New Adult keeps growing, and there is proof to that with self-published author Arlene Blakely releasing two books – the chick lit/light urban fantasy Illegal Media, and the post-apocalyptic anthology Doom Days – that could easily fit into the developing category. Here she is talking about her work and the future of New Adult!
Arlene Blakely: I’ve always been a writer. As a little kid I made story books, and in middle school my best friend and I worked together on our own “How To” book. I wrote a column for the local paper in high school, and I published a short story in a magazine in college. Years later, I wrote a play that a friend of mine turned into a short film, and I won a short story contest which got me published in a journal.
So deciding to publish wasn’t really a decision. Once I finished Illegal Magic, I contacted agents, and received positive feedback from several of them. Unfortunately, while quite a few agents liked the book, none of them lurrrved it.
Eventually, I realized that I had three choices: give up on my book, substantially revise it, or publish it myself. I wasn’t willing to give up and I didn’t want to revise anymore. So I said, “What the heck” and took the indie-publishing route.
Arlene Blakely: When I moved back to North Carolina after spending 8 years on the west coast, one of the first things I did was start a writers’ group. The group really gelled into something remarkable: a perfect combination of support, critique, and accountability.
I’d been playing with the idea of a story set in a post-apocalyptic world for a while, but I couldn’t seem to find my way inside it. Then I got to thinking about the old Thieves’ World books that I used to read as a kid. The Thieves’ World anthologies had a common setting and shared characters, but the stories were written by different authors.
I approached the other writers in my critique group, and pitched the concept of creating a similar kind of anthology, set in a post-apocalyptic world. They thought it was a good idea, and before long we’d created a world with a back story and characters and conflict.
Megan Cashman: Your books, Illegal Magic and Charmless, seem to be different from most other urban fantasy novels because of their “chick lit” twist. What was the idea behind them?
Arlene Blakely: I’ve always been drawn to stories that combine romance, mystery, humor, and some element that makes the reader willing to suspend disbelief. Done well, that combination results in the Myth series or Looking for Alaska or the Dresden books or Veronica Mars or anything by Jennifer Crusie or Joss Whedon. None of these examples are exactly “chick lit” – even Crusie’s novels are more romance or paranormal romance than chick lit – but all of them contain the same elements that make chick lit fun to read.
My writing is heavily influenced by my taste in reading (and TV shows). Because I’ve seen how potent it can be to “mix and match” elements from different genres, I don’t think it’s necessary – or desirable – to isolate romance or mystery or humor or magic. Blended together they make a story stronger and more compelling. I guess that’s why I feel comfortable grafting chick lit to urban fantasy.
Megan Cashman: Do you hope those two books to attract chick lit readers who don’t read urban fantasy, and vice versa?
Arlene Blakely: I hope people will enjoy reading my work. If it appeals to readers who usually gravitate toward urban fantasy or chick lit, that’s cool with me. For what it’s worth, I think we spend too much time categorizing books into separate genres. There are amazing writers in every genre – and it’s worth exploring broadly to ferret them out.
Megan Cashman: NA/New Adult is gaining more attention these days from readers and the book publishing world. Some say the category is pointless and will fade away. Do you think that is true?
Arlene Blakely: Stories about people on the brink of adulthood have been popular for a long time, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. Regardless of whether we apply the NA label, I find it hard to imagine that people will stop wanting to read about characters in their early 20s.
Megan Cashman: What is your advice to anyone who aspires to write books?
Arlene Blakely: First and foremost, WRITE! I’m a really slow writer, so I know how hard it can be to finish a book. But getting words on paper is at least 75% of the challenge. It feels wonderful to complete a project!
I also suggest reading. Not only will you stay up-to-date on what’s being published, you’ll also be able to analyze the technique of writers you admire. Pay attention to what works for other writers, and you’ll be able to incorporate it into your own work. I’m always surprised when I meet writers who claim to read very little contemporary fiction. If you’re writing fantasy for today’s market, but the last fantasy novel you read was The Return of the King, that’s a problem.
Finally, I highly recommend joining a writing group. Getting feedback on a regular basis is super motivating, and it’s great to have other writers to share ideas with. You can find a variety of writing groups on meetup.com, including my group, Writers’ Cramp. If you don’t find what you’re looking for, start your own!
Find out more about Arlene Blakely at these places: