Thursday, March 8, 2018

Why Self Publishing is not Vanity Publishing

I don't remember the name of the anthology. I don't remember how I became aware of the anthology. It was probably a letter that came in the mail, inviting me to publish my poetry.

Publish! Well, of course, I wanted to publish my poetry. That's every writer's dream, right? To get published.

So I meticulously chose a poem. I even gathered up several of my poems and took them to my English teacher at school (I think I was in tenth grade) to ask her advice on which poem I should send in. She sat with me for a few minutes after school and gave me what I thought was some sound advice. So I chose a poem and sent it to the publisher. Then, a while later, a shiny hard-bound book came in the mail. A book my parents had purchased because they knew my poem would appear in it and they couldn't wait to see their little's girl's words in print.

Fast forward a year or so. We get another letter in the mail, from the same publisher. This time they want to publish a collection of my poetry. That's right. An entire book of just my poems! I naturally wanted to do it.

This time I had a better authority to turn to for help than just my English teacher. You see, by this point, I had met my husband and we had been dating for a few months. And his grandmother was a poet. A fairly serious one at that. I knew she would be able to look over my work and tell me which poems were most worthy of publication.

The next time we went over to her house, I carried a bundle of my precious words with me. Nervously, I approached her, told her about the publication opportunity, and asked if she'd look over my poems and give me her thoughts. Then she gave me "the look." You know the one I'm talking about. The one where an elderly person tilts her head down so she can get a really good look at you over the rims of her spectacles? Yeah. That look.

The first words out of her mouth were, "Do you know what a scam that is?" No, "Congratulations!" No, "Good for you for pursuing your dream of being a writer!" Just, "Do you know what a scam that is?" I was speechless. After all, in truth, I did not know what a scam it was. I had no idea.

She explained to me that my parents and I would likely be the only people to ever see this "book" that was being printed. This publishing company was not in the business of marketing books for their authors. Publishing with them would never get my work onto the shelves of Barnes & Noble. They were just after my money.

"But," she said, "if it means that much to you just to see your words in print, go ahead and do it."

Welcome to the world of the vanity publishing house.

No wonder there has been such a stigma attached to self publishing.

Fast forward about twenty years, and self publishing has taken on a whole new meaning. It is no longer a scam. In fact, for many people, it has been a quite lucrative business opportunity.

So what's the main difference between self publishing and vanity publishing? It's primarily a difference in the mindset of the authors. Vanity publishers came about because people saw an opportunity to make money off of aspiring authors who knew, because it was the truth at the time, that the only way to get their work out there was to go through a third party publisher. Today's self published authors are the publishers. It's not so much publishing a book as it is starting a business. And, as I said above, some people are doing some darn good business.

No, the self publishing world is not perfect. But neither is the traditional publishing world. And, yes, the relative ease with which today's authors can put their books on the market opens the door for a lot of poor quality work. I'm not blind to that. It's why I always read the sample chapters on Amazon before committing to buying an indie book. With the business being, for the most part, unregulated, you can never be sure what you're getting when you decide to read a self published eBook.

But I stand firm on my assertion that we are no longer living in the days of vanity publishing. You see, at one time virtually the only people who chose to self publish were those who knew they weren't good enough to go the traditional route. But they wanted to see their work in print. Maybe they wanted nice, hardbound volumes of their stories to give out to friends and family at Christmas. Maybe they wanted a collection of poems written by the little old ladies of the community to sell at a church fundraiser. Whatever the reason, everyone was aware of one rule. If you were a serious writer, you did not self publish.

Nowadays, a lot of self published authors are very serious about their writing careers. There are even awards, some fairly prestigious ones, for self published books. Heck, indie books are eligible for the Pulitzer. Imagine the boost our reputation would receive if one of us ever won that award!

