Content Genres and Identity Genres

Kitten 'Little Stranger' in my cowboy boot.

Kitten ‘Little Stranger’ in my cowboy boot.

Today let’s have a little talk about genres. There are two kinds— content genres and identity genres. Each has slightly different rules, and the wise writer— or reader— will know about both kinds.

Content Genres

When you go to a bookstore, if they still have bookstores where you live, you see the genre signs— mystery, science fiction and fantasy, romance. These are all examples of content genres. Let’s take mystery as an example. When you pick up a book marked ‘mystery’, you expect certain things. There will be a crime— nearly always a murder— and there will be some unknown factors about this murder that need to be discovered. These unknown factors could be the identity of the murderer, the method used, or the motives behind the murder.

Another thing we expect from a book marked ‘mystery’ is that the mystery parts of the plot will be central to the story. If most of the book is taken up with the main character finding her One True Love, and the murder mystery comes in a distant second, we would call that a romance novel with mystery elements, not a mystery. If the focus of the book is on the main character’s adventures to other planets in a starship, and the murder mystery is secondary, we’d call that book science fiction with mystery elements, not a mystery.

With a content genre, the content is all we expect. We don’t demand that a science fiction author be a scientist or an astronaut. We don’t expect that all mystery writers are cops or forensic pathologists or serial killers. And we don’t think that romance writers need to have been married at least 10 times.

Identity Genres

The identity genre is a different kettle of lentils (I’m not in the mood for fish today). Think of going to a university (make it a good one, not one that’s gone all Marxist and weird), and taking literature classes. You might find a class studying fiction by women writers, or by black writers. Women’s fiction and black fiction are identity genres, though they are not standard publishing genres that have their own section in all bookstores.

One identity genre that has its own publishing houses is Gay and Lesbian fiction. There is no requirement in this genre for a specific degree of gay content. What is required is that the author identifies as Gay and/or Lesbian. Of course many of the publishing houses in this category also expect that the main characters in novels they publish be Gay/Lesbian. But fans of this type of fiction would accept it if their favorite Gay/Lesbian author wrote a book— or a series— centered on one or more straight characters.

Christian fiction is another identity genre. There is no required amount of Christian content— J. R. R. Tolkien is widely accepted as a Christian fantasy writer (except by those who deny that Catholics are Christians) even though there is no overt Christian content in Lord of the Rings. But what is required is that the author be a practicing Christian.

There are unsung identity genres. Back when I was a Neopagan, I sought out authors that were rumored to be Neopagan or Wiccan, or authors who included Pagan themes in an approving way that made me suspect they had Pagan connections. Even though there was no official Neopagan/Wiccan fiction genre, enough people were reading it and writing it that it constituted a small identity genre.

Likewise, these days there is an emerging category of Conservative/Libertarian fiction for those with these political views. Although it’s not a bookstore category, people with conservative and/or libertarian values are sharing the names of sympathetic authors, for when they need a break from the standard Progressive values of mainstream fiction today.

Identity genres can be misunderstood. People might think of the identity genres they don’t approve of as an attempt to ‘discriminate’ against male authors or straight authors or atheist authors, since their works are not included in women’s, Gay/Lesbian, or Christian fiction.

But what the identity genre reader is really looking for is the comfort of reading something by a member of their own group, that understands aspects of their life that mainstream authors might know nothing about. In the more counter-cultural type of identity genres, it also gives the reader a rare rest from fiction that insults or misrepresents their group— such as the vast number of mainstream novels where Christians are only present as evil, hateful villains.

Content and Identity Genres and the Writer

Most how-to-write books mention the importance of a new writer knowing which (content) genre(s) they will be writing in, and understanding those genres. Lawrence Block even gives a program for researching a (content) genre.

But I’ve never heard any advice for writers on the importance of making the most of your identity genre(s). So I will give some myself. Right here. Right now.

The thing about an identity genre is that readers of such genres are extremely loyal to their favorite authors. They also give authors in their identity genre an extra chance that authors wouldn’t normally get. For example, a Christian reader who wouldn’t finish a mainstream book that starts off with a boring first chapter will likely slog through the boring first two chapters of a book by a Christian author, out of solidarity. The same applies to an atheist reader and author or a Lesbian reader and author.

