Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Interview with Author Kelsie Engen

On May 31st, our friends in the Just-Us League will publish their fifth anthology A Bit of Magic: A Collection of Fairy Tale Retellings.
The oldest story can be made new again, changed and altered until it is reimagined and restored.
Pride interferes with happily-ever-afters: a proud princess is tested and tests the prince in return; a young thief is caught red-handed and must make amends; and a vain queen struggles to save her stepdaughter.
Finding love is not a simple task: a hero searches for the ideal magical bride; an innocent librarian is charmed by a man with a menacing secret; a queen takes a spoiled prince as her sole deckhand; and a well-intentioned princess seeks to make things right with her father.
Change causes chaos, for better or worse: a scheming cat seeks to better the lot of his daydreaming master; a cursed pirate captain is given a second chance when he finds a young stowaway; a spoiled teenager suffers the consequences of turning her best friend into a toad; and a thief and a rebel hiding secrets meet at a ball.
Follow these characters on their journeys as eleven magical tales are turned on their heads and seen from new perspectives.

To celebrate its release, we’d like to welcome one of the writers featured in A Bit of Magic, Kelsie Engen, author of “The Scarred Shepherdess”:

What inspired your retelling?

The tale that inspired my retelling was “The Dirty Shepherdess”. (Ugh, that almost seems like the title for an erotic fairy tale or something.) But it was the tale itself that stuck out to me. It has so much promise, but then it suffers from that fairy tale syndrome of being far too short with underdeveloped characters that have the potential to stand out—but then just falls into the category of unremembered fairy tales. So I decided to try my hand at it. And I found it more challenging than I imagined.

What made you choose the fairy tale you did?

The tale of “The Dirty Shepherdess” is classic fairy tale—but not a very well known one. A princess is exiled from court—by her father—over a misunderstanding. She then lives as a shepherdess until she meets a prince, who falls in love with her—at first sight of course—and they end up with their happily ever after. I love classic fairy tales. There's something reassuring about the standard of them, how you can be confident that everything works out for the good and that the characters learn their lesson. “The Dirty Shepherdess” is no different. But...I also wanted to change that fairy tale. So I chose it to retell.

Did you stick closely to the fairy tale you rewrote?

Yes and no. The first thing was I knew I couldn't keep that title! But I also set my version in a fantasy world that I created for the fairy tale inspired series I'm working on. So the story naturally had to be adjusted for that, but there are also some more subtle differences. I found the King's sudden desire to know how much his children loved him a little too random and threw some magic in there, but I also changed the story from insta-love to something deeper. There are a couple of other changes as well, but I won't bore you. But overall, yes, my tale follows the original rather more closely than many retellings.

What was the hardest part of writing it?

I had a difficult time with the pacing. I tend to write long stories—short stories are a big challenge for me. So when I began this tale, I originally started the story a lot earlier than where it starts now. But a critique partner pointed out how I could start much later and that worked out to be the key for fixing most of the problems I was having with it. Although it was a bummer to cut that opening scene, as I did like it... But that's the author life. You write a lot of words that don't make it past the cutting room floor.

What is your favorite thing about your retelling?

I really enjoyed the main characters, Clara and Albus. It's also quite fun to write these stories as backstory to my Canens Chronicles series. I've never written fantasy before starting this series, and while I'm far from publishing it at the moment, writing prequels (far distant prequels in this case) is a really fun and challenging exercise. It's also helped me a great deal with my world building and developing the countries that I haven't explored as much in my series yet.

What short stories have you participated thus far in the JL anthologies, and how did this experience differ from your previous JLA stories?

I've written two other short stories for JL anthologies: the first, a retelling of “Snow White and Rose Red” (“The Bear in the Forest”), the second, “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” (“Three Nights”). This tale continues Clara's story, who is one of the sisters in “Three Nights”, although not the protagonist. It was surprisingly fun to take her out of that story and plunk her down into a new fairy tale. So fun that I might just have to do it again sometime.

Do you prefer a happy ending, and did that affect how you wrote your story?

It depends entirely upon the story. Usually, if it's a romantic fairy tale, I'll expect the happy ending. But really, it depends upon the way the story is told. Some stories and some characters don't deserve or earn a happy ending, and I'm okay if the ending is unhappy or ambiguous. (Just don't set me up for a happy ending and then deny me!) I don't think that it affected how I wrote my story in this case, but I certainly did make changes to the romance here. I didn't like the insta-love in the original, and so I chose to give my characters more of a relationship.

How long have you been writing?

Since about 5th grade, so...twenty years? Wow. But 5th grade was when I was given a class assignment to write a short story, which I promptly turned into a novel. It began my torrid love affair with writing. But I didn't seriously start pursuing writing and learning how to write well until about seven or eight years ago—something I don't regret. I only regret not taking my writing seriously long ago.

What is the best writing tip you could give to aspiring authors?