Don't misunderstand me. I do see the other side of the argument. I get the point the naysayers are trying to make. Getting a book noticed, and then printed and distributed, by a major publishing house carries with it a level of prestige that indie publishing will never have. After all, there's a huge difference between saying, "I thought my book was good, so I published it," and saying, "This agent, and then this editor, both well respected people in the literary world, thought my book was good, so it's going to be published." Being your own gatekeeper does strip you of a certain number of bragging rights. But, for me, that's where those awards come in. Submitting to contests is a big part of my marketing plan for my books (though I don't know if I'm bold enough to go for the Pulitzer!) because if I ever win one, that's third-party validation that my books are, indeed, worth the money I'm charging for them. So I've swapped one querying process for another. The difference is, while I wait for some literary expert to take a shine to my work, I can already be selling it in the digital marketplace.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Indie Book of the Month: March 2018

Chevalier by Bree M. Lewandowski

This one's going to be four stars for me.

Let me say one thing before I start. This is a good book. I had some personal issues with it, but I know those issues won't bother everyone, so please take my critique with a grain of salt and give this book a chance.

I always start with the positive and move to the negative when I write these reviews but have come to realize that structuring them that way gives the impression that I'm saying something along the lines of, "It was okay, but..." What I really want to say is, "It had some issues, but I still liked it." So I'm turning my normal review structure upside down and starting with my critique.

One issue I had with this book was the wonky grammar. Notice I've not said "bad grammar." The grammar is not exactly bad, just...wonky. The reason I say it's not bad is that the most common grammatical error I found was the dangling modifier, which is probably the easiest language faux pas to commit. Really, nearly everyone, except the staunchest grammar nerds, is guilty of dangling modifiers from time to time. And most people probably wouldn't notice them. I did because I'm a grammar nerd. There were also a few cases of mixed up pronouns (object pronouns that should have been subject pronouns and vice versa) but those were few and far between, to the point that I could almost dismiss them as typos (I've said in numerous reviews that I can easily overlook typos because I know how easy they are to miss). Again, these are things some people might not mind. I did because I'm a nerd.

This is the third book I've read by this author, and I'm not sure why I'm only just now noticing these errors in her writing. I think it may have been that the other two books I read by her were her Under Lights duet, which takes place in the world of ballet, and I was so in love with that world that I was blind to any mistakes that may have been present.

On to the story itself. It was good. But it left me underwhelmed in some ways. Again, I couldn't help but compare it to Under Lights. Ms. Lewandowski's first two books blew me away with their attention to detail. I expected the same when she tried her hand at fantasy. I expected such in-depth world-building that I would live in this beautiful place she created. And don't get me wrong. There was world-building. And it was beautiful. But I wanted more. I wanted to know more about the Shirs and the Nightingale Queen. I wanted a front row seat for the ritual that elevated Kohl to the Order of Chevalier. Details were there, but not as many as I wanted.

And the romance? Well, I've said before that I don't normally read romance, so maybe I'm not the target audience in this situation, but I felt that the whole thing unfolded too quickly. Remember, I was spoiled by Under Lights. That story is told over two books, and the first one is 300 pages long. The two main characters have heaps of time to get to know each other before they start declaring their undying love. And they take their time. So much time, in fact, that when they do get together, the audience is like, "Finally!" Chevalier is one book, and it's barely more than 150 pages. Basically a third the length of Under Lights. So, of course, it moves at a faster pace. And maybe that's what romance readers want. Maybe it's a genre where you get in trouble if you let the sexual tension build for too long without giving the characters, and the audience, the release they crave. But I love a good build-up of tension. Heck, my favorite love story is Mulder and Scully from The X-Files. Remember how long it took them to get together? Seven seasons. Yep. We waited seven years for that release of sexual tension. And I loved every minute of it. So I guess I prefer slower-paced stories. Again, maybe it's because I'm a nerd.

Okay, so that was a long critique, but I want to repeat what I said above. These are my issues. They may not bother other people at all, so please give this book a chance. There is plenty of good in it. I loved the two main characters. The flawed heroine and the strong hero with the tortured past. Two people who believe no one will ever love them...until they find each other. It's a beautiful concept, and Linah and Kohl fill their roles well.

I also appreciated the role reversal at the end. Linah is portrayed as a delicate flower who needs to rely on the help of others. Kohl is her knight in shining armor. Until Kohl falls ill and it's up to Linah to save him. In order to do so, she has to rely on reserves of strength she didn't know she possessed. I'm a sucker for a story with a vulnerable male lead, so I was eating all of that up as I read the ending of this book.

