The Savvy Author


Friday
Apr222016

Writing is an Ageless Profession-Thank God!

Okay here's the deal and the wonderful news for all authors; age has nothing to do with writing. We're not Olympic gymnasts where youth and physical flexibility are key to our professional success. We don't need to cash out at a young age because our bodies tell us they simply can't do what they used to do; our brains are our muscles. Truthfully there's no real physical side to our profession other than typing fingers and sitting in a chair reading a computer screen. We're writers, we don't need youth to help us in our chosen profession, and that's great news for us.

You can write and get published at any age; your creative juices don't let you down. You can write at forty, fifty, sixty, seventy and beyond. To quote British author and scholar, C.S. Lewis, "You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream."

While most of society's professions are obsessed with youth, writing escapes that obsession.  There's no age limit on creating our literary works.  Frank McCourt, the author of the acclaimed Angela's Ashes did not start writing until he'd retired from teaching. Angela's Ashes was published when he was sixty-six years old and he started writing it only after his wife, Ellen, told him to stop telling his stories for free at his favorite pub and put them down in writing for posterity.


Dracula,the book that put Bram Stoker's name on the literary map was published when Stoker was fifty years old. Before he passed away at the age of sixty-four he was to have seven more novels published.

And while it may have taken Mark Twain almost ten years to complete The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, due mainly to his constant compulsive revisions, this now classic book was published when he was almost the ripe young age of fifty.    
                                 
Writing is a passion; all writers will tell you that it is the only thing they want to do. But sometimes life gets in the way of being a full-time author. We may have jobs that have nothing to do with writing at all or we may have a position where we write in another medium. That doesn't mean the passion or dream to write a novel dies; far from it. No matter what a writer is doing to make a living, the writing passion is strong and many will say that they write whenever they can.

Laura Ingalls Wilder's book, Little House in the Woods, the book that sapwned the book and televsion series didn't come to be printed until just after her sixty-fourth birthday and she didn't start writing seriously until she was forty-four. However, she never forgot the stories she wrote as a child in pencil in her school copy books and hoped to see in print one day.

Daniel Defoe wrote Robinson Crusoe at fifty-eight after successful careers as a merchant, journalist, writer of inflammatory political pamphlets, and even as a spy.

Other famous "older" authors include Anna Sewell who saw her book, the classic Black Beauty published when she was fifty-seven and Raymond Chandler was fifty-one when The Big Sleep, one of the best detective novels ever written, was published,

Last but certainly not least on the list of late-blooming authors there is Norman Maclean. Remember the beautiful and poignant movie A River Run Through It? It's based on the book of the same name by Maclean who, at the wonderfully productive age of seventy-four, published it as his first, and only novel. See? The profession of writing truly is ageless.

Happy writing!

Thursday
Apr142016

The Seriously Real Female Character in Fiction Eats Real Food

My character PI Cate Harlow eats. I mean really eats; normal food like pizza, panini, and pasta. And she likes her Merlot too. Add to that she’s got a damned good sex life with her ex-husband, a hot charming NYPD detective. I wrote her that way because she is a normal, healthy woman and normal, healthy women eat, drink wine and enjoy sex.

On top of that she’s a top-notch private investigator who tells her clients, “Trust me, I’m very good at what I do.” That’s my girl!

With all the hype over Sports Illustrated finally putting plus-size, (they say plus-size, most women say normal-size), model Ashley Graham in a bikini within the pages of their magazine, it may be time to note that many female characters in fiction would simply say it was about time. They would probably add that it should have been done well before now. Real women, real food, real bodies.

Truthfully I have never read a book where the male and female characters go out to eat and all the woman orders is a diet soda. They both eat and eat well.

The thing is that the female characters in popular books are not exactly following the road to diet Hell and they never have. If they work out it’s to maintain a body that can do the job it needs to do. In Cate’s case, she plays tennis to strengthen her legs and stamina so she is able to outrun the bad guys and to physically defend herself when necessary. She doesn’t worry if her body fits the stereotype of what’s acceptable today and she’s not the only one.