Write, write, and write some more. My biggest regret is not taking my writing seriously and all but abandoning it for several years during which I finished my schooling. (Not that school isn't important, mind you!) But I wish I had been continuing with my writing and taking it more seriously at the same time. Just the practice of writing—even if it's utter crap you'll never dare show another person—makes you grow and develop as a writer. So keep writing, and don't worry about the quality of it, because the more you write, the more your quality will improve. Just keep writing.

What projects are you working on now?

I am working on a fairy-tale inspired series called the Canens Chronicles. The tales encompassed in it are “Snow White”, “Cinderella”, and “Sleeping Beauty”, with “Snow White” being the overarching tale tying them all together. I'm having so much fun with it, but the series aspect is challenging me, as I'm used to writing standalone novels. I am also working on a women's fiction/contemporary novel called Broken Time, which tells the story of widowed wife of a police officer who struggles to move on since her husband's ambush style murder. It's not as dark as it sounds, but there's not a hint of a fairy tale in it, either!

Thank you so much for your time, Kelsie! And readers, don’t forget to order your copy of A Bit of Magic, available in ebook or paperback on Amazon.

Kelsie Engen grew up in North Pole, Alaska, and currently lives a short distance away in Fairbanks, Alaska, where the winters are harsh and isolating, but devastatingly beautiful. She is a wife, mother, writer, editor, and scone baker. In her spare time she trains for half-marathons she never runs. She finds inspiration in both the frigid winters and the endless summer nights in the Land of the Midnight Sun. She writes both women's fiction and fairy tales.
While her works can be found on Amazon and other online retailers, she can be found at www.KelsieEngenAuthor.com and on Instagram @KelsieEngen, or hunched over her laptop in the wee hours of the morning, trying frantically to write some words before the children awake.

Find her on Twitter @KelsieEngen or Facebook.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Feminine Genres: Women’s Fiction

What is women’s fiction? What separates it from other female dominated genres?
B. C. Marine, CAO Authors 4 Authors Publishing
Three weeks ago, I compared romance, erotica, and women’s fiction. Today, Iet’s take a deeper look at women’s fiction.

How we define it

Like it’s sister genres of romance and erotica, women’s fiction can mean different things depending on context. Contrary to its most obvious meaning, women’s fiction is not merely fiction written by women. Female authors write in every genre imaginable, which would render such a definition useless for categorizing stories. And while most writers in the genre are women, there are male authors of women’s fiction. So what is it then?
It’s about a personal and emotional journey.
The stories are introspective and driven by the protagonist’s character growth. Unlike romance and erotica, which focus on a set of lovers, women’s fiction focuses on the journey of a woman as an individual. Relationships with lovers, family, and friends are vital to that journey, but her character arc takes precedence.
Isn’t that a lot like literary or upmarket fiction?
It is! In fact, there is a good amount of overlap between them. And like literary and upmarket fiction, women’s fiction is a popular genre for book clubs. They provide readers with plenty of discussion topics as their readers relate the protagonist’s journey to their own.
What about Chick Lit?
Chick lit is a subgenre of women’s fiction with lighter subject matter and page counts. It’s important to note that the term is considered derogatory by some people. Even the necessity women’s fiction in general as a label is debated in writers’ circles. Because no equivalent genres exist for men, many argue that putting women’s fiction in a special category implies that the rest of fiction belongs to men. For now, both women’s fiction and chick lit have endured as genres, but depending on who you discuss them with, be prepared for some strong opinions on the role of sexism in literature.

Common Themes

Women’s fiction covers a broad range of themes related to women’s emotional journeys. Here are a few examples:
  • Love and loss - The protagonist has a short-term relationship that teaches her something about herself.
  • Mother-daughter relationships - She discovers something about her mother that repairs or enhances the bond between them and possibly make the protagonist a better mother herself.
  • Friendship - She goes through a dark or trying event in her life and pulls though with the support of loyal friends.
  • Cultural memoirs - The protagonist endures life in a highly misogynistic society.

Conclusion


Women’s fiction is an abstract and controversial genre. Do you read women’s fiction? Should it be a distinct genre? Let us know on our Facebook page or comment down below!

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Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Feminine Genres: Erotica

What is erotica, and how are classic and modern erotica different?
B. C. Marine, CAO Authors 4 Authors Publishing
Two weeks ago, I compared romance, erotica, and women’s fiction. Today, Iet’s take a deeper look at erotica.

What is it?

Like romance, erotica can have different meanings depending on the context. The classical or academic definition is a work of art or literature devoted to sexual arousal or desire. For the purposes of fiction genres, this is too broad to be of any practical use. How do we narrow it down?
Racy content
An erotic story doesn’t just have sex in it. It has explicit, graphic sexual content—and not just mainstream sex: at least one fetish is typically involved. But many stories in other genres have intense or unusual sex scenes, so...

The sex drives the story in erotica.