Think for a moment about your different identities— your ethnicity and nationality, your gender, your political affiliation, your religious affiliation. These identities are your way of connecting with potential readers with the same identity. So don’t hide these things.

Sometimes, of course, your collection of identities can be weird. Here are some of my identities: Christian (Catholic) and faithful to the Bible & Church teachings, person with Asperger Syndrome, rural person, woman, and Lesbian (of the chaste variety due to identity #1).  Certainly most readers of Lesbian fiction will spew verbal poison at me over the Christian thing (it happens a lot on my Traditional Marriage Facebook page). And a few Christian readers will be deeply suspicious of me. Then again, some people would actually be attracted to that combination.

 

Scrivener: Name Generator Tool

NameGeneratorScrivenerOne of the features of the Scrivener writing software I’ve been using a lot lately is the name generator. I’ve used it to come up with character names like Alisz Masurien and Aharon Brotman for my WIP.

I’m a very name-conscious writer. I’ve collected name books in English and German, and have made a list of Korean names from the Korean dramas I used to watch. So you’d think I wouldn’t get much good out of randomly generated names. But for all but the most major characters, I find this tool useful.

You can select the ethnic origin of the first and last names, and whether it’s a male or female name. It gives you a list of 10 (or more) names, and you can add the names with possibilities to a shortlist.

One warning— I don’t think you can trust this tool entirely. It can come up with some pretty odd combinations that I suspect (or know) are unrealistic. It can mix old-fashioned names with über-trendy new names, and if you don’t know the culture involved you might not suspect.

This is what to do about that: make a list of 3-5 name possibilities, and then Google each name, and also Google to find reliable name information. For example, if you want a French name, seek out some good French name websites. If an Israeli name, try Israeli name web sites. If you find your last name and first name on sites like this and no one is saying ‘no one would name their kid this’, it’s probably a good name.

Another good use of the name generator is to create temporary names for minor characters. If you keep a notepad by your computer (you should), you can note down the generated name, a hint about the character it’s attached to, and then when you have time you can research a better name.

Have you ever used a name generator to create character names? How did it work for you? What other methods do you use to create character names?

Low-Carb Mini-Crullers (Doughnuts)

LCdoughnuts2When I first started living on my own,  one of my favorite things to bake was cream puffs. It was a reasonably simple recipe involving eggs, water, butter and flour. I made cream puffs as a snack. Sometimes I put onion powder in the batter to make them like onion rolls. (Never onion salt since salt would stop it from poofing up.) I’ve since discovered that the dough for the cream puff recipe is the same as that used in French crullers, a kind of doughnut I love.

CreamPuffs

Now that I’m low-carb, the flour in the cream puffs are off-limits. So I sought a flour-substitute. On the internet I found a recipe for ‘Splendid Low-Carb Bake Mix’ that might do the trick.

Splendid Low-Carb Bake Mix

1   and 2/3 cup ground almonds (almond flour)

2/3 cup vanilla whey protein powder (sugar-free, low-carb brand), or plain whey protein powder

2/3 cup vital wheat gluten

Mix ingredients well, store in airtight container at room temperature. 1/3 cup has 3.3 carbs, 14.3 protein, 10.3 g fate, and 162.9 calories.

LCdoughnutsSo, I tried the recipe today. I made 1/3 of a batch to test it out. It turned out to be more of a batter than a dough using the low-carb flour substitute. And it didn’t poof out very much at all. Also, I probably should have baked it longer. I was worried it would burn since the mini-doughnut pan put the dough in smaller portions. (In the original cream puff recipe, 1/3 of a batch would be 2 cream puffs.)

Nissa’s Low-Carb Mini-Crullers

Just less than 3 tablespoons butter (2 T plus 1/2 T plus 1/3 T)

1/3 cup water

1/3 cup flour substitute (Splendid Low-Carb Bake Mix in this case)

1 egg

Add butter to water in saucepan. When butter is melted, add flour-substitute all at once and stir vigorously until mixture no longer sticks to the sides of pan. (Doesn’t happen with the bake mix I used.) Remove from stove, cool slightly. Add egg and beat.

