Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Squishy In Between

by Susan Sey

So I was working on an outline for my latest masterpiece, & I surprised myself.

This almost never happens.



I am, in a word, predictable.



I've had the same five CDs on shuffle in my car well over a year. I eat the same thing for breakfast every day. Lunch, too. (Different from breakfast, but the same every day. Just in case you were worried I've been eating the same meal twice a day, every day. Even I know that's not good for you.)

On Friday nights I make pizza & after church on Sundays we have eggs & bagels. I love to eat out but am sometimes reluctant to try a new restaurant in case I don't like it. I'll have wasted my "out" meal--a luxury for me--on something I didn't like. Wah.

And when I write, I write single title contemporary. I don't seem to have any power over this. I write in the world as it stands, & no matter how dark a backstory I give my characters, they speak in charming, zippy back-and-forths. Nothing for it, this is simply what I do.

So I was surprised--nay, shocked--when my latest masterpiece in progress took itself a jag into the paranormal. Light paranormal, actually. Extremely light. Questionable, even. But paranormal nonetheless.

Which has me nervous. Even if I enjoyed gadding about in new & unusual places (ha), I'm not sure it's a great idea to write myself into a questionable place in the library. Or the bookstore for that matter. Why mess with the Squishy In Between when you can write something easily defined, easily shelved, & easily consumed?

When I buy a book, I like to know What It Is. This may be my obsessive/compulsive nature coming out, but that's why I have a particularly soft spot for category romance. Those authors are SO GOOD at defining the read. Is this a lost love book? A secret baby? A marriage of convenience? I like to know. The enjoyment comes from having my expectations met with skill & charm.

I'm not sure readers like to be surprised but for now I'm stuck in the Squishy In Between. Neither here (straight contemporary) nor there (paranormal.)

What do you all think? Is there room in your library for something that doesn't FIT? Do you like to be surprised, or do you buy a book because you know what you're getting? Do you have any favorite books that weren't what you expected? Or any authors who are great at serving up a surprise?

45 comments:

Anna Campbell said...

He's mine!!!!

Anna Campbell said...

Susan, oh, my goodness, don't know what you're going to do with this sudden turn in your story style. It's a tough question, isn't it? Especially in these days of market driven publishing. I mean, it's always been market driven but someone like Daphne Du Maurier could write pretty well anything and sell it. Not so sure that's the case in this day and age. Actually a writer I really admire who almost always surprises me is Connie Brockway. I just read her latest, So Enchanting, and it's a paranormal historical. Complete departure from her earlier genres. Although still with that wonderful trademark humor and emotion. Maybe that's the secret, do something different, but keep something the same.

Hmm, must ponder further!

Perhaps I can ask the Rooster!

Helen said...

Well done Anna have fun with him

Good post Susan I am not sure on this one. There really haven't been many books that I didn't really enjoy there have been lots of fantastic books and for someone who only read historical the last 12 months or so have surprised me in the fact that I am loving the paranormal and shapeshifters books I have been reading. I am reading Nalini Singh's Angels' Blood at the moment my first vampire book just started it but am loving it.

Anna I have Connie Brockway's So Enchanted here on the TBR pile I must move it up.

Have Fun
Helen

Christine Wells said...

Susan, what an interesting question. I like a predictable life, too, but I'm willing to be surprised in fiction. Don't mind a bit of the woo woo in contemporary romance. Authors like Nora Roberts and Jenny Crusie have made the crossover successfully and I'm sure others have, too. If you write it and it has that same trademark humour your readers will follow you. Good luck!

Anna!! Woohoo, the Golden Rooster returns DownUnder!

Gillian Layne said...

Anna, you sneaky rooster gal. I'll send him some springtime snow from Kansas. :)

Susan, follow your instincts. I'd say so far they've served you well. When Teresa Medeiros wrote One Night of Scandal I wasn't expecting the paranormal element but I really loved it.

Joan said...

Surprises...especially surprises like your revelation is what makes life interesting!

