Magical Realism for Men? No swords or flowing beards here…

allonymbooks author Cadell Blackstock chips in with a few words of his own about magical realism.

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Reading fellow allonymbooks author Evie Woolmore‘s blog for the Magical Realism Blog Hop this week, and surveying the other intelligent and fruitful discussion on the subject, I was struck by two things. One, that the majority of participants in this blog hop are female authors. And two, that when I talk about magical realism to other men they tend to think – rightly or wrongly – of fantasy and magic, more than the realism. Even the guy who cuts my hair – a 30 year old new dad with a serious devotion to beer – has abandoned his customary delight in sharing his favourite zombie movies to tell me about his latest enthusiasm: Game of Thrones. ‘I’ve never read the book – I don’t read books, me,’ he informed me with great pride, ‘but the telly series is magic.’

Crash Cole in 'The Rake Spared' coverWhen I wrote Crash Cole in ‘The Rake Spared’, I didn’t want just to write about a failing TV star, ensnared quite literally in the trappings of his own celebrity. I wanted to blast down the walls of privacy that tenuously protect us as individuals. I wanted to push the idea of loving fans to a new level. I wanted to take an actual situation that was covered very prominently in the media (British TV personality Richard Hammond’s high speed dragster crash in 2006) and explore it from a different point of view – the subject, not the observers. In my novel Crash Cole, a motorcycling TV actor (no resemblance to Mr Hammond is intended whatsoever (nor even believable), let me be Absolutely Clear), has a serious accident and wakes up to find that all his fans have literally loved him back from the brink of death. But there’s a price. He can hear every one of their voices in his head.

But there’s no magic wand here. I don’t think it’s a huge leap in imagination to appreciate the pressure that a figure in the public eye must feel at times. Even this very morning, with the birth of the Prince of Cambridge, third in line to the British throne, questions are already being asked about what it will be like for him to grow up in a world of unprecedented public interest. All I did in Crash Cole was to manifest that interest as real, to make the pressure physical, identifiable, tangible.

Some of the bloggers on the blog hop have talked about alternative realism, rather than magical realism. That seems like a good label for what I’ve written. Crash Cole is a contemporary satire on celebrity, sex and scandal. I’ve said elsewhere it has a supernatural twist. Which I suppose it does, if hearing voices counts as supernatural. But for men who would be put off by flowing beards and long swords, I think alternative realism is a good way of describing a funky twist on the world we know.

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To find out more about Cadell Blackstock and Crash Cole, visit Cadell’s page.

Crash Cole in ‘The Rake Spared’ is available on all Amazon sites, including UK and US.

To read the other excellent blogs in the Magical Realism Blog Hop, visit these links:

Zoe Brooks (and Zoe’s second post and this one) – Kirsty Fox – Karen Wyld (and this one)

Leigh Podgorski – Tad Crawford Lynne Cantwell – Murielle Cyr (and this one )- Joel Seath

Edie Ramer – Laura at Curated Bookshelves Christine Locke – Susan Bishop Crispell

Jordan Rosenfeld – Eilis Phillips – and Evie Woolmore’s first blog hop blog

The right to a pseudonym

A lot has been written about the revelation that JK Rowling published a crime novel earlier this year under another pseudonym. The secret would have been safe were it not for an error of judgement by a partner at her law firm who shared the news with a friend who was not as discreet as he hoped she would be. Indeed it is remarkable in the internet-dominated world where nothing seems to be a secret for long that the secret remained one for so long.

The irony is that on the internet, no-one is who they seem. Our avatars, gravatars, handles, IDs, usernames and profiles rarely represent us either fully or entirely accurately. We can be as selective as we like about how much we share with others. So why is it so remarkable that someone would publish a book under a name other than their own? Why is it so extraordinary that they might want to conceal one aspect of their personality in order to reveal another? Metaphorically speaking, JK Rowling is not the first person to have removed their wedding ring while on a night out in a bar. Given the perpetual eagerness of print publishers and their marketing teams to put books and authors in pigeonholes, any writer who is trying to move across genres or, perish the thought, write in more than one genre is going to find that unless they obscure their existing identity they will always be dragging their past work with them. And with that, multiple perceptions and expectations – of editors, critics and readers. Whether it’s JD Robb or Iain M Banks, many established writers have used other names to distinguish their books, and to separate them from their stablemates.

But there is also the issue of a right to privacy. Writing is a deeply personal, private thing. The battles that go on in a writer’s imagination during the process of creation are characterised by daring, risk, challenge, autonomy and identity, as much as they are by creativity, inspiration and innovation. Furthermore, writing is generally done alone, and much of the work and the battles exist in the solitude within the writer’s mind. Even successful writers who have dominated a genre and spoken publicly about their writing process have a right to the privacy of that process.

