3 Questions for My Readers (and the story behind why I’m asking)

Survey is now closed.

This is going to sound pretty strange, but I have recently discovered that I have no clue what it is about my fiction that readers like…

And I’m a lot less certain I understand what kind of fiction I write than I was up until yesterday.

Here’s where I discovered how little I actually know about my own fiction. My daughter and I did a podcast episode on Writing to Market VS. Selling Out, in which I humorously described how I have managed to spend a thirty-plus year writing career (so far) not realizing I was a genre contrarian, and that being a genre contrarian was making it really difficult for me to connect with my readers.

Followed by the discussion in the private podcast forum… (If you’re interested, create a free account, then go here… Episode 37: Writing to Market VS Selling Out – Discussion )… in which one reader mentioned that she didn’t read a lot of my books because she had a hard time with the horror.

Here’s the quote (with her name redacted) and my posted response:

=====
MEMBER said: Personally there are many of Holly’s books I don’t read because I don’t read Horror.

MY reply to her: Here’s the thing that stopped me cold in reading your post.

 

I thought, “I’ve never written horror…”

 

Followed by thinking through what’s in my Cadence Drake novels — genetically engineered vampires and the piles of dead with which they decorated their spaceships. And thought… Oh. I just thought of it as kind of dark science fiction, though certainly not the darkest I’ve ever read.

 

And then thought, How did I miss the fact that my first SF novel has horror in it…

 

And then I remembered where I got my worldview. 

 

Going hunting and fishing with my father from the time I was six, helping my father clean our kills, helping my mother cook them, enjoying eating them. I am not squeamish, a fact that served me well in my first career as a nurse.

 

Alaska in the children’s home when I was nine, where one boy ran away, fleeing out onto the tundra. He was never found. In the part of Alaska where we lived, the population density was about .0001 people per square mile. There were thousands of square miles of uninhabited tundra in all directions from us, rivers and lakes and sinkholes.

 

Being grabbed from behind and felt up by a perv at a Costa Rican bus stop when I was late-fourteen, turning and attacking him — in six-inch platform high heels with my umbrella held like a sword, filled with crazy blood rage, chasing him with the absolute intent of killing him when I caught him — with zero chance of catching him.

 

Guatemala in 1975/76 during its civil war, seeing boys my age (I was fifteen when we lived there) being marched into the back of a truck at gunpoint — the method by which the Guatemalan army conscripted soldiers. Round them up, shove them into a truck, shoot the ones who try to escape. (I did not see anyone get shot the day I was watching that truck, those soldiers, and those kids, and trying to understand what was going on.)

 

Guatemala again, walking with my family past the ruins of a magnificent old cathedral near the mission where we lived. It had collapsed in an earthquake maybe a hundred years earlier. The front was decorated with a long line of head-high freshly blood-stained bullet holes.

 

The emergency room where I walked in to work one morning and found both of our code rooms stacked with bodies after a drunk who’d been driving all his MANY friends home in the back of his pickup truck hit a tree at — best guess from the sheriff — eighty miles an hour.

 

Two young kids — 8 and 10 years old — who we coded for over an hour after a tragic accident that had happened while they were playing outside. Neither survived. They were their divorced parents’ only children.

 

And a long, long list of other real-life horrors and tragedies in Alaska, Costa Rica, Guatemala as a kid, and then in the ER, in the ICU, in Med-Surg.

 

And then even when I was writing full-time, discovering by returning some of my mother’s things to her house (about a mile from mine) after a falling out that my parents and sister no longer lived there… that they had moved away without saying goodbye or telling us they were going, or even where they were going. And having my then-nine-year-old kid try to kill himself because he thought the shitty thing they did was his fault….

 

And. And. And. There’s so much more. But here’s my point…

 

I see horror as “supernatural clowns pulling kids down gutter drains, and haunted cars eating people.”

