Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Welcome Guest Blogger Kris Yankee

I'd like to welcome fellow Book Cents Babe, Kris Yankee.

Kris should’ve known long ago that she was a writer: her obsession with all types of writing instruments and large stacks of paper were her clues. It wasn’t until she was home with her two boys did she realize that her dream was in telling stories. She whipped herself into writing shape by taking refresher courses in fiction writing and joining several critique groups. Since 2004, Kris has spent her days caring for kids and crafting characters. After many rounds of edits, it was Kris’s first women’s fiction manuscript that ultimately landed her agent, Christine Witthohn of Book Cents Literary Agency in 2008. Kris currently works as an editor/project manager for a publisher in Northville, Michigan and is keeping her fingers and toes crossed that she’ll sell soon.

Take it away, Kris!

Thanks, M&M Ladies, for hosting me today. I’d like to talk about writing for different genres.
When I first signed with my agent, the wonderful Christine Witthohn, I wrote primarily women’s fiction. Emotionally charged books that dealt with topics that I felt were important to my generation. I was drawn to women fiction authors and their stories, and being a career-minded-woman who decided to go the stay-at-home route, the stories I wrote were the ones I was living – or leaving behind. I identified with this genre so well.

Christine called me and said, “Women’s fiction isn’t selling. You’ll have to write something new.”
I was game and decided to try my hand at YA. When a critique partner let me know that my voice was way too young, I was disappointed. I had been told by my writing mentor years earlier to try YA. I felt like I’d failed miserably in those three short chapters. I’m the type that has to write what I know; I can’t make up characters that I really don’t understand no matter how many Disney Channel shows or movies I watch.

I had an idea that had been lingering in my head for a few years. Since the main character was a ten-year-old boy, I never fully explored that storyline. After my utter failure with YA, I realized, “Hey! I’ve got a ten-year-old boy! I can write this now.” I took a step and fell into middle-grade fiction.

I pitched my idea to Christine and wrote three chapters. The words came easily, and I felt very comfortable with the characters. It didn’t hurt that my life was like a MG story with a third grader and a fifth grader running around. Dialogue flowed as if my two boys were speaking. It seemed very natural.

So I leapt from women’s fiction to middle-grade chapter books, a series no less. To me, that wasn’t the scariest part. The scariest part was that I decided that there would be fantasy aspects to this story.

My point is I don’t write fantasy. I write women’s fiction. Not MG fantasy. I was a bit intimidated, to say the least. But I couldn’t get away from the fantasy aspect: the main idea was that a boy from this world would be sucked into another world. When it came to writing the story, I was caught up in the fact that now I had to create a world. I had never written anything remotely fantastical (if that’s even a word!) and I was really worried about creating a whole new world.

My husband was wonderful. Every time I had a doubt, I’d ask, “Does this sound stupid?” Most of the time, he said no. He helped me see that this new world could really exist.
I finished the first draft of that book, SAVING REDWIND, in record time (for me) – something like 2 ½ months. That may sound like a long time, but it was nothing compared to how long it takes me to write a women fiction manuscript. Women’s fiction manuscripts are usually 85k-95k words, and this one was only 45k words. More importantly, the words for this story flowed out like water.

I’ve started another MG fantasy series because publishers like to see other manuscripts that writers have written. I’m hoping that it will be liked as well as the first one.
I recently participated in a Twitter chat about authors writing in different genres. The chat was attended by published and unpublished writers, agents, and publishers. It was interesting to read that the agents and publishers in attendance wanted writers to only write in one genre. They didn’t want any crossovers. Their argument was that a writer should master one genre, establish themselves, and then try another genre. Most writers who write in two genres argued that if they were able to sell in both, that it only gave them greater exposure and a larger audience.

I don’t have an opinion on this just yet. I truly enjoy writing in both genres, and they are two very different audiences. I highly doubt any of the MG readers would read my women’s fiction! When my agent asked which I would pick to write, I had to say middle-grade. I don’t know if it’s because I’m living a MG story right now, but that’s where my heart lies. That’s not to say, though, if my women’s fiction sold that I wouldn’t write more women’s fiction! I’ll write whatever they all want me to write.

I’m hoping that readers of this blog will understand that sometimes the genre you write isn’t selling well, and you can be a much more marketable writer if you can adapt and write to a different audience. That’s what I’ve learned from this experience, and I’ve found that I truly enjoy writing in a genre that I thought I would never write.

Fantastic blog post, Kris, and thanks so much for joining us today.



Kari Lee Townsend said...

Awesome blog post, kris. I could so relate to this. When I started out, I never thought I'd write YA or middle grade, but I ended up doing both.

I love writing in two genres, it keeps things fresh and exciting. The only problem I have is trying to keep the language authentic, especially when switching between middle grade and adult. They are both fun and first person, so I have to constantly remind myself which one I'm writing at the time :-)

I think it helps being at two different publishers. Cozy mysteries have a huge following so I'm not worried there, and adventurous middle grades with fantasy and paranormal elements have a pretty big following among that age group as well.

Guess I'll let you know in a couple years if it was a success or mistake ... in the meantime I'm having a blast.

Good luck to you, Kris!

Kris Yankee said...

Thanks for having me, Kari. I bet having two different publishers makes it so much easier to write in diff. genres. Lucky you! Best of luck to you, and I can't wait to read your books.

Liz Lipperman said...

Interesting blog, Kris. Although I have a YA (written a hundred years ago) I pretty much stay in suspense/mystery. I can't even imaging trying to get the voices right. Kudos to you and Kari that you can.

Good luck with the MG. It's your turn!!

Kris Yankee said...

From your mouth to the publishing gods, Liz! I'm so ready!

Mary Martinez said...

Kari and Kris, Great Blog interview. Loved what you had to say. I can't even imagine switching from Women's fiction to middle grade. Talk about night and day!

Thanks for visiting.