Preheat oven to 450 F. Put batter in mini-doughnut pan (available from Amazon.com). You could also use a muffin pan and make 2 cream puffs. Bake 20 minutes at 450 F, then reduce to 325 F and bake 20 more minutes. (I reduced the time to 10 min at each temp because of small size of mini-doughnuts.) Remove from baking sheet and cool, sprinkle with Splenda or other low-carb sweetener if desired.

So, that’s my current version of mini-crullers. In my next experiment I may try 1/2 baking mix and 1/2 vital wheat gluten to see if that will make it poof better. Also I think I filled the slots of the pan a touch too full. Next time I’ll try less.

I should note that even though the mini-crullers didn’t turn out quite like I hoped, I ate half the batch and am very tempted right now to finish off the rest instead of finishing this blog post. I should also note, for those who didn’t catch it— the Splendid Low-Carb Bake Mix contains vital wheat gluten and thus is NOT gluten-free, so if you have a health condition for which gluten is a problem, you’ll have to try something else.

SettlementCookBookThis is the cookbook the original cream puff recipe came from. My mother got this cook book around 1947. She gave it to me around 1980. It’s my go-to cookbook when trying to cook weird things like lamb’s liver or salsify. I also used it to concoct a blintz recipe I posted earlier in this blog.

OTHER NEWS: Yesterday I started a new Facebook page called ‘Sci-Fi, Fantasy and the Christian Faith’. I thought it would be of interest to the many Christian sci-fi and fantasy authors I know and their fans. It’s at https://www.facebook.com/ChristianSFF2 if you are interested.

I’ve also started work on the first (I hope) novel in a series set on the planet Erileth (a planet I’ve been developing for years). Main character in this adventure is Niko Alden from the planet Terranova. He’s handsome, an interplanetary hero… and he’s Gay. His mission will be to establish a Terranovan base on Erileth, fight off spies and agents from the totalitarian Soviet government of Terraprima, and he’ll also be dealing with coming to faith in Christ. I figure this story should be kryptonite (or antimatter) to any publisher, Christian or secular, that I’ve ever heard of, so it’s probably going to be self-published. Which means I’m going to have to design my own sucky book cover.

Fiction with a Moral Compass

compass2We need more fiction with a moral compass. Not moralizing fiction, not, necessarily, fiction with a moral dilemma at the center of the plot. But, simply, fiction with a moral compass— a sense of right and wrong.

We have been living for some decades now with a publishing culture that rewards fiction without a moral compass. Think back to the advent of ‘bodice ripper’ romance novels. These novels were the first mainstream romance novels to feature explicit sex scenes that went on for several pages. In order to maintain the tradition at the time that the heroine was a pure-minded ‘good girl’, the storyline often included a rape— hence the name ‘bodice ripper’. In one historical novel of this type that I read as a teen, the romantic hero was a ship’s captain who got drunk in port and sent his men out to get him a prostitute. He failed to notice that the girl they brought him was a frightened ‘good girl’ until he’d taken her virginity.  In spite of the ‘accidental’ rape and a resulting pregnancy, the two ended up happily in love.

The ‘bodice rippers’ in their day were shocking and got attention for it. Now books must be far worse to garner such attention— such as the Dexter novels, featuring a serial killer as the first person narrator. But it’s OK for Dexter to indulge his desire to murder, because Dexter was raised by a cop and trained to kill only bad men who’d managed not to get caught by the police.

Fiction without a moral compass may be meant for entertainment purposes only, but it can have a negative effect on the moral values of impressionable readers. Young men who read the ‘hot parts’ of a bodice ripper may have gotten the idea that rape wasn’t so bad if you were a clean and handsome fellow, that women secretly fantasized about being raped and would accept it from a man they were attracted to. Readers of ‘Dexter’ might conclude that murder isn’t so bad if the murder victim wasn’t a nice guy.

