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The Bird Flew Away Guest Post with Lynda M. Martin and Giveaway

Tuesday, September 6, 2011
My book, This Bird Flew Away, and the quest for a “genre”

Read anything regarding marketing your work and what’s the first thing they tell you? Know your genre. Complete a query form for a prospective agent and the first box to be filled in is “genre.” Post an excerpt from your book on any one of a hundred writers’ billboards, and how will it be classified? By genre. Finally get your book published and either in the store or on-line it will be displayed by what? Genre. Enter it into a writing contest, and how is your entry judged? By genre. 

 What’s the first question I’m asked here? How is your novel different from others of the same genre?

I hate to admit this, but I don’t know in what genre to place my book.

You see, I didn’t write a genre, I wrote a story.

However, needing that special little pigeon-hole, I began by asking those in the know what genre they’d consider my book to be. One, my editor, said it should be considered “literary fiction.” Another, an agent who had asked for the manuscript and read it (but chose not to represent it) decided it should be classified as “women’s fiction.” A reviewer who didn’t like the book (it offended her moral sensibilities) suggested it was a “nothing but a perverted romance,” despite the lack of happily-ever-after and all the other formulaic elements of the romance genre. A fan, who read that review countered with “a love story, yes. Romantic, maybe. A romance, never.” Another reviewer suggested it could be “young adult” which, she says, has become very cutting edge, but then, this reviewer was all of fourteen years old. (I kid you not. By the way, she loved it.)
So I guess I’ll have to call it a women’s/young adult, romantic, literary fiction.

So how is this novel different from other works in that wordy genre? My answer is simple. I don’t know. We’ll have to take a closer look.

Is this women’s fiction? Yes, I think so. Women and mature girls were definitely the audience I had in mind when I wrote it. So many of us will relate to Bria’s trials in early life, far more of us than society wants to admit. I know I quote these stats far too often, but expert professionals in the field of child protection estimate the world-wide prevalence of abuse to girls as being seven in ten. 70% of women – a staggering statistic. Granted this includes the entire gamut, from the creepy uncle who fondles bare bottoms to the horror of child trafficking, but still, that’s a lot of women. And if you were in the lucky minority with no such memories, I’m sure you know someone who has. Perhaps it’s time to take a closer look.

But before you jump back in horror saying “I don’t want to read something like that,” let me assure you this is not the standard “rising above abuse” story. You’ll find Bria is far from a “victim.” In those sections written in Bria’s first-person voice, we find her narration completely matter-of-fact, the way Bria sees her life, the way most children do – no matter what. One of my reviewers said it best, and I’ll use her words here:
"... takes incredibly dark subject matter (family violence, alcohol abuse, child trafficking), inflicts these things on realistic, fascinating, flawed but lovable characters, and yet somehow manages to leave the reader feeling upbeat and optimistic at the end of the story….one of those books that I was genuinely sad to finish. I'd become so attached to the characters I didn't want to leave them. "

The other voice we hear, that of Mary brings us the other side of the story, and as women we share in her frustrations and difficulties as she attempts to mother a damaged girl. All she can do is love the child, standing ready to pick up the pieces when necessary. She takes us through one of the most harrowing riddles of parenting, how do we control the uncontrollable?

Then there’s Jack, who we meet only through the eyes of the two female narrators. Poor old Jack, so well-intentioned but so clueless. Who amongst us women did not endure a hero-worshipping early love? We got over it, most of us. But for an emotionally wounded girl, that is not always the case. Still, can you remember that first intense crush, so all consuming, no matter how ill-placed?

As women, if we can’t relate to Bria, we haven’t lived much of a life, I would think.
Is it a young adult work of fiction? I had always intended this book to be read by mature girls, maturity being more a state of mind than years. I hadn’t counted on it appealing to girls as young as twelve, but it does. I have the emailed fan letters to prove it. I had always thought one or two of the passages as being a little -- (excuse me while I search for the right word) – rough for girls so young. But my young fans

quickly put me straight. Let me use the words of one twelve-year- old reader. (Far better than my own.)
“… My mom and I talked about the rape scene, and I wanted to tell you that you did a great job of explaining her feelings without giving a lot of detail. It is a really good story for younger girls too. Bria was so cool, so strong and honest. I felt like she was how I'd like to be. We girls can and do understand these things. I don't think there is anyone my age that doesn't know about sex and rape and what can happen in the world.”

My granddaughter, Paige, who was sixteen at the time, had a lot to do with the development of Bria’s teenage voice and reactions. She took a copy of the rough draft home and shared it with her friends, which led to more input from these young adults.

Apparently, young girls relate to Bria, love her spirit, her ability to lie, her adventurous nature – and her love for horses and rodeos (not to mention good-looking cowboys.) Our girls are far more knowledgeable about the ways of this world than we adults care to admit. Which is probably a very good thing! So, yes, it could also be considered a young adult novel.

