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I just got an email from Amazon with a list of editors picks of 2012 ‘Romance’. I thought it was pretty funny that they included Gunmetal Magic on the list. I know it has some romance in it, but do you consider it a ‘Romance’ genre book? I didn’t really think Steels Edge was Romance either, although the cover makes it clear it wants to be. That’s it. Thanks for being a writer!
A classic romance is a book where relationship between people falling in love is the primary conflict of the book. If you were to remove the love plot line, the book would fall apart. Gunmetal Magic isn’t a classic romance; it’s an urban fantasy with a strong romantic element. If Andrea and Raphael didn’t get together, the book still could stand on the strength of the mystery plot line. That said, I really like what Neil Gaiman said in this post.
Once you’ve written a book, it belongs to everyone, and they are all allowed to have opinions, and the spectrum of opinions is the spectrum of humanity.
The post was about responding or rather not responding to criticism, but I want to quote it for a slightly different purpose. We read books for different reasons and our needs and opinions are as varied as we are. There are people who read our books primarily for paranormal mystery and action aspect. The romance is there and they don’t mind it, but it’s not the main draw. There are people who read our books primarily for romance. They are the ones who sit there impatiently flipping the pages for the next part with Kate and Curran. For them, a book works or fails on the basis of the romantic arc.
It so happened that Gunmetal Magic mostly worked for both types of readers, And that’s why I am not going to tell anyone what category to put it in. We wrote it, it’s out there, and now it’s yours. If you like it and call it romance, I am flattered. If you like it and call it fantasy, I am flattered. If you didn’t like it, I’m sorry it didn’t work for you.
This next question is somewhat related to the first, although it doesn’t seem so at first glance.
One of my favourite parts about reading all of your books is the level of detail paid to seemingly small things, especially to the fantasy and/or sf portions that doesn’t exist in our everyday world. For example, the colors and their meaning with an m-scanner, the ene-ribbon, and all the info in the creature guide. My question is, how do you decide how much is too much and when should you add more? Also where do you look to for inspiration to flush out these ideas?
It happens organically. The colors of m-scanner came from having the need for a simple diagnostic tool and we thought that colors would be an easy way to understand the results. Blue for human + red for undeath = purple vampire. The ene-ribbon was born because the Meli needed an elegant, but easily concealed weapon that could be used as a precision tool or as means of group murder.
The level of detail depends on manipulating the feelings of the theoretical reader. Detail creates atmosphere and mood. It also offers a bridge to the character.
If you read the passage about fractals in Gunmetal Magic, you will likely find it to be confusing. The amount of information is almost overwhelming. We did this because we wanted the reader to feel somewhat overwhelmed, just like Andrea did. Andrea wants simple answers to complicated questions.
If the scene is meant to demonstrate competence of the character as he or she are investigating a crime, the level of detail increases a little, because we want to convey to the reader that this is a competent person capable of obtaining information. If the scene calls for chaos, as in battle for example, the level of detail decreases. Andrea is a gun fanatic and her evaluation of a firearm will be different from Kate’s, whose expert opinion would likely amount to, “It’s a gun and it shoots many bullets very fast.”
I try not to give writing advice, because I’ve learned over the years that unless I have a long time to carefully explain exactly what I mean people take my advice and attempt to kill their writing with it. But here are a few common sense strategies that work for us.
1) Give the reader just enough information to understand the narrative. No more. I have eight books on Egyptian mythology. I’ve read big chunks from most of them. But the reader doesn’t need to know all that; the reader needs just enough to understand the story. If they develop an interest, they can continue the journey on their own.
2) Spending a lot of time and giving a lot of detail signals to the reader that this particular passage is important. A character finds a key at a murder scene. I spend two paragraphs describing the key in great detail. That means that sometime later the reader will expect the character to do something with this key.
3) If the stakes are dire, the detail is greater. If a character wakes up in a dark bedroom because he heard a noise, I will describe every single noise, scent and movement second by second, because I’m trying to drop the reader into that dark bedroom where something scary is rustling under the bed.
I find that with detail, as with humor, and with romance, timing and contrast are the key. For example, one of the funniest moments for everyone was Kate using Ghastek’s vampire as a hole puncher. It’s funny because it is preceded by a serious discussion and against that narrative the joke sings. If Kate and Ghastek traded witty jokes for two pages prior, the impact of the funny would be lost.
With science fiction and fantasy, contrast creates a short moment of the sense-of-wonder. Having an advanced artificial intelligence run your household is awesome, but its power and potential is best demonstrated when a character asks it how to make a stir-fry.
Just as well, with romance, if Curran showed up on every page, his impact would be diminished. We want the readers to have that moment of “Haha! I can’t believe he showed up! OMG, he did not just say that.”
In conclusion, I will leave you with this awesome example of contrast and timing.