Building a bridge between literary and genre fiction

Hello gentle reader,

Last week at the London Book Fair, I attended a seminar on Genre Snobbery, which inspired me for this post (please note this is not a recap of said seminar).

Traditionally, literary fiction and genre fiction have been akin to two different planets. On the one hand, literary fiction is seen as character-driven, “serious” fiction with universal/thought-provoking themes and global recognition. On the other hand, genre fiction is supposed to be plot-driven, focused on narrow niches of readership and often snubbed by well-meaning critics.

Yet.

Is it impossible for a book to be BOTH literary and genre fiction? To bridge that gap between both readerships, both genres, both worlds?

Yes, and here are a couple of examples (genre classification is mine):

Wicked by Gregory Maguire (Literary Fantasy Retelling)

Wicked2

The Radleys by Mat Haig (Literary Vampire Book)

TheRadleys

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova (Literary Historical Fantasy)

ElizabethKostova-TheHistorian

How do these books bridge the gap?

- The cover: only one detail (a drop of blood, a green girl) indicates the book could belong to the fantasy genre. At a first, quick glance, a reader could think this is a literary book. The cover thus appeals to both readerships.

- The content: these books have vampires, witches and ladies in petticoats, yet both their characters and plot lines could belong in a literay book.

- The author: often, a book that bridges the gap between literary and genre fiction has been written by a writer who has published works in both genres.

- The classification: these books are hard to put in a box. Often, the marketing team in charge of promoting them has struggled to pinpoint which genre they belong to, which readership they would appeal to and which cover to give them.

So what do you think? Have you ever read a “genre book” that you felt was literary? What do you think about genres and classifications in general? Feel free to leave me a comment below and to join the discussion!

Word count : is your Fantasy novel too long ?

Hello gentle reader,

It’s Thursday! Let’s talk about writing, shall we?

As you may know, I am currently revising my WIP The Last Queen, and I have been struggling with a high word count. I wrote the first draft of this YA Epic Fantasy novel without really thinking of its length (I just wrote the story I wanted), and now I have to cut down some words if I don’t want to make agents cringe when they read my query letter.

This week I have also helped the lovely Mara Valderran with her own query letter. She is currently querying her Epic Fantasy novel HEIRS OF WAR with a word count at 137k. And here is what she says about her word count: “My word count is really high for a new author. You know this, I know this, and I’ve done my damndest to cut it (I shaved 12k off in the past two weeks! Yay!). Is it a roadblock for me? Sure. But it’s one I am painfully aware of.”

So it seems that I’m far from being the only Epic Fantasy writer struggling with a high word count.

As writers, our first reaction is often to say: but there are lots of Fantasy novels out there with huge word counts and they still sell! And some are even first novels! (see Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian, at about 240k words)

Yes, people do buy books with high word counts. I’m one of those readers who are not afraid to read a super long book. However, these books are either AMAZING like The Historian, or they are, well, too long. G.R.R. Martin can publish A Storm of Swords at 424k words because he is an established and bestselling author, but I still think this novel was way too long and should have been edited down. The same goes for The Passage by Justin Cronin: 300k words and half the book could have been cut out without hurting the story.

So if you write Fantasy and you’re trying to get agented or published, nothing stops you from querying a 150k + words manuscript.

YA Epic Fantasy author Sarah J. Maas did just that with her 240k-word novel Throne of Glass back in 2008 (read the story here). And guess what? She got rejected. She did eventually get an agent with her manuscript at 145k words. And guess what? She got rejected by editors. Throne of Glass was finally published in August 2012, with a final word count of… a little over 100K words.

The moral of this story? Listen to the advice of professionals. Whatever the genre of your novel, research the word count expected by agents and editors. And follow their guidelines, even if it costs you. Editing your Masterpiece is part of the writing process. So is getting rid of unnessary plot points and extra words. Do it. It might save you time, and the pain of being rejected.

Freelance editor Cassandra Marshall gives these guidelines for Fantasy books word counts:

YA fantasy:  70-90k words

Adult Fantasy – 80,000-120,000 words (most averaging 100k-115k but editors would prefer to see them below 100k)

YA epic/high/traditional/historical fantasy = 90k to 120k

Finally, if you’re curious about the word count of popular Epic Fantasy novels, you can check them out here.

So what do you think? Are you struggling with a high word count? Do you think agents and editors should be more flexible debut authors and their word counts? As a reader, do you enjoy reading long books? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section!