Sara Paretsky writes her character of V.I. Warshawski as a woman who drinks Johnny Walker Black Label, and definitely enjoys a good meal. V.I. keeps herself in shape, (she runs) and, like Cate Harlow, she has sex and packs a pistol. Thankfully the fictional female character has been coming into her own for quite a few years. Society needs to play catch-up.

Several years ago, a new genre in romance as well as some crime /thriller books began featuring what some publishers refer to as “plus-size heroines.” Women readers were tired of swooning, starving women to whom they could not relate. No one really wants to read, “John put his strong, muscular arm around Jane’s tiny waist to keep her from falling to the floor in a faint.” Of course, to be fair, with all the fainting and everything she may just not have time to eat and that can account for a tiny waist. But seriously, why should John be the strong character and not Jane? I say we give Jane a good dinner and a glass of wine. Even Scarlett O’Hara, a woman with the fabled corseted 17-inch waist, liked to eat and imbibe.

Most women are, in reality, larger than size eight, let alone a size zero. Shouldn’t our fictional women reflect that? When the statement was made in my book that Cate Harlow wore a size eight and a half shoe my editor asked if I could change that to a size six. When I asked why he said, “Well, a size six just sounds daintier.” Needless to say, I did not change her shoe size.

Frankly, society is never happy about a woman’s shape, even if that woman is fictional. If there’s not too much meat on the bones, there’s not enough. If there’s “a bit more” she needs to traverse diet hell, and if the weight is right, society will see the measurements somehow are not. Real women deserve to take the lead in literature and be the strong protagonist.

I will continue to write my female characters as strong and representative of real women. Cate will continue to eat, grab that bottle of Merlot, and keep herself strong. I will also continue to read authors who write strong relatable female protagonists and encourage readers to do the same.
Real women do eat real food and so do fictional ones. And I, for one, say it’s about time.

Happy writing!

Sunday
Apr102016

The Writer's Green-Eyed Monster

My character PI Cate Harlow eats. I mean really eats; normal food like pizza, panini, and pasta. And she likes her Merlot too. Add to that she’s got a damned good sex life with her ex-husband, a hot charming NYPD detective. I wrote her that way because she is a normal, healthy woman and normal, healthy women eat, drink wine and enjoy sex.

On top of that she’s a top-notch private investigator who tells her clients, “Trust me, I’m very good at what I do.” That’s my girl!

With all the hype over Sports Illustrated finally putting plus-size, (they say plus-size, most women say normal-size), model Ashley Graham in a bikini within the pages of their magazine, it may be time to note that many female characters in fiction would simply say it was about time. They would probably add that it should have been done well before now. Real women, real food, real bodies.

Truthfully I have never read a book where the male and female characters go out to eat and all the woman orders is a diet soda. They both eat and eat well.

The thing is that the female characters in popular books are not exactly following the road to diet Hell and they never have. If they work out it’s to maintain a body that can do the job it needs to do. In Cate’s case, she plays tennis to strengthen her legs and stamina so she is able to outrun the bad guys and to physically defend herself when necessary. She doesn’t worry if her body fits the stereotype of what’s acceptable today and she’s not the only one.

Sara Paretsky writes her character of V.I. Warshawski as a woman who drinks Johnny Walker Black Label, and definitely enjoys a good meal. V.I. keeps herself in shape, (she runs) and, like Cate Harlow, she has sex and packs a pistol. Thankfully the fictional female character has been coming into her own for quite a few years. Society needs to play catch-up.

Several years ago, a new genre in romance as well as some crime /thriller books began featuring what some publishers refer to as “plus-size heroines.” Women readers were tired of swooning, starving women to whom they could not relate. No one really wants to read, “John put his strong, muscular arm around Jane’s tiny waist to keep her from falling to the floor in a faint.” Of course, to be fair, with all the fainting and everything she may just not have time to eat and that can account for a tiny waist. But seriously, why should John be the strong character and not Jane? I say we give Jane a good dinner and a glass of wine. Even Scarlett O’Hara, a woman with the fabled corseted 17-inch waist, liked to eat and imbibe.

