Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Two Women Chat About Genre by Julie Dolcemachio and Shelly Fredman

Julie Dolcemaschio and Shelly Fredman met for the first time when Julie was looking for a school for her oldest son. She walked into Shelly’s 2nd grade classroom and she was sold. It wasn’t long before they became personal friends outside of school. They share a love of writing, good food, and a sense of humor. That Shelly also was, and still is, one of the ‘villiagers’ responsible for the success of Julie’s two boys (one entering middle school in the fall, the other off to Oberlin College) is icing on the cake. They often collaborate on scene structure and character development over sweet breakfasts and too much coffee. The rumor that John Testarossa and Brandy Alexander are in love is strictly fantasy—the authors’, mostly.

Photo by Alexis Rhone Fancher
Julie Dolcemaschio is an author and a poet. She has written several books of poetry, and has had her work published in literary journals.

She is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and The Los Angeles Writers and Poets Collective.

Her crime novel, TESTAROSSA, was published by Krill Press in May 2010.

She is currently working on a romance novel. Her research is extensive and time-consuming. 

Julie lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two children. 

Twitter AuthorJulieD

Shelly Fredman is a native Philadelphian who long dreamed to be Mrs. Illya Kuryakin from The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Having failed to reach that lofty goal, she switched her affections to fictional characters and situations that she could control with the stroke of her keyboard. This quest for power resulted in The No Such Thing As...Brandy Alexander Mysteries.

Shelly and Brandy share feeling of pride in their hometown, and even though Shelly has moved to the west coast, she has always been, and forever will be, a Philly girl at heart.

No Such Thing as a Secret, published in 2005

No Such Thing as a Good Blind Date, published in 2006

No Such Thing as a Free Lunch, published in 2008

No Such Thing as a Free Ride, published in 2010

Julie Dolcemachio and Shelly Fredman

JD: I’ve known you forever, it seems, and we’ve lived not only this parent-teacher relationship, but we’re also writers. When Kaye offered up an opportunity for a ‘chat’ here on her blog, I thought of you immediately. We get together about once every six weeks for breakfast, and we talk about our work, and sometimes we talk about kids, but it’s really the work that has bound us together. We talked recently about genre, and getting boxed in to a certain one. It can be frustrating at times.

SF: Yeah. I’ve felt lately like I’m getting boxed into a genre because I’m forced to pick one, so that potential readers know what to look for. It makes me crazy, and I feel it’s sabotaged us as authors, too.  

JD:  In what way have you been boxed into a certain genre? Was it some outside influence like agents, publishers or fans, or are you boxing yourself in?

SF:  I'm not sure how it happened. I started out wanting to write a story. Something that made people laugh, think, feel something. I looked to books that I loved, and tried to repeat the formula. But I soon realized that I wanted to go deeper than the normal "romantic-comic mystery." So I did. And that's where things began to get complicated. Agents said my work wasn't clearly one thing or another, so it would be a hard  sell. I know you've run into this as well.

JD: I have. I really wanted to write something different with Testarossa, something I hadn’t really seen in my favorite crime novels.  Cops fall in love, and I wanted to show that. The idea that a cop does what he does out on the streets, then comes home to a seemingly normal life with someone he loves deeply, intrigued me, yet I never saw this in the books I read. The love was always glossed over. So, am I a romance writer, a crime writer, or a combination of the two?

You really did go deeper in “Free Ride” with the homeless teens theme and, to me, it was such a natural progression for Brandy Alexander to take. The character grew so much over the  first three books, it just seemed natural to me that she tackle bigger issues. What kind of backlash, if any, did you get from the hard-core Brandy fans?  

SF:  A few people wrote that they wanted something light and funny. They didn’t want to have to feel guilty at the end of a light read. While I can’t fault them for that, I still felt I could do both. Write about an important subject, and entertain at the same time. Most of the fan mail agreed. A few didn’t. No Such Thing as a Free Ride was labeled as a light comic mystery, but some people felt it was too heavy given the homeless teen theme. I don't want to mislead people in any way, and I felt badly that they didn't get the reading experience they wanted. I understand the need to fit, however loosely, into a genre. As a reader, I want to have some idea of what I'm getting into when I open a book. But that can become so limiting. The truth is, if you weren't my friend, I probably wouldn't have picked up Testarossa, as it was touted strictly as a police procedural. Knowing that it had romance, that it would delve into the character's personal lives is what made me excited to read it. I would have missed out on a wonderful reading experience, had I not had that inside knowledge about the book. so where does that leave you? If you say it's romance, you miss out on the crime fiction readers. If you put it in the crime fiction category, people that enjoy romance may pass it by. The other problem that arises, is once you've been categorized, there's almost an obligation to the readers to stick to the genre without deviation. I worried about that with Free Ride.   