 

In my mind, I never wrote a word of horror. I just translated what I’d seen in the real world into realistic but well-disguised background for my fiction. And even when Becky and I were doing this episode, I did not include horror in my description of what I’d written in Hunting the Corrigan’s Blood, because I didn’t think it had any horror in it.

 

And now I’m wondering if any of my other books have horror in them.

 

None of us see the world the same way, and my default setting is a combination of “Survive to Operate” and “don’t look away, don’t excuse, and don’t forget.” My world view is broad, real-world, and dark.

 

Nonetheless, I bounce out of bed every morning thrilled to be alive because I get to write fiction and nonfiction, get to be with my guys, get to talk to my other kids (a lot of days, anyway), get to play with my goofy cat…

 

And the odds of me having to do CPR on someone or intubate someone or watch someone I fought like hell to save die anyway, or live through my own or anyone else’s real-world horror are — on any given day — pretty low. Especially compared to what those odds used to be.

 

But from the responses to this episode, I have discovered that I do not understand my own fiction or its contents as well as I thought I did. So I’m going to be sending out a tiny questionnaire to the readers on my list, asking them to show me what they love about my fiction, and why, and what they hate (or avoid), and why.

 

I need to see how people who consider themselves my readers interpret what I do — because none of us see the world the same way, and I’m guessing the way I see it is pretty strange even for a science fiction/fantasy/suspense writer. (And accidental committer of horror.)

===== So… reader of mine…

If you’re still reading, here’s what I would greatly appreciate from you: The answers (in as much detail as you wish to give) to three questions.

Just cut and paste the following questions into a REPLY to this post, and tell me…

———

  • What do you specifically love about what you find in my fiction, and why — and what genre(s) would you call the parts you like?
  • What do you try to avoid in my fiction, and why — and what genre(s) would you call the parts you avoid?
  • What ONE other writer do you read who gives you what you love most about my fiction without giving you what you try to avoid in my fiction?  (With a link to your favorite book by that reader if you’re willing to recommend him or her.)

———

I’ve got some studying, and thinking, and rethinking to do, and if you’re willing to help me figure out what I need to do to make my fiction better for YOU, I’m grateful. If you got this far, thank you for reading this very long email. And if you’re willing to answer those three questions for me, I’ll use the email linked to your reply to send you a personal download link to a story of mine that fits what you like and avoids what you hate.

With the acknowledgement that in some cases, I might have to write that story first. So you may not get your link immediately.

Holly

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About the author: Novelist, writing teacher, on a mission to reprint my out-of-print books and self-publish my new ones.

13 comments… add one
  • Holly Mar 21, 2019 @ 13:21

    My thanks to everyone who answered here, on the podcast forum, and via email

    As of THURSDAY, MAR 21, 2019 at 1 PM ET, the survey is CLOSED.

    I’m not adding replies sent after that. I have more than a hundred in-depth replies, and I’m putting all the pieces I have together, and figuring out how to use is to reach other folks who will like my work.

  • Lucinda Mar 21, 2019 @ 12:18

    What do you specifically love about what you find in my fiction, and why — and what genre(s) would you call the parts you like?

    The first thing to know about me is that I am eclectic in my tastes. That means that my favorite genre today might not be my fav tomorrow. I do tend to be drawn to SF, Horror, Mystery, and Paranormal a little more. What I love about your stories is that you have a way of bringing the story to life. Yes, I love your world building, but you also have a way with making your characters live. The first fiction book of yours I bought was “Midnight Rain.” You had posted the first chapters and, after reading them, I had to buy the book to find out what happened.

    What do you try to avoid in my fiction, and why — and what genre(s) would you call the parts you avoid?

    I haven’t found anything in your stories that would bother me to the point that I would avoid them. Yes, they do get a little dark sometimes, but as a horror fan that doesn’t faze me. There has only been one book I couldn’t finish. That was “Duma Key” by Stephen King.