Vampire books

What’s on my bookshelf ? 1

Toward the end of the 1990’s, long before the craze about vampires that has taken hold of the Western world for the past 5 years, I started reading Vampire books. I have never stopped, and I now find myself with an entire bookcase dedicated to the genre, filled with the best and the worst of Vampire novels.

 If you’re interested in the topic of Vampires in literature, but don’t really know where to start, here is a guide of what to read first, and what to avoid at all cost. Then it is up to you to make up your own mind about these titles.

 

1-    Dracula, Bram Stoker

When diving in the huge pool of Vampire books, why not start with a classic? Dracula was written in 1897 and is still a landmark in the Vampire literature. It is an epistolary novel depicting the vampire Count Dracula in his attempt at relocating from Transylvania to England while Professor Van Helsing tries to destroy him. It is fast-paced, gothic, creepy and still attention-grabbing.

 

2-    Interview with the Vampire/The Vampire Lestat, Anne Rice

Moving on from Dracula, the next landmark in Vampire literature is the work of Anne Rice. Written in 1973 (published three years later), Interview with the Vampire is the most famous of The Vampire Chronicles series. It tells the story of 200-year-old vampire Louis, as he himself recounts his life during an interview with a reporter in New Orleans. My favorite novel in the series, however, is The Vampire Lestat, written in 1985. The book tells the story of Louis’ maker, a French vampire called Lestat de Lioncourt. 560 pages long, the novel is incredibly well-written and fluid for its length, and wonderfully gripping.

 

3-    The historian, Elizabeth Kostova

A debut novel and a masterpiece. Published in 2005, the book mixed three different narratives to tell the stories of Vlad the Impaler, his fictional equivalent Dracula and a history professor looking for Vlad’s tomb. Filled with amazing descriptions of setting and rich themes, the novel also has a riveting plot and an eerie atmosphere. It refers to a long tradition of gothic/Victorian/detective/horror/historical novels as well.

In the 1990’s, Vampire novels moved on from the traditional stories centered on the vampires themselves to introduce human heroes (usually heroines) having to deal with vampires. However, since Anne Rice had proven earlier that vampires didn’t have to be the bad guys of the story, this new kind of vampire books often showed the vampires in a good light, turning them into the heroine’s love interests. Among those books, you can have a look at:

 

4-    Blood Books, Tanya Huff

A strong-willed PI investigates strange cases and comes across a 500-year-old vampire in Toronto, Canada. Together they face supernatural threats, while slowly falling for each other. What I enjoyed about this series was the vampire character, Henry Fitzroy, who is witty and just creepy enough. The books have been turned into a Lifetime TV series called Blood Ties in 2007.

 

5-    The Southern Vampire series, Charlaine Harris

As of today, the series has 12 titles and has been turned into a very successful TV show called True Blood by HBO. I have only read the first two books, as I wasn’t very fond of the main (human) character Sookie Stackhouse and of the fact that vampires are only a background to the main story. If I’m advertized vampires, I want vampires!

 

6-    Undead and Unwed, MaryJanice Davidson

A hilarious book, first in a series of 11 books (so far) published since 2004, Undead and Unwed is a sort of Sex and the City with vampires. It tells the story of a thirty-something unemployed former model who dies in a stupid accident and wakes up a vampire. From then on, it’s mostly a romance novel, with some very funny pages and an original plot. I have only ever read book 1, so I wouldn’t be able to say if the rest of the series keeps up with the witty and original quality of the first book.

After the 1990’s shift in Vampire literature, came the 2000’s landslide of teen vampire books.

 

7-    The Twilight Saga, Stephenie Meyer

Everything has probably been said and/or written on the Twilight Saga, but there is no denying that the series has put vampire literature back in the spotlight. Published between 2005 and 2008, the four books depict the love story between the human narrator, a teenage girl named Bella Swan, and a vampire called Edward Cullen. I personally waited until 2007 to read Twilight and its sequels, and I have to admit it is an easy read with a few original ideas (“sparkling” vampires and the warfare among supernatural beings). However, I was annoyed by the focus on the human girl rather than the vampires, whose characters were, to my mind, rather under-developed. I wish it had been the story of the Volturi rather than Bella’s. But that’s just me.

 

8-    The last vampire, Christopher Pike

An example of vampire books rediscovered after the success of Twilight, The last vampire (published in 1994) tells the story of a 5000-year-old vampire girl named Sita. To my mind, it is a very strange book, primarily focused on the history of India and the Hinduist religion. It reminds me of Anne Rice’s books, as Sita is a very old vampire who is depressed and trying to find a way to die.