So please go check out this book and make up your own mind about it. If you like a touching love story encased in beautiful world building, this may be the perfect book for you.

You can get on Amazon.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Our Love/Hate Relationship with the Damsel in Distress

It's Complicated

Women seem to be all over the spectrum when it comes to the damsel in distress. Some love to put themselves in her shoes, and they feel tingly all over when that knight in shining armor scoops her up and nestles her safely against his strong, muscular chest. Other women want to tell her to grow up, learn to fend for herself, and stop relying on men to get her out of the tough situations she so often finds herself in.

Being a woman myself, I'm not sure how men feel about this helpless heroine. Do they imagine themselves playing the man's role in the story, swooping in to save the day and being showered with grateful kisses? Or do they want to shake our dear damsel and tell her to get off her butt and rescue her own darn self? Maybe a little of both? I really don't know.

I Like Her...Sometimes

If I'm going to enjoy a damsel in distress story, it has to be there for a purpose beyond making the woman look needy and the man look strong. It has to be there as part of a bigger character arc.

Here are a few examples I've enjoyed over the years:

Christian Troy and Gina Russo on Nip/Tuck. This was back in the first season, when the show was actually doing some pretty awesome things with Christian's character. He's portrayed, in the first episode, as a womanizing jerk with no heart. It is implied, however, that he had a traumatic childhood, hinting that his early experiences may be the reason for his cavalier attitude toward the women in his life. Later episodes confirm this, and set him on a path of self-discovery, which all culminates, of course, with the birth of his son, Wilber. Along the way, we see him slowly developing into a more caring, sensitive person as he tries to form a relationship with Wilber's mother, Gina. We are not supposed to like Gina. But we are supposed to like Christian's reaction to Gina. For the first time, we see him being tender and sweet, and we see him doing it for purely altruistic reasons and not because he has something to gain from the relationship. So the fact that he constantly has to come to Gina's rescue is not troublesome because it's important for his character development. 

Rhett Butler and Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind. Here we have two characters who are both growing and developing into more mature people. Scarlett is stubborn and independent and, most importantly, despises Rhett. Or, at least, she thinks she despises him. Rhett is callous and crude and looks at Scarlett with a heavy amount of disdain. Or, at least, he wants Scarlett to think he views her this way. Scarlett has had to be the strong one in so many situations--delivering Melanie's baby, working the family farm after it's been decimated by the Yankees, taking care of her feeble-minded father--that when she finally shows a little weakness it's actually touching. She has to admit that she can't do it all herself, and sometimes it takes a lot of strength to admit that. And the fact that it's Rhett who so often comes to her aid...well, we knew all along that he had a tender side lurking somewhere under that rough exterior, didn't we? 

Peeta Mellark and Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games trilogy. Katniss is supposed to be the stronger character here. Peeta is painted as a bit of a wimp from the beginning, and spends more time, especially in the second and third books, needing to be rescued than he does rescuing anyone. But he is, nonetheless, the person Katniss turns to for support when she feels afraid. The juxtaposition of those moments in which Katniss allows herself to be weak, and Peeta answers that weakness with his strength, against the rest of the story, in which those roles are reversed, was the main reason I was rooting for those two to get together in the end. I think those short glimpses of Peeta's strength are necessary to make us like his character. Without them, I don't believe we'd care so much about all the terrible things that happen to him. And we certainly wouldn't understand Katniss's overwhelming need to try to save him. 

What I Prefer

I've always much preferred stories that take this trope and turn it on its head. In other words, I like seeing the woman come to the man's rescue. The X Files is probably the best example of this because, in every episode, Mulder and Scully get themselves into some kind of dangerous situation. And they seem to take turns rescuing each other. This week it's Scully's turn to be vulnerable. Next week it'll be Mulder's turn. I've always really loved it when it's Mulder's turn. 

It should have been touching to see Mulder's relentless quest to find Scully after she is abducted by Duane Barry in season 2, but it didn't make my heart go pitter patter anywhere close to the way it did watching Scully try to come to terms with Mulder's abduction in season 8. 