Fiction with a moral compass can include characters who do immoral things. In some cases, characters who do immoral things and think those things are OK. But the authors of such fiction provide us with a fictional world in which there are moral absolutes, and if a character does wrong without thinking it’s wrong, it’s likely that some respected character will know that something wrong has been done and will convey it to the reader.

To write fiction with a moral compass, one must know the moral laws. In Western civilization, the Judeo-Christian Ten Commandments have been a starting point when talking about the moral law. Catechisms of various religious bodies have expanded on the teaching of the Ten Commandments to cover more of the moral law than the Commandments explicitly mention. I remember reading a book which took place in rural Sweden about a century ago. The farming family felt under moral obligation to teach not only their children, but their servant girl, the Lutheran catechism. At that point in history and for some time thereafter, nearly everyone felt that young persons needed such moral teachings to become responsible members of society when adults.

Today, on the other hand, the school systems are occupied by those who would punish a child for mentioning the Ten Commandments in an essay, but insist that the children rebel against traditional moral teachings in certain areas of life. This is particularly intense in modern sex education, which often has the result of making the children believe that it is not possible to resist one’s sexual urges and so therefore teen sex is not a moral issue so long as ‘protection’ is used.

Many of us also lack the traditional religious education that an older generation received. When I was a child in the Sixties, the Presbyterian church we attended had 1 hour of Sunday school classes for all ages year-round. In addition there was a catechism class that my brother and I went to for a while. Now, the Presbyterian church my mother attends has Sunday school only for children, and only during the hour of the worship service. The children attend part of the service and then are dismissed to the Sunday school. The Sunday school also does not meet in summer. One wonders how well this abbreviated religious education can do in teaching children their Commandments and the moral law. And a great many more children these days don’t even get an abbreviated religious education.

It is of course not required that one be religious to have a moral compass. People who were raised in a Judeo-Christian religion and then left their faith tend to hang on to most of the moral values they were taught. Often they feel challenged to prove that they can be decent people without religion. The problem arises when you have people who never were taught the moral law, and who, being without religious belief, tend to dismiss mention of moral laws as part of a religious system they have rejected. Such people can all too easily that it’s OK to lie or to steal if they feel they have a good reason to do so.

Step one of learning to have a moral compass in your fiction is to improve your knowledge of the moral law. In C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, there is a section called ‘Christian Behaviour’ which deals with the moral law in a thoughtful, intelligent way. It is worthwhile reading for the moral-compass-fiction writer of any faith. After this you may seek out other worthwhile books on the moral law from a variety of points-of-view.

Question: are there any storylines possible in fiction that you feel are too immoral/amoral for you to write or to read? For example, suppose you had an idea for a novel in which a racist serial killer was the first-person narrator, and thus was given plenty of scope to explain why he thought his murders were morally OK. Suppose further that the novel was to include no contrasting character with better moral values, and that the killer was never to be confronted with the fact that his deeds were evil. Would you write a book like that, or read it? Why or why not?

 

Darkover: Do the Cristoforos know about Christ?

AltonGiftThis is a post about Darkover, a fictional world created by author Marion Zimmer Bradley and written about by other authors in Darkover anthologies and collaborations. Darkover is one of my Special Interests (something people with Asperger Syndrome get) and right now it’s one of the intense Special Interests.

Recently I re-read The Alton Gift, a 2007 Darkover book written by Deborah J. Ross based on MZB’s ideas about Darkover.  And a passage within the book gave me cause to wonder— do the cristoforos of Darkover know about Christ, or only about St. Christopher, whom they call ‘the bearer of burdens’?

This passage has Lew Alton, a guest at the cristoforo monastery in Nevarsin, talking with the head of the monastery, Fr. Conn. The topic of their conversation is forgiveness. Lew is suffering guilt because of his use of the Alton telepathic Gift, which is the gift of force telepathic rapport. Since the first rule of Darkovan telepathy is ‘enter no one’s mind unwilling’, any use of that Gift would seem to be a violation.

Lew asks in despair ‘Where in this world or the next is there any forgiveness for me?’ This would be a perfect opening, if Fr. Conn were a Christian, to talk about Christ and the cross and Christ’s atoning death. If the cristoforos have a valid priesthood and the Catholic sacraments, the sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession/Absolution) would also come into play.