I. Love. All. Types. Of. Books.

Yes, there are the sound predictable ones that I know will give me a good story. (Though...frankly I've been horribly disappointed with some current reads from some trieds and true)

But I like variety! I LOVE historicals with paranormal (Touched by Moonlight, anyone?)I've read more single title contemp then ever this year and yes even the stray erotica.

As to market driven I can only gnash my teeth when I hear that only one type of romance fiction sells. Well....if that is the only choice, of course it will sell well. Bring us more historical paranormals! Bring us unique contempary settings! New and exciting time periods!

{Picture Norma Rae on table} Give us variety!!!!

Now, you take that light paranormal and run with it girl.....Make Joanie T proud!!!!

Louisa Cornell said...

He's craving the Tim Tams and your stellar company, La Campbell! Don't let him get up to any mischief!

Wow, Susan, that is a toughie. However, in these tough times I think people are more inclined to believe in or at least want to believe in the possibility of the woowoo. You might surprised at how much of the general population has had those slightly paranormal experiences and will be interested in reading about them in a romance.

Then there is that marketability factor. Lord only knows how you attempt to predict that!

My third book is barely started but it grew out of the plotting I did for two other books. If I wrote them the way I truly wanted to they would be a trilogy set in Regency England about three male cousins whose grandfathers participated in something terrible and invoked a voodoo curse as a result. However, I'm not sure how marketable that is so I am writing the first in the series with all of the necessary characters and events for the woowoo, but I am may wait to insert the actual woowoo once I actually nab an agent and present it to him or her.

As a reader, I love to be surprised! I love those things that appear in a book that allow me to enter a whole new dimension of thought as I'm reading it. So, as a reader I say "Go for it!"

Susan Sey said...

Good morning, Anna! And congrats on busting up the love affair the GR's had going with limecello lately. You coop-wrecker, you.

:-)

I haven't read Connie Brockway's newest one yet, but I've been looking forward. She's a member of my local RWA chapter & just as nice & funny as you'd imagine.

I'd love to believe I can get away with keeping my style & writing whatever I'd like but I don't think my career's quite at the point yet where it can sustain such shenanigans. I'm going to hunker down & try to figure this thing out this weekend. Maybe I can leave all the magic open to the reader's interpretation. Kind of a "did it really happen or didn't it?" kind of thing.

Or would that be a cop out?

Arrrgh.

Susan Sey said...

Hi, Helen! Ooooh, you'll have to let me know what you think of Nalini Singh. She's been on my TBR pile forever, but I got seduced into straight thrillers (Vince Flynn) by my brother in law & haven't been able to look away.

And I'm thrilled to hear you're enjoying your little sojourn into paranormal. Another of my chapter mates--Patti O'Shea--writes wonderful world building paranormals. I'm not normally attracted to that sub genre but I read one of hers to review it for a chapter newsletter & fell in love.

It's always fun to discover a new author. Then you can have the pleasure of going out & snapping up her entire backlist & reading it in chronological order. It's always so reassuring to see the way even published authors change & evolve & get better.

jo robertson said...

Yay, Anna! WTG on being the early bird to catch the bird!

Intriguing topic, Susan! I love to be surprised by what's inside the pages of a book I pick up from the shelf. Sometimes, unfortunately, I'm disappointed, but more often not.

And I'm thrilled when I discover a new author, even one who's been writing for ages, but who was unknown to me. That's the most exciting part of all!

Susan Sey said...

Christine wrote: Authors like Nora Roberts and Jenny Crusie have made the crossover successfully and I'm sure others have, too.


See? I blame this whole thing on Nora. If I hadn't sucked up everything she ever wrote like a Hoover maybe I wouldn't even have had this idea lurking in the back of my head.

But until I reach Nora-like fame & power (or at least establish what it is I write) I think I might have to stifle this little sideways jag into the paranormal. I don't know. I'm torn. Wah.

Susan Sey said...

Gillian Layne wrote: When Teresa Medeiros wrote One Night of Scandal I wasn't expecting the paranormal element but I really loved it.

Thanks, Gillian! I'll have to check that one out.

Susan Sey said...

Joanie wrote: As to market driven I can only gnash my teeth when I hear that only one type of romance fiction sells. Well....if that is the only choice, of course it will sell well.