Mulder keeping vigil at Scully's bedside in One Breath does not hold a candle (in my admittedly weird mind) to Scully watching over Mulder in End Game. 

I very nearly snored all the way through Scully's cancer storyline in season 4 but was glued to the set when Mulder experienced his own life-threatening illness in seasons 6 and 7. 

What can I say? I have a thing for the vulnerable male lead. That's my favorite trope. 

All right, you've heard my thoughts. Now tell me yours. Do you love the damsel in distress? Or hate her? Or do your feelings fall somewhere in between?

Saturday, February 17, 2018

3 Myths About Self-Publishing

Let's be brutally honest. The word myths in my title is actually too strong a word. What I really meant to say is generalizations. Why? Because the sad fact is that many of the "myths" about self-publishing are true. They're just not true of all self-published books. Therefore, they are generalizations.

Let's take a look at a few of them.

1. Self-Published Authors Are Not Serious Authors

Are there some self-published authors out there who do not take their work seriously? Sure. In this electronic age, it's frighteningly easy to publish a book. Literally anyone can do it. What that means is that a lot of crap is getting uploaded to online retailers like Amazon and iBooks. A lot of people are cranking out novels in a couple of months, giving them a couple of quick proofreads, saying, "Meh, looks good to me!" and hitting the publish button. It happens. Don't believe me? Start a review blog and wait to see the kinds of books that come your way. It can be scary at times. 

But do all self-published authors (who, by the way, often prefer the moniker indie authors) publish their books this way? Heck no! Since I began my own publishing journey two and a half years ago, I've met numerous fellow indies who take their writing very seriously. A rough draft. A proofread. A second draft. Emailed copies to a few trusted beta readers. Another rewrite when the betas' advice comes rolling in. Another proofread. A professional edit. A final draft. One last proofread. Off to the formatters. Then another proofread to make sure nothing wacky happened in the formatting process (it does sometimes). Then they hit publish. That's not a knee-jerk decision. That's a book that's been polished and re-polished until it shines. Is it possible that someone missed something in all those proofreads and edits and rewrites? Of course. No one's perfect. But there are some darn good indie books out there. I know because I've read a few. 

2. You'll Never Have Big Success Self-Publishing

Let's face it. Being successful in the entertainment industry is a crap shoot. Sometimes it happens. Sometimes it doesn't. And the indie book market is saturated right now, making it hard for anyone to get noticed. But here's the thing...are you more likely to make it big if you go the traditional route? If you get picked up by a big publisher who believes strongly enough in your book to put some major marketing muscle behind it, sure. You'll make it big. But how often does that happen? How many authors try traditional publishing and then give up because the querying process is just too grueling and it takes so long to hear back from someone regarding their book? And then, the response is likely to be a rejection. It can take years to get a traditional publisher to take an interest in your work. Years in which you could be happily selling your self-published masterpieces on Amazon.

And, by the way, some indie books do make it big. Some examples include The Martian, Still Alice, Fifty Shades of Grey, and Wool. There are many others. And yes, a lot of the indie books that have gone big were eventually picked up by traditional publishers. I'm not criticizing the traditional route at all. If a representative from Penguin Random House showed up at my door with a hearty paycheck and a desire to purchase the rights to Amelia's Children, I'd be sorely tempted. It wouldn't be an automatic yes. It would depend on what they were offering and how much creative control I'd be able to maintain with my story, but I can guarantee my eyes would sparkle at such an offer. 

But here's the thing. If a big publisher actively seeks out an indie author, it must be because that author is already doing well. Publishers aren't going to take a gamble on a book they don't think they can sell.

3. Self-Published Authors Will Never Become Great Authors

I'm talking about writing ability here. You see, there's a lot of soul-searching that is done during the querying process. When those rejection letters come (and they always do), an author must re-evaluate his work to try and determine whether the rejection was just a timing issue (the publisher isn't looking for that particular book right now) or if it's a quality issue (the book's not good enough to be published). If it's a quality issue, and if the author is serious about his work, he will actively try to improve. 

