Fresh FIction Box Not To Miss

Sharon Ashwood | Making Paranormal Sandwiches

October 10, 2008

There’s a lot to be said for the submarine sandwich. There can be as much bread, cheese, veggies and cold cuts as the maker desires. If you want two kinds of cheese, go ahead. Mayo and mustard? Why not? The only limit is appetite.

Which is all good until your boss points to a sandwich box made for the usual peanut butter and jelly sized affair. That moment of “hmm, how am I going to get this sucker in there?” sums up my experience of writing the paranormal romance. I have to tell a many-layered story as clearly and efficiently (and as briefly!) as I can.

For any author, there’s a lot on the kitchen counter when they’re building the universe of their book: there’s character, plot, and setting, plus:

  • In a romance, there’s the whole fall-in-love experience.
  • If it’s a historical novel, the author needs to bring the past alive, right down to the horseshoe nails, gun smoke and corsets.
  • If it’s science fiction, fantasy, or paranormal, there’s the whole supernatural universe, with its vast array of creatures, rules of magic, and other cultures to explain and make compelling.
  • For a good paranormal or urban fantasy romance, where you have most of the above, your metaphorical book sandwich is a definite clubhouse. Yum, and don’t hold the pickles.

But wait: just because an author has a lot of ground to cover, that doesn’t mean they get more pages to tell their tale. In fact, many editors are careful to put the word count they want right in a writer’s contract. How many words? Not enough! Why do they do this? Long books cost more to print (and the reader pays for that) and also not everyone wants to read a really long book.

Having a word limit does challenge an author’s skill, and that’s not a bad thing. It’s made me write smarter—but inevitably, things get left out. When the dust settled from writing my February 09 release, RAVENOUS, I had a spare demon and an entire unopened box of vampires. Plus, there was a lot to say about my universe and the people in it that I hadn’t even begun to cover. It was like I’d been whittled down to, well, half a sandwich. Thank heavens there’s a book two!

What’s an author to do with all their leftover ideas? One solution to the world-building overflow is to take all that extra content and post it on the web. Games, maps, character interviews and background histories are popping up on web sites more and more often—and that’s not the only outlet for extras. Marvel Comics has picked up some popular authors and are releasing comic books based on writers like Laurell K. Hamilton. If TV shows and movies have tie-ins, why not books? Can action figures be far behind? In trade magazines for the book industry, I’ve seen this many-pronged approach hailed as the future of reading—books aren’t just on paper anymore, but require a multimedia event.

As an author, that’s a lot to explore. So far, I have my own Monsterpedia page at that fills in snippets of information about the RAVENOUS world. I’m sure I’ll do other things as the series goes along. Overall, I’m glad there are so many ways to communicate with readers, and I enjoy blogging, and multimedia content is fun to experience and to create. But what about the story?

This “book plus web” approach is nifty from my side of the fence, but would more book and fewer extras work better for readers? Or is the opposite true? I like to think of novels as one-stop-shopping or, to go back to my original metaphor, the full meal deal. Is that view out of date?
What about you? Thumbs up or thumbs down on putting important book series information on the web? Should it be web-only, or just repeat what’s already on the page?

Sharon Ashwood

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