 

 9-    The Vampire Diaries, L. J. Smith

First published in 1991, the series has found a new success after the release of Twilight. It is about a human teenage girl, Elena Gilbert, who falls in love with two vampire brothers. The books have been turned into a TV show by the CW in 2009. An easy read, The Vampire Dairies are mostly romance novels, which, you’ve by now guessed, are not my cup of tea.

 

10- The Blue Bloods series, Melissa de la Cruz

I was really hopeful when I started reading this series in 2007, but I have to say I have been disappointed. Set in Manhattan, NY, the books are about a group of teenagers belonging to the city’s oldest and most influential families, who find out on their 15th birthday they are in fact vampires. To me, the problem with this series is that it is more about the Upper East Side, its private schools, its select parties and its shallow inhabitants than about vampires. And frankly, there’s only some much clothes descriptions that I can take before feeling I’m reading an ad for Barney’s.

 

11- Jessica’s guide to dating on the dark side, Beth Fantaskey

At last, a good teenage read about vampires. Published in 2009, the book follows the adventures of an adopted high school girl who finds out on her 17th birthday that she is a vampire royalty engaged to a complete stranger. As her betrothed invades her life in a hilarious attempt at winning her heart, she tries –and fails- to continue her life as a normal teenager. It’s funny, it’s witty, the vampires are (finally!) the main characters again and Jessica is a great narrator.

 

12- The Morganville Vampires series, Rachel Caine

With 11 books published since 2006, and 4 more to come, The Morganville Vampires series is about… vampires living in the town of Morganville, Texas. As the main character, a 16-year-old university student, finds out that her housemates are not all human, she embarks on a one-way journey into the secrets of the vampire-run city. The books are short but packed with action and suspense. Claire is a great example of strong-willed heroin and the vampires are delightfully complex characters.

 

13- Vampire Academy, Richelle Mead

I’ll probably lose a few readers by writing this, but Vampire Academy was to me an absolute disappointment. Praised everywhere, I dutifully read the first book, eager to see what the fuss was all about. To this day, I have no idea. Published in 2007, the novel has an original setting (vampire teenagers trained to protect the country’s royalties in a special school) but I felt it was more about teenage hormonal changes than vampires. Predictable and annoying, I wouldn’t recommend it.

 

14- Infinite Days, Rebecca Maizel

Published in 2010, this is the first book in what will be The Vampire Queen series. I am currently impatiently waiting for the second book, as I loved the first one. It is about a 500-year-old vampire named Lenah, who is given the opportunity to be a 16-year-old human again. She has to adjust to her new life while her coven seeks to have her back as their queen. It is an incredibly original plot, the kind of story you read and wonder: why didn’t I think of that? I highly recommend it.

Moving on from teen reads, these past two year have brought vampire literature back into the adult corner of libraries. I will mention two books:

 

15- The Passage, Justin Cronin

A 900-page novel, The Passage is the first book in a trilogy. Published in 2010, it is the story of an apocalypse: after a failed experiment in 2018, the human population is decimated by a virus which creates vampire-like creatures. The remaining humans struggle to survive over the next 90 years, desperately trying to find a cure for the virus, which they will find in the shape of a 100-year-old little girl. So, as of now, I am still undecided about The Passage. There are some beautifully written pages, as well as a wonderful main character (Amy, the “little” girl). But there are also huge chunks of the book that I personally think should have been edited/deleted. 900 pages is too long to tell a story that can, in the end, be summarized on a single A4 page. The author spends dozens of pages introducing characters who then just die. He describes settings forever without ever having any action actually happening in these settings. I really loved the first 100 pages, as well as the last 100 ones, but I believe the 700 pages in the middle could have been shortened into another 100 pages, making it a nice, readable and enjoyable 300-page book. But that’s just me.

 

 16- The Radleys, Matt Haig

Unlike The Passage, The Radleys is not long, and it’s a delight to read. It is also quite innovative, as it introduces us to a family of vampires living a quiet life in an English suburb. Published in 2010, the book is a nice change from the usual vampire literature, and I loved the idea of Dracula meets Desperate Housewives.

Still on my reading pile:

-          Lost souls, Poppy Z. Brite

-          Vampire Empire, Clay & Susan Griffith

Any suggestions on vampire books I should read ?