But instead Fr. Conn says ‘each man must discover the path to atonement for himself,’ and suggests that Lew Alton pray, not to God or specifically to Jesus Christ, but to the Bearer of Burdens, Saint Christopher.

Now, in orthodox/traditional Catholicism it is indeed kosher to address saints in prayer— but we are asking for their intercession. In other words, it’s ‘dear Saint Christopher, please pray to God for me that I be relieved of my burden of guilt.’ Not, ‘dear Saint Christopher from your own inherent God-like powers grant me relief from guilt.’ That second would be blasphemy to any Christian.

You may be asking, what difference does it make? Well, the difference is this: without knowledge of Christ, the cristoforos are not a branch of the Christian faith, but a mere cargo cult which happens to have Christian trappings. And given the high emphasis in all the Darkover novels on the Bearer of Burdens as the center of cristoforo faith, the cargo cult becomes unhappily likely. They do not even seem to know that the original ‘burden’ borne by Saint Christopher was the Christ-child!

Since I became a Christian and later joined the Catholic Church, I do like to think of the cristoforos as a legitimate branch of Catholicism. Perhaps, since the rediscovery of Darkover, even one in contact with Rome. There are some hints that the Darkovans seem to think the cristoforos and the Catholics in the Terran Empire are part of the same faith. But why would the cristoforos be so hesitant to speak about Christ?

Persecution might be one answer. If the cristoforos had been taught, generation after generation, to keep their mouths firmly shut when it came to the essential matters of their faith, that the Hastur-cult that the comyn, the telepathic ruling caste, followed would not brook the rivalry of an actively evangelizing cristoforo faith, it might be reasonable that the cristoforos tried to portray their faith as a harmless monastic cult concerned with education and devoted not to a god but to an obscure human saint. The secularist-inclined authors of Darkover might not even think of a situation like this as oppression but as a rational measure to keep the Bad Old Christians from oppressing the Hastur-cultists.

Another answer has nothing to do with the world of Darkover but with the inhibitions of modern-day secular fiction writers— even secular fiction writers who happen to be Christians. There is a taboo against explicitly talking about Jesus Christ, about the atoning work of the Cross, and about personal salvation and accepting Christ. Even Christian writers who write for Christian publishers might not include this explicitly lest it make their work too ‘preachy’.

So it may be that MZB— who was certainly rebelling against many Christian teachings during her Darkover-writing years— did not mention Christ in connection with the cristoforos, but did have an understanding that the cristoforos would have believed in Christ, written down what was remembered from the Gospels, baptized, and perhaps had the Eucharist. She may have simply felt that it ‘wasn’t done’ to explicitly mention these things.

I take a hopeful view on the cristoforos. If they are in fact Christians and not cargo-cultists, they are the entryway for Christians like me into the world of Darkover. They make Darkover a much more comfortable place than those science-fictional worlds in which Christianity, it is plainly stated, no longer exists, or exists only in the persons of crazy fanatics whose belief-system does not seem to include the essentials of Christianity.

 

Real Conservatives don’t Demonize Welfare Mothers

mother-on-welfare-300x297Recently I mistakenly ‘liked’ a supposedly conservative Facebook page, only to find posts which spoke about ‘welfare mothers’ in ‘that tone’. Honestly, I thought the conservative movement had outgrown that years ago, back when we started getting serious about prolife.

Poor women who accept government benefits are not the enemy. True conservatives know that, because most of them have had experience with helping out poor women, if only through donating imperishable food through their church to the local food pantry.

The thing conservatives love about welfare mothers is this: they didn’t choose to kill their children by abortion, even that’s what society pressures them to do. Welfare mothers are the heroines of the prolife movement.

It’s better when poor women can find jobs good enough that they no longer qualify for government aid. But at a time when good jobs are hard to find, many poor mothers won’t make it. Other poor mothers are restricted because they may have special needs children who claim a large share of their time that could otherwise go to working. It’s cheaper for the government to have the mother give this extra care than to provide a specialized caregiver at a high wage to let the mother go to work at a low wage! Plus, the mother cares more and may enhance her child’s chances of becoming a productive adult.

