What’s in a Genre?

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Science Fiction. Romance. Crime and Mystery. Historical. When you read, is your first instinct to pick a genre? Probably, otherwise you may not like the book for that very reason. I recently ran into this genre problem. Horror is off my list. I’m not a fan of being scared and especially don’t want to read anything creepy. I avoid it at all costs. I like to stay in my comfort zone.

A few weeks ago, my son, who works at Barnes and Noble, bought a book—HORRORSTOR. He sees the latest and newest books coming into the store and found it to his liking. The cover caught my eye, but I knew better. It fell under the Horror Genre. Still I couldn’t resist flipping through its pages. The book is set up like an IKEA style catalog and the store in the book, ORSK, is a carbon copy.

Still intrigued, I told myself I could stop reading if I didn’t like it. I liked the fact the book was set in Cleveland. I could picture the store off I-77 and recognized the TV station mentioned in the book.

We only have one IKEA in Ohio–Cincinnati. The closest one to me is in Pittsburgh. Funny thing, I was going to make my first trip there, only having visited one store in Chicago.

So I thought it was the perfect time to read HORRORSTOR. Amy, the main character, works at ORSK while attending college. She’s the typical disinterested employee who rolls her eyes at the company’s rhetoric. Basil, her gun-ho younger boss, follows all the rules and recites policy to all that will listen. Strange happenings occur overnight. When the crew shows up for work each morning, the employees find broken or stained items. Basil decides to stay overnight to find the culprit and asks Amy to work a night shift along with another employee, Ruth Anne. They find two of their co-workers already there, ghost hunting.

Not writing a review here, just filling you in. It turns out the store has been built where an old prison once stood. You can take it from there. The ORSK store is haunted.

And guess what? I finished the book. I did skim a few paragraphs here and there when descriptions got graphic, but I made it till the end. I did dream I was in an IKEA type store and strange things happened, but it wasn’t too bad. I sent a text to my son while we were in the real IKEA store – HORRORSTOR Are you lost? But I’m okay.

HORRORSTOR is part satirical and part horror. I think the author equated the prison to working in retail. It would be rated on the lighter scale of the horror spectrum.

I enjoyed the book. There I said it. I’d recommend it for an interesting read. Book in hand would be better than digital. It’s fun to look at the pictures and read the made-up names for the furniture. So I guess I’m tearing apart my genre theory. Try going out of your comfort zone. If you don’t like the book you choose, you can stop reading. But you may keep reading, and find the book stays with you. Not because it scared the crap out of you, but because you can’t stop thinking about what a clever story it was. Isn’t that what all good books do?

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No Adverbs Allowed

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The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”
—Stephen King

When I first started writing I searched for just the right adverb to describe an action. Adding “ly” to many words turned them into adverbs. Happy becomes Happily, Jealous—Jealously, Lazy—Lazily, you get my point. Many adverbs, but not all, end with “ly”. Words like almost, never, always qualify, too.

Imagine my surprise–after amassing the greatest list of adverbs known to man–to find you should not use them when writing a story. A writer needs to describe the action instead of using an adverb. Here’s an example.

“You picked him over me?” he asked angrily.

“You picked him over me?” he asked as his eyes widened and face grew red. He crossed his arms, spun on his heel and stormed away.

I’ve become obsessed looking for adverbs in novels. I forget to read the text. I nod my head up and down in approval when I read a description instead of seeing a single “ly” word. When I do see an adverb, I cringe. Then I practice in my head how it could be corrected. It’s not an easy task. One way is to envision the person doing the action and explain what you see.

I think Steven King is sending a message. Adverbs are the easy way out. When it comes to writing, nothing is easy. If you get writer’s block stop what you’re doing. Walk away from the computer, the typewriter or notepad. Go do something else. Whatever you do, don’t revert back to your old ways. Remember, the road to hell is paved with adverbs.

Never Forget Louisa May Alcott

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“I want to do something splendid…
Something heroic or wonderful that won’t be forgotten after I’m dead…
I think I shall write books.”
― Louisa May Alcott

Such a nice thought. I think I shall write books and people will remember me.

What a simple time Louisa lived in. I love the quote, but does it work for today’s world? Thousands of people are writing books and publishing them at record speed. The general public doesn’t have to wait for new stories to come on bookshelves once or twice a year.