    What ONE other writer do you read who gives you what you love most about my fiction without giving you what you try to avoid in my fiction? (With a link to your favorite book by that reader if you’re willing to recommend him or her.) Since I haven’t found anything of yours that causes problems for me, I can’t answer that one. In the horror genre, I would say that I like most of Stephen King and I love Dean Koontz’s stories. In SF, off the top of my head, Anne McCaffrey and Piers Anthony’s stories have been good for me.

    • Holly Mar 21, 2019 @ 13:17

      Thank you very much for helping me out. I really appreciate it, Lucinda.

  • Amy I Mar 21, 2019 @ 11:49

    Hi Holly,

    To answer your questions:

    1) I’ve always thought one thing that makes your writing stand out (in a good way), is the twinge of horror that shows up in many of your books (Hunting the Corrigan’s Blood, Glenraven, Bones of the Past). I’m not a horror reader, I love science fiction and fantasy, but you add that creepy/scary factor in just the right amount, so it enhances the story and main genre, by invoking primal emotions and giving us an antagonist we can’t forget. It’s one of my favorite things about your writing style.

    2) I don’t avoid any of your fiction. I’ve read and very much enjoyed all of it.

    3) Sara King is an author I also love reading, who I think your writing is similar to in many ways:

    — You both write across genres: science fiction, fantasy, urban fantasy
    — You both write strong character-driven stories, full of unexpected elements, fun dialog, clever twists, and high stakes

    I would say there is somewhat more quirkiness and humor in Sara King’s books, but you bring the scary a little more. I totally enjoy both of your writing styles, so would read anything and everything by either one of you. 🙂

    Fortune’s Rising is a great book to start with from Sara King’s collection: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01FZKDVCS/

    • Holly Mar 21, 2019 @ 13:00

      Thank you so much for the comments, which are very helpful, and the writer recommendation. I have not yet seen Sara King’s name in any of the survey response (but I’m only about halfway through the replies). So that’s a brand new direction in which to look, and I’m grateful.

  • BJ Steeves Mar 16, 2019 @ 12:21

    I hope this is of some help:

    1) What do you specifically love about what you find in my fiction, and why — and what genre(s) would you call the parts you like?

    A1) I would classify your Cadence Drake novels as science fiction with some horror mixed in.

    Your other novels such as your Secret Texts and World Gates series I would classify as fantasy, with a mix of some horror. The Korre novels are also fantasy, horror and erotic too.

    All your novels have some romance in them, as in life, characters have feelings which brings the characters alive.

    My favorite reads are, and always has been, science fiction and fantasy. I also like good horror too.

    2) What do you try to avoid in my fiction, and why — and what genre(s) would you call the parts you avoid?

    A2) I love all you novels. I tend to shy away from the romance stories. But if I had to label parts of your novel, the romance parts are my least favorite. I am still on the fence on the erotic parts.

    3) What ONE other writer do you read who gives you what you love most about my fiction without giving you what you try to avoid in my fiction? (With a link to your favorite book by that reader if you’re willing to recommend him or her.)

    A3) For “pure” science fiction, almost any of Asimov’s Foundation series and Robot novels. For fantasy, Tolkien’s Lord of the Ring series. Horror, Stephen King’s Christine.

    • Holly Mar 18, 2019 @ 16:38

      Thank you so much, BJ. I really appreciate your help.

  • LBG Mar 16, 2019 @ 8:36

    I can’t answer your questions as specifically as you’d like, as it’s been many many years since I’ve read your books. I do, however, have a comment reading your books and horror:

    As a Young Adult / Teen reader many years ago, the place where I found horror in your books were in the beginning chapter(chapters?) of Bones of the Past. The trees still stick out in my mind as being well and truly supernaturally scary. Maybe by the time I had read Hunting the Corrigan’s Blood, I’d got over that – or maybe the vampires in space genre-bending just weirded me out more at the time than the set dressing.

    • Holly Mar 18, 2019 @ 16:32

      Thank you very much. I really appreciate the feedback.