Some people imagine folks with Food Stamp benefits eating steak and lobster dinners every night. Not true. Food Stamp benefits are low enough that it’s hard to feed yourself and your family for a month on them without cutting in to the money that ought to be saved for rent, electricity bills, and laundry detergent. Food Stamp benefits do not go up when the price of food skyrockets. In fact, they may fluctuate downward for no apparent reason.

Some people look at pictures of fat poor people from the inner city and say ‘those people aren’t missing any meals! They aren’t going hungry’. But they are. Poor people eat cheap food, which is mostly starch— ramen noodles, macaroni and cheese, Rice-a-roni, Hamburger Helper without the hamburger, microwave popcorn (yes, it’s a meal). Starchy foods— high carbohydrate foods— make you fat. They also make you hungry, since they cause your blood sugar to shoot up quickly and then crash down again. So people eat more, if there is anything available— usually more cheap starchy food for the Food Stamp recipient.

Poor people may not often literally starve to death on the streets, but they develop diseases related to the poor-people diet, including type-2 diabetes, which can kill you if you don’t take care of yourself. Poor people cannot afford the good diet that would be involved in taking care of themselves.

Conservatives have compassion for the poor and are the chief donors to charities that provide real aid to the poor. They are far less likely to try to mobilize the poor for their own political benefit than the other side is, however. You go eat a meal at a soup kitchen founded by conservative Christians, they are NOT going to demand that you sign up to vote Republican or participate in an anti-Obama rally.

Ignorant people who drag out that tired-old ‘welfare queen’ stereotype are not helping the conservative cause. Not only that, they are actively opposing the prolife cause, since part of the anti-welfare-queen dogma is that every poor woman is morally obliged to use contraceptive/abortifacient birth control pills/IUDs, with surgical abortion for a backup. (Since young people are usually poor at first— even if college grads— this means that if this rule is followed, most folks will never have kids because by the time they can afford it, they are no longer fertile. Resulting in a worker shortage which wouldn’t be good for the economy.)

So let’s all be real conservatives and help out the poor women on welfare. Give to the food banks. Support employment training programs for the poor, especially ones run by private citizens and not clueless government agencies. And let those welfare-queen falsehoods die a natural death.

Asperger Syndrome and Blog Commenting Anxiety

IM001173As a person with Asperger Syndrome my blog is my safe place in the wilds of the internet. I can post what I like, and if people want to bully me, harass me or insult me in the comments section, I just won’t approve their comments.

But I want my blog to be read. And so I participate in blog hops, which requires me to do something scary— comment on the blogs of strangers.

My Asperger Syndrome makes it very difficult to initiate contact with other human beings. I have a deep-seated fear I will just annoy them. My life experiences have shown me that no one is eager to be my friend, or even to communicate with me when it’s in their interest to do so. And commenting on a strange blog is a form of initiating contact.

Initiating contact is so much harder when you are afraid everyone will respond with hostility or indifference because you are a weird Aspie and don’t function like normal people. The tendency is to withdraw from others so you won’t be hurt any more. But I have to force myself to take the risk because I want the blog to succeed.

Before yesterday’s IWSG blog hop, I had been trying to comment on 3 blogs a day— often blogs I knew already. Yesterday, I made a total of 17 comments, nearly all on blogs I’ve never seen before.

The interesting thing is this— when you are making mass numbers of blog comments, it’s a bit easier than when you are only doing a tiny number. So I’m planning to continue down the IWSG list today, and make 10-12 comments today.

Will any of the people whose blogs I comment on rush out to read my blog? Probably not. But some may come to comment once in return. And in the technological magic that is the internet, perhaps that raises my blog’s profile. I don’t know.

My goal is to find some people who enjoy reading the sort of things I write about. Is that possible when I’m a weird Aspie who doesn’t write like a normal person? I don’t know. But maybe someone will come here for the kitten pictures and get hooked.

Like this blog? Visit my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/NissaAnnakindt

Question: Do you find commenting on new blogs easy or stressful? How many blogs do you comment on during a typical day? How many blogs do you think you SHOULD comment on?