Standards be damned?

Write. Rewrite. When not writing or rewriting, read.                          I know of no shortcuts.                                                                                                                          — Larry L. King


When I first put pen to paper (or fingertips to keypad) and began filling the pages of my novel, the process was exhilarating. When I shared my initial draft with family and friends and they applauded my writing, I was encouraged. But as I said in my first post on this blog, I soon discovered there was more to this business of writing fiction than I had first imagined. It’s true; I could have believed the flattery I received was sufficient, patted myself on the back, and jumped on the self-publishing train so as to quickly launch my book and pin on a shiny badge of authorship, but I’ve never been inclined to proudly wear something I haven’t yet fully earned. I knew I had dues to pay before I could really call myself a novelist. A writer, yes, but still only aspiring to be the author of a debut novel I could be proud of. And so I’ve learned to write, and rewrite, and rewrite again.

Hemingway-first-draft-is-shit-quote. Hemingway didn’t mince words. Indeed, I do agree, and let me add: Shit don’t shine! And, you know, it might even stink a bit when fresh, making it especially important to clean up any boo-boos and polish things up well.

There are no shortcuts to becoming a successful, published author. One must learn the craft of writing, and then practice, practice, practice.

I take the craft of writing seriously, with pleasure, and with no small measure of patience. I think most writers feel the sameor at least they say they doand I have no doubt they mean it, but I have noticed that in the sometimes heady rush to be a published author, patienceeven the patience necessary to first learn the basic mechanics of writing, let alone refine the art of good storytelling—is often lacking.


Secure writers don’t sell first drafts. They patiently rewrite until the script is as director-ready, as actor-ready as possible. Unfinished work invites tampering, while polished, mature work seals its integrity.

                                                          ― Robert McKee, Story


The truth is, in this digital age, anyone can publish a novel, even if the language is jibberish. Being able to write is no longer requisite to publishing, nor will filling pages with content that is pure nonsense stop a literary imposter from producing a book. For better or for worse, in the world of self-publishing, the traditional gatekeepersprofessional agents, editors, and publishing housescan go home, and the relative pros and cons of their doing so depend on your perspective.
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What is literary fiction?

Books on table with flowers, wine bottle and glassIn previous posts I discussed what is meant by the literary classification described as “popular genre” fiction as well as provided a descriptive list of genre and sub-genre types. There are two other over-arching labels applied to literature: “literary” fiction, the subject of this post, and “mainstream” fiction, also known as “general” or “literary light.”

So just what is “literary” fiction? Many refer to literary novels and short stories as “serious” fiction. Everything about literary novels seems a little larger or a step up: big ideas and underlying themes that transcend plot; complex, in-depth characterization; prose that is both technically excellent and beautiful; writing that may reflect innovative craftsmanship and experimentation; longer length; and premium printing and presentation quality. Unlike the writers of genre novels, literary fiction writers are not required to follow particular conventions or rules, but their works must reflect such common characteristics and high standards. Continue reading

A list of fiction categories, genres and sub-genres

Jumble of colorful letters on black background.

A novel is a novel is a novel . . . Think so? In my previous post I defined “genre fiction” and began to differentiate between “popular” or “commercial” genre novels and those classified as “mainstream” or “literary” fiction (the subject of my next post). I also discussed the usefulness of such a system of classification. Believe it or not, more than one hundred fiction categories have been identified. Take a look at the long list below and see what you think.  Continue reading

Writing The Flying Girl: the process

Toddler working at a laptopI’ll be honest. When I embarked on my novel-writing project—working title, The Flying Girl—I thought it would be a cinch. I knew the story I wanted to tell; I had good writing skills; and I certainly had the desire—no, the passion―to drive the story forward. Little did I know, there is a lot more to good storytelling than knowing the basics of authorship or even an inspired plot. A novelist―or any storyteller, fiction or non-fiction―must first work at cooking that plot so that future readers will taste one tempting morsel at a time, each one succulent, savory and just satisfying enough to leave him or her wanting more. Then, even when the recipe is clear and complete, the writer has to perfect its execution. Ah, yes, a noble task, and one that seems manageable until one’s muse is battered by concepts previously unheard of: protagonists and antagonists, conflict, points of view, tension arcs, flow, denouement, and so on, and on, and on. Enter, the learning process–and to think I thought once I’d conceptualized a good story and developed some interesting characters I’d have nothing more to do than check my grammar, syntax, and punctuation!


“Write every day, line by line, page by page, hour by hour. Do this despite fear. For above all else, beyond imagination and skill, what the world asks of you is courage, courage to risk rejection, ridicule and failure. As you follow the quest for stories told with meaning and beauty, study thoughtfully but write boldly. Then, like the hero of the fable, your dance will dazzle the world.” 

                                                                    –Robert McKeeStory


Well, I’m now working on a later draft of The Flying Girl, and I’m sure it will need revision and polishing, too. At least I know I’m in good company, among the best, in fact; while there are plenty of good, fun-to-read novels created in months, not years–especially “genre” thrillers, mysteries, romance and other “formula” fiction–there are also writers working on “mainstream” and “literary” fiction projects which often take several or more years, sometimes many years, to complete. Sighhhhh. I feel better.

If you’re wondering what these fiction labels mean, check out my posts on genre, mainstream, and literary fiction–distinctions that aren’t always clear, and, I think, are sometimes taken too seriously. After all, what’s important to you as a reader? A good read! Personally, I thoroughly enjoy being entertained by a fast-paced mystery or a sexy romance, just as I love being enthralled by a psychological thriller, moved by a heart-wrenching tragedy or subtly transformed by a nuanced yet profound tale of ordinary people. And undeniably, there’s nothing like the magic of beautifully written prose to tantalize my literary taste buds! And you? What kind of novels do you like to read? I’d love to hear who your favorite authors are.