Blog

Behind the Scenes: Genre and Audience

for The Slaughter Chronicles

I have strong opinions about correct labeling. As a former research assistant and library technician, finding things in the right place/where they are supposed to be (and putting them back in their proper place) is extremely important to me.

My personal preference is organization over clutter.

But I love reading stories that sprawl across many genres, stories that don’t fit into the conventional boxes.

I also love writing stories that emulate more than one tone or trope, however, this makes publishing and marketing more difficult than it has to be. I don’t have one go-to label I can put on my work. I wish I did.

But I’m not going to change what I write so I have to learn how to navigate the treacherous waters of identifying my genre and my audience.

Identifying my audience is easy.

I write books for adult and new adult audiences. My books are full of mature content–mostly violence, nothing sexy yet (it’s on its way, I promise). Even though my main protagonist in Pulling Teeth and Other Stories is a child, these stories are not written for children.

Working with an editor and writing coach has helped me identify what genres are and how to accurately label my work.

Accurate identification is key, especially in the indie publishing world because readers have pre-set expectations when they pick up a book. For example, they expect romance novels to have happily-ever-after endings (most of the time).

My book series, The Slaughter Chronicles, will contain elements of romance but I would not put it in the Romance genre. Lots of people would get really, really mad at me. Because there is no happily-ever-after for my MC…at least not right now. Not for a while…I’m going to stop talking before I give away any spoilers.

How I found my genre(s)

bestfantasybooks.com: There are lists. And I like this resource because the creators there break down each sub-genre with concise explanations.

I’ve also found a brief How To guide for the fantasy genre at The Creative Penn.

Shadowminds.net has a nifty, concise piece on the breakdown of Contemporary Fantasy as a sub-genre of fantasy.

And, of course, there’s always wikipedia. Quality of this list is as expected.

The Slaughter Chronicles falls into Fantasy because there are werewolves and magic. From there, we have the sub-categories.

There are so many sub-categories.

Contemporary and paranormal are pretty obvious choices (again, because of the werewolves) but they are also very broad labels. One of the goals of indie publishing is to stand out. If you throw your book into an overly saturated market you go unnoticed. So it’s really important to be as specific as you can with genre while still being truthful to your story.

The resources I link to above introduced me to a few sub-genres of fantasy that I was conceptually aware of but didn’t really realize they could be applied to my stories until I researched their definitions.

Portal Fantasy-Not like the video game, Portal. Bestfantasybooks.com explains this sub-genre as anything that transports you into another world. In The Slaughter Chronicles, you have our world (pre-covid) and you have the Void. The Void is a primordial, alternate dimension where skyscraper sized cosmic horrors live.

Alternate World Fantasy-Like Portal Fantasy, this sub-genre involves an alternate world. See: skyscraper cosmic horrors.

Arcanepunk Fantasy-This was a new term for me. I always thought of the word “arcane” as more Steampunk than modern-day but, according to my Mirriam-Webster, arcane means “known or knowable only to a few people.” Also secret. Also everything Theodore Thane is.

Grimdark Fantasy-Or just GRIMDARK*. To me, Grimdark is all about Warhammer and Warhammer 40K, far-future sci-fi and high fantasy. Ever since I read the Darkblade books by Dan Abnett and Mike Lee I wanted to write something with that sadistic, gritty tone but in modern times. Most of the Grimdark/Dark Fantasy that I’ve read has only been Epic or High Fantasy. With Pulling Teeth especially, I put a more contemporary twist on this sub-genre.

Funny cat meme. “If it fits I sits.”

My mom helped me make a flow chart. Because a 71-year-old woman can use Microsoft office better than I can.

Fantasy, Contemporary Fantasy, Paranormal Fantasy, Alternate World Fantasy, Portal Fantasy, Dark Fantasy, Arcanepunk Fantasy, Grimdark Fantasy.

Here’s what not to do:

Pick an obscure genre that does not fit your book just to make the bestseller list. People actually do this and I think it’s sleazy as fuck. I once saw a short story collection as the #1 bestseller in a non-fiction, young adult category. The category was death and self-help related.

The library technician in me had a fit.

This particular situation made me mad because any young adult with questions about death was going to find this short story collection unrelated to the topic they were looking for more information about.

Death is a big theme in my stories but I would never put anything from The Slaughter Chronicles into a non-fiction category or a self-help category. Some of my characters are extremely dysfunctional and I wouldn’t want anyone looking to them as role models or thinking they can get guidance from them**.

If you like any of the sub-genres of fantasy listed above, please give my fiction a try.