And perhaps in some respect, that is what JK Rowling was trying to reclaim. The right to write in private, even when the book is published.

 

Digital imprints: the apple falls close to the tree?

Earlier this week, over breakfast with a well-respected American sportswriter and journalist, allonymbooks met someone else who ‘writes fiction in their spare time’. This journalist has been chewing over ideas for a series of mystery novels based on his long and intriguing career in television and newspapers, and asked allonymbooks for their advice on entering the e-book market. A recent article in WiReD by Graeme McMillan sprang to mind, for its reminder that print publishers never stray far from what they know.

In his article, McMillan drew attention to the growing interest print publishers have in certain segments of the e-book market. Random House and HarperCollins have recently launched or announced e-book imprints focussing on very specific generic branding including scifi, mystery, romance and ‘adult’. RH’s VP Alison Dobson suggests that audiences who have made the move to e-readers want different things from their reading experience than those who read print copies, and that ‘difference’ centres around genre fiction in particular. Likewise her opposite number at HC, Liate Stehlik, agrees to some extent, claiming that people who read a lot of genre fiction were quick to pick up the e-book format because they are voracious readers, “reading for entertainment, reading multiple books in a month across multiple genres.” Continue reading

Author as genre?

This week allonymbooks author Evie Woolmore discusses the challenges of marketing across genres.

As I put the finishing touches to my new novel, The Salt Factory, and draw together the marketing plan to accompany its launch, I find myself facing once again that eternal dilemma: which categories to use on Amazon.

Fiction. Yes.

Now what?

In an interview with Diva magazine in 2011, author Sarah Winman was told by the interviewer that she was being described on the magazine’s cover as the new Sarah Waters. Winman’s reply? “Poor Sarah!…We’re very different. I don’t think I’ve earned the stripes to even be compared to her, quite frankly.” Winman’s modesty perhaps misses the point: when a generic label fails to be useful or available, an author name often stands in its stead. Yet which Waters was Winman to become? The “historical” novelist, the “gay” advocate, or the “supernatural thriller” writer, to name but three.

This is a tool that print publishers have used for years, describing an author as ‘the new’ somebody else. If you liked this, you’ll like that. It’s a testament to the old-water-in-new-bottles scenario that many feel print publishing has become over-reliant on, but it is also a mark of how little genuine development there has been that no one has yet come up with an innovative way for authors to market themselves differently.

I have blogged before about how rejections of my books by print publishers have generally concerned their perceived difficulty in finding a marketing pigeonhole for my type of novels. But if someone had actually asked me, I would have told them that if they liked Erin Morgenstern and Carlos Ruiz Zafón, then they would like my novels too. It’s a difficult thing to admit that one’s novel is bouncing off other people’s walls, when one of the things I know sets my books apart is the sheer originality of the ideas. But I can say with certainty that if you loved the imaginative possibilities of The Night Circus then you’ll love those same qualities in Equilibrium and The Salt Factory. If you think Zafón has captured the magical, mystical possibilities of Barcelona beautifully then you’ll find my evocations of the slip in time between contemporary and wartime Warsaw in Rising Up to be equally vivid and engaging.

I can say these things not because I copied what those writers did, because I didn’t. But  what I do have in common with them is a desire and an interest in using fiction to bend reality just a little bit to see what might be just beyond the boundaries of perception. I am nodding when I read them, out of admiration as a reader and out of understanding as a writer. You might no more describe Zafón or Morgenstern as science fiction or fantasy as you would an Evie Woolmore novel, but what are the alternatives? Indeed Amazon categorises The Night Circus as contemporary fantasy. But that category is so big that it also includes Ben Aaronovitch’s magic crime procedurals and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale as well as various vampire and imagined worlds novels.

Zafón himself considered this issue in a Q&A about the creation of The Shadow of the Wind, where he says “it is a story that is made of many stories; it’s a story that combines humour, it combines mystery, it combines a love story, it combines historical fiction – it combines many different genres, to create a new one, a new genre, a hybrid that does all those things as well.”

Unfortunately he doesn’t give that genre a name.

Perhaps there is something in reversing the process and  ruling genres out, rather than in. In what seemed at first a daring idea, I began to consider whether putting my novels in the Historical Fiction category really was the best thing to do. Certainly they all have historical settings, but then I began to wonder what sets one historical novel apart from another. And what do they all have in common? Historical authenticity seems an essential quality in a historical novel, and the recent trend towards the novelisation of historical figures (such as Hilary Mantel’s trilogy) is one of many narrow trends within a genre that might otherwise be seen as relatively homogenous. Authenticity is certainly important to me, and I do a lot of research to make sure that settings are accurate, but am I contributing something new to the genre of historical fiction? No, probably not. Because what I am contributing is nothing to do with the historical aspect. And so, by way of an experiment, I am relocating my novels from historical fiction to historical fantasy, because I am, like Zafón and Morgenstern and Aaronovitch and Attwood, trying to say something new in fantasy.

