to win over an audience, not less. On top of voraciously reading within the genre to know its history, genre writers have to meet particular requirements that editors are looking for. This is why you find so many amateur workshops at genre conferences, or even full-fledged genre writing retreats hosted by veteran authors: because genre writers need to learn about their genre’s elements to write it successfully. It’s too bad the traditional world of academia can’t find a home for many of these groups, which are often far more professional and literary than most people realize. We believe that an open-minded, concentrated study of popular fiction can only build on the more general craft of writing. And we believe that when writers— no matter what their genre or background—put their heads together, shamelessly, they write better books. We have put our heads together to create this book, in the hope that it will help you write a better book, too. As you’ll see, there is a rich diversity to this collection, and this is intentional: we feel that writers of all genres benefit from studying all elements of the craft, even in genres that they might not normally read. Indeed, in our program at Seton Hill University, “inter-genre” learning is one of the unexpected benefits that students often discover. A vampire novelist might learn a great deal from a category romance writer if, for example, their neck-biter happens to be a seductress. Likewise, if a romance writer’s alpha male lead character is a firefighter, she might pick up some great tips for depicting a suspenseful firefight scene from a writer of action thrillers.

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And if you are a writer interested in writing “hybrid” or “cross-genre” fiction like paranormal romance, then you’ve found a handy resource in this anthology, which combines such a rich spectrum of genre advice between its covers. A book is no substitute for the hands-on experience of a writing workshop or the one-on-one mentoring one would get from a faculty member assisting them with their novel. This text is not a “bible” descended from our degree program. Yet Heidi Ruby Miller and I do like to think of this book as a “snapshot” of any given residency in our college’s Writing Popular Fiction program, and we followed its model in organizing its contents. Half of the program’s curriculum is focused on “core” classes in the craft of writing (seminars in the basic elements of fiction like character, plot, setting, and dialogue) in addition to practical elements of the profession (like critiquing, researching, marketing manuscripts, etc.). This establishes a common dialogue and a foundation for learning that all writers share. The other half of the curriculum allows students to pick and choose elective courses in their chosen “genre”—with course titles ranging from the necessary and important, like “Talking the Talk in Crime (and Other) Fiction” to the quirky and wildly specific, like “To Dream a Dragon.” The diversity of our program, like the diversity in genre fiction, emphasizes a balance between fresh invention and familiar convention. Here, in Many Genres, One Craft, you’ll get a smorgasbord of genre learning that has a similar balance. But devise your own curriculum: you can pick and choose chapters according to your special interests, skipping the parts that seem irrelevant— or you can read it cover to cover in order, absorbing every speck of wisdom and inspiration that awaits you. With about sixty contributors on board, I think you’ll find this a satisfying buffet. They say writing can’t be taught. There’s some truth to that. Writers must write to learn. Only by applying ideas do we really learn what we need to know. We learn from our own mistakes, as much as from the wisdom of others. And the learning process is often fuzzy and highly individualized. But in the decade-plus that I have been teaching in the Writing Popular Fiction program at SHU, I have learned that there is no such thing as a wasted effort when it comes to improving. Every act of writing—even when it seems like busy work—pushes you one step closer to mastery. We don’t always learn how to write from “how-to” books like this one; instead we learn how readers read, how editors think, and how people experience this funny business called fiction. You could just as easily learn all of this on your own from the proverbial school of hard knocks, but why bother with the hard knocking when you can get all this advice here, in addition to so many other shortcuts and tips? Knowing the experiences of others helps to prepare us to engage them in our own writing. There is a lot of wisdom in this book. Wisdom you won’t find elsewhere.

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A fringe benefit of attending a graduate program—perhaps the primary benefit—is building a network of partners, a community of kindred spirits. We hope that you will find those like-minded colleagues in the pages of this book. We’re all in this genre business together. We suspect you’ll get just as excited reading this book as we do when we assemble together on campus to study the genres and craft that we love so much. At the end of each graduate residency, our students and faculty alike depart inspired, eager to put into practice all that they’ve learned. We hope that— above and beyond all the valuable information and instruction you will pick up in this rich and diverse anthology—you will be just as energized, just as excited to return to your own writing, renewed, empowered and ready to tackle the challenges that every writer must face, ultimately, alone with the blank page. But if it gets too lonely, look us up. We’re online at http://fiction.setonhill.edu We offer a Master of Fine Arts degree to those who are qualified...but we also have an annual conference and retreat that the alumnae host, which features great guest editors, agents, and writers, and is open to all comers. However, this is not a sales pitch for our writing program, nor an advertisement for our school. This is a writer’s residency in a bottle. In fact, coffee break is over and class is about to begin. Let’s get started, shall we?

