I know it has been a while since I have posted anything because I have been so focused on getting my next book finished, but that is going to stop. I thought I would kick things off with a guest post by Jupiter Gardens Press author, Shauna Aura Knight. So without further ado, I present to you, Between the Genres.
One of my challenges as a writer has always been genre, or more specifically, genre rules. All of my fiction writing fits into the general category of “speculative”—my work is always either fantasy, urban fantasy, science fiction, and paranormal romance. The problem comes in with the specifics within the genres, in particular that line between urban fantasy and paranormal romance.
One of the biggest roadblocks I faced in my own writing was the question of what genre my work was. Because the genre you write in determines what publishers you can send your writing to, and it also controls a lot of what’s in your story. When I was taking writing workshops, I got completely overwhelmed hearing about some of the rules of various genres and even specific publishers.
Here’s kind of how it went.
In my 20’s, I started writing an urban fantasy epic. It started out as a trilogy, but then I had the inspiration to add in a vampire and his lover, Vuir and Rhea. The sex scenes were incredibly spicy. However, I didn’t want to write the story as a romance, because romances have specific expectations. I would have had to completely gut and restructure the story to be, Novel #1 is about Couple #1, Novel #2 about Couple #2, etc.
And that’s not how the story flowed. Yes, there are several couples that get together, but they all interweave and none of the romantic stories made sense as a standalone. I also knew that some romance publishers literally require sex to happen by page 100, and other specific plot points to happen at various page counts.
My work did not fit at all into that format. In this urban fantasy series I’m writing, the vampire Vuir and his lover Rhea get together pretty quickly, but they have a lot of hot sex throughout the course of the series which spans several years. It would be weird to have Couple # 4 getting together and have hot scenes with Vuir and Rhea.
And yet, when I started writing this series, it wasn’t really acceptable to have spicy/graphic sex in urban fantasy. Some series did it, but they were not the norm. I think that those authors were kind of tacitly looked down upon.
My panicking about how I’d even get my book published caused some serious writer’s block. I kept writing the occasional scene for the books, but I didn’t want to commit to finishing the story until I knew how I was going to structure it. I thought, “If I have to reconfigure this as a series of romance novels, I don’t want to paint myself into a corner.” I knew that my work, as it was, wasn’t publishable as urban fantasy.
I felt this tremendous pressure. I knew that one of the rules of publishing was that your first book had to sell pretty well, otherwise you wouldn’t get a deal for a second book, unless you wrote under a brand new pen name. That was daunting, given that publishers don’t spend a lot of marketing budget money on first-time authors.
Publishing: Everything Changes
I started reading a lot of paranormal romance. I wanted to get a sense of 1. What was popular, but also 2. What were the rules of the genre. In addition to that, if you’re looking to publish a book and you are looking at what publishers to send your work to, it’s a really good idea to read some of their books to get a sense of what that publisher wants in a story.
I started to get a little hopeful. I was reading Sherrilyn Kenyon, who—though she was writing paranormal romance—was also getting to break a few genre conventions to tell the stories she wanted to tell. I also started reading the Anita Blake novels, which definitely sat between several different genres. The longer the series went on, the smuttier it got, until it had the sex level of an erotic romance.
I took a break from focusing on fiction for a while; I had started doing a leadership and facilitation program and that consumed my life for a few years. I’d still work on fiction from time to time but I wasn’t gunning to finish anything.
During that time, the e-book and self-publishing revolution happened. Now, anyone who wanted to publish, could. Back when I was taking classes about writing and publishing, self-publishing was still very much frowned upon. You could ruin your reputation as a writer forever just by self-publishing a book.
In the late 2000’s that changed. And what changed along with it was some of the rules of genre. These days, I notice a lot more graphic erotic content in fantasy and urban fantasy. It’s far more common now, which means that work that crosses those genre lines is more publishable, even by traditional publishers.
I still haven’t finished my urban fantasy epic, but I now feel the freedom of structuring the series in the way that the story makes the most sense to me. I can call it an urban fantasy, and yes, it has some rather spicy content.
