Sean McLachlan on Post-Apocalyptic Fiction

Hey all! Today I welcome Sean to my blog as part of his book tour. If you’re looking for my IWSG post, it’s here.

Post-Apocalyptic fiction: what it is and what it isn’t.

There’s one thing a writer learns very quickly—the setting is not the story.

This is why I’ve written everything from westerns to post-apocalyptic tales, and as a reader I roam even further afield. I’m after the story. Sure, I have my favorite genres, and some plots seem to lend themselves better to some settings than others, but if a story is good I don’t care what genre it’s in.
(Except for romance because, well, I’m a guy and romance novels are written from the woman’s point of view. If a bodice is going to be ripped, I want to be the one doing the ripping.)

The current craze over post-apocalyptic fiction has been explained in many ways—fears over our deteriorating environment, the current economic crisis, international terrorism, etc. Whatever the reason, a grim future offers plenty of scope for storytelling. In the face of adversity, people have to pull together to survive, or become selfish and live off others. Civilization may have fallen but people still fall in love, have deep-seated jealousies, have grand dreams and petty insecurities. People, no matter what situation you put them in, are still people.

I saw a pie chart on Facebook a little while back called “What the Walking Dead is About.” It had various categories such as Loyalty, Friendship, Love, Parenting, etc. The smallest category, a tiny sliver on the pie chart, was titled “Zombies.”

The secret to the show is that the characters are compelling. We really love these people, or love to hate them. The zombies are there to get them into the situations that bring out the best and worst about them. They could just as easily been living on a space station invaded by aliens, or occupied France fighting the Nazis, or a Wild West town menaced by outlaws. In a different decade or a different country, the writers would have chosen one of those settings.

Back in 1901, M.P. Shiel wrote The Purple Cloud, one of the original “last man on Earth” scenarios. But, like Walking Dead a century later, it was about more than the fall of civilization. It was about humanity’s hubris.  People have been projecting their feelings onto apocalyptic novels for a long time now.
So if it’s all about the story, why do so many readers have a favorite genre? I suspect there are as many answers to that as there are readers. Some of it may be dictated by the zeitgeist or childhood memories, or a person may have been blown away by a particular book and that led to a permanent craving for more in that line.

What’s your favorite genre and why? Tell us what you think in the comments section. I’ll be hanging around here a while.


Sean McLachlan is an archaeologist turned writer who is the author of several books of fiction and history. Check him out on his blog Midlist Writer.


In a world shattered by war, pollution and disease. . . 
A gunslinging mother longs to find a safe refuge for her son. 
A frustrated revolutionary delivers water to villagers living on a toxic waste dump. 
The assistant mayor of humanity’s last city hopes he will never have to take command. 
One thing gives them the promise of a better future–Radio Hope, a mysterious station that broadcasts vital information about surviving in a blighted world. But when a mad prophet and his army of fanatics march out of the wildlands on a crusade to purify the land with blood and fire, all three will find their lives intertwining, and changing forever.

Buy it at Amazon
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Key-Word Cavalry: Novel "doesn’t fit a genre"

This has been quite a bone of contention the previous times that it got mentioned on this blog, but since I haven’t ever really written about it myself, I thought I’d put my opinion out there.

So… you wrote a book. And it was beautiful. And unique.

So unique that it transcends genre.

Right?

After all, who are those evil corporate monsters to push your baby into a box that it never will comfortably fit?

Well, beloved searcher, while I have no idea what you were thinking as you typed today’s phrase, if it sounded like the above, you might want to look into going through a mind-shift.

Why?

For more than one reason:

First one would be if you want to trad publish, you want to make your book as easy to sell as possible. The easier it would be to sell, the bigger chance you’ll have of getting published. Publishing houses need to know which shelf your book needs to sit on. And it can’t sit on five different shelves. Because that would be stealing space from the poor person who wrote a simple but beautiful story that fit in only one genre.

Ha, you might say, I want to self publish. Excellent point, searcher. Except, we humans are silly creatures. You say: Epic romantic fantasy dreamscape with sci fi elements. We read: MESS.  This is not a poTAYto poTAHto scenario. Besides. I think it’s a lot better to be pleasantly surprised about what’s in the book. Rather than reading every single aspect of it while perusing the synopsis. 

But MISHAAAAAA, you might say, my book does not fit into a genre. Why am I going to put a square peg into a round hole? My answer to this is simple: Guess what. Most people’s books don’t fit exactly into a given genre. If they did, there would be no variety. Monotony is boring. Boring is bad. BUT, there is hope yet. If you stop being so worried about insulting a few strings in your storyline, you’ll find that some of those holes you mentioned are more square than others. Your peg will fit. Maybe not exactly, but close enough.