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Contents
Putting Our Heads Together: An Introduction to Many Genres, One Craft by Michael A. Arnzen ......................................................................... 10

CRAFT STYLE AND PROCESS
You Have to Start with SOMETHING, So It Might As Well Be Something Like This by Gary A. Braunbeck ............................................ 16 Don’t Be a Bobble-Head, and Other Bits of Guidance by Timons Esaias .......... 24 Tuning Up Your Writing by Michael A. Arnzen .............................................. 32 Dumping the Info Dump by Maria V. Snyder ................................................ 39 Powerman Writes Women’s Fiction: On Writing What You Know by Matt Duvall .................................................................................. 43 Your Very First Editor by Lee Allen Howard ................................................. 47 Make Revising Work for You, Not Against You by Adrea L. Peters .................. 53 Perfect Disaster: Don’t Let Perfectionism Squash Your Creativity by Anne Harris .................................................................................. 59

CHARACTER AND DIALOGUE
M&Ms for Characters by Sharon Mignerey ................................................. 64 Tough Love: Make Your Protagonist Suffer by Randall Silvis .......................... 69 BE AN ARCHETYPE, NOT A STEREOTYPE by Heidi Ruby Miller .............................. 71 Going Deeper: Point of View Beyond the Basics by W.H. Horner .................... 73 A HELPFUL TACTIC: THE TEMPLATE TEXT by Timons Esaias ............................. 76 Empowering Female Characters by Barbara J. Miller ..................................... 78

PLOT AND STRUCTURE
Demystifying What Editors Want by Venessa Giunta ..................................... 82 Give Your Reader Whiplash: Pacing in Fiction by KJ Howe ............................. 86 Pick Up the Pace by Tim Waggoner ............................................................ 91 Deus Ex Machina Undergoing Repairs: Save Your Characters by Letting Them Save Themselves by Mike Mehalek ................................... 96 Blurring the Line: How Reality Helps Build Better Fiction by Scott A. Johnson ......................................................................... 100 Put a Little Love in Your Life: The Perks and Perils of Romantic Subplots by Ron Edison ................................................................................ 105 PREVENTION: TECHNIQUES TO CONTROL ROMANCE by Ron Edison .............. 109

SETTING
Setting as a Character: It’s More than a Backdrop by Susan Crandall ............ 111 Painting Your Setting with Concrete Nouns by Jason Jack Miller ................... 115 SETTING LIMITS: WORKING IN SMALL SPACES by Jason Jack Miller ................ 119 Writing from Place Across Cultures by Karen Lynn Williams ......................... 121 Set in History by M.A. Mogus ................................................................. 125

GENRE GENRE AND ORIGINALITY
Genre Unleashed by Michael A. Arnzen .................................................... 130 No Such Thing as Original Sin by Thomas F. Monteleone ............................. 138 I Write Genre Fiction but Want to Be a Real Writer Someday by John DeChancie .......................................................................... 142 Readers Resent Change by Tess Gerritsen ................................................. 147

ROMANCE AND WOMEN’S FICTION
Write from the Heart by Crystal B. Bright ................................................ 150 Creating My Niche in Romantic Suspense by Dana Marton .......................... 154 HEROES IN ROMANCE by Barbara J. Miller ............................................................ 157 Talking About Dialogue by Natalie Duvall .................................................. 158 A Serious Look at the Funny Bone by Elaine Ervin ....................................... 163 Tomorrow’s Kiss: The Duality of SF Romance by Heidi Ruby Miller ............... 167

SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY
Building Science Fiction and Fantasy Worlds by Nancy Kress ........................ 172 Description on the Edge: The Sublime in Science Fiction by Albert Wendland .......................................................................... 177 Cyperpunk Remastered: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Postmodernism by K. Ceres Wright .................................................... 182 THE BRASS TACKS OF STEAMPUNK by Christopher Paul Carey ........................ 185 To Dream a Dragon by Rachael Pruitt ...................................................... 187 Sex, Death, and Chocolate in the Middle Ages: Adding Realism to Your Fantasy by Russ Howe .................................... 191

