Tag Archives: book categories

Changing the Label

Covers1-4CompositeI’ve been re-reading Seventh Son and Cat and Mouse, the print copies, no less. It’s been long enough that I can look at them with fresh eyes and a little bit of distance. (In the case of Checkmate, I’ve gone over it so many times in the last months that I have it practically memorised, and you know what they say about familiarity and contempt. I still find it hard to wrap my head around the fact that these characters, whom I’ve lived with for more than a year now, are still total strangers to you – you haven’t even met Rhitha yet, when she’s been a reality to me for so long… Well, just another four days, and you’ll get to know her!)

So, in re-reading the books, I’m seeing them a little bit differently. I’m spotting the odd tiny inconsistencies here and there that had escaped me before (and I’m not telling you what they are; you’ll have to find them for yourself. If you don’t, so much the better). And one of the things I’m rethinking about this series is its designation.

I’ve previously loudly protested that Seventh Son is not a YA novel. Cat (the main character) is 28 years old; she’s an adult, not a “young adult” (aka “teenager”, which is what YA translates to in book business parlance). However, when I first published the book, readers kept thinking it was a YA. One friend said it sounded like the books his daughters brought home from the high school library; several real-life teens read it and said they liked it; and I repeatedly got the label “sweet” for it. I was starting to react a bit (okay, a lot) to that epithet – “sweet” can have an undertone of “nauseating” (although, to be fair, none of the people who used that label for my books meant it in that way at all – that’s purely my own reaction to it). But I’m starting to come around to accepting that word, and, furthermore, changing my mind about the label that would fit the Septimus Series best.

It’s not only that Seventh Son is a “sweet romance” without “adult content”. The further along I get in the series, the more young characters keep popping up. Seventh Son is about adults in their late 20’s (and a small child). But Cat and Mouse prominently features a couple of young teen boys. Checkmate‘s main protagonist is an 11-year-old girl. And Star Bright, which is in the works, is centred around an 18-year-old guy fresh out of high school. Kids proliferate, and the more the series grows, the more we get inside their heads. Cat is still always one of the point-of-view characters, but we get to hear more and more from young people. I can’t help it, they’re asking to be written!

I figure I might as well admit to it: the Septimus Series is a YA series. I wrote (am writing) these books to suit myself – they’re books I would enjoy reading (actually, at the risk of sounding conceited, I am enjoying reading them. It’s a very satisfying thing when you like your own work. Much as I like my own cooking, which my waistline can attest to). I’m not a “young adult” by any stretch of the imagination; all the grey on my head would prove the contrary, were I inclined to argue the point. But I love books about kids (small or big), or traditionally classified as being for kids – many of my favourites come from the YA and JF (Junior Fiction) shelves of the library. In fact, I practically never browse the “General Fiction” shelves; it’s either YA, JF, MYS (Mystery) or SF&F (Science Fiction & Fantasy). So I suppose it’s no accident my own writing falls into these categories.

So, I’m changing the label. If you’re going to suggest the Septimus Series for purchase at your local library (please do!), mark it as a YA, so it comes to the attention of the right librarian and lands on the right shelf. And then forget about the sticker on it, and just read the books for enjoyment. What’s in a name? A series, by any other name, reads just as well…

Life, the Universe, and a new label. Just four more days to Checkmate!

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Filed under Cat and Mouse, Checkmate, Seventh Son, The Septimus Series, writing

Cosy Fantasy – Or Is It Cozy?

SeventhSon_CVR_XSML I have a problem with my books: Seventh Son and Cat and Mouse, I don’t know what genre to stick them in.

