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Sunday, June 25, 2017

What It Boils Down To

Why don't I call myself a romance author?

It's a question I'm asked often. Sometimes with curiosity, sometimes with open hostility. Sometimes it's a serious point of contention that invokes nearly a year's worth of angry gossip and bad-mouthing on social media (Hi, Stalker-Girl! Might I suggest a healthier means of passing all your free time).

The answer is simple, and it isn't heinous. The answer is this: for me, the romantic elements of a story are never the most important.

I'm not bad-mouthing the romance genre. I'm not making a statement about it. I enjoy a good romance as much as the next reader. But when it comes to writing, the romantic plot of a story is never the most important aspect for me personally, and I think that shows in the final products. Writing romance is not really my strong suit - my strength lies in other areas of the narrative.

Some readers DO find my books romantic, and that's fantastic. Hopefully that means I capture romantic expression and feeling better than I think I do.

Some readers find my books to be lacking in romance, and that's fine too; to each her own. That's why I label most of my work "literary fiction," so that readers know going in to expect a story that focuses more on family relationships and personal struggles than on romantic chemistry.

During the conceptualization phase of writing, when I'm fleshing out my characters in rough, handwritten notes, I'm not thinking about their love lives. Take a character like Fox, for instance; it's taken a very long time to "find" his mate in my mind because, from the beginning, I was never thinking about his character arc in terms of romance. Even now, I can't promise that he'll marry an old lady, settle down and have children, because I have a hard time seeing that happen for him.

Genre labels boil down to marketing. Authors try to classify their books as honestly as possible so that the readers most likely to enjoy them will have an easier time finding them. When I first started on my publishing journey (2008), when I was querying, I called myself a romance writer. Through various interactions with agents, publishers, and editors, I eventually learned that my books didn't focus on the romantic relationships tightly enough to be considered genre romance. I fell into that limbo category of "fiction," where books with identity crises find themselves in bookstores. I had a choice: shift the focus of my books, or change  my label. I changed my label. And I continue to write books that are difficult to market - this is my burden to shoulder, and is in no way commentary on any particular genre. (Anyone who claims to have serious issues with the way I choose to label my books is just looking for things to be unhappy about. Haters, still, sadly, gonna hate).

The reason I blog about this from time to time is because I want readers to be happy. I want them to know where I'm coming from creatively so they know what to expect from my work.

Like White Wolf, for example. This series is such a passion project for me. It's an amalgamation of so many inspiring interests. It contains some touching and intense love stories...but as with my other work, I won't mislead anyone by claiming that romance drives the story. Think more historical and contemporary fiction with romantic subplots.

I think it'll always bother me that in a field that is essentially art, built on a foundation of individual artistic expression, a person can be bullied and belittled for pursuing her art in the way that's best-suited to her, but hey, it's a nasty world out there. Some people build sandcastles, and some kick them over for the fun of it. What I learned last year, while I was having a creative rejuvenation working on Walking Wounded, was that I'm at my best when I focus on the things that interest me the most, and that's something I'm definitely pursuing with my new Sons of Rome series. It's big, and daunting, I can't wait to share it with everyone.

Thank you, readers, as always, for your kindness and understanding.


  1. Maybe I am a weird reader. I read everything; all genres. I particularly like male authors because of the way they write...they don't feel apologetic about the way it is done. I also read a lot of romance, but it is a guilty pleasure. It's something that makes my life easier, which is a probably a lack in my life. I do love romance. I am happy when I find an author that can write lyrically and still explore the romance of connections between people...impaired and maybe unlovable, but like all our true selves.
    I feel sorry that anyone has to explain their writing process. I guess the critics aren't writing their own books, who really cares what they think. I am amazed by what people think they have a right to say to others. Personally, I don't care what they think...they should just move on and read elsewhere.
    I deeply appreciate your writing, your words, your characters, your places that become real when I read them. What more can you ask than they become "real"?
    I love...please carry on.

    1. Wow, thank you so much! I love your take on it. Some of my favorite authors are male - if you haven't read anything by Michael Chabon, I can't recommend him enough, his "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay" is one of my all-time favorite books - and I've tried to pin down why that is. But I can't, because whether male or female, all my favorite authors have one thing in common: they don't let their own voices get in the way. I feel incredibly grounded in a particular character's story, no matter his or her background or experiences. I love when the author is telling an interesting story, and allowing me to draw my own conclusions, rather than catering to a particular kind of audience.

      I think there are two kinds of readers: the genuine book lovers who read for enjoyment and education, who like and dislike books based on personal preferences. And then there are those who have an agenda within the publishing industry, who are trying to help or hurt authors for their own reasons. In my experience, the bullies always fall into the latter category. It's such a shame those people never grow up and move on from their schoolyard days, and continue to take pleasure in trying to harm others.

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment!

  2. ^^^ beautifully expressed. We all want that " real " connection while reading a story and you always deliver just that. Realness

  3. WOW what a waste of energy. To think that that negative energy could become positive productive energy is daunting to me. I don't understand those that love misery, song pun intended. I'm sorry that you have to go through that to give us the wonderful genre that you write and that has developed a huge following for your writing.

    I love your genre. I regret not having read your works earlier. I remember when I stumbled into Fearless, I was floored and immediately noticed the difference between literary fiction and romance. Like you said, not that there is anything wrong with romance but your writing has so much more meat to it. I love the fact that the romance happens within the story, it is not the story. To each it's own and I respect everyone's preference but rest assured you have a great following.
    My preference is literary fiction. I do like to jump around genre's just because I like a little of everything so I am looking forward to your new series.

    I know and totally understand you don't like to be stereotyped with the Dartmoor series but we love it so much. Please continue to give us glimpses of our Dartmoor family. :-b