The Dance of the Romance Genre
My most recent novella, The White Dress, The Autumn Leaves, is not a romance. It’s romantic to be sure; most of the story is a really sweet love story. And there’s plenty of no-doors-closed sex between Jack and Meredith. However, the story fails one of the only hard and fast rules of the romance genre: there must be a happy ending. Happily Ever After, or even Happy For Now, often abbreviated as HEA or HFN.
I don’t think I’m spoiling the surprise by telling you that The White Dress has a pretty tragic ending…you can get a sense of what’s going on by reading the very first page.
Part of me wanted to leave the tragedy as a surprise that built up over the course of the story. That would—certainly—have been more emotionally wrenching for my readers. However, my first two published pieces of fiction are both in the romance genre, and I didn’t want romance readers to pick up my new book and get invested in Jack and Meredith’s love story and then get blindsided by what happens.
In fact, I even found it difficult to label the story as an urban fantasy because the magic is pretty subtle…Meredith has prophetic dreams, Jack begins to speak to the dead, and there’s some ritual magic near the end of the book. But, it certainly isn’t mainstream fiction either.
That takes us to one of the advantages of genre; genre tells us what we can expect from the story. I read romance because I want a story that has a happy ending. More specifically, I tend to read romance on the spicy side. If I accidentally read a romance with closed-doors sex, I’m pretty disappointed. In fact, now that I’m a published author, I’ve thought more about what makes me put a book down. I don’t tend to like books written in first person. I don’t tend to like especially young, flighty female protagonists. I definitely don’t enjoy most young adult or new adult. Also, I like reading romance that’s on the graphic/spicy end of things, but I’m not really into romance with BDSM.
Overall, I think I’ve begun to get more comfortable with genre lines and which can be bent. One of the ongoing challenges is letting potential readers know what they’d be reading. If it’s an urban fantasy with sex, I need to let readers know that the spice level is pretty high so that they aren’t surprised. Heck, even some romance readers only like to read the “sweet” romance, ie, kisses only, doors closed for anything else. If I’m writing about a threesome, like in my story Werewolves in the Kitchen, I need to give readers a heads up.
It’s possible to blur those genre lines as long as you’re clearly communicating to your readers what’s going on. Some ways to do that are in the design of the book cover, the blurb for the book, and even some of the tags and the keywords and the excerpts. Werewolves in the Kitchen is a paranormal romance, but it’s also a M/F/M ménage, so the excerpt goes right into the three characters about to have sex so readers know exactly what they are getting into. http://www.shaunaauraknight.com/books/werewolves-in-the-kitchen-excerpt/
One of the excerpts for The White Dress, the Autumn Leaves, starts with Meredith’s prophetic dream of her own death so that there is no confusion—this story is not a story that fits the romance genre.
To effectively bend or break a rule, you have to know what the rules are. Know what a particular publisher wants to see. Know what your readers need to know before purchasing a book. Know how to communicate to your audience. Sometimes, you just have to write the story that’s in you to write and damn the genre lines. That’s where I was at with The White Dress, The Autumn Leaves. Just know that when you’re shopping a book out to a publisher—and when you’re marketing that book once it’s published—you’ll need to take extra care in communicating what the book is about so that it’s clear. Accept that not everyone is going to want to read your book if the genre isn’t clear. But, write the book that’s in you to write. It’s easier these days to find a home for our genre mutants. The key, if you can’t rely on an easy genre-identifier like paranormal romance, is to clearly communicating to your audience what your book is about.
Shauna Aura Knight
An artist, author, and presenter, Shauna’s work is inspired by the mythic stories of heroes, of swords and magic, and of the darkness we each must overcome. She’s a fantasy artist and author of paranormal romance and urban fantasy including Werewolves in the Kitchen, A Winter Knight’s Vigil, and The White Dress, the Autumn Leaves. Her mythic artwork and designs are used for magazine covers, book covers, and illustrations.
She travels nationally offering intensive education in the transformative arts of community leadership, facilitation, and personal transformation, and is the author of numerous articles and books on those subjects including The Leader Within, Dreamwork for the Initiate’s Path, and Ritual Facilitation.
Fiction Blog: https://shaunaknightauthorartist.wordpress.com
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