People ask me what kind of books they are, and I usually say “fantasy” – but then I always feel compelled to qualify: “Well, it’s light fantasy,” or “It’s kind of a romance,” or “It doesn’t have any orcs in it.” Because, you see, when someone classifies a book or movie as “fantasy”, what is the first thing that comes to mind? For me, and I suspect for most people, it’s Tolkien. Well, he did start the whole thing, really. Yes, yes, I know about George Macdonald’s Phantastes and that there were other fantasy writers before Tolkien. But he is the one who made the genre popular and who is unfailingly copied. Fantasy fiction, for the most part, means pointy-eared elves, vicious-looking orcs, and pseudo-medieval knights in more-or-less-shiny armour. There has to be at least one sorcerer and plenty of swords, and a dragon or other mythical creature is pretty much mandatory – that’s the essence of “fantasy”.

But my stories haven’t got any of that. Not a single pointy-eared person in sight. To date, in Ruph nobody even owns a sword, let alone has drawn it; and as for dragons, they’re mentioned once, in Chapter 6 of Cat and Mouse, but only in passing, when Cat is wondering if they’re real or just as mythical as in our own world (the jury is still out – Nikor, the librarian, thinks they might exist, but he doesn’t really care, as long as he has a good way of shelving the books about them).

So, the Septimus series is definitely not classic fantasy (nor epic, nor high, nor whatever other flattering epithet one might bestow on Tolkienesque fiction). So what is it? Well, there’s romance, in the first couple of books at least. But, then again, the books aren’t “romances”, either. No ripped bodices, heaving bosoms, or lust in the dust (nor anywhere else, for that matter); no perpetual belly-aching about “he loves me, he loves me not”; not even the high-class tension-filled relationship dance of an Elizabeth and a Mr Darcy – this is not “boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, boy has to overcome obstacles to get girl, boy gets girl”. Not that there’s anything wrong with that storyline (I lurv me a good romance) – but Seventh Son and Cat and Mouse don’t really run along those tracks.

They aren’t fantasy. They aren’t romance. I’ve also had readers comment that Seventh Son feels like a Young Adult novel – but Cat is twenty-eight, hardly your typical YA teen protagonist. So, really, not YA either (which is at best a somewhat controversial category, anyway – is a YA a book for teens, or about teens? Just like the Ruphian dragons, the jury is still out on that one). And then there’s mystery in those stories, but nobody dies (or at least not mysteriously), and Cat is not a Ruphian equivalent of a gum-shoed, pipe-smoking and/or mustachioed sleuth who has to figure out whodunnit. So not mystery, either.

CatMouse_CVR_XSMLBut what to call them? Because really, the Septimus books are fantasy. And they are romance, and mystery. Just not your typical example of either of those genres. And when I thought about how to describe these stories, a term popped into my mind: Cosy Fantasy.

You see, one of my favourite genres to read is Cosy Mysteries. You know, Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy Sayers (to name just three of the queens of the genre): mystery novels which usually deal with a limited cast of characters (often in the typical English country house setting), have very little violence (and what there is of it, usually happens off-stage), and above all, focus on people and their relationships.

And that’s exactly what the Septimus series is like – but in a fantasy setting. So I coined this phrase, Cosy Fantasy, to describe my books – and then I found out that I’m by no means the only one who has come up with that descriptor for this kind of stories. Goodreads, for one, has whole lists of books that fit into that category (which is exactly where I’m going to go next time I’m looking for a good new read).

But here’s another snag: how to spell it? Is is Cosy Fantasy, or Cozy Fantasy? Goodreads, again, has two lists, one under each spelling – and they’re different lists. I have a feeling the Cosy Fantasies are the British ones, and the Cozy ones the American-published. Yet another dilemma – I’m publishing my books in Canada, though US venues (Amazon, Createspace and Smashwords), with British spelling… Cosy, or Cozy?

I think for the time being, I’ll stick with Cosy, to go with the rest of my spelling. But if you would rather cosy up with Seventh Son and Cat and Mouse under the name of Cozy Fantasies, please do.

Life, the Universe, and Cosy Fantasies. All that matters is that you enjoy them.

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Filed under Cat and Mouse, Seventh Son, The Septimus Series, writing