Amen, sister! I couldn't have said it better.

I can't claim to be surprised at the market-driven aspect of publishing. I've been to enough conferences to know that it goes that way. But as I'd never been under contract before, or even had an agent when brainstorming a book, I've never tried to write a book with other people weighing in on the process.

It's been really interesting & incredibly educational. And hard. :-) But I feel like I'm growing a ton from the process, so I'm going to roll with it & see where it leads me.

But until then, I'm raising my fist in solidarity. Give us variety! Give us the unusual! Give us some hot Romans! :-)

Susan Sey said...

Louisa wrote: If I wrote them the way I truly wanted to they would be a trilogy set in Regency England about three male cousins whose grandfathers participated in something terrible and invoked a voodoo curse as a result. However, I'm not sure how marketable that is so I am writing the first in the series with all of the necessary characters and events for the woowoo, but I may wait to insert the actual woowoo once I actually nab an agent and present it to him or her.

Louisa, you are a wise & prudent woman, as well as talented! One of the things I've loved about finally landing an agent (after five years & five novels) has been the opportunity to pick the brain of somebody with a first-hand & intimate knowledge of what's selling to whom.

Plus she's a stickler for excellent story structure & doesn't allow me to gloss over inconsistencies with charming dialogue. :-) That's been an invaluable tool in making myself a better writer.

Can't wait to see your stuff hit the shelves one day!

hrdwrkdmom aka Dianna said...

I like surprises in my reading, as long as I get to keep the HEA. I agree with Louisa, I think people on average want to have a little woo-woo in their reading material.

Susan Sey said...

Jo wrote: And I'm thrilled when I discover a new author, even one who's been writing for ages, but who was unknown to me. That's the most exciting part of all!

Isn't that the truth, Jo? I feel like I was the last person on earth to discover Susan Elizabeth Phillips, but what a treat it was to snap up all of her books & read them in one, long, satisfying gorge!

And now I'm just like everybody else, stucking waiting a year for my next fix. But that's okay. In the meantime I'm hanging with Vince Flynn in Thriller Land. He's the king of the Big Idea, What If book. I just finished Transfer of Power, which was clearly the "What if terrorists successfully seized the White House?" book. It was so clearly that idea, that I can't remember the actual name of the book unless I really dig into my memory.

I kinda wish I wrote books like that. I'm completely & compulsively character driven. Which is messy & complicated, & SO not easy to summarize into a beautiful, pithy little pitch.

You write dark, suspensey stuff, don't you Jo? Are you character driven or Big Idea driven?

Susan Sey said...

hrdwrkdmom wrote: I like surprises in my reading, as long as I get to keep the HEA.

Another AMEN to that! I read wide & far, but it's the HEA that always brings me back to romancelandia. It just feeds the soul, & in these times, I think we could all use a little more of that.

Cassondra said...

WHOOOOOOOAAAAA, Susan! STEP BACK from the keyboard!

Just kidding. I think it's great that your muse is taking you somewhere different.

That's what I do too--write RS with just a hintof the paranormal--not nearly enough to get it shelved there. I do things like--include a Medicine Woman or something. So I think it's really cool what you're doing.

That said, I know lots of writers who have had trouble selling that "squishy in-between."

I love those surprises in a book. The surprises I don't like are bad endings. I can't tolerate those. And I guess that's why I go to the romance section for my fiction. I can go to mysteries for that too--usually, the detective gets the bad guy, ya know? White hats win and all that.

But as to the other surprises--the ones in between in the book, and in-between my normal expectations....I LOVE those.

Go for it. Do your thing. You can always take it out. Don't smoosh the muse. Muses are not nice when you squish them. I know this first-hand.

Virginia said...

Congrats Anna on nabbing that rooster! Have fun with him today!

Susan great post. This may work for you because everyone needs a change every now and again. You never know until you give it a try. I am sure your readers will follow. I always follow my authors no matter what they are writing.

Janga said...