So… go for broad strokes. No story will be exactly equally fantasy/thriller/romance or whatever. If you sit still and think about it, one aspect will be bigger than the others. Do you worry more about the epic world than the thrill or romance? Then it’s a (thrilling but never say this) fantasy. If the thrill is more important, it’s a thriller (set in a fantasy world). If the story would cease to exist without the romance, it’s a romance (set in a fantasy world). Not that hard, is it?

Or perhaps you’re not dead sure about what genre you’re supposed to go for. In that case, there’s a useful genre map.
How did you decide on your genre?

A to Z Challenge: Genre by David Baboulene

Hello all! Welcome to a special edition of GPF. Now for the many new visitors: Every Friday, I let followers of this blog post on anything related to writing and/or the literary world. I stopped it for most of April, but I’ve been asked very nicely, and the day coincided with G and I thought: why not?


Today, David is here as part of his blog tour to market his new book: The Story Book. It’s a guide to story development, problem solving, principles and marketing. So… pretty much exactly what we writers need. Click here to head over to his blog. It’s full of wonderful advice for those of us who like transforming ideas into stories.


OK then… let’s get to the really interesting part.


StoryCoverSMALL.jpg



Why is Genre Important?

When a writer tells me his story is so different it doesn’t fit a genre, he generally looks pretty pleased with himself. Rather than make myself unpopular, I refer him to my conversation with Stewart Ferris – the ex-MD of Summersdale Publishing – who told me the top three reasons why he will reject a book on the basis of its content:

  • Is the material appropriate for our brand and list?
  • Does it have a strong title?
  • Does it have a clear genre?

If the answer is ‘no’ to any of these, instant rejection is almost inevitable. So why is genre in this list?

Everyone in publishing builds a reputation on the decisions they make. Every publisher will go out of business if they don’t publish books that people want to buy. Every editor is only as good as the books she has her name against. Every buyer in the shops will be sacked if they fill precious shelf-space with books that doesn’t budge. And the key to selling a book (not writing – selling) is genre.

Since I started looking deeply into what makes stories grip and engage, I’ve found the roots of just about everything in psychology, and genre is no different. Our brains innately categorise and organise everything. Sales and marketing people know that products MUST match with a mental category to have any chance of making a sale. In Art, Genre is the label we use for this mental categorisation, and we are surprisingly rigid in how we want our lives, firstly, to be categorised, and secondly, for things to sit solidly within category boundaries.

Think about how you choose what to buy in a bookshop. Firstly, you generally know what type of book you want – let’s say you like ‘Travel’ books. You don’t know which specific book you want to buy, but you do know where to find the desired type of book, and you head for the Travel Section. There are, say, 100 books in that genre. Then what do you do? You narrow to a sub-genre. City guide? Map? Adventure? No – you want Humour. This will narrow it to say, 10 book, and you begin looking at them individually. You use the title and cover design to pick the ones that fit best (fit what? Your mental categorisation) and that will leave you with perhaps three that suit your personal idea of travel humour. You then read the back of each and if the publisher has their genre messages right, you probably buy all three of them on a ‘3 for the price of 2’ deal (Yes, that’s why they do that!). Note carefully that the content of the book – the words the author took years writing – are totally irrelevant. The top level genre messages that the publisher wrapped your words in are what sold it. Not the writing, but the wrapping. This is the job genre does for you – it helps the publisher to find appropriate writers and it helps readers to find material they are likely to appreciate.

A lot of writers get very frustrated by having their work and themselves forced into a pigeon hole. My advice is to embrace genre. Even the best writers only appeal to say 1% of the population, and you find your audience, and target them with appropriate marketing, because they are the ones who are attracted to the genre. So you need to be sure of one thing: Having a clear genre for your image, your writing, your books and publicity is absolutely key to commercial success.

If you would like to see the 106 page PDF of book categories published by the Book Industry Communications Trade Organisation which is used to categorise ALL published books, or if you would like a free chapter from The Story Book on any aspect of story theory or publishing, do please drop me a line via www.baboulene.com and I will send it to you.

Thanks to Misha for the opportunity to be part of this wonderful blog. I do hope to do it all again some time!





Thanks for this enlightening post, David. All the best with the rest of your blog tour! If you want to know where David is headed next, this is the link to his tour page.  

Now, if any of you are interested in posting as well, feel free to take a look at the dates available (in the scroll bar) and contact me