Here’s a simple litmus test. If you remove all the sex scenes in a story, does it still have a plot? A lone sex scene, no matter how raunchy, is unlikely to qualify a whole novel as erotic. This article from RT Book Reviews puts it succinctly: “A general rule of thumb, however, is that if it's sex driving the story? It's erotica, or erotic <insert subgenre here>. If it's the story driving the sex? It's probably something else.”

Is it porn?

Yes and no. It’s a topic of debate.
Much of what is on the market today is unabashed written pornography. But some of it, especially older works, have higher artistic aspirations. In his lifetime, Walt Whitman was infamous for his erotic poetry, but today, his work is celebrated for its literary merits.

Why do people read it?

Sex sells, obviously, but…
If it’s porn, why the written form?
For the same reason people still read fantasy novels even though movies with good special effects now exist: many find the act of reading to be a more immersive experience for them. And since few real life experiences are more immersive than sex, it makes sense that people would want to combine it with reading.

If it’s art, why sex?

Art is about exploring all parts of humanity. While the details differ from person to person, some level of sexuality is an almost universal experience for adults, even if the experience is simply desire.

Conclusion


Erotica is a popular but controversial genre. What are your thoughts about it? Is it porn or art? Let us know on our Facebook page or leave a comment below!

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Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Feminine Genres: Romance

What makes a story a romance, and what isn’t romance?

B. C. Marine, CAO Authors 4 Authors Publishing
Last week, I compared romance, erotica, and women’s fiction. Today, Iet’s take a deeper look at romance.

All You Need Is Love (and a Happily-Ever-After)

Romance can refer to many different things in different contexts, but in the world of modern fiction, the genre has a specific meaning. A romance is a love story, primarily focused on the emotional journey of the relationship ending with a happily-ever-after (HEA).
Isn’t that predictable?
The draw of romance is the journey, not the destination. It’s the characters that get readers to turn the page. What will they do to get their HEA?
Also, the two requirements for the genre, though rigid, are the only requirements. Within those parameters, anything goes. There are romance subgenres for every genre in literature, and just like in the real world, the stories of how couples come together can be as diverse as the people in them. Just a few examples of romantic premises:
  • Friends realize affection for each other but are afraid of ruining their friendship
  • Characters meet and hit it off but the timing is always wrong
  • Characters meet and instantly hate each other but slowly realize they were wrong
  • Lovers are on opposite sides of a feud or war
Doesn’t that include every story that ends with a happy couple?
Not at all. Many, many stories feature a romantic subplot, but they are just that: subplots. In romance, the relationship must be the focus of the story.
But what about tragic love stories?
They aren’t romances by modern fiction standards. Most tragic or bittersweet love stories are best classified as drama or woman’s fiction. Classics like Romeo and Juliet or Wuthering Heights would not be classified as romances; most likely they would be considered dramas. Love stories which end with the woman choosing to be alone are usually women’s fiction.
For stories that would be in a subgenre if they qualified as romance, they are simply categorized in the corresponding main genre. So instead of historical romance, Gone With the Wind is historical fiction.
What about series?
In a book series, you can’t exactly have a complete HEA before the last book because there needs to be enough conflict left for book two (or three, or four…). With an ongoing series, individual titles may end with happily-for-now (HFN) instead. Both HEA and HFN are optimistic and satisfying, but HFN either leaves a minor plot thread unfinished, places the characters in circumstances that can easily change. Characters may end a book by successfully navigating a relationship stage, leaving them explore the next phases in the rest of the series.

Sex Sells (Sometimes)

Romances are not “bodice-rippers” (mostly). It’s true that there are many steamy romances and even the subgenre of erotic romance, but they don’t represent the entire genre. It’s a wide spectrum from sweet to erotic, and even those at the steamier end could take umbrage with that term. Why? For one, it’s derogatory, so that’s a bit rude. Two, it’s specific type of plot involving a non-consensual relationship evolving into a consensual one, which is just one of the many possible plots (and not a common one in recent years).
So what level of sexual content can you find in romance? Anything, really. You can find an in depth description of content levels in our guide, but these are a few examples:
Sweet (11+ or 14+ by our system)
These are chaste stories. There is no sex, and kisses tend to be brief, if they occur at all. Many inspirational romances fall in this category, although sweet romances are not by any means inherently religious or spiritual.
Sensual (17+)
The lovers consummate their union, but descriptions are metaphorical, and sexual encounters are infrequent in the story. Kisses receive much of the focus and are more intense than in sweet romances.
Steamy (S)
Sex is described in more graphic terms, but the acts themselves are mainstream. Encounters are more frequent.
Erotic (XS)
Sex is integral to the story with frequent encounters throughout. Descriptions are graphic and often involves a kink or fetish. This differs from erotica in that the relationship is still the main focus of story despite the sex being an important facet of it.

Conclusion


Romance is a diverse but well defined genre. What are your favorite romance plots or tropes? Let us know on our Facebook page or leave a comment below!

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