I have three stand-alone short stories here on my blog and if you sign up for my newsletter you get a free copy of Harbinger of Havoc, one of the pieces from my upcoming short fiction collection Pulling Teeth and Other Stories of the Slaughter Chronicles.

*Note: I want to talk more about Grimdark later. If I go off on a tangent you’ll be reading another 5,000 words of genre vomit and you don’t need that.

**Another note: I grew up without many friends or a lot of parental guidance and I did look to fictional character for how to behave in society. This yielded mixed results and I plan on exploring the subject more in depth later.

*

Photo by Sven Scheuermeier on Unsplash

New Poem and Newsletter News

Hey Y’all!

I have two bits of news for you today. The first is that my poem “Home” is live at Dear Reader magazine. Thanks so much Dear Reader Poetry for giving my poem a home!

Check it out here and show these amazing writers some love 🙂

The second is I’m starting an email list. At the end of every month subscribers will get a newsletter with updates on my writing, any publication news I have to share, and links to all the behind-the-scenes goodness that goes on here on the blog.

If you sign up for my newsletter you will receive a link to a free download of Harbinger of Havoc, one of the short stories in my upcoming collection Pulling Teeth and Other Stories of the Slaughter Chronicles.

You will also get exclusive sales, discount codes (when I figure out how those work…when I publish more than one book…), and pre-order giveaways. Because when the first novel in The Slaughter Chronicles comes out I ever I will be handing out prizes. Awesome prizes–like shit I really want to keep for myself but I can’t because they’re for you (when I finish writing the damn book haha).

My newsletters will be delivered directly to your inbox at the end of the month, starting this Halloween. I’m not going to spam you with promotional begging or tell you every single detail about my life. I don’t have time for that. I’m taking chemistry this semester (yes, again). But once a month you’ll get a glimpse into what I’m up to and hopefully you’ll stick around for the future awesomeness to come.

You can subscribe to my newsletter by clicking on the tab in the menu above or by clicking on this link here. Enter your email address and follow the prompts.

Of course, you are free to unsubscribe at any time. If I’m not your cup of tea or tumbler of whiskey it’s okay.

So yeah, go ahead and sign up. Download Harbinger of Havoc. It’s not too bloody…I promise *crosses fingers behind back*

Love y’all, stay safe!

*

Image Credit: painting by Charles Blum

Behind the Scenes: Turning an RPG Campaign into a Book Series

I may or may not have mentioned this before, but The Slaughter Chronicles is inspired by a World of Darkness (White Wolf) campaign that Mr. J and I played back in 2015. Well…I started back in 2015, the story of the campaign was something Mr. J had been working on since he was in high school.

For role-playing games like Vampire the Masquerade, Dungeons and Dragons, and World of Darkness to be successful, the players need a really good story to interact with. Otherwise, you’re just rolling the dice and killing imaginary monsters. (Which can be fun on its own…but I play for the story.)

Telling a story for an RPG and writing a story as a novel or a series of books are two very different things. They involve different kinds of storytelling techniques. Things that work on the tabletop do not work in “fiction” and vice versa.

In this post, I’m going to talk about some of the challenges I faced and still face as I write my grimdark paranormal fantasy series, The Slaughter Chronicles.

Before I get into my writing experience I want to say that the books that I write and the books that you will get to read (eventually) are maybe 5% like the original campaign story version and the remaining 95% is vastly different. The game and those first character designs were extremely bare-bones rough drafts that formed the structure of what my story is today.

Here’s a little bit of backstory for you:

The Slaughter Chronicles happened when Mr. J and I were wrapping up the campaign and we came to a place where Regina was separated from her love interest. I got the idea to have Regina write down her feelings in a journal so that she would have a record for said love interest if she died.

At that time, I didn’t think I could write fiction. I thought I could only write poetry–little fragments of thoughts, incomplete narratives–the broad strokes of sweeping fiction were way beyond me. But I could write Regina’s diary because that version of her had very disjointed thoughts. I wrote six pages of Regina babbling to herself about how much she loved and missed [NAME REDACTED] and how bad she felt about all the things that happened (in life, not just their relationship).

I showed this writing to Mr. J, feeling very embarrassed about presenting him with word vomit, and to my surprise he liked it. (I was seriously expecting him to laugh at me and tell me how stupid it was. Confidence, y’all.) That inspired me to try writing more. So I wrote the story of the campaign, exactly how Mr. J started it and all of Regina’s decisions and how they shaped the world.