Is it a romance? Definitely not. A romance is written to a formula with the ending a foregone conclusion. This was never meant to be a romance in any sense of the term. Yes, the theme of love plays an important role – real love, not romance. There’s the love between a lonely woman and the girl she takes in. The love of family (of the untraditional kind) and how those connections keep us sane. Most contentious for some is the love between a moral, fallible young man and the girl he tries to mentor, and the love of a growing girl for the man who’s shown her nothing but kindness. All kinds of love: the kind that heals, the kind that is both unworkable and unbreakable, and the kind that calls for sacrifice.

Yes, love is a major theme in This Bird Flew Away, but I would call it neither a romance nor romantic.
Is it literary fiction? I had to look this up to know exactly what is meant by that term. According to Wikipedia, the definition of literary fiction is this:

The term is principally used to distinguish "serious fiction" which is a work that claims to hold literary merit, in comparison from genre fiction and popular fiction). In broad terms, literary fiction focuses more upon style, psychological depth, and character. This is in contrast to Mainstream commercial fiction, which focuses more on narrative and plot.

When I first read this I thought I’d have to own a massive ego to suggest my work fits this high blown definition. I needed another opinion before claiming this genre as my own. I went to reread some previous reviews.

“This is gorgeous writing that features unforgettable characters and the author's

sensitive, beautiful handling of deeply provoking and disturbing subject matter. I agree with other reviewers - I was sad to see the story end. The reading experience is that enjoyable and the voices of the central characters are that distinctive and compelling. I absolutely recommend this book!”

A little voice began to speak in the back of my mind, saying “Perhaps, just perhaps my book is a work of literary fiction.” So, with a certain amount of trepidation, I entered the book in a national contest under that genre. I had written a work of literary fiction, I told myself.
Certainly, the National Indies Excellence Awards agreed, bestowing the honor of finalist to This Bird Flew Away in that category.

From now on, I will place my book in that genre. As to how my work differs from other novels there, I still don’t know.

Giveaway time!  Leave a comment for this author as well as your email address to be entered into a giveaway for one ebook copy of this book. 

What is real love? The whole world wants to know. They should ask Bria Jean, because she has it all figured out. Opinionated, stubborn and full of woe, Bria would tell you real love is having one person you can always count on through thick and thin. For her, that's Jack. And it doesn't matter to her that she's nine and he's twenty-three-not one bit.

When, at the age of twelve, Bria disappears, he and his Aunt Mary search for her, and when she surfaces, injured, abused and traumatized, Jack fights to become her guardian with no idea of the trials ahead of him. By then, Bria is thirteen going on thirty, full of her own ideas on how her life should run and with some very fixed notions about who is in charge.

Goodreads Summary

Where you can find and follow Lynda M. Martin:
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  1. Jaidis said...:

    Thank you for sharing this post Krystal and thank you Ms. Martin for the insightful interview. I have often wondered how authors find the right genre for their book when it could fit into so many genres

  1. Alisia said...:

    great interview, sounds like a good book. :)

  1. Brilliant post! You've definitely sold me on why I should read it! I'm fascinated by the reviewers assertion that this book explores all of that dark subject matter, yet still leaves the reader feeling optimistic. I can't wait to read this. Thank's for the chance to win it!

    Donna @ The Happy Booker
    ahappybooker at gmail dot com

  1. lmmartin said...:

    Thank you for the opportunity to share these thoughts with your readers, Krystal. You asked such a complex question, really got me to thinking. I will return here regularly to answer any questions left for me. Thanks again. Lynda M Martin

  1. Anonymous said...:

    I've never thought of it as difficult for an author to find a suitable genre. This guest post is eye-opening. Thanks for sharing, Lynda. :)


  1. lmmartin said...:

    Hi sugarpeach. I can't speak for other authors, but I meant every word of the statement, 'I didn't write a genre' I wrote a story.' Genre was the farthest thing from my mind when writing and it came as a bit of a shock when I realized I had to find that pigeon-hole classification. Lynda

  1. Darlene said...:

    Books often cross-over into multiple genres. Who knew it could be so difficult to classify??

    Please enter me in the draw, and thanks for the giveaway!

    darlenesbooknook at gmail dot com
    GFC Darlene

  1. lmmartin said...:

    Hi Darlene,

    There are those who write genre literature such as romance that follows a time honored formula, and all the more power to them, I say. Others, like me, write and then try to figure out where it belongs. Cross-over is a good term. Thanks for supplying it. Lynda

  1. Yto said...:

    wow, i really want to read that book right now - though the genre isn't really to my liking ^^; but the interview just made crazily curious.

    GFC: Yto

  1. lmmartin said...:

    Thanks YTO. Forget genre and follow your curiosity.

    To all who comment here: If you are not the lucky winner please contact me through my website linked above and I will ensure you can get a copy at my cost (contrary to popular myth, authors don't get free copies of their work and must pay for them -- at a discounted price, to be sure.)

    Thanks again, Lynda