What’s in a Genre? Part Two – A conversation between Celeste Castro and Tagan Shepard

Hello again Bella Readers!

Tagan Shepard here! As you learned about me in June, I have three books published with Bella. Since then I’ve been honored to win a Goldie for my 2017 release, Bird on a Wire. My friend and fellow Goldie nominee, Celeste Castro, is about to unveil to the world her third novel, The Taking, which will be her first foray into the fantasy genre. While I haven’t been brave enough to delve into the fantasy genre yet, both Celeste and I have written across multiple genres to bring a piece of what we love to read into what we love to write. 

Without further ado, here’s the final installment of our discussion about writing, genres, and reading. Stay tuned at the end for a chance to win a copy of each of Celeste’s books, including her new release!

GCLS 2019. We’re not posing or anything. Bella Books authors from left to right: Cade Haddock-Strong, Tagan Shepard and Celeste Castro.

As a reader, do you enjoy reading across genre? Or, do you stick to one (mostly)? 

Tagan: I read everything. Literally everything (except poetry).

Celeste: I’m not so much into biographies.

How does your research change (does it change?) from genre to genre?

Celeste: I use a style guide throughout my writing process. It helps me stay organized, mostly it helps me not have to remember every single detail. In the past, I’ve been pretty lax about maintaining my style guide. In crafting The Taking, I quickly learned the importance of staying on top of changes, or waste time searching through my manuscript for answers. It became especially useful for helping me remember the made-up language and expressions I invented, keeping track of multiple timelines, and people’s ages, for example. 

Tagan: My research has mainly been on location in the past -going to the places my stories are set so I can get a feel for the place. I did not do that this time. Trip to the Moon was not in the budget I’m afraid. 

 What’s next? 

Tagan: I’m booked for a romance novel and an action/crime novel next year. My current work in progress is a “best friends to lovers” romance novel. 

Celeste: I’ve written two novels this year. One is a friends to lovers, rodeo romance. The other is a collection of short stories with twisted endings–they are my take on the Penny Dreadful.

Enough with the easy stuff, ::tap fingers together like Mr. Burns:: let’s dive a little deeper and really explore the process…

The only thing I like more than writing is reading, and I read everything I can get my hands on. Sometimes I get into a run of several books of the same genre and end up wanting to write in that genre. What are your reading habits? Is your turn to fantasy inspired by something you read?

Celeste: I go through phases where I read a lot of a particular genre and then switch. I’m into Octavia Butler’s Patternist series at the moment. Earlier this year I plowed through romance. One of my reading habits includes reading people. I’m way into watching Unsolved Mysteries, specifically to observe human emotion so I can see what a person looks when they’re explaining something that’s permanently changed them.

Tagan: That’s really interesting and I hadn’t thought of that before. I watch a lot of true crime stuff- I used to be addicted to Snapped– I’m definitely watching the people but I don’t know if I ever thought of it as research. It’s fascinating how each author finds their own way to writing what they love.

Genre writing often involves particular modes and tropes that readers expect but want a new spin on. I tried to write Across the Dark Horizon as something that would feel familiar to my readers but bring something new to the table. Did you have a similar experience with The Taking? Fantasy has a rich history, how much did you tap into that and how much did you go in a whole new direction?

Celeste: I tapped into some familiar tropes for The Taking. I have an amulet of power. An unsuspecting woman falls into a magical world and learns she has special powers. Like your book, mine is grounded in reality. The backdrop starts in the year 1811. It’s based on an actual event in American history. 500 slaves from a territory of New Orleans, organized to lead one of the largest slave rebellions in US history. The slaves lost their lives, but helped shatter the white perpetuated myth of the happy slave. The Taking starts with a trio of sisters and their friends planning their participation in that slave revolt and that’s where I start my turn of events.

Tagan: That’s a really compelling story- I’ve never heard of it and I am a history buff. Another chance to learn! I love that all fiction– not just historical fiction– is made richer by a knowledge of history and mythology. There’s so much of consumed knowledge that makes it into our work. That’s why I think it’s so important for authors to be continuously reading. 

We’re not in Kansas anymore, but we are, but we’re not. 


What are your favorite fantasy stories? Would any of those characters feel at home in The Taking?

Celeste: I love Ursula Le Guin’s work, specifically her contributions in expanding the bounds of what fantasy looks like, such as her use of dark-skinned protagonists over the European standard: old white man, long white beard and pointy hat. I love the When Women Were Warriors trilogy and Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. I enjoy Lawrence Watt Evans and his work, With a Single Spell and his Ethshar series are some of my favorites. I’m thinking that Bilbo Baggins would feel completely at home in ByHeather, the name of the land where Noomi, my Fae character in The Taking resides. She’s the epitome of regimented, every day is planned, she follows a strict agenda, she has no time for surprises or tricks. She’s resistant to anything out of the ordinary. I think Master Baggins would appreciate knowing he can rely on tea at precisely 3:00 p.m.

Tagan: More book recommendations! I can’t wait to read them! Lord of the Rings is a classic, of course, and really should be required reading for anyone who wants to write high fantasy, but it’s so important to expand beyond Tolkien, too. It was written almost a hundred years ago, after all, the world’s come a long way since and so has the genre. I for one have fallen for The Priory of The Orange Tree, where women, some of them women of color, some of them queer, are the heroes. 

Fantasy is a genre that usually involves a lot of plot twists and reversals which can be tricky to navigate as a writer. So tell me, are you a plotter or a pantser? Did your method change for The Taking?

Celeste: I’m a plotter, with pantser undertones. I find the exercise helpful for thinking through the big picture. I usually end up throwing the entire plan out the window about half way through. Plotting isn’t a be all end all, I get stuck a lot, but have a good trick that usually helps. I interview myself, I’ll go on a run and “sit down” with myself. It goes a little like this: “So Celeste, what did you really mean when you said that Peachy needed to look inside herself for the answer? Great question, Celeste, I guess what I meant was…” I’ll muddle my way through until I figure out something useful.

Tagan: I’ve always been a plotter, but I think the last thing I wrote had more issues because I plotted too much and lost some of the magic that comes with a scene unfolding in front of me the first time. This time I’ve gone back to the 80% route and found fewer issues. Maybe the genre is important too when it comes to how much plotting is best.

You’ve already explored romance, paranormal, and fantasy. Quite a wide range! What genre are you going for next or are you going to revisit one of those?

Celeste: I’m really excited about a dystopian work that I’ve been thinking about. I’ve outlined the start to a comic book series, the only issue holding me back is, I can’t draw. I will for sure revisit fantasy because The Taking is the first part of a two, maybe three part saga.

Tagan: Those all sound great! I love dystopian books and I can’t wait to read yours!   

Well there you are, gentle readers, an introduction to Celeste and I and our writing and reading styles, which, let’s be honest, is the best way to get to know someone. Be sure to preorder your copy of The Taking and we can’t wait to bring you more fabulous lesfic in 2020!

Comment by December 8 and tell us what your favorite genre is, and we’ll pick one person to receive signed copies of all three of Celeste Castro’s books!

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