Computers, the internet, self-publishing have changed all that. Competition is fierce. Who will notice your book? And why should they read it? Is it free? Or 99¢? Hardback or ebook? So many choices. Louisa May Alcott, it would make your head spin.

Luckily, Louisa’s books were published during a time when readers could discover an author at a slower pace and look forward to their next novel.  People read for entertainment, reading being one of the only outlets at the time.

I remember reading Little Women over and over again when I was young. I went on to read other books by Louisa. Little Men and Jo’s Boys come to mind, but I don’t remember reading those stories more than one time.

Louisa May Alcott got her wish. Her time-honored story of four sisters, Jo, Beth, Meg and Amy March, has been made into a movie, a musical, and has a soundtrack. Yes, Louisa, people remember you.

How can writers apply the quote to today’s world? Well, I wouldn’t change a word. Go ahead and do something splendid. Do something heroic. Write it all down. Maybe you won’t be remembered, but perhaps you’ll inspire someone by doing something you believe in. There’s a possibility you’ll make yourself feel wonderful you accomplished a huge undertaking. Writing a book is no small task.

So I challenge you. If you had the urge to write and felt you wouldn’t be heard, so what? Tell yourself, “I think I shall write books.” Just like Ms. Alcott did. Pick up the pen and get started. You may surprise yourself.

7 Things About Me as a Writer

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I never said, “I’m going to be a writer.” I always liked to write, but never thought I’d be an author. I wanted to be a teacher since third grade and accomplished that goal. Funny thing, when I retired the writer came out in me again. It was always hidden in there somewhere, I guess.

The story plays out in my head. I picture my stories as acts and scenes. I write the first scene, knowing how it should blend into the next. There’s a feeling of accomplishment when one scene is completed even if the story isn’t done.

A song can give me an idea. Or the inspiration for a character. Or the hook I was looking for. I might hear a song for the first time and says, “That’s __!”

I try not to think about promotion, which is harder and harder to come by.  I have a good group of author friends who are willing to send me posts for my blog and post my things on theirs. I appreciate this new group of friends. Thanks, girls! And guys.

I read somewhere you should try to write every day. I try to do that, if possible. Sometimes weekends get in the way! I read that Steven King said he tries to write ten pages a day and not stop until he’s done with a novel. He said it should take about three months to finish, like a season of the year. Looking back on how I write, I have to agree. I usually finish in that time frame, too.

I like to write without music. I know many writers have it playing as background, but it would distract me and I’d start listening to it instead of write.

As a writer, I’ve been asked this question. If you could travel in a Time Machine would you travel to the past or the future? I would have to go to the past. I would visit the Grand Canyon in 1927 and see how I did. I would eat at El Tovar and have a Harvey Girl wait on me. I’d try to peek in the back kitchen to see what’s going on. I’d run to Kolb Studio to see the real Emery and Ellsworth Kolb and hope I’d get a glimpse of Drew! I’d visit all the places and trails mentioned in the book and compare them to how they look today. Hopefully not too much of the Grand Canyon has changed.

Speed Readers

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To all those fast readers out there, I’m in awe of you. I’m not one of you. I hope I don’t sound jealous, but I would like to know how you do it. I know many people who have full-time jobs, houses to run, kids to care for and write on the side. And after all that, they have time to read.

Please tell me your secret? Do you skim? Skip pages? Read the first line of each paragraph? I’ve tried those methods and end up going back and rereading again!

I met a fifteen year old girl who read 2 books in less than four hours and was already on her third. She told me she skims over certain words like a, an, the. I could see myself hunting these words down instead. She said there’s a test on line to see how fast you can read. I’m too afraid to take it.

Book reviewers, I don‘t know how you do it. You read and review countless books. If I read two a month, I’m ecstatic!

If anyone wants to share your secret, I’m open to suggestions. I want to read more. I really do. Except when it takes up the better part of my day. I want to have time to write. I have to squeeze all the chores in. In fact, I should be grocery shopping right now. How do you do it?

I guess I should accept I’ll always be a slow reader. But to those of you who aren’t and demolish book after book you have my admiration. So many books, so little time. I guess I better get started.