Switching Gears Between Genres
By Gail Z. Martin
This year, I’ve had three new books—epic fantasy (War of Shadows), urban fantasy (Vendetta—coming in December) and co-authored with my husband, Larry N. Martin, steampunk (Iron & Blood). We’ve also co-authored two sci-fi stories for anthologies and three additional stories for anthologies that were steampunk/superhero and steampunk/Weird West, and I’ve done other short stories in my urban fantasy and epic fantasy worlds for other anthologies and for the four different series of short stories/novellas that we publish on our own.
That’s a whole lot of genre gear-switching!
At first, I was a little nervous about changing back and forth among genres. I’ll admit it gets a bit hectic when we’re handling editorial comments on two manuscripts simultaneously (in two different genres) while writing a third manuscript (in another genre) and occasionally taking a few days off to write a short story for an anthology (sometimes for a fourth genre). It can be a little like being on a long trip with tours in many cities—an ‘if this is Tuesday, this must be Belgium’ syndrome for fiction. It’s Monday—remind me again which series I’m working on?
But the truth was, while things got a little hectic with overlapping deadlines, it wasn’t hard to keep everything else straight. Maybe that’s because the sense of place is so strong for me in the stories that I know where I am once I get my mind back into the action, or perhaps it’s because the characters are so grounded in their ‘when and where’ for me that the flow of thoughts just picks back up naturally. I can honestly say there was never any confusion about who was where doing what!
What does differ—sometimes dramatically—is the pacing, the voice and the humor. Epic fantasy is generous about leaving an author room to build a whole new, complex world. There still needs to be lots of action, but there’s more space to set things up because you’re talking about huge battles and big armies and plots to overthrow kingdoms. Epic fantasy is almost always third-person viewpoint, so the characters’ voices come through more clearly than when you have an author/narrator. And the humorous touches are generally rarer. Epic fantasy can be thrilling, heroic and action-packed, but it tends to be rather serious stuff. Research differed among genres also, since with a medieval setting, there’s a lot of fact-checking on weapons, modes of warfare, and other details necessary for believable, immersive world-building.
With urban fantasy, it’s almost always first-person viewpoint, and usually set in the modern world. There’s plenty of action, and you can get into the heart of the plot faster because the world is mostly familiar since it’s the real world with a twist. Because of the first person viewpoint, there’s a more conversational style, since you’re in the protagonist’s head. That requires a strong character voice, which leaves openings for more humor. The feel of the whole book is colored by that first person viewpoint character, because the reader sees the world and all the action through that character’s eyes. Research for urban fantasy tended for us to focus on the geographic location of the story—in this case, Charleston, SC—and historical information related to the plot. Since the story is set in modern-day Charleston, some of that research involved visiting and walking around, something only partly possible via proxy with epic fantasy (although a trip that involved touring a lot of castles and fortresses helped a lot).
Steampunk, at least for us, has the pacing of a Bruce Willis action movie but with airships. We made it a challenge to shoot something or blow something up in every chapter, and I think we succeeded. We also went for a cheeky sense of humor, even when the going gets tough and seriously bad stuff starts to happen. The gadgets and steam-powered technology were an important part, as was the alternative history world-building, but we wanted the pacing of a thriller along with snappy repartee. Research for Steampunk focused not only on the geographic location and its history (in this case, alternative history Pittsburgh in 1898) but also details about inventions, patents and technology.
There were similar challenges on the science fiction and superhero short stories, with variations in tone, viewpoint character voice, world-building, genre conventions and types of research. That’s what made it challenging to accept the prompts for the anthologies, and rewarding when the stories came together.
It helped a lot to have read widely in all of the genres we worked in, to have a feel for how some of the bestselling authors and stories have spun their tales. You can learn a lot in this business by analyzing what works well (or doesn’t) in books by other authors, and by being mindful of your own reactions as a reader when you’re in the midst of being carried away by a good book. Then you take what you’ve learned and put it to use in your own writing.
At times, with all that going on, an author’s head feels pretty crowded. But I was very happy to come away with three books with three distinctly different styles, as well as short stories in two additional genres we felt held up to the expectations of those settings. And all that gear-shifting and genre-swapping feels like it’s here to stay.
My Days of the Dead blog tour runs through October 31 with never-before-seen cover art, brand new excerpts from upcoming books and recent short stories, interviews, guest blog posts, giveaways and more! Plus, I’ll be including extra excerpt links for my stories and for books by author friends of mine. You’ve got to visit the participating sites to get the goodies, just like Trick or Treat! Details here: www.AscendantKingdoms.com
Book swag is the new Trick-or-Treat! Grab your envelope of book swag awesomeness from me & 10 authors http://on.fb.me/1h4rIIe
Trick or Treat! Excerpt from my new urban fantasy novel Vendetta set in my Deadly Curiosities world here http://bit.ly/1ZXCPVS
Launches Dec. 29
Read an excerpt from Resurrection Day, one our Storm & Fury Steampunk stories set in the world of Iron & Blood http://bit.ly/1QTmbRf
Days Of The Dead Trick Or Treat Double-Dragon Publishing sampler #2http://www.double-dragon-ebooks.com/sample/DDPSAMPLE002.mobi
Treats not Tricks! An excerpt from When Dragons Sleephttp://www.darkoakpress.com/dragonssleep.html
More Halloween goodies! Catch this excerpt from Realms Of Imagination http://www.darkoakpress.com/realms.html
About the Author
Gail Z. Martin is the author of the upcoming novel Vendetta: A Deadly Curiosities Novel
in her urban fantasy series set in Charleston, SC (Dec. 2015, Solaris Books) as well as the epic fantasy novel Shadow and Flame
(March, 2016 Orbit Books) which is the fourth and final book in the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga. Shadowed Path, an anthology of Jonmarc Vahanian short stories set in the world of The Summoner
, debuts from Solaris books in June, 2016.
Other books include The Jake Desmet Adventures
a new Steampunk series (Solaris Books) co-authored with Larry N. Martin as well as Ice Forged, Reign of Ash and War of Shadows in The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga, The Chronicles of The Necromancer series (The Summoner
, The Blood King
, Dark Haven
, Dark Lady’s Chosen
) from Solaris Books and The Fallen Kings Cycle (The Sworn, The Dread) from Orbit Books and the urban fantasy novel Deadly Curiosities
from Solaris Books.
Gail writes four series of ebook short stories: The Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures
, The Deadly Curiosities Adventures
, The King’s Convicts
series, and together with Larry N. Martin, The Storm and Fury Adventures
. Her work has appeared in over 20 US/UK anthologies. Newest anthologies include: The Big Bad 2
, Athena’s Daughters
, Realms of Imagination
, With Great Power
, and (co-authored with Larry N. Martin) Space
, Contact Light
, The Weird Wild West
, The Side of Good/The Side of Evil
, Alien Artifacts
, Clockwork Universe: Steampunk vs. Aliens
blog and GhostInTheMachinePodcast.com
Free excerpts, Wattpad http://wattpad.com/GailZMartin