Guest Blogger: Karen Duvall
The winner of Karen's critique is: mynfel! Congrats to you. Send me your email address and I'll pass it along to Karen. Thanks to everyone who participated.
…to write paranormal fiction. Seriously! In spite of the struggling book market today, we've finally reached a point where the sky's the limit for supernatural fiction. I know I'm excited. How about you?
There used to be a time not all that long ago when genre fiction was very compartmentalized. A horror novel was a horror novel. A fantasy novel was a fantasy novel. God forbid another genre leak in to taint the purity of genre fiction. Thanks to innovative small presses that indulged in risk-taking to please an eclectic readership, New York finally woke up and smelled the cross genre coffee.
It's creative originality that I think contributed to the success of paranormal fiction. When paranormal is combined with science, romance, erotica, mystery, thriller, suspense, and/or fantasy, it opens up new worlds of conflict and unique characterization. As long as the story has a cohesive structure and is plotted well with interesting characters readers care about, almost anything is acceptable (in good taste, of course).
I wrote my first paranormal novel about ten years ago. It was a mixture of reincarnation romance, science fiction, futuristic medical thriller, horror, and metaphysics. A decade ago, a manuscript like this was the butt of jokes in editorial meetings and had a reputation for "being all over the place." I remember attending a Colorado Gold Conference in the mid nineties and asking a panel of editors what they thought about paranormal mysteries. After drying tears of laughter from their eyes, they looked at me as if I'd just sprouted a third eye. The Berkley editor responded: "If it can't be labeled one genre or the other, book stores won't know where to shelve it." Now Berkley is one of the biggest publishers of mixed-genre paranormal fiction. Ironic, isn't it?
I called my first paranormal novel a supernatural thriller. Set in Alaska in 2013, it was about the cryonically frozen dead being brought back to life and where their souls came from. The manuscript made the rounds to a lot of literary agents, but no bites. So I started in on the small presses. There were only a few ebook publishers around back then, and epublishing didn't interest me much, so I sought out traditional small presses. I found Speculation Press, a publisher of science fiction and fantasy, in Chicago. They published PROJECT RESURRECTION in October 2000. The book was produced as a trade paperback and it introduced me to a new world of creative, innovative storylines. I couldn't get enough! And if it weren't for small press publishers, I'd never have been able to satisfy my hunger for cross genre fiction.
2000 was right around the time vampires and werewolves were becoming more popular in paranormal fiction. They obviously still are, but there's been talk of a glutted market. I think what they're really saying is that the market demands something new and that change is needed. So we started seeing a shift in mythology for the standard vampire, werewolf, witch, etc. The paranormal world exploded with the exciting subgenre of urban fantasy, where you can get all your favorite fantasy and mystical tropes in one book. What could be better? I've been in reader and writer heaven ever since.
I think writers, unpublished writers in particular, need to not only focus on creative world building, but original mythologies as well. For example, there will always be parts of the werewolf myth that readers expect, but that doesn't mean there's no room for augmentation. Laurell K. Hamilton gave us other werebeasts besides wolves. I don't think werewolves change with the moon like they used to, and it's not even a curse in some books, but a birthright. A species. It's great!
While I was coming up with ideas for new stories, I wasn't interested in playing with what had already been done. I wanted different paranormal creatures, and I wanted to invent myths that were exclusively my own. When I wrote the first book in my urban fantasy Knight series, I decided to create a strong heroine with an unusual ability. So I developed a half-angel, half-human race of female knights from the Crusades of the 11th century. I took an authentic order of female knights called The Order of the Hatchet and had them mate with angels to create super beings who fight evil, and my heroine is a descendant. When an angel procreates with a human, the sin he commits turns him into one of the Fallen. The story also features a living mummy, a one-thousand year old Turkish warrior, a society of evil sorcerers, a nasty gargoyle, some demons, the fae, and a few other unusual creatures and curses I totally made up. Talk about a fun book to write!
My point is that imagination is a key ingredient to getting your work noticed. Knight's Curse got me a fantastic literary agent, and it's the first book in a series, but it hasn't sold to a publisher yet. Instead of waiting until it does, I've started working on another new series. Again, my focus is on originality and creative mythology, so my work-in-progress is a steampunk urban fantasy called MYSTIC TAXI that features half-demon, half human characters set against an industrial age background. I post teasers on my blog every Tuesday. My agent is excited about this book, too, so I'm quite motivated to finish.
Get outside that box when you're creating your story ideas. What's new and different and never been done before? Or what's been done, but can be redone in a whole new way? Those are the stories I like to read, and therefore they're the ones I like to write. How about you?