“Take out the part about how the puppy can fly.”
That was one of the first pieces of professional editing advice I received, and I ignored it.
It was spring, 2016, and I was introducing a series of children’s books based on stories that I had been inventing with my son, now aged 9, using his sister’s castoff stuffed animals. Early on, the characters mainly passed gas (remember, I was entertaining a little boy), so we called them the “Fart Story Friends.” Once I decided to turn the idea into a series of published books, I wasn’t sure the name would do.
“What do you think?” I asked my co-members of the Facebook group Women Fiction Writers. A few thought it might work, citing the success of the Captain Underpants series, but most were appalled.
And that was no problem. When my sister comes to visit with her daughter, who is a couple years younger than my son, we have to operate under the name “Bark Story Friends.” Apparently, “fart” is the “F word” among young ladies who do not have me as a mother, not that my own daughter’s uses the word often. A few simple edits, and the series became Tales of Bark Story Land.
Now, let’s get back to the flying puppy, who appears in my first picture book, Fluffy and Dot: A Bark Story. The book is about how Fluffy’s cousin Dot comes to stay with his family because her father, a single dad and army dog, has been deployed. Fluffy is small, and Dot is part bulldog, so he is initially afraid of her. Once she tells him she’s afraid no one at school will want to play with her, he becomes brave because he cannot stand the idea of anyone making his cousin unhappy.
Also, Fluffy can fly.
Granted, any story about talking animals is make believe play, but the flying is what turns it into fantasy. I started thinking about the other two books I had written at the time: a middle grade book called Shell’s Amazing App in which the main character can “technoport” into her own stories; and, Graced 1943, a novel about characters who have special powers called “Graces” set in Miami during WWII.
This seems to be my genre, I decided: fiction with a touch of fantasy. Since then, I have been told, more than once, that fiction with a touch of fantasy is NOT a genre (neither is historical fantasy, which is how I classify my Grace Family Chronicles series).
I struggle to write straight fiction. I tried, at one point, to write a murder mystery, sort of a cozy with a barre studio owner named Lee solving the crime. By the third chapter, an unplanned character, the ghost of the murdered woman’s grandmother, was in the story, and I gave up.
When I list my favorite book series: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin, The Dark Tower by Stephen Kind, The Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling (and more, these are just the most famous), I see I come by this naturally. I write what I would like to read.
NSR: Never Stop Reading.