Category Archives: urban fantasy

Some Things Don’t Work

A while ago, when I had extra time to write between contracts, I decided to self-publish some supernatural mysteries because I enjoy writing them so much.  I knew it was a bit of a risk since urban fantasy is still pretty glutted, but I’d seen some paranormal witch mysteries that were doing well on Amazon and thought it was worth a try.  I had a lot of fun writing them, but I’ve given them a decent shot, and they’re still dead in the water.  I can’t get them off the ground.  So I came to a crossroads.  Do I keep writing them and hope the fifth or sixth one clicks, or do I admit defeat and try something new?

My agent loved the urban fantasies I wrote forever ago but got one rejection after another because no one was buying UF anymore.  I spent a lot of years trying to sell stories that no matter how well done, no one wanted to buy.  And I don’t want to do that again.  So this time, I’m throwing the towel in early.  Right or wrong, I’ve learned the hard way that some things are easier to sell than others.  So I felt sorry for myself, licked my wounded pride for a day, and then sat down and started to work on something different.  I don’t want to write a second cozy series.  I know a lot of writers juggle two or more of them, but I’d have too much trouble trying to keep track of which is which if they were that much alike.  I mean, cozies have some similarities.  If I’m going to do a second series, it has to be different enough from Jazzi to help me find balance between the two.

I’m sharing this, not to garner sympathy, but because when I like writing something, that’s what I want to write.  I don’t want to change or go in a different direction.  But I’ve found that I need to.  When my agent asked me to try to write a romance, I didn’t want to.  I’d never considered it.  Ever.  The plot points felt weird to me–hurt feelings and misunderstandings instead of attacks and battles.  The thing is, I learned a lot by writing the Mill Pond series.  I had to concentrate on character more than plot, and my tacklebox of writing tools grew richer for it.  I took some of those tools with me when my editor asked if I’d like to try my hand at a mystery.

This might sound crazy to you, but if you’re writing really well but your work won’t sell, maybe you should try something outside your comfort zone.  There’s so much to writing that we can’t control.  If editors decide a market is tight or dead, soon it will be, because they won’t buy anything in that genre.  If the market really is glutted, it’s even hard to find readers if you self-publish.  There are just too many things for them to choose from.  Markets come and go.  Literary fiction, I’m told, is a hard sell right now.  Sometimes, selling comes down to a current preference.  It’s harder to sell writing in present tense  now because there’s a bias against it.  Some editors prefer third person, single POV, over first person.  Some of that depends on what genre you write in, but I’ve read reviews where readers prefer third over first.  That doesn’t mean what you write won’t sell, but it means it will be harder.

For now, I’m going to try something new.  A straight mystery instead of a supernatural.  And I’m writing it in first person.  Then I’ll see what happens.  But it doesn’t hurt to flex your writing muscles and experiment a little.  You can start with something short and go from there.  Maybe try a one-hour read.  Play with a new genre, a different style.  But it’s hard to put your best into something, over and over again, know that it’s good (and I’m not just talking ego or confidence here, but comments from critique partners and editors or agents), and keep getting rejections.  When that happens, it might not have anything to do with how well you write, but a lot to do with what you write.  But let’s face it.  In writing, there’s no one right answer, and what works for one person doesn’t work for someone else.  But I’m ready to try to tilt the odds in my favor instead of against me.  So wish me luck.  And good luck to you and whatever you’re working on and Happy Writing!

 

I only think I’m prepared

I like to be organized.  Maybe a little too much.  We go to the grocery store twice a month these days.  Well, actually, HH only goes to pick up the groceries we’ve ordered online.  I always worry I won’t have enough (not that we’ve EVER run out) and that we have all of the ingredients I want for each meal, so I make out menus.  I plan our suppers for every night before we’ll order groceries again.  And when I scribble down each night’s meal, I list the ingredients we’ll need for it.

