Kelly Mortimer

Kelly Mortimer of Mortimer Literary Agency represents clients in both the ABA and the CBA. She made the Top 5 of the 2008 Publisher’s Marketplace Top 100 Dealmakers Romance Category, and she won the American Christian Fiction Writers “Agent of the Year” award in 2008. In addition to this column, Kelly writes the “Ask an Agent” column for the Romance Writers United newsletter.

Talkin’ ’Bout My GG-GENRE-ration

Yeah, I know, but you try to figure out a clever title for genre.

Genrea class or category of artistic endeavor having a particular form, content, technique, or the like (

Hmm. I tell ya, I love these definitions. I wish someone would list where the definitions to the definitions are. It’s understandable, but, yikes, is it stuffy, or what?

I had no idea what the word meant way back when I started writing. (When someone named William was conquering something somewhere . . .) Reminds me of my favorite TV show, I Love Kelly. Oops, I mean, Lucy. In one episode, Lucy decides she wants to be a sculptor and goes to the art store. The clerk asks her what medium she works in. She says, “An old smock.” You get the drift. If someone had asked me what genre I wrote in, I woulda said, “A Compaq.”

I think we all get what genre means, so I thought I’d give a few definitions of sub-genres—for the sake of actually adding some relevant content to the magazine. (I know, you only read my column for the jokes.)

Historical Romance vs. Historical Fiction

Historical Romance: Man with sword meets Headstrong Chick who’d burn her bra had they been invented. By the end of the story, Man tosses said uninvented bra, and Chick is head over heels—if stilettos had been invented by then.

Okay, so the dude doesn’t haveta wield a weapon. I wrote in the fourteenth century (not literally), so that’s what I see as Historical Romance. But Historical Romance covers from the dawn of man until WWII. It’s a past time period. And, being a romance, the story must have a happy ending. (This frustrates me, because referring to my marriages, divorce was the happy ending. Especially the second one, I think.)

Historical Fiction: We’re still in a past time period, but within the fiction must be some facts: real events, real people, accurate details. Check your sources, then check ’em again.

Pick someone like Joan of Arc. Go beyond a nonfiction account of her life and fill in details you imagine. What emotions did she feel? What was the “story behind the story”? Since Historical Fiction doesn’t haveta include a romance, although many have romantic elements, your story doesn’t need to end on a happy note. (Tried to think of how to put a positive spin on bein’ burned at the stake, but that’s a tough one.)

Mystery vs. Suspense

Mystery: The reader hasta solve something. We don’t know who the murderous, nasty, scumbag—sorry—alleged criminal is. Protagonist can be a bona fide detective, as in a Traditional Mystery (think Sherlock Holmes), or not, as in most Cozy Mysteries (think Nancy Drew.)

In a Mystery, the writer must give the reader clues to follow and a list of possible suspects. The trail often leads down a slow-winding path where the reader exercises his or her brain to deduce the outcome. (This takes some Mensa candidates longer than others. Sorry.)

Suspense: Action-packed. Fast-paced. Building tension. A mad killer (or insert favorite violent crime) roams the streets, and someone’s gotta stop ’em. (Put me in, Coach, I’m ready to kill—er—play!) We may know who the Antagonist is, so we don’t need to figure out whodunit; rather, how to catch whodunit. The emphasis is the thrill of the chase. How many more victims will the nutjob hack up before we shoot ’em dead? (I know, we can’t blast all of them—we toss some behind bars—but a gal can dream, can’t she?)

As a side note, the Antagonist could be the Protagonist (think The Hand That Rocks the Cradle). I know that’s a movie, but it’s late, I’m tired, and that was the first example to fill my nearly empty noggin.

Science Fiction vs. Urban Fantasy vs. Speculative Fiction

Science Fiction: We’re not only off the ranch, we’re off the planet. Or we’re on our planet but waaay into the future. We’re boardin’ spaceships and rockets to go to Grandma’s house (red capes are optional) or fightin’ off aliens.

You might remember those sneaky creatures from one of my favorite episodes of The Twilight Zone: Aliens land on Earth to help us out. Some humans are overjoyed; some humans are skeptical. (That’d be me.) They brought us a cool tome entitled To Serve Man loaded with all the instructions needed to create utopia on Earth. Then they start haulin’ us to their planet to see their utopia. But their language is different from ours, and the only words we’ve deciphered are the ones used in the title. As our hero is boarding that ole spaceship for greener pastures (didn’t his mama warn him about that?), his brilliant partner (a woman, of course) yells to him, “Stop! To Serve Man—it’s a COOKBOOK!” Too late. Sigh. Alien shoves the dude in, then slams the hatch shut. Yum.

Urban Fantasy: A Traditional Fantasy conjures up pictures of unicorns and fairies—at least for me—and is ultra otherworldly and detailed. Urban Fantasy usually occurs on Earth as we know it, and in modern times. But something is different. Mayhap humans and aliens co-existing is the norm. Mayhap humans think of police officers as criminals instead of heroes. (I know I did, but that was when I was a criminal.) The setting is usually in a city, but not always. (Which is why I often wonder why they use the term “urban.” Ah, well . . .)

Speculative Fiction: What would’ve happened if (fill in the blank with an important event). Some major occurrence did or didn’t happen, thus changing history.

For example, let’s say President Reagan had lost his presidential bid. (I nearly fainted just typin’ that heinous statement.) Capitalism would’ve died, taxes would’ve skyrocketed, the size of our government would’ve grown to massive proportions, and our nation would’ve taken a nosedive into a depression, followed by a Socialist/Communist/Fascist takeover. Then, we loyal, patriotic Americans would’ve had another Civil War. Instead of the Blue against the Gray, it’d be the Blue against the Red(s). Oh, calm down. I said if! And I refuse to apologize. Nah!

Well, I’m over my allotted word count, so that’s all she wrote. Until next month . . . miss me.

Happening Agent Conference