HORROR, MYSTERY AND SUSPENSE THRILLERS
Ruining Everything: Tips for Plotting a Mystery by Victoria Thompson .......... 196 Talking the Talk in Crime (and Other) Fiction by David Shifren ...................... 200 The Element of Surprise: Psyching-out Readers of Horror, Mystery and Suspense by Michael A. Arnzen ....................................... 205

Dark and Story Nights: Mood and Atmosphere in Horror by Mary SanGiovanni ....................................................................... 216 The Shifting Grail: A Quest for a Good Read by Heidi Ruby Miller ............... 220 To Thine Own Self Be True: Five Pieces of Advice for Potential Thriller Writers by David Morrell ........................................................ 223

MAKING MODERN MONSTERS: by Michael A. Arnzen ......................................... 213

CHILDREN’S AND YOUNG ADULT FICTION
Ten Ways to Avoid Losing Your YA Reader by Patrice Lyle ........................... 227 Linking Past to Present by C. Coco De Young ............................................ 232 Keeping It Real: Mixing Truth and Fiction in YA by Jenn Brisendine ................ 236 AND THE AWARD GOES TO by Teffanie Thompson White .................................... 240 If You Write It, They Will See It: Picture Book Illustrations from the Writer’s Point of View by Karen Lynn Williams ......................... 242

ALTERNATIVE APPROACHES
I Write Short Stories by Michael Bracken .................................................. 246 Magical Realism as Genre: Or Waiter, There’s an Angel in My Soup by Jason Jack Miller ......................................................................... 250 ESSENTIAL MAGICAL REALISM: By Jason Jack Miller .......................................... 254 The Manga Explosion by Sally Bosco ........................................................ 256 FROM FAR EAST TO WEST by Sally Bosco ........................................................... 261 A Primer for Writing Media Books by Steven Piziks.................................... 263

THE WRITER’S LIFE LEARNING
Lessons from the Vampire Slayer by Catherine Mulvany .............................. 270 Pursuing the Graduate Degree by Chun Lee ............................................. 275 The Pot-Bellied Pig Method of Critiquing by Kaye Dacus ............................ 279 Working the Workshop: How to Get the Most Out of Critique Groups (Even the Bad Ones) by Michael A. Arnzen .......................................... 283

WORKING
One Writer, Many Genres by Ryan M. Williams .......................................... 289 Writing More by Susan Mallery ............................................................... 293 Time Management: Creative Paths to Productivity by Lee McClain ............... 297 NEARLY FINISHED by Nicole Peeler ........................................................................ 301 The Seven Habits That Got Me Published by Shelley Bates .......................... 303

How to Get an Agent by Ginger Clark ...................................................... 308 eFabulous: Publishing in a Paperless World by Penny Dawn ........................... 311 The Teaching Writer by Lawrence C. Connolly .......................................... 315 Teaching Young Writers by Diane Turnshek ................................................ 319 Where Do I Go From Here? Being Orphaned by Leslie Davis Guccione ......... 323

PROMOTING
Getting Your Words Out: The Basics of Promoting Your Fiction by Rebecca Baker ............................................................................ 328 I’ll Scratch Your Back and You Promote My Book by Heidi Ruby Miller ......... 334 TOURING VIRTUALLY by Heidi Ruby Miller ........................................................... 337 To Be Reviewed or Not to Be Reviewed by Lynn Salsi ................................. 339 Successful Book Signings: The Personal Touch by David J. Corwell ............... 344
THE TOP TEN EXCUSES PEOPLE GIVE WHEN THEY HAVE NO INTENTION OF BUYING MY BOOKS by David J. Corwell .................................................................

Guerilla Marketing: The Reality of Selling Your Book by Patrick Picciarelli ...... 350 Networking at Conventions by Lucy A. Snyder .......................................... 354 PERSIST! by Michael A. Arnzen .............................................................. 358

Resources and References
Related How-To Books ........................................................................... 360 In Print ................................................................................................ 361 Websites & Other Media ........................................................................ 378

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