I should like one day not to be the new Sarah Waters or the new Erin Morgenstern or even a other-gendered reincarnation of Zafón, but to be the only Evie Woolmore. My books are recognisably a genre in themselves, historical fiction infused with an otherworldly setting, worlds where the boundaries are blurred and things are not quite what they seem. But for now, my readers will be able to find my books under the big and welcoming umbrella of fantasy, where minds are open to distinctive voices saying interesting things.

An interview with Flora Chase, author of The Strattons – new to Kindle this week

To coincide with the publication this week of the first novel in The Strattons series of YA historical fiction, allonymbooks author Flora Chase tells us a bit about the novel, and what led her to write it.

Flora, why did you choose to write a historical YA novel rather than something in the currently popular YA genres of fantasy or dystopia?

I was told once by a literary agent that it’s difficult to pitch historical novels successfully to teenagers and young adults, but I’ve always wondered if that was really true. The 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice has recently been celebrated and lots of writers have been talking about why they love it so much. For me, reading it for the first time as a teenager (a long time ago!), I felt a great sympathy with how long the process of courtship seemed to take, how much time there was to sit around and wait and think and pine for the person you were falling in love with. Falling in love is an agonising experience as it is, but if you impose a lot of waiting around on it, every tiny change is ripe for interpretation and dissection.

But in these days of instant messaging, texting, facebook and Twitter, young people wear their hearts on their sleeves and the pace of romance has accelerated, hasn’t it?

That’s right, and that’s why I picked the Edwardian era. The novel is set in 1913, just before the start of the First World War, and was just at the start of the period of mass communication. In fact, one of my characters, Julia, is terrified of the new-fangled telephone, so it is a period which combines that traditional slow pace of older historical periods with a new degree of urgency. It’s also quite a racy time – there was a lot of gossip and intrigue, particularly among young people who were going to debutante balls or doing the social rounds of their peers, there was lots of flirtation, fashions were beginning to become more daring, and I think that makes a great backdrop for the writer and the reader.

Tell us something about the characters.

Freddie, Julia and Blanche Matchingham are the three teenage children of a travelling diplomat, the 4th Marquess of Stratton, and they have grown up pretty much alone on their family estate in the English countryside. Blanche, the youngest, is perhaps the most modern of the three, an adventurous social butterfly who is eager to escape the boredom of the country house to enjoy parties and enter the exciting adult world. Her older sister Julia is extremely shy, more interested in books than people, particularly since she was dumped by a Continue reading

Never judge a book… by a cover you can’t remember?

What was the last book you read on your Kindle? And the one before that?

Now, without looking at either your Kindle or Amazon, what do you remember about the covers? Did you even look at the cover again once you’d downloaded it?

On a train the other day, two friends were overheard discussing what they had read during Christmas. One could not remember the title or the author of one particular novel, though they gave a very compelling description of it which made both the other friend and this eavesdropper want to read it.

“Are you sure you can’t remember what it’s called?” the friend asked. “Tell me what the cover looks like and then I can look on the tables at Waterstones.”

“Oh,” replied the reader. “I don’t think I even saw the cover. I downloaded it to my Kindle.”

Those advising indie authors in the blogosphere frequently stress the importance of ‘professionally designed’ covers in marketing a book, suggesting indie authors compare theirs with those of high-selling print-published books in their genre, and there are both awards for good covers in the online indie community. Yet while it is very common that as readers we use the way a book looks to assess its genre, content, style and potential for quality, the conversation above implies that while this Continue reading

The Story So Far…

The last few months since the first allonymbooks blog was published has been a period of slow but distinctive change in the arena of independently published books. British book chain Waterstones have embraced the technological shifts by stocking Kindles in their stores, though still show no sign of having the capacity to embrace the indie book market. A leading British newspaper, The Guardian, has begun to publish reviews of indie books, though some work is still to be done by them to define how they can most effectively explore that category of published material without getting ensnared in some preconceptions about the quality and content of the books they will be reviewing.

And allonymbooks has become part of an ever-expanding debate about quality, process, benefits, pricing and promotion of indie books, joining with other authors to challenge assumptions about how these books and their authors should be received and considered by the readership and the publishing marketplace.

So what have we learned?

All fur coat and no undergarments?

A non-publishing acquaintance said the other day they were in awe of how much wordage allonymbooks had generated in the process of publishing and promoting Evie Woolmore’s books. On the contrary, however, in terms of the unfettered stream of tweets and posts emitted by other authors, allonymbooks has been rather mute in comparison, Continue reading