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.