For example, for our last list, I served chicken piccata, buttered noodles, and green beans on Monday; BBQ ribs, mashed potatoes, and broccoli on Tuesday; salmon with fried rice and brussel sprouts on Wednesday; almond noodle bowls with ramen on Thursday; etc.  When I’m done, I know I’m prepared.  Even though there’s always something we run out of between each trip to the store–milk, juice, bread–those pesky everyday things.

The same holds true with my writing.  I’m so far from being a pantser, I’d probably break out in a rash if I just sat down and decided to wing it.  A lot of people can do it.  It’s not in my nature.  So I make a plot point for every chapter of my book.  I include the things that I think are important that I should cover.  And when I finish, in theory, I have enough plot twists, clues, interactions to have a novel.  For Muddy River One, it took 34 plot points to come up with 57,000 words.  This time, for whatever reason, I expected each chapter to be longer, more involved.  I wrote two or three different scenes for quite a few of them.  I had two subplots.  So I only listed 26 of them.  And guess what?  There’s no possible way I can reach my word count unless I come up with more.

So, I sat down tonight, after much fussing–my poor husband–and redid the last ten chapters of Muddy River Two.  It looks great on paper, and I should have enough, or at least, really close to enough to meet my goal, but who knows?  Every book is different.  The mystery’s rogue incubus is a lot more clever than I expected, and he’s a lot more ruthless, too.  Suspects that I thought Raven and Hester could question end up dead before they get there.  Now that blows a few nice scenes.  You can’t interrogate a person who’s been drained dry.  But even though I do my best to whip my characters into shape to obey me, they don’t always listen.  And if they don’t get too crazy, I’m willing to give them some leeway.  Then I need to stop somewhere in my writing and restructure the story.  Which I did.  And hopefully, it works.  It should this time:)

Nag, nag, nag

A while ago, over on the Story Empire blog, Staci Troilo was host and asked What is the Favorite Book you’ve written and why?  I read all five of the writers’ answers who take turns hosting the blog to see which book they chose and why it was their favorite.  Their answers were interesting.  You can find the link here:

https://storyempire.com/2019/03/29/bonus-friday-favorite-book/

At the end of the blog, Staci opened up the comments section to other authors to share. I tried to think of the favorite novel I wrote, but I couldn’t settle on one.  I love every book I write, or else I’d never be able to slog through 60,000-100,000 words to finish them.  But then–and every writer will know this feeling–the question just wouldn’t go away.  It rattled around in my head and kept nagging me.  Until I finally came up with an answer for myself.

If I had to choose, I’d pick FALLEN ANGELS, an urban fantasy I wrote as Judith Post.  It was my first true attempt at urban fantasy.  Not that I got it right.  Every editor who commented on it said that NO humans should play a major part in an urban fantasy.  And what did I do?  I made Danny, the detective, work with Enoch, the fallen angel, as a partner.  I did a few other things wrong as well, but I learned a lot while I muddled through it.  And mistakes and all, I was really proud of that book when my agent finally approved it.  First, every time I redid a scene, the book got longer.  It’s the longest book I’ve ever done.  I’d never written a battle scene before, and I had all kinds of them scattered through the story.  I had Enoch–the angel who tackled his friend so he couldn’t join Lucifer’s rebellion–watch Caleb get thrown to Earth as punishment anyway.  And when Caleb bites humans to drink their blood to sustain his own energy, he infects them with his immortality and creates the first race of vampires.  Who don’t behave well, so Enoch’s sent to Earth to clean up after Caleb.

I liked the ideas I played with for this story.  And I was happy that I’d created a character–Enoch’s best friend, Caleb–who was so selfish, but charming–that you waffled between hating him and cutting him some slack.  I tried, but didn’t completely succeed, to create a romantic interest who was so hurt that she pushed everyone away.  That was trickier than I imagined.  Some readers felt sorry for her, and others could have done without her:)

I guess the reason I’d choose FALLEN ANGELS as the favorite novel I’ve written is because it challenged me to leave my comfort zone and write things I’d never tried before. Enoch was a protagonist who didn’t want the job he’d been given.  He didn’t want to be a hero.  All he wanted to do was convince Caleb to go Home with him.  But Caleb LIKED the freedom he’d found on Earth.  He never wanted to repent and be forgiven.  So Enoch was stuck.  Probably for a long time–a brooding hero.

