Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Long and Short of Genres

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m science fiction and fantasy girl who stumbled into romance by way of erotica. I have mentioned that, right? Well, I am. Lucky for me, romance can slip into just about any other genre and make a home. But then there’s the question of length.

My most recent and upcoming releases are three urban fantasy romances and one science fiction romance. Blue Plate Special (available now in Naughty Flings) topped out at just a shade under 10,000 words. Its sequel, Moon Dance (coming on July 1 in Naughty Escapes) is just a little shorter at almost 9,700. My upcoming story with Dreamspinner Press, The Stonemason (in the Bare Studs anthology coming out on September 14) is the shortest of the three urban fantasies at just over 6,000 words. It hasn’t been through edits, yet, though, so that could grow after they shred it.

Then I come to my science fiction romance, Lodestone. It’s available now from Dreamspinner Press as part of their 2015 Daily Dose. It’s solid science fiction set on a space station in the future and it came out at just over 12,000 words.

Why does length matter? Let me tell you a story.

When I started subbing SF&F stories a number of years ago, I was submitting to magazines. There weren’t any e-pubs at that time, but there were quite a few magazines buying SF&F, from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction through some of the more lit mags and even Playboy was still taking SF. (I would have LOVED to have sold to Playboy they paid VERY well.) Most of them had a minimum word count of 5,000 words. While the upper limit varied, I seem to recall it hovered around 10,000 to 12,000 words. So that’s the size I taught myself to write to. Oddly enough, my first sale was just shy of 15,000, but what can you do.

At the time, I was writing pure science fiction or fantasy, none of that messy romantical stuff. Characters were there to interact with the story and when they interacted with each other there might be all sorts of emotional content but any love was strictly of the brotherly type.

Then came my erotica phase. No, you’re never getting that penname. It was profitable and oddly fun to write, even though I wrote some stuff that wasn’t exactly my cup of tea, so to speak. But I learned a great deal doing it, both about the business of writing in this new ever-changing writing landscape, as well as the craft of writing which honestly, hasn’t changed much. Writers grow, audiences develop new tastes, but the actual writing part of writing remains pretty much the same—plant butt in chair and produce words until unconscious, rinse and repeat.

It’s that audience bit that can be a real bug-a-boo, especially now that we writers have the greatest opportunity to connect with our readers since Og first lied to the other hunters around the fire about the size of the woolly mammoth who got away with eight, yes eight of Og’s spears in him. (Oh, stop it. You know that happened.)

Science fiction has had a long, rich love affair with the short story. Amazing Stories, Asmiov’s Science Fiction Magazine, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Analog, Astounding the list goes on and on. Those aren’t even all the “A”s. I had to include SF&F simply because they give such genteel rejection letters. Politeness, like grammar, counts. 

In my near fifty years of consuming science fiction (I was but an egg when I began reading it), I could probably count on one hand the number of other SF readers I’ve known who didn’t love short stories. Oh, we all love novels, too, and everything in between, but there’s a special place in the heart of many, possibly most, SF readers for the short story form.

My exposure to romance came as an adjunct to other things. I read Barbara Michaels for the ghost story, but the associated romance worked for me, too. I read Mary Stewart for her take on Merlin, Arthur and the gang. I read some of her other work because it was there. Victoria Holt was around the house when I was a kid, so I read those, too. I was probably about twelve when I read Victoria Holt’s Shadow of the Lynx at the same time I was reading Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land and probably something else, too. I was a voracious reader as a kid.

I always had friends throwing romance books at me, Try this one! You’ll love it! Sadly, most of the books they were throwing at me contained an element that I simply cannot tolerate. The TSTL heroine. For those of you unware of this particular element, TSTL stands for Too Stupid to Live. I can’t tolerate stupid characters in any genre.

Nothing turns me off a work of fiction faster than a stupid character. Give me a smart character any day of the week. Or a smart character who did a stupid thing and has to deal with the fall out—I can deal with that. Goodness knows I’ve done my share of stupid things in my life. I imagine most of us know that moment of exquisite torture as you’re grabbing a hot pan while looking at the oven mitt lying innocently and unused on the counter. It mocks you just as you think, Oh, f— when your hand makes contact with the hot metal.

But I digress.

My romance reading friends seemed very odd to me. They didn’t like short stories. I could never understand why. Those beautiful little nuggets of fictional goodness just begging to be unwrapped and savored were irresistible to me. Like finding a new Twilight Zone episode I’d never seen. A moment of pure readerly, or viewerly, delight.

Now, however, now that I’m breaking into writing romance, which is very different from erotica, I begin to understand. While I’ve had nothing but good commentary about my world building and my characters in Lodestone, I’ve gotten dinged for the romance. Some readers have been dissatisfied with the relationship between Al and Nick. Not so much that there’s anything wrong with it, they just wanted to see more development.

Okay. I can see where they’re coming from on that. It’s something I need to keep in mind during their further adventures, as well as in future science fiction or fantasy stories. I realized when I saw the very first review of the story that while I’d written a terrific science fiction short story, it was lacking a bit on the actual romance. It brought into sharp focus the problems my romance reading friends had always had with short stories. As tough as writing short is anyway, I find my writing style generally needs more real estate for a romance between two characters than can be found in 12,000 words. This is especially true when space must also be devoted to world building.

I know there are writers out there gifted enough to produce a romance story in fewer words and my hat is off to them. I share space in the Naughty Literati anthologies with writers who do terrific job with the short form. But I’m the person who started four stories before I landed on The Stonemason for Bare Studs. The first three ended up growing much too large for the anthology. Rainmaker was at around 12,000 words when I realized the characters hadn’t even met yet. Oops. With The Stonemason very little world building was required. It’s kind of a locked room urban fantasy romance. Kinda.

Rainmaker and Glass Spinner are currently vying for my attention. I’m letting the fantasy side of my brain and science fiction side of my brain fight it out for which one I finish first.

Even with my two Naughty Literati stories, Blue Plate Special (Naughty Flings) and its sequel Moon Dance (coming in Naughty Escapes) though they have less world building required than Lodestone it was tough to get all the elements I wanted in them. Setting the scene in the 1970s takes fewer words than setting it on a space station in the far future. 

So that’s where I am. Learning how to write all over again, and that is incredibly cool. I love to learn new things and I love to stretch my writing. I may take Will and Christina from Blue Plate Special and Moon Dance out for another spin in the Naughty Literati Fall Anthology. That would give me another opportunity to explore their on-going romance in short form. Al and Nick from Lodestone have been nagging me for more time together and the bare bones of a holiday story for Dreamspinner Press’s Sleighride anthology is starting to come together in my head. I’m looking forward to working through all the quirks and kinks of writing short romance.

Not those kind of kinks. Sheesh, people, get your minds out of the—what am I saying?

I like your minds in the gutter. In fact, c’mon over to my place. We’ll have tea and talk smut.

Got anything you want to say on the subject of length and genre? Comment! We’ll chat, but I haven’t figure out a way to serve tea in blog comments. Still working that one out.

Until next time!

Keep calm and READ!

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