And it was terrible because there was no magical game master on stand by in my brain to make Regina’s life easier or worse depending on the situation. I had to abide by fictional laws of realism, I had to come up with my own supernatural biology and magic system to make the world plausibly function.

Here’s some of how I did that:

1. Copyright and Popular Culture Character References

The first and probably the most important things I had to consider (and still rears its ugly head every so often) were copyright infringement and piracy of intellectual property. Unless I wanted to write fan fiction, I had to change a lot of conceptual elements of Mr. J’s story to make it an original work of fiction. My werewolves are very different from the World of Darkness werewolves.

For me, this issue has only caused problems with my character names. Mr. J relies heavily on video games for inspiration and I’ve had to change many, many supporting characters’ names to something not blatantly recognizable as coming from Dark Souls or World of Warcraft.

There were also some events in the game that were Mr. J’s versions of certain boss fights. An underling of the main villain would look suspiciously like a video game villain. Now, I know next to nothing about video games. I don’t play them, sometimes I watch other people play them but I don’t pay attention.

So there would be a boss fight in our RPG and afterward, I’d say something like, “That was super cool!” and Mr. J would reply, “It’s from [insert game name here].” and I’d go, “Dammit!” because I knew I had to then research said boss and make the necessary changes to not write that character into my books.

Coming up with how werewolves and vampires are created and making up other aspects of the supernatural community was a very fun and rewarding worldbuilding experience.

2. The Storytelling/Story Structure

I wasn’t the DM. Or GM if you prefer. Some of the characters were mine but the story wasn’t. So, I had to add, subtract, and reinvent parts of the world and the storyline to create the narrative.

There were some world building elements that I didn’t need to know for the game (because not knowing didn’t hurt my character) that I really needed to understand for parts of the novel to function.

In RPGs there’s usually a main story arc and then there’s what they call “side quests.” Side quests are either the best adventures ever or they’re the DM’s way of punishing you for some imaginary, baseless slight. There are NPCs (non-playable characters) that you, the player, think are important but they aren’t and, three hours into the game, you realize that you’ve been chasing shadows and have in no way, shape, or form achieved any of your objectives.

I had to decide what I wanted to include and what needed to be thrown in the trash.

Side quests make great inspiration for sub-plots but only in moderation.

3. Inside Jokes/Game References

I had to take out and revise a lot of my supporting characters because when we played with them in the game, they were only there for comedy. Or as Easter eggs or inside jokes we could build personality and story line off of. For example, in one of Mr. J’s D&D campaigns, he has a Goblin Shaman character he modeled off of Doctor Rockso from Metalocalypse. Because everyone loves Metalocalypse. Was that reference relevant to the story of the game? Maybe not, but everyone playing altered their behavior and choices to interact with that NPC more.

(Note: An unexpected plus side of adapting things like this was the opportunity to create more involved backstory for characters that I had before considered cardboard cut-outs.)

Writing inside jokes that either only specific readers will understand or only you, the writer, will understand is a big NO-NO in my rulebook. It alienates the reader and if I feel like I don’t understand something I’m going to stop reading.

This does not mean I don’t approve of homages or Easter eggs. Or that I don’t have my characters make connections and references to things that other characters don’t understand. Those are fine if they’re done right.

RPGs and gaming culture have a lot of fandom elements that, unless a reader follows said fandom, readers won’t pick up on right away.

Going back to the Doctor Rockso example, some of Mr. J’s players got the TV show reference right away and had fun with it, but others did not and, while they didn’t have any problems playing, they didn’t get the same level of humor.

I want to write more about this topic because RPG-Lit is its own genre and some of my favorite books are based on tabletop games. I could go on and on about the mechanics and philosophy of game storyline vs. novel storyline but I’m tired now and I need to stop.

If you have questions or want to bring up a point I haven’t mentioned, please do so in the comments. I’d love to hear from you.

The most important thing I’ve learned from this creation and translation process is that it’s very easy to suspend belief in-game but not so easy in a novel. I can believe five random people wake up in a room together and have no idea how they got there for a game but if I’m reading that in a book and I’m either not expecting it or don’t get the how and why right away, I’m going to be confused. While you want your reader to have questions, you don’t want to throw them out of the story.

You don’t need to know how World of Darkness works to read and enjoy my books. You don’t need to like games to read my books. Liking werewolves might help but…*shrug*…it’s not a requirement.

*

Photo by Samantha Lam on Unsplash

Pre-Pandemic Research Road Trip: Rock Town Distillery

My werewolves make moonshine.

