Wednesday, December 10, 2008

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.

There couldn't be a better time…

…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?
Karen is giving away a critique of your first 10 pages. Just leave a comment here, answering Karen's question above. A winner will be selected on Friday evening and posted here.


Blogger Margay Leah Justice said...

Hi, Karen, wonderful post! In my mind, whether it's paranormal or not, I like a story that can take an old idea and present it in a new way with a twist you wouldn't think was possible, such as retellings of fairy tales. As for paranormal, I like books that either create a whole new mythology or take popular conceptions about standard elements (vampires or werewolves, for example) and turn them on their ears.

3:21 AM  
Blogger Marty Connor said...

When I wrote my story Awake (Are We)? I did not even have a theme in mind I just went where my ideas took me. It opened up a mix of Horror, fantasy and even Sci-Fi.

I love that we can explore our Ideas so much now. Mind you it took over 5 years to get my first part out to buy online. Like you mentioned you just need someone to take that chance on things.


5:37 AM  
Blogger Ruth Schaller said...

Hi Karen~~

I've been working on my first novel this year. So this is exciting! I loved your post.

Now with the stories that I read. I love the way it's still about the paranormal, but all ofthe twists and turns keeps me coming back for more. I don't mind the old idea, but the authors nowadays seems to spice things up!!!

7:24 AM  
Blogger Nightingale said...

I am currently writing a cross genre novel and I was worrying on the way to work this morning about the "shelving" problem as I had been told the same thing years ago. You have given me the impetus and courage to let this book go where it wants to go. This one is about fallen angels. There are more and more fallen angel stories but I hope my mythos is different.

8:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi there - nice post. You hit on a number of things that I've always wondered about. I'm working on my first ms as well - and I'm not quite sure how to categorize it either. It's a sort of paranormal/urban fantasy/romance thing, but I'm not really going to worry about it until it's finished. Thanks for the inspiring words! :)

8:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yep. that would be me too. Working on my first that I'm determined to ACTUALLY finish. No matter what evil I have to do to my poor character!

I know how I get bored quick, and though I like my pages to burn, the author has to engage my mind. Authors who spark my imagination are my favorites, and I rush out to buy another one of their books. Same as anyone else.

It has made writing very difficult for me, because I am very harsh on my work. I think to myself: 'Would I enjoy reading this?' or 'Is this worth someone spending seven bucks on?'

So I've turned over a new leaf (Kind Of) and decided to just get on the horse... or laptop... and worry about the Satisfying Sunset For Two when it's all over and the bullets stop flying. Or the fur, in this case.

I've found if I put my character in some of the most oddball situations it seems to help me keep a reign on Ole' Self Doubt. Too busy torturing my heroine.

So far.


'Ooh- Now what can I do to her?'

1:41 PM  
Blogger Karen Duvall said...

Wow, I love the comments here! You ladies are tearing up the genre and mixing it good. Kudos! I know for me, every time I see a new, intriguing plot and background for a paranormal novel, I'm all over it. Can't wait to read it. The stranger the better, as far as I'm concerned. 8^) Best of luck to you all!

2:27 PM  
Blogger TheaH said...

I am so excited that this is a legitimate genre now. Like many others, I don't care what genre it is or crosses or mixes, I just want a rip roaring good story. I also like the idea of new mythologies. There are some many reasons to create new ones. They are often just as powerful as any of the ones that saturate our culture.

I am pleased there is so much out there now and I think that the multiple publishers just increase the odds that everyone finds something to enjoy.

2:39 PM  
Blogger Rose Pressey said...

I love the mix of genres. In my opinion, if there isn't a spot for a book on the bookstore shelf, then make one. Crossing genres opens so many more possiblities.

3:27 PM  
Blogger Nancy said...

Terrific post, Karen!

I love cross-genre stories, and I'm cheering for all the writers who've commented. Yes! Write the story with characters we can cheer for, and worry about placement when the time comes.

No need to enter me for the prize. The blog is a gem!

Nancy Haddock
La Vida Vampire

5:35 PM  
Blogger Karen Duvall said...

Thanks for stopping by Thea, Rose and Nancy! 8^)

5:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So now I'm going to ask one of those 90's tears-rolling-sides-splitting questions.

Can I use 'Perils 3' as a pen name? Just like that?

Can readers look it up on bookshelves with a number for a last name? Has anyone ever done that before, used numerals?

Leave it to me to ask.

Payback is truly not a nice lady, though, cuz my kid is worse! Wonder where he gets it from?

5:57 PM  
Blogger Lynda Hilburn said...

Welcome, Karen! It's great to have you here at Paranormality. Excellent post! When I was first trying to sell The Vampire Shrink, (2004, I think) I still heard from agents and publishers that I couldn't possibly have so many genres in one book. I was told I needed to choose one: romance? mystery? chick lit? horror? Which one would it be? Luckily, I didn't know it wasn't ok to write what I wanted to write, so I just let the romance, sex, humor, mystery, horror, metaphysics, chick lit vibe and urban fantasy setting huddle under the paranormal umbrella. It all worked out. I look forward to reading about your upcoming sale of all your books!

7:08 PM  
Blogger Karen Duvall said...

Thanks for having me, Lynda. It was fun!

7:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh wow! Thanks so much!!

Lynda - I sent you an email through your contact form on your website - I wasn't sure how else to conact you.


7:23 PM  
Blogger Barbara Martin said...

Karen, your post gives me hope that my complex cross-genre manuscript will find a home. I think the publishers wanted to stay on what they considered a tried and true method of genres rather than change. But change is always good as it allows growth for new ideas, as seems the case you have presented.

9:57 PM  

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