  • Cindy Clark Mar 15, 2019 @ 22:18

    What do you specifically love about what you find in my fiction, and why — and what genre(s) would you call the parts you like?

    I love the worldbuilding in your story. I still remember how much I loved Diplomacy of Wolves. And Vincalis the Agitator I remember waiting for the local bookstore to get this book in. I think I was always drawn to your fantasy and your magic systems.

    What do you try to avoid in my fiction, and why — and what genre(s) would you call the parts you avoid?

    I haven’t read any of your SF yet, because I started with your fantasy ones and just barely in the last few years started reading SF.

    What ONE other writer do you read who gives you what you love most about my fiction without giving you what you try to avoid in my fiction? (With a link to your favorite book by that reader if you’re willing to recommend him or her.)

    Tamora Peirce: All her books. I do love fantasy.

    The Cainsville Series Kelley Armstrong I was very surprised with this series its very light urban fantasy mystery.

    Mercy Thompson books by Patricia Briggs It’s a great Urban fantasy with a really fun world building.

    Charley Davidson Book by Darynda Jones are also a great urban fantasy, with really fun world building.

    What’s drawn me to SF now is the Red Rising series by Pierce Brown – I sadly wasn’t too interested in book four of the series, but one through three are great.

    I hope I answered the questions right!

    • Holly Mar 18, 2019 @ 16:33

      You cannot answer them wrong. Everything you put in front of me gives me a different perspective on what I write, and lets me explore possible directions I can take with the existing books, and with future work.

      Thank you so much.

  • Erin Mar 15, 2019 @ 17:57

    Hi Holly! That’s a really interesting blog post, and something I had not considered; thank you for sharing. Here are my off-the-cuff answers:

    1) What do you specifically love about what you find in my fiction, and why — and what genre(s) would you call the parts you like?

    I hadn’t considered that your writing might be horror either; to me, it’s always read as sci-fi or fantasy depending on the series. Sometimes it gets dark, yes, and sometimes it’s scary, but it’s not what I would call horror. The thing I love most about your fiction is that your writing has a very specific flavor to it, because of the way you blend fantasy/sci-fi with elements of reality. There are all these interesting fantastical ideas flying around, but the way the people behave and the way the worldbuilding works it all feels… grounded? Solid? There’s a heft to it that makes it plausible to me on a level so deep it’s only semi-conscious – it feels real, probably for the reasons you outlined in your reply above. In short, I’m pretty sure that what I love about it is exactly what caused that other reader to call it horror. Hah, oh well!

    2) What do you try to avoid in my fiction, and why — and what genre(s) would you call the parts you avoid?

    Can’t speak to your romance writing, but I don’t really avoid any parts of your sci-fi/fantasy fiction. I always tense up a little when an author starts tackling gender identity, because I have trans friends and [gestures at the state of the world] these days I’m primed to be sharply wary of the ways people handle that topic in their defense, so that is the only topic I might have been at risk of avoiding, but the way you handled it in Longview let me wind back down / reassured me that I don’t have to worry so much or feel the need to avoid it going forward. That’s been nice.

    3) What ONE other writer do you read who gives you what you love most about my fiction without giving you what you try to avoid in my fiction? (With a link to your favorite book by that reader if you’re willing to recommend him or her.)

    N/A – once upon a time I might have said Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson, but the blend of fantasy-and-realism in that isn’t the same flavor as yours, and the rest of his books are further off. While other authors adjust their fantasy-realism blends in ways I enjoy, I can’t think of any authors offhand who have a particularly similar feel to yours. Your writing is distinctive.

    Hope this helps!

    • Holly Mar 18, 2019 @ 16:37

      This was tremendously helpful — and I’m very glad the gender stuff worked for you. It’s an area that matters a lot to me. Don’t want to make it the point of the stories, but do want to show a universe in which folks of all genders, races, and philosophies actually work together toward the world they all want to save.

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