Okay this wasn’t really a “road trip” because Rock Town Distillery is in my home town. But it was a research trip, I swear. Not about sampling amazing whiskey.

But seriously, the whiskey is amazing.

A Little Writing Backstory

The Slaughter Chronicles contains a universe very much like our own but also very different. There is a parallel/alternate reality where all the scary things live. Sometimes those scary things make their way over into our world. But no one talks about it. It’s a secret.

Werewolves, vampires, and other supernatural creatures that like to interact with humans generally don’t broadcast what they are.

Humans who do not live in blissful ignorance are either in league with the monsters or they hunt the monsters.

When I was world-building my fictional werewolf pack, the Gluttons, before I figured out they were all former monster hunters, I had no idea how they made money.

My very first draft had my werewolves living in a big city (I was going for more of an urban fantasy vibe) and regular 9 to 5 jobs in the human world. They would come together whenever the Alpha needed something but, as my characters’ personalities developed, I realized my setting needed to change. My werewolf pack needed to be somewhere far enough away from human civilization where they could live without fear of discovery and still be able to buy groceries.

Then came the problem: what can they do to make money in a rural area? My very first draft had (and this is really bad) them living in an abandoned electrical plant. I know… WTF? And they were basically in a forest with nothing around them. That’s almost as bad as writing your characters in a blank room.

It was also really boring; there was no tension, no risk of losing control and killing innocent bystanders. No conflict.

One of the difficulties (I’ll make a post about this topic soon) of turning a story from an RPG (role-playing game) into a novel is that there are a lot of supporting details, like how your characters feed themselves or even where they live, that you don’t have to worry about while you’re playing the game. But when you try to write a novel, those missing details appear as plot holes.

So, I had to find a balance between my wolves working within the setting realistically. The series isn’t about hiding from humans but the underlying tension is always there.

Enter Silver Wolf Stills, my fictional bar and distillery. Loosely based on Rock Town Distillery.

It’s got alcohol. It’s got inspectors. It’s got customers. My werewolves use it as camouflage. They keep things up to code and don’t eat the guests. They also supply local restaurants and stores with their stock. Now, what if one day the werewolf hunters nuked the pack? There’d be no more distillery. No more bar. People would ask questions.

And even if the monster hunters knew about my wolves, it would be very hard to exterminate them without drawing attention to the fact that supernatural creatures do really exist. And that is something the hunters don’t want.

I hope you enjoyed that little behind-the-scenes trip through The Slaughter Chronicles Universe. Thanks for reading!

My Biggest Self Publishing Disaster

Every writer has horror stories. Here’s one of mine.

Back when I was using my old name and only publishing poetry (2016), I had zero negative experiences with self-publishing. My formatting was on point, uploading my content to the various bookseller sites went as smoothly as it could. There were a few operator errors with Kobo but nothing disastrous.

Two years later, my poetry collections weren’t getting any new downloads and I thought I’d revitalize my writing career by diving into fiction. I was super confident because I had just finished the first part of a science fiction story. I was 35,000-ish words in and I had just finished reading Nnedi Okorafor’s The Binti Trilogy.

I thought, “I can write something paced like that. Novellas are way easier than whole novels.”

Ha!

I polished part one and started my first draft of part two. I bought a gorgeous book cover and published it.

Mistakes I Made/What Went Wrong

1. I did not use an editor.

2. I ended the novella on a cliff-hanger. Note: cliff-hangers themselves aren’t inherently bad, but for this specific situation, it was bad.

3. I didn’t have any kind of marketing or project/release plan.

4. I got caught up in the excitement of self-publishing and did not give myself enough time to finish my story arc.

After I hit submit and published Past Life, I sat down to work on part two, which was to be called Morning Star, after the space ship my main character would find herself transported to after the explosive ending of Past Life (remember, I said cliff-hanger)…and all my ideas for part two fell apart.

ALL OF THEM.

5. Without my supporting characters to interact with, my protagonist was flat, not even two dimensional. She was a line*. A boring line.

6. My plot was full of holes that I couldn’t patch.

I remember one of my writer friends suggesting something like, “Well, MC knows how to adapt to strange situations, if Supporting Character is with her, showing him how to adapt you can deepen their relationship.”

I told her, “Supporting Character is dead and the book’s already published so I can’t really change that…”

7. In my frenzy to fix everything, other characters were emerging. These characters did not fit with the original plot at all but at least I could write them. So, of course, I tried to change the plot to fit them in but that made the story arc fall apart even more.