JD: That’s a problem, but another problem is that if you follow the ‘genre rule’ you wind up stifled somewhat, unable to advance your characters to the extent that is pleasing to you, or makes sense to you, because it might turn your loyal readers off. I remember sharing with you once some plans I had for one of my Testarossa characters in a future book. You practically choked. In fact, you may have indeed choked. I, as a reader, understand that. But, selfishly as a writer, I was excited at the prospect of taking the story to that level, despite the backlash (potentially) from readers. Which leads us to the next issue: Ultimately, do we write for our audience, or do we write for ourselves?

SF: Okay, I did choke. But, had you stuck to your original plan, I would have read it anyway, because I trust your instincts about your characters. Do we write for our audience, or do we write for ourselves? Both. We have to listen, to a point, to our audience, if we want to have and audience. But, unless we are true to our vision of the characters, the work won't ring  true.

JD: I so agree with this.

SF: I remember once a fan of my series said she really hoped a certain thing would happen. But then she added that she wanted me to go where my heart told me to, because she trusted that it would be authentic. That said, now I feel badly that I whined so much when you told me what you had originally planned in Testarossa!

JD: No, don’t feel bad. The idea is definitely a bold move. I actually did something quite bold in a book I wrote under a pseudonym. I knew that some would despise it...most, actually, yet that is where the story and the characters took me. Readers might scream, ‘Bullshit! You write for us!’, and to that I say, yes, you are right, but we can’t please everyone. I think, professionally, to force an author into a certain genre may help the publisher sell books, but with self-pub and indies on the rise, more authors are combining genres in ways we’ve never seen before, or simply writing their hearts. What would be so bad about TESTAROSSA being what it is—crime, with a little romance, then the sequel falling into literary fiction because of some major change in the character’s life that calls for a lot of prose and emotion, then the third being a straight romance, or maybe no romance at all. Maybe #3 is a balls-out gory crime novel. As a writer, doing something like that sounds like fun. To the fans of the series, I can’t say how they would feel, except that I would  hope as readers, and fans of fiction, they would appreciate the depth and  breadth of a writer who can do that—but that’s back to us, the writer, then,  huh?--and is it about us, at the end of the day? I hope readers would just enjoy that experience. I’m speaking from a writer’s perspective, though. Reimagine the ‘No Such Thing’ series for a minute, Shel. Come up with a redo right now of the 4 books.

SF: Honestly, Jul, if I had to do it all over, I’d do it the same. When you think of the police shows that swept the nation and left indelible marks on the format, think of NYPD Blue, or its predecessor, Hill Street Blues. They were the first to flesh out the characters in a way that felt real to the audience. They had personal lives and we were hooked as much on what happened to them at the end of the day as we were during their workday.

JD: Right. Way beyond what Adam-12 was in its day, and I really got into the character’s lives beyond the ‘street’. Remember that first episode of Hill Street Blues where Furillo and Joyce Davenport are fighting about a case, and you really believe they hate each other, then at the end they’re in bed together? You didn’t see it coming. Hill Street and NYPD were game-changers, and I use both shows as inspiration.

SF: I think we need to push the envelope, or else we'll get stale. If it's not interesting to us anymore, how could it be to anyone else? Mixing genres, while keeping the basic structure keeps things interesting. With my series, I hope that my characters are evolving. And with that comes new ways to present them. Multi-dimensional characters are what hooks the audience...at least I hope so.

JD: Me too, and it does. I believe that. I think, if done well, leeway can and will be granted more than we think. Look at what Jonathan Safran Foer did with Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. He combined styles like a great artist combines mediums, producing a layered, multi-dimensional effect that packs an emotional punch. Many editors don’t get it, and I have had to fight a few for ‘style’. I’m becoming more confident in that every day. You can write basic, dry prose, or you can create some texture, use voice for effect and take the reader on a journey. I think genre can be blurred with little fall-out to us—again, if done well. And, lord knows, we do it well. LOL! Love you, girl!


Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

Julie and Shelly - Hello and Welcome!

Thanks for being here.

This is a fascinating discussion, and I felt as though I was sitting with the two of you enjoying a cup of coffee.

Julie D said...

Thanks so much for having us, Kaye. Always wonderful visiting here at M&M.


Kris said...

I really enjoyed reading this chat! It fascinates me to see how the writer's mind works.