Most women are, in reality, larger than size eight, let alone a size zero. Shouldn’t our fictional women reflect that? When the statement was made in my book that Cate Harlow wore a size eight and a half shoe my editor asked if I could change that to a size six. When I asked why he said, “Well, a size six just sounds daintier.” Needless to say, I did not change her shoe size.

Frankly, society is never happy about a woman’s shape, even if that woman is fictional. If there’s not too much meat on the bones, there’s not enough. If there’s “a bit more” she needs to traverse diet hell, and if the weight is right, society will see the measurements somehow are not. Real women deserve to take the lead in literature and be the strong protagonist.

I will continue to write my female characters as strong and representative of real women. Cate will continue to eat, grab that bottle of Merlot, and keep herself strong. I will also continue to read authors who write strong relatable female protagonists and encourage readers to do the same.
Real women do eat real food and so do fictional ones. And I, for one, say it’s about time.

Happy writing!

Thursday
Feb042016

The Immense Popularity of the Cozy Mysteries

02/04/2016 11:57 am ET
 

What's a mystery book-wise? Well... "If it's got a dead body in it, it's a mystery!" Sounds about right. That's the statement Butch Cassiday, author of Mayhem in the Mainstream: A Study in Bloodlines, received when he asked a neighborhood librarian how she would describe a mystery.

Call them thrillers, crime or detective fiction; all of these and the slang term, whodunits, have been used to describe the mystery or crime story. Readers, it seems, love a good mystery. According to book sales reported by Simba Information, the top two most popular book genres generating big money are Romance/Erotica closely followed by Crime/Mystery. Sex may sell but so apparently do crime and mystery. The 'criminal element' pulls in upwards of $730 million a year in book sales.

Like all genres in literature there is the sub-genre; under romance/erotica there's the lighter version, mostly romance with a sprinkling of sex. In the crime and mystery category there's also a sub-genre that downplays sex and violence; they're called "Cozy Mysteries." The term was first coined in the late 20th century when various writers produced work in an attempt to re-create the Golden Age of Detective Fiction. The Golden Age was the time when a novel, Mademoiselle de Scudéri was penned by E.T.A Hoffmann in 1819, introducing an elderly well-known poet during the reign of King Louis XIV of France, who helps the police in their search for the murderer of a jeweler. She ultimately proves that the main suspect they are holding is innocent... She obviously was a better sleuth!

Cozies are fun to read. There's a formula to the cozies that work very well drawing readers back again and again. The amateurs in such stories are nearly always well educated, intuitive women. Books, especially in series form usually have the story line relate to the detective's job or hobby. Murderers in cozy mysteries are generally intelligent, rational, articulate people, and murders are pretty much bloodless and neat. Violence and sex are low-key and supporting background characters bring comic relief to the story. Some cozy series are set during holidays such as Valentine Day or Christmas making them more intimate to the reader.

The Detection Club, founded in 1930 and including such members as Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers, created the Rules of Fair Play for those writing this type of mystery. Writers belonging to this club had to create proper mystery stories following those rules and also had to swear an oath written by Ms. Sayers herself.

Do you promise that your detectives shall well and truly detect the crimes presented to them using those wits which it may please you to bestow upon them and not placing reliance on nor making use of Divine Revelation, Feminine Intuition, Mumbo Jumbo, Jiggery-Pokery, Coincidence, or Act of God?

Love the part about 'mumbo-jumbo, jiggery-pokery!'

Today, authors no longer have to follow 'rules' and now set their own formula for success with their sleuthing women and men, including professional detectives and private investigators. Today's cozy mysteries are popular because readers feel connected to the characters who seem like someone they would want to have as a friend. The situations are never overly done and all is usually neatly tied up by book's end.

The popularity of mystery shows no sign of retiring. The books remain as popular as ever especially since today's mystery writers are more diverse than ever before. While Victorian cozies are highly popular and read by scores of readers, the modern sleuth with her hand on the computer and a cell phone in her pocket are just as popular and gaining more so every day. The strong woman who can kick-box a criminal into submission is becoming a role model. Murder mysteries are a genre which will never fade. In all its forms mysteries will definitely continue to capture readers' imagination,now and long into the future.