Then the coveted acceptance letter comes along and the editing process begins. Suddenly new eyes are looking at your precious baby and finding things that are just a little on the wonky side. Suggestions are made. There are things you need to change. And through this process, you gain a better grasp of what works and what doesn't. 

The myth (which is really a generalization) is that self-published authors skip over all that and therefore never learn what works and what doesn't work in a book. But is that really true?

Have you ever visited Goodreads? Have you seen some of the reviews on there? Serious readers will happily tear a book to shreds if it doesn't live up to their standards. It's in an author's best interests to solicit reviews from some of these discerning readers so they can get real feedback on their books.

Of course, all this is happening after publication. Better to get the scathing reviews from beta readers and editors before presenting the book to the world. And this is certainly an option for the indie author. Sure, a lot of them, especially if they are just starting out, cannot afford a professional editor, but everyone knows someone who can be an extra set of eyes looking at that manuscript. And every critique counts, believe me.

Another great way to get some brutally honest feedback is to seek out professional reviews. Last year I entered one of my books in the Writer's Digest Self-Published eBook Awards. I did not win, but one of the perks of entering is that all submissions receive a critique from one of the judges. In that critique, I was made aware of some things I was doing in my writing that I didn't even realize were problematic. You can bet I'll have my eyes wide open for those mistakes in future books. 

Sunday, February 11, 2018

The Cardinal Rule of Good Writing

Pretty Basic Stuff

There's no mystery here. We all know what the cardinal rule of good writing is. Show, don't tell. It's the one everybody agrees on. Other "rules" can occasionally be ignored at the author's discretion, but this one isn't going to go away. Learning the rule is easy. The execution of it takes some practice.

What I Thought I Knew

I've always understood show, don't tell to a fair degree. Even as a kid. I wrote my first novel when I was twelve, and when I go back and look at it I realize I had a decent grasp of the rule back then. 

Here's what I knew:

Show a character's personality. Don't just say Aunt Roberta is annoyingly affectionate. Write a scene with Aunt Roberta that includes lots of hugging and cheek pinching. Give her a few favorite terms of endearment that she always uses when talking to certain characters. 

Show an emotional state. This one's tougher. Don't just say a character is sad. Give the reader a couple of paragraphs that show the character's sadness. For example, if you have an MC who's recently lost her husband, put her in a social situation where she's hanging out with all her married friends for the first time since the funeral. Show the other couples cuddling and smiling at each other. Show a frazzled mother struggling to corral her three kids until her husband comes up and offers to take them off her hands. Show the relief that other mother feels at this unexpected break from adulting. Relief our poor grieving MC will never experience again. 

Show a character's lifestyle. Let's go back to that grieving mother. Does she have kids? Is her home life chaotic? Has that gotten worse now that the father is not around to help her? Show that. Show the peanut butter smears on the kitchen counter, the urine on the bathroom floor from where the three-year-old son proudly used the potty all by himself, and the struggle to get the older kids out the door for school in the morning. And now that your character is widowed, show her performing chores that her husband typically did when he was alive. Show how having to do those chores just adds to the chaos of her life. 

This is all stuff I already understood. Stuff I've always understood. 

The First Thing I Learned

After I published my first book, I began reading books and articles on how to improve my writing. I learned a few things that I didn't realize, at first, are related to show, don't tell. 

First of all, I learned how to make my writing less wordy. This means getting rid of those pesky little filler words like that, of, just, etc. But it also means getting rid of what are called filter words. Words like thought, felt, wondered, realized, and so on. If you've constructed a good scene, there's a good chance you don't need those words. 

Then I started to read about what's called Deep POV. This takes getting rid of the filter words to a whole new level. It's all about learning how to write a scene so the reader feels what the character feels without the emotions ever being mentioned at all. This is the epitome of show, don't tell.

The Next Step

Deep POV was fiendishly difficult when I first started trying to use it. But by the time I wrote my third book, Road to Yesterday, I thought I'd pretty much mastered it. But just last week I decided to give the book another quick read-through to look for any lingering typos before creating the paperback edition. I've found that even then, even when I was writing my third book, I still had a lot to learn about show, don't tell.