Time passed, first, it was only 4 months, then 5, then 6. Then a whole year. The one review I got for it was an amazing rant about how disappointing the ending was. I wanted to tell this reviewer and the world that part two was coming and everything would make sense but that was a lie. Part two was DOA and I reached the point where I had no desire to fix it.

My confidence crumbled and I scrapped the project. I de-listed the book and cameing this close *pinches fingers together* to delete all the files. In 2019 I made a half-hearted attempt to revise the project but I soon realized I needed to put A LOT more work into fleshing out the technology and deciding how the story would end. Too much work. Not enough love.

I might finish it one day but for now, that manuscript is sitting in my “Shelved Projects” folder and may never see the light of day.

So, what am I doing differently now?

Here’s what I learned:

1. Finish the story before you even think about publishing. Make sure you have an ending, even if it’s just in an outline or in your head.

Lots of writers say this and we hear this all the time: don’t worry about marketing and publishing until you’ve finished your book. And we all go, “Yeah, yeah, sure, sure.” And immediately buy book covers for stories we haven’t written yet. Okay, maybe that’s just me.

But seriously, if I try to think about all the publishing things before I finish working on my final draft, bad things happen.

2. Hire an editor.

I have a master’s degree in poetry. I know how to write and proofread myself. WRONG! … Well, not really wrong. I do know how to do all the crafty things BUT—

—and here’s the thing I’ve never heard anyone say about editors but this really happens and it’s amazing—

When my editor looked at my manuscript, not only did she identify all the little technical mistakes I made, but she provided a fresh perspective on the story that I didn’t have. She also asked important questions that not only helped me fill plot holes I couldn’t see but they made me THINK.

Not only did I learn where the weaknesses in my story and writing style were but I was able to add little details and sometimes whole sections to chapters that I wouldn’t have thought of without another PROFESSIONAL’S critical eye on my project.

Editors don’t just fix grammar mistakes and point out what isn’t working in your book, they help make your book better. They polish, they highlight.

The best analogies I’ve come up with so far are:

Editors are like when you take your dog to the groomer. Your dog is already amazing (because it’s your dog) but after a bath and a brushing, your dog is extra amazing.

Having your book worked on by a professional editor is like power washing your house or having a new roof put on. (I’ve been doing a lot of home repairs during the quarantine.) Your house is great because it keeps the rain off and your stuff safe but after you clean the outside it looks, well, clean. And fresh. And shiny. And not a dump.

That’s what an editor does. Hire one** even if you think you don’t need it, even if you know you can edit yourself.

3. Make a realistic Project Plan.

I thought putting notes in my calendar and hoping I’d finish my draft “on time” was enough planning to get by. It is and it isn’t. Coming up with a project plan involves a lot of honesty. And telling the difference between what I want to do versus what actually happens.

I wanted to finish draft 1 of book 2 during this year’s Camp NaNoWriMo. That didn’t happen in April because school got in the way. It didn’t happen again in July because school got in the way again. I couldn’t do what I “thought” I could do. But what I thought was really what I WANTED and we can’t always get what we want.

So, for me to be able to say, Pulling Teeth and Other Stories of the Slaughter Chronicles will come out this winter, I need to figure out what to do to really make that happen. That means giving myself enough time to do things and budgeting time for my editor to do her job.

4. Don’t be embarrassed/ashamed/lose morale when mistakes/bad things happen.

I can’t say there won’t be more mistakes coming and you will definitely hear about them when they do. The best thing that I can do as an indie author is learn from them and move forward.

For posterity, here’s the cover of Past Life. It’s a pre-made cover I bought for $20 on thebookcoverdesigner.com. It’s so pretty and I still love it. Sadly, because it is pre-made and I ordered it so long ago, the designers will not make any new changes to the title or my author name, otherwise, I would totally repurpose it.

*This is a reference to Flatland. 10 points if you got it.

**I am aware during this uncertain and painful time it is not always possible to indulge in extra expenses like hiring an editor or a proofreader. Income is precious and sometimes you have to decide between paying your bills and extra stuff for your writing. But if writing is part of your income, you need to invest in things that make your writing the best that it can be. That editor is going to help you make more money. So sometimes you have to budget, sometimes you have to postpone your projects.

Right now I’m looking at paying for a proofread or taking my cat to the vet. Guess which one is going to win? My cat, obviously. I have to put that in my project plan. My release date might get pushed back (again) but at least my cat will be pain-free (gingivitis is a thing).

I get it, we can’t always pay for an editor. But I’m telling you right now, a good editor is worth every penny.

Photo by Stephen Radford on Unsplash