Susan, I think Nora was adding suspense threads and paranormal touches before either of those were trends and before she had reached the top of the mountain. I remember Mary Balogh, Jo Beverley, Mary Jo Putney, and Julia Ross pushing the barriers of the Regency too. I'm no risk-taker, but I admire those who are. They keep the genre vital.

as a reader, I went into mourning when Connie Brockway and Lisa Kleypas announced that their next books would not be historicals, but all their contemporary/women's fiction books were keepers for me. I've read and loved books that dealt with themes I swore I'd never read. Ordinarily I avoid Medievals like the plague, but I just read one for a contest that was wonderful. All this goes to show that a good writer can move me beyond my well-traveled ways and make me enjoy the new territory.

Barbara Monajem said...

I love the unexpected. In fact, I thrive on it (well, not so much in real life as in literature, but let's face it, same old is, well... same old). I like light paranormal a lot (that's more or less what I'm writing). Something magic, but not too magic. Something almost real, but not quite. A step away from the humdrum... hooray!

Follow your muse. Listen to those voices... You may end up having a ton of fun.

Susan Sey said...

Cassondra wrote: Go for it. Do your thing. You can always take it out. Don't smoosh the muse. Muses are not nice when you squish them. I know this first-hand.

This is really sound advice, Cassondra. I do NOT want to piss off my muse. Just out of curiosity, though...

What happens when you do?

Susan Sey said...

Virginia wrote: This may work for you because everyone needs a change every now and again.

Hi, Virginia! Thanks for the encouragement. I know this is true--change is good--but for a same ol' same ol' girl like me? I hestitate over switching from crunchy to creamy, you know? I'm not sure how to handle THIS.

But you're right. I'm going to roll with it--at least in the first draft--and see where it leads me. You never know, right?

Susan Sey said...

Janga wrote: I'm no risk-taker, but I admire those who are. They keep the genre vital.

This is really, really true & insightful. It's true. We need people who shake things up, break new ground, take us new places. And thank goodness we have people out there doing it.

And I LOVE it when Nora throws in a little paranormal. When I read the Blood Hollow trilogy, the first one shocked me with how scary it was. That weird little boy demon, floating around outside windows? Eeeeesh. New ground for Nora, as far as I was concerned. I was prepared for creepy, but flat out scary? Yipes.

That said, I loved it. :-)

Susan Sey said...

Barbara wrote: Something magic, but not too magic. Something almost real, but not quite. A step away from the humdrum... hooray!

Barbara, this is a wonderful way to say it! Is this how you're pitching your stuff? Because it's exactly the feel I think I'm going to end up with--a little bit magic.

Are you planning to go to DC this year, & pitch at nationals? I'd love to hear how the 'little bit magic' thing goes over.

Treethyme said...

Interesting question. I guess it's about expectations. I read just about everything, and I'm open to all kinds of surprises.

That said, I get pretty annoyed if there isn't a happy ending. And if I think I'm reading romance, I darn well better get some romance. Paranormal aspects, or the lack of it, don't worry me.

In my own stories, like you, I'm stuck in single title contemporary -- that's just the way I write. Even when I'm intending to write paranormal, it's not world-building paranormal: it's normal people flung into a supernatural, or paranormal, situation. Some of it is closer to fantasy than true paranormal.

Have you read Vicki Lewis Thompson's series that takes place in Big Knob, Indiana? (Over Hexed, Wild and Hexy, Casual Hex) Those are contemporary romance, but there are a lot of supernatural things going on. I seem to remember a couple of Annette Blair's books being like that, too.

Jennifer Crusie has been talking about this recently on her blog, Argh Ink. The book she just completed is NOT a romance, and she's concerned people will expect it to be one, no matter how often she insists that it isn't. I think, in her case, it's a legitimate concern.

You aren't talking about eliminating the romance from your story, just adding paranormal aspects. To me, that's like getting a toy in the bottom of a cereal box, or a box of Cracker Jacks. (Both of which really date me!) I would like it, but then, I love reading romance in all its forms.

Treethyme said...

Now that I think of it, some of the romantic suspense stories that lured me into romance had paranormal (or psychic) aspects, without being strictly "paranormal." Think Linda Howard, Iris Johansen, even Jayne Ann Krentz's Arcane series.