Here are a couple of examples from Road to Yesterday:

“Really, Vi? Really?” I could almost see the anger surging through Kyle’s body. No, “almost” is not the right word. I could see it. His shoulders shook with a barely contained rage that frightened me.

Did I really need the sentence, "I could almost see the anger surging through Kyle's body"? It's in there because I wanted to make sure I was avoiding head-hopping. I didn't want to say Kyle was angry because how would the narrator know that? She's not Kyle. So I inserted a sentence beginning with "I could almost see" to make sure the reader knew we were still firmly in the narrator's head. But why include it at all? Why not just skip to Kyle's physical reaction.

“Really, Vi? Really?” Kyle's shoulders shook with a barely contained rage that was frightening.

Even the word "frightening" is problematic, but I can't think of a way to eliminate it and still get the point across without rewriting the whole scene. And since this is a book I've already published, I'm not going to be rewriting whole scenes. Not at this time, at least. 

Okay, here's another:

Alex stood by the bed, looking down at his older self. Vi, Kyle, and I hung back in an attempt to give him some space. But we watched him.

His reaction was subdued. I suppose he did not know how to react. That was to be expected. Who would know how to react to something like this?

He stood over the bed, jaw rigid and brow creased, and said nothing. He may have been trembling slightly. I couldn’t quite tell. It seemed he was valiantly attempting to hold it all in.

Looking at this passage again with my more learned eyes, I can see that most of the second paragraph is unnecessary, as well as a little bit of the third. I could write it like this and still get the point across:

Alex stood by the bed, looking down at his older self. Vi, Kyle, and I hung back in an attempt to give him some space. But we watched him.

His reaction was subdued. He stood over the bed, jaw rigid and brow creased, and said nothing. He may have been trembling slightly. I couldn’t quite tell. 

You see, the reader has already been on the journey with these characters and knows the impossible situation they are in. The reader, therefore, does not need to be told that no one would know how to react to the situation. That's something the reader already knows from having read the book up to this point. I also don't need to tell the reader that he's "valiantly trying to hold it all in" because the subdued reaction, the rigid jaw, and the creased brow have already shown that. 

Going Forward

The main thing I've learned in recent months is that show, don't tell doesn't just mean you need to do more showing in your writing. It also means you need to do less telling. Let's go back to that widow. If you've just written the death scene, then you have the wife collapse, sobbing, into her best friend's arms in the hallway outside the hospital room, you've already shown the audience what she's feeling. There is no need to follow up with any commentary on her emotional state at all. If you're tempted to write a sentence that contains words like hopelessness, helplessness, grief, pain, etc., stop first and ask yourself if that sentence is really necessary. There's a good chance it's not. There's a good chance the reader already understands that the character is feeling all those things. 

All right, a couple of news items before I go my merry way.

First, I'm involved a group giveaway on Instafreebie this week. Amelia's Children is available for free download, along with four other mystery/thriller books. If you'd like to pick up a few free books, you can get them here.

And second, remember that I've got a newsletter now, so if you want to get the latest updates on releases, sales, and freebies, sign up here.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Indie Book of the Month: February 2018

Sixth Prime by Dan O'Brien

This is another book I feel had some pros and some cons. As always, I'll start with the positive.

The first chapter is a great "hook" chapter. It drew me in and made me want to find out more. I was fascinated by the famous painter working on his masterpiece, a painting he doesn't fully understand, but which somehow contains profound truths. 

There is some great sci-fi in this book. Foreign worlds, and all the political strife that exists on those worlds. Futuristic technology. Mysterious creatures no one fully understands. The search for an ancient power that may hold the key to everything.

I also found the characters believable and likeable. 

I did have some issues, however. First of all, it was the story of the artist that first drew me in. I wanted more about him. Unfortunately, after the first chapter he is little more than an afterthought. Yes, there is an investigation into his death, but that only makes up perhaps a third of the book. Maybe even less than that. I wanted to go deeper into that part of the story.

