Wednesday, May 12, 2010

What Kind of Book Have You Written?

This is probably the most common question I get asked right after people ask what I do. Or when my friends, sick to death of my tireless self-promotion, ask with feigned shock, “You wrote a book?!?” That just never stops being funny, you loveable bunch of jackasses…

In general, people want a short, understandable answer when they ask what a book is about. If I was writing about cowboys, for example, they’d want me to say, “It’s a western.” If I wrote space battles and stories about meeting aliens, they’d want, “It’s kind of like Star Trek.” Or they want a hybrid example, combining two things that heretofore haven’t been combined in a memorable way. Like if I wrote a zombie thriller set in the Old West, I could say it’s like Tombstone meets Dawn of the Dead.  Unfortunately, I’m not very good at defining my own work in these terms. When I try, I usually come off as a prick. For example, I once told someone that my first book is like a cross between Laurell K. Hamilton’s Guilty Pleasures and Cormac McCarthy’s The Borders Trilogy. Yeah, see what I mean? Really prickish…just writing it makes me want to kick my own ass.

I could just say my book is about dragons—since they are the focus of my main series; the word Dragon is even part of the series title!—but that doesn’t really do the trick. Sure, my book is about dragons, but so are a lot of books: everything from children’s books to erotica. When most people hear that your book is about dragons, they assume you’re writing traditional fantasy. Not that I have anything against that genre, but it isn’t what I write. There are many fine authors who do; I’m just not one of them.

I could tell them it’s a love story, but that makes it sound like a romance novel. Again, nothing against that genre, it just isn’t what I’ve written. Yes, there is romance in the books, especially the first one, but the focus of the story is much bigger than that. I could say it has vampires in it, but then they think I’m writing a vampire book. Yes, there are vampires, as well as other monsters like demons and werebeasts, as well as sorcery and so on, but they are just part of the whole world I’ve created for my books—a parallel world that, on the surface, looks just like ours but contains far more than we know about. That is the essence of writing fantasy, but the contemporary setting takes it out of the traditional fantasy genre. So I could say it’s an urban fantasy, but not everyone knows what that means.

In short, when asked what my book is about, I tell them they are about dragons and other supernatural creatures who hide among humans, and a young woman who gets introduced to their world by accident when she falls in love with a dragon. Sometimes I mention the vampires, but only in reference to them getting their asses kicked by the dragons, or that they operate like criminals instead of aristocrats as in a lot of other vampire stories. I’m not putting down anyone’s work, I’m just pointing out how mine is different.

Sometimes I put attention on the action aspects of my book, if it seems like that is what the potential reader asking would like. Usually, younger male readers get more excited about the action elements of the book: the dragons fighting vampires, dragons fighting other dragons, etc. A lot of female readers like this aspect as well, but they also enjoy the romantic element: Meg and Garrett are established as a couple on the first page of the book, so it’s no mystery that they are going to get together, and that eventually Garrett will reveal himself as a dragon. The story that unfolds is how she deals with falling in love with someone who isn’t human, has never been human, and has a very faint idea of how to even act like a human or handle a relationship with an adult woman. The idea of a man being in love with a woman but having absolutely no idea how to act as a result is something with which most women can identify.

I sometimes get asked if there is sex in the book. Yes, there is sex in the book. The whole book isn’t sex-sex-sex, but there are a couple of love scenes: one big one and a few smaller ones scattered about. There isn’t as much sex as there is violence, but I rarely get asked about just the violence. I don’t know if people are just more afraid of reading the sex than the violence, or if they just really want a book full of sex. Either way, the book is written for adults so the violence is described with the same level of detail and color as the sex. It’s just how I write, and most people who have read it appreciate that. I’ve only had one person say they didn’t like the sex, and another who said there wasn’t enough of it. I figure I can’t make everyone like the book, so just write it the way I want.

And that’s what I do: I write the kind of book I would like to read. I try not to imitate anyone else and write what I think is a good story. And that’s what I tell people when they ask what kind of book it is. I say, “It’s the kind of book you could imagine me reading and really enjoying.” Take what you know about me, and pretend someone wrote a book for him. That’s what kind of book I have written. I hope a lot of you like it, too.