Treethyme said...

Vince Flynn is your brother-in-law??

Cassondra said...

Susan said:

Cassondra. I do NOT want to piss off my muse. Just out of curiosity, though...

What happens when you do?


She clams up on me. Completely. I mean, she's not overly talkative anyway ya know? It's like pulling teeth to get information out of my muse. She'll drop the seed of an idea, then tell me NOTHING else. Nothing. For years she can hold out on me, eeking out the information I need to give the book its bones. Apparantly I'm not feeding her enough of the right things or something.

But if I piss her off? Nothing. Nada. Zip. She's been giving me a little more than usual of late, and I wish I knew why. Maybe it's spring and she likes flowers or something.

I am afraid of my muse.

Susan Sey said...

Treethyme wrote: In my own stories, like you, I'm stuck in single title contemporary -- that's just the way I write. Even when I'm intending to write paranormal, it's not world-building paranormal: it's normal people flung into a supernatural, or paranormal, situation. Some of it is closer to fantasy than true paranormal.

Exactly! I love that in a story, especially when I'm not expecting it. It allows me as the reader to be in the story without having to suspend my natural skepticism, because the characters are also thinking, "Hmmmm, okay. Not normal. But undeniably happening. What gives?"

And sorry for any confusion, but Vince Flynn is NOT my brother in law. :-) My brother in law (a great guy in his own right but not VF) is the one who recommended VF until I gave in & started reading. And now I'm stuck until I get through them all.

But I will claim Vince as a fellow Twin Citian, along with Susan Kay Law (RITA nominee!), Connie Brockway, & Kathleen Eagle. Awesome writers are thick on the ground around here--I can only wish I'd met them all. Though SKL did give me a hug & wish me luck at last year's GH ceremony. That was awesome. :-)

Treethyme said...

I love Connie Brockway's Skinny Dipping. Her contemporaries always make it seem that living in your state would be fun.

If you like Vince Flynn, you should check out Lee Child, Greg Iles, Harlen Coben and David Baldacci.

PinkPeony said...

Hi Susan!

I was never interested in reading paranormals or time travel themes but I decided to pick up Diana Gabaldon's first Outlander book and I burned through the first five in the series in record time. I even bought the companion book for the series!

Have a great weekend!
Jen

Barbara Monajem said...

Susan wrote: Is this how you're pitching your stuff? Because it's exactly the feel I think I'm going to end up with--a little bit magic.

Actually, I didn't pitch it this way -- I'm lousy at thinking up pitches -- but luckily I sold via a contest. Now I'm trying to make up a logline that gets this idea across. All I can think of is what I don't want it to be -- not too cute, not too dark, not too this or that... The thing is (gulp), that lately the magic keeps running away with me. Not sure whether this is a good thing, but I'm scared to argue with my muse.

See you at National!

Cassondra said...

Barbara Monajem said:

Not sure whether this is a good thing, but I'm scared to argue with my muse.

Ha! I'm not the only one.

Treethyme said...

Susan - I'm curious how you would pitch this story. I've still got a long way to go on my revisions, but when I work on the query, I never know what to call it. It's not really paranormal, but it's not straight contemporary romance. It's not exactly fantasy, either. I'm stumped. I'm really curious to hear your ideas on this.

Lara Lee said...

I'm usually spontanious so I love surprises, especially in fiction. As long as it's an author I enjoy, and the book has a happy ending, I'll hang on for the ride!

Susan Sey said...

Treethyme wrote: I love Connie Brockway's Skinny Dipping. Her contemporaries always make it seem that living in your state would be fun.

I loved Skinny Dipping, too. And Hot Dish was loads of fun--they really do butter bust carving at the state fair. You can wander in any old time & see Princess Kay of the Milky Way or one of the members of her court getting their likeness carved into a giant block of butter. It's awesome.

And it is great living up here. In the summer. Especially if you like mosquitos & humidity. It's all those lakes, I guess. The upside being there's a beach pretty much every couple of miles so there are plenty of opportunities to cool off. :-)

Winter, though? Ack. All I'll say is that spring's been a long time coming up here. And we're expecting snow again on Tuesday...