Also, things could have been explained a little better. Who are the Primes? What are they and why are they important? And why are they being killed off? And who are the good guys in this book? Who are the bad guys? I know not every story has to involve the great cosmic battle between good and evil, but this book very much presents itself as that kind of story. Only I couldn't tell which side I was supposed to be on. I was still confused even when I made it to the end, because it's left very open and nothing is really resolved. Again, I know open ended stories are a thing, and I like the occasional open ended story. But this is not the kind of story that is typically left open for interpretation. This book presents a mystery to the reader, but the truth about that mystery is not completely revealed. Perhaps this is the beginning of a series? That might offer the promise of a better explanation down the road. 

Overall an enjoyable read, but one that didn't provide me with the answers I was hoping for.

If you'd like to take a look at this book and make up your own mind about it, you can find in on Amazon. 

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Formulaic Fiction: Love It or Hate It?

A Broken Record

I mention frequently how much I dislike formulaic fiction. That's my biggest problem with my first book, Amelia's Children. It's a murder mystery and it unfolds the way any murder mystery would. In other words, it's formulaic, which my mind automatically translates as "lacks originality." 

Amelia's Children also happens to be my most popular book, so apparently a lot of people are looking for stories that follow a formula.

I do love a good mystery. I just can't get into, for example, shows like Murder She Wrote, Diagnosis Murder, or even those with a slightly darker feel to them, like Criminal Minds. I can watch one or two episodes, but after that I start to feel like I'm watching the same story over and over. Which I am. 

My disdain for stories that follow formula too closely is the primary reason I give for not reading a lot of romance. That genre carries the weight of too many fan expectations, and writers cater to those expectations. I mean, they want to make a living, right? Can't go making the fans angry. So there are things that have to happen, and they have to happen at specific times in the story. And of course there must be a happy ending.

Honestly, I think it's the guaranteed happy ending that's the biggest turnoff for me. Look, I like love stories. Love Story, for example, is a movie I've seen multiple times and still enjoy. (Okay, it's a seventies movie, and I really like seventies movies, so maybe that's the allure, who knows?) I also like The Time Traveler's Wife and Wuthering Heights. What do all of these have in common? each one, one of the main characters dies. You see, if there's not a real possibility that the characters will either die or break up at the end, I can't make myself care about them. What's the point, if I know going in that they're going to live happily ever after?

A Big Glaring Exception to My Rule

I've also said numerous times that I'm a horror movie buff. But I'm a picky one. I don't like just any horror. I have very specific parameters within which a horror movie must fit, or I will not like it.

Basically, I like formulaic horror.

If a horror movie goes overboard trying to shock me with death and gore, like the second Halloween movie, I will not like it.

If a movie tries to pull off some convoluted twist ending, like The Brood, I will not like it.

If a movie shows the monster too soon, like Lights Out, I will not like it.

I recently watched the new movie The Open House on Netflix. That's something of a confusing title because there's another movie, called simply Open House, which came out in 2010 and is available on Amazon. I haven't seen Open House. I've seen The Open House. I don't know if the newer one is based on the older one in any way or if it's just a coincidence, but I need to make sure you know which movie I watched.

I loved that movie. I read a review of it before watching it. The review called it predictable and cliché. Well guess what? That's what I look for in horror.

Give me a painfully slow build-up of tension, to the point where you almost begin to think nothing bad is going to happen at all, like the first Halloween movie.

Give me an old fashioned haunted house story, like The Conjuring.

Give me a movie with an evil child, like The Ring.

You see, for me, good horror has more to do with pacing and mood than with story. Yes, originality can be nice. The Ring was a darn original idea, and I loved that. But The Ring also spends time setting up the story and creating the right mood. The result is one of the scariest movies I've ever seen. The Brood, on the other hand, tried to be original but turned out to be just weird.

Okay, your turn. Do you have a favorite genre that just has to follow the formula or you won't like it? Please tell me in a comment.

Oh, and before I go, I have some news items to share:

I'm now offering a proofreading and critiquing service for authors. You can find out more about that here.

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And finally, I have Amelia's Children available on Instafreebie for a limited time. If you'd like a free copy, check it out here.