Happy writing!

Read the adventures of Kristen Houghton's own popular sleuth in the A Cate Harlow Private Investigation series available at all book venues

Copyright 2016 Kristen Houghton The Savvy Author all rights reserved

Tuesday
Jan052016

Fiction vs Non-Fiction: Which Do You Prefer?

New year, time to review what you're going to be writing in the coming months. Maybe like me you have a project or two already in the works from the previous year and you're working hard to reach a book launch deadline. Or maybe you're mulling over new ideas and deciding if you want to try a new genre. If you're a fiction writer you may have an idea in the back of your mind to do a non-fiction book about a specific time or event in history. Maybe you'd like to write about an interesting period in your own family history. Non-fiction writers may want to begin to write that long-delayed fictional novel whose characters and settings have been rolling around in the back of their heads.

You're a writer and anything is possible.

So what exactly is the difference between fiction and non-fiction? Simply put fiction is not true and non-fiction is true. Non-fiction involves real things, real people, real events and real places. True facts are needed for a non-fiction book. Fiction is a creation of imaginary things, imaginary people, imaginary events, and imaginary places. Imagination creates fiction. But whatever your preferred genre may be, the fact is that both fiction and non-fiction use the writer's creativity.

Can you be both a fiction and non-fiction writer? Absolutely; some of the best authors got their start writing journalism and memoirs. Margaret Mitchell, George Orwell, Mark Twain, and reporter-turned-novelist Willa Cather.

On the practical side, and if you're a true author, you have to think of the practical side of writing which is book sales, which genre is easier to sell? While there is still a healthy market for fiction, a demand for the attention of publishers and booksellers has moved elsewhere. Publishers are in agreement that it is getting harder to sell a new novel, even by a known author. Book buyers seem more and more interested in non-fiction. Finding a publishing house for your non-fiction is far easier than for your fiction.

It makes sense especially since there is a section of writing, known as literary non-fiction or creative non-fiction, that employs the literary techniques usually associated with fiction or poetry. Under this non-fiction umbrella falls the subjects of travel writing, nature writing, autobiography, interviews, memoir, and autobiography or personal essay.

Books about self-help, cooking, making life changes, dieting, and job strategies sell well, really well. More people read short, non-fiction stories than short, fiction stories. My first book And Then I'll Be Happy! is a collection of true stories about why women find happiness so elusive. My literary agent was able to sell the idea to a publisher in a relatively short period of time. It is still selling well today even though it was published seven years ago. My true love is writing fiction but that non-fiction book got me noticed and, since my writing style was established, it made it easier to have the first book in my Cate Harlow Private Investigation series picked up by a new publisher.

A positive of non-fiction writing is that you have to love facts, order of events, and research to write a good non-fiction article or book. Since non-fiction writers usually start out writing for on-lines, print magazines, and newspapers, there is a formula that has to be followed. Having to make deadlines, do research, and guarantee truthful facts create a great writing discipline. I still write for magazines and that discipline has carried over to how I write my novels.

But fiction, despite the latest trend in the publishing industry to acquire more non-fiction works, is far from gone. It may be hiding a bit but it is still alive and kicking. Once they are established with a solid fiction book, authors find that readers of fiction are more prone to become regular readers of their favorite author. Twain wrote wonderful articles on his travels but what we mainly remember him for are his fiction such as Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer.

And if I may quote this master humorist and prolific writer of both genres, he had a very good comment to make about writing fiction and non-fiction: "Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities. Truth isn't."

A good thing to remember is that as a writer you should take advantage of various areas of writing. If you write mostly fiction, you might try writing a non-fiction article for the numerous online magazines available. Switching from one area of writing to another stimulates creativity. The same is true for the non-fiction writer; try writing a short story and learn the differences and possible similarities between the two writing genres.

Remember that writing what you love is the real key. Your best work shows through in that form. That doesn't mean that you can't try something new every once in awhile. See where the muse takes you and enjoy the journey.

Happy writing!

Copyright 2015 Kristen Houghton The Savvy Author all rights reserved