Susan Sey said...

Cassondra wrote: She's been giving me a little more than usual of late, and I wish I knew why. Maybe it's spring and she likes flowers or something.

Ooooh, I like it! A muse who's got a soft spot for flowers! Why don't you put out a vase of tulips & see waht happens? Or maybe a box of chocolates? A nice diet coke? Who know what she'll like but if she's coming around don't be shy. Woo her! And keep us posted. The world is waiting for your stories!

Susan Sey said...

PinkPeony/Jen wrote: I decided to pick up Diana Gabaldon's first Outlander book and I burned through the first five in the series in record time.

Ooooh, Diana Gabaldon's one of those authors I've heard about. I've been holding off until I have a bunch of time on my hands because I have a feeling I'll be just like you & need to burn through them all at once. I did that with the Sopranos. The DH & I spent an embarrassing amount of time between July & September one year cramming all eight seasons of the Sopranos. It was just so good, & the series was already finished & out on DVD. Who could resist?

Okay. Big sigh. I'm putting Gabaldon on the list. :-)

Susan Sey said...

Barbara wrote: The thing is (gulp), that lately the magic keeps running away with me. Not sure whether this is a good thing, but I'm scared to argue with my muse.

Hey, congrats on selling via a contest! I did that, too! What a crazy ride, huh? I was lucky enough to have signed with an agent a few months before, but you still could have knocked me down with a feather when The Call came.

And I think you're an incredibly wise woman not to argue with the muse. My agent keeps reminding me that the synposis/outline is a *selling* tool. I don't have to stay utterly faithful to it. As long as the story works, & stays true to my style/voice, a little straying here & there will probably be overlooked. :-) Here's hoping you find the same is true!

And I really like that phrase--the magic keeps running away with me. There's a book title in there somewhere. Runaway Magic? Hmmm. I'll ponder.

See you in DC for sure!

Susan Sey said...

Treethyme wrote: I'm curious how you would pitch this story.

You know, I'm working on the synopsis right now, which is a totally new thing for me as I normally write the story, then try my hand at summarizing it. This is the first time I've written a proposal in advance, so I'm still working out the kinks.

As I mentioned in the previous comment, my agent keeps reminding me the synposis is a selling tool, not the story proper. You're allowed latitude, even expected to rove farther afield than what you could squash into an outline. So the advice I'm getting is to stick to what you're selling in the synopsis. In my case, I'm selling a single title contemporary with a lot of charming dialogue & some criminal hijinx. The woo woo stuff is like the spice, not the main dish, so I think I'm going to steer clear featuring it too prominently. It's sort of a side dish, you know?

How would you characterize where it is in your story? Main dish? Side dish? Condiment? Glass of wine? Maybe that should guide you on how heavily to hit it in a query?

Susan Sey said...

Lara Lee wrote: As long as it's an author I enjoy, and the book has a happy ending, I'll hang on for the ride!

Thanks, Lara! This is exactly what I needed to hear, I think! As long as I'm delivering the voice/story/product my editor expects, a little woo woo shouldn't be a problem, right?

Crossing my fingers, though. :-)

Treethyme said...

The "magical element" is not the main dish in mine, but it's an inciting event that sets the main storyline in motion, and it crops up throughout the story.

I'm still not sure how to work it in the query and synopsis. I'm hoping it will be clearer once I've finished the (endless) revisions.

I'm looking forward to reading your book when it comes out. Do you have a timeline?

Susan Sey said...

Treethyme wrote: I'm hoping it will be clearer once I've finished the (endless) revisions.

I love revisions. Sometimes writing pages upon pages of junk I toss out is the only way I can get to that shining nugget of what I really meant to say. I envy people who write short & to-the-point. :-)

I'm looking forward to reading your book when it comes out. Do you have a timeline?

Aw, thanks. :-) My first book will hit the shelves July '10, & this book that's causing my massive headache of the moment isn't scheduled until Summer '11. So I have time. :-)

Susan Sey said...

Thanks, everybody, for a great day on the blog & lots of great advice! I appreciate you all more than I can say!