What about you?  Which book would you choose?  And why?  (Be careful.  If you don’t answer, the question might nag you for a long time).

Happy writing!

Stan Lee

I don’t buy comic books and I don’t know much about any of the heroes, but when my grandsons lived with us, they dragged me to see a lot of Iron Man, Avengers, and X Men movies.  And I enjoyed almost all of them.  Just like the urban fantasies that I love, comic book heroes always face overwhelming odds.  Good always versus evil.  The fate of the world is at stake.  And there’s so much action.  How fun is that?  So it surprised me when I listened to a quote by Stan Lee, after his death, where he said, “I used to be embarrassed because I was just a comic book writer while other people were building bridges or going on to medical careers. And then I began to realize: Entertainment is one of the most important things in people’s lives. Without it, they might go off the deep end.”  (I got that quote from Screen Rant’s list of 10 most important quotes from Stan Lee:  https://screenrant.com/10-inspirational-stan-lee-quotes/ )

I love his words.  When I was a kid, I always wanted to do something important with my life.    It wasn’t about making oodles of money.  It was about changing the world, and in my eight-year-old mind that equated to becoming a teacher.  To me, teachers shaped kids’ minds and kids were our future.  And I didn’t change my opinion all through school and college.  That’s why I taught elementary for six years.  But it dawned on me that yes, teaching was important, but there were so many other factors that shaped a child, my influence was like a pebble dropping into an ocean.  And when laws changed, and Indiana wouldn’t hire anyone with a Master’s Degree anymore when I wanted to return to my old job, I told myself that raising two awesome daughters could change the world, too.  Still believe that.  And then when I discovered writing, I thought I’d found the perfect vehicle for more.

Somewhere in time, though, I realized that serious fiction might not be for me.  I was more drawn to genre novels.  At the first writers’ conference that I ever attended, the speaker asked us to raise our hands if we wrote genre.  My friend and I lifted our arms, and he sneered at us and informed us that we were hack writers, that we only worked for money.  (I wish).  Now, I knew that I’d never be compared to Margaret Atwood or Shakespeare, but that still ticked me off.  I took pride in what I wrote whether he thought it was worthy of literature or not.

A few writer conferences later (and I chose ones that focused on genre fiction), and the speaker asked one of the really talented romance writers why she chose to write “beneath” her.  Again, I silently fumed while the poor writer struggled for an answer.  (She came up with a good one, too.  Not that it satisfied Mr. Smirky Pants).  Since then, I’ve decided that it’s hard to write ANYTHING well.  And if you do a good job, you’ve earned my respect.  I’ve also learned that some people STILL have to have an hierarchy of what’s important literature and what’s not.  That’s their problem, not mine.  But I still fussed about the things that, in my mind, I couldn’t write well.

That’s part of the reason I had so much fun writing outside of my comfort zone for the three short stories I posted on my webpage for the beginning of October.  I’d told myself that I couldn’t write dark and dismal very well.  And when I posted those three stories, I was pretty satisfied with them.  I’d achieved my goal.  And do you know what?  It wasn’t as much fun as I thought it would be.  Because they’re not the real me.  Yes, I could write them.  Did I want to write any more?  Not really.  And that was a revelation for me.  I’m happy writing what I write.  That’s why Stan Lee’s quote struck such a chord for me.

I’m grateful to all of the authors who write the books that I love to read, the ones that bring me so much enjoyment.  Stan Lee’s right.  Offering entertainment is an end in itself.  Yes, serious, weighty volumes inspire me, but so do cozy mysteries and smalltown romances.  The world needs people who care about what they do, whether they collect garbage, perform surgeries, sing and dance, or write comic books.  Do what you feel passionate about (within reason:)

P.S.  I won’t be posting another blog until after Thanksgiving, so enjoy the holiday.  And happy writing!