Changing Genres

Writer – (noun) a person engaged in writing books, articles, stories, etc., especially as an occupation or profession; an author or journalist.

As I’ve pointed out before, that definition falls short. It’s certainly not my definition.

To me, a writer is someone so adept at the literary arts that he or she can write on cue. To me, a writer loves writing for the craft itself, so much so that even genre becomes irrelevant. To a disciplined, well-trained writer the written word is an end unto itself.

It took me years to learn that!

My first few outings as a novelist were exactly what my friends expected from me: Dark Fantasy/Horror. They came so easily to me, those morbid tales. (After all, I had spent years playing fantasy role-playing games; nothing hones one’s storytelling chops quite like ‘Dungeons n’ Dragons’!)

Those novels did reasonably well, at least by the standards of the ‘indie’ scene. But this reality sunk in fairly quickly: Fantasy and Horror are extremely difficult genres to break into! Name recognition is everything in those circles. If you’re not already a known entity, most readers won’t buy your book. Which leaves the fledgling author in a bit of a quandary: How does one become a known entity if one must already be a known entity to sell well? (Kinda like Alice Cooper once sang: ‘I ain’t got a job ‘cuz I ain’t got a car/ I ain’t got a car ‘cuz I ain’t got a job…’)

As I thought about what I wanted to write for my fourth novel, something began to slowly dawn on me, something that created a budding paradigm shift in my thinking. That ‘something’ was this: Virtually all of my readers were female.

That completely floored me. Of course there are ‘horror chicks’ out there, a lot of ‘em; I was always in good company there, but I still assumed that most of my readers would be male. (After all, ninety percent of my D&D buddies were nerdy dudes.)

Slowly a plan came together. If I was capable of pulling a female audience into a genre with a male-dominated fan base, then perhaps I could also tackle the world’s best-selling genre: Romance. The demand for romance novels is completely off the rails, and romance readers are far less discriminating than fantasy/horror readers. If the cover blurb and a cursory flip-through captures their interest, they’ll read your book; you won’t be placed back on the shelf because you’re not Danielle Steele.

And thus I found myself at a crossroads: I could either keep writing what I wanted while selling poorly, or I could write what the market wanted and enjoy more success. But here was the rub: Could I learn to write what the market wanted while finding a way to make it interesting to me?

So (after reading boxes full of romance novels, by way of research) I began working on a manuscript entitled Kilbride

Kilbride turned out to be a total dud, and sat in a shoebox for over a decade. It was a mediocre piece of work, and I knew it.

Life went on from there. I continued writing, and enjoyed a fair amount of success as a blogger. I also wrote a few more fantasy novels, although I didn’t work very hard at marketing them. And all the while Kilbride sat in the closet, gathering dust and nearly forgotten…

I don’t recall what made me brush it off, and give it another read. But somehow, the reason for my failure became immediately clear: I didn’t have a solid handle on the romance genre.

And ironically, I’d also had a solid handle on the genre all along.

My fantasy novels developed a cult following due mostly to their love-story sub-plots. I was so freaked out by changing genres that I somehow missed the fact that I’d been writing romance all along. Everyone engages in romantic pursuits, from the giggling college-girl to the tobacco-chewing hillbilly. Humans instinctively seek relationships. As the Bible says, ‘male and female created He them’.  The genders comprise two halves of a whole, and humans – virtually all of them – instinctively ‘pair up’.

How did I miss that?

Ultimately Kilbride was a flop because – despite having well-developed characters – it lacked tension, and conflict; I somehow got it into my head that romance novels had to be sweet and sappy. I should have known better; all stories revolve around conflict.

And there I saw a ray of hope: I’m good at writing conflict! I stuck my fantasy characters in a literary vise, gleefully creating a nightmarish world for them to inhabit. In so doing, I also gave them a chance to become the noblest – or darkest – possible versions of themselves. This is how life works; why should fiction be any different?

So I cracked my knuckles, and began re-writing Kilbride from scratch…

This time, people were going to suffer. This time, life was going to painful. This time, my characters were going to scream for mercy. This time I would refine my characters by fire; they would either succumb to their various torments, or rise above them.

In some sense, I switched genres by moving into romance…

And in another sense, I changed nothing at all. Because in the end, the common denominator was… me. My worldview, my plotting instincts, my word usage, my sense of humor and my sense of darkness… All of those traits are immutable, as they are with any word-smith.

There are still moments during which I forget that, of course. I had the opportunity recently to contribute to a ‘cowboy romance’ anthology. I originally dismissed it, to be honest. What?! I ain’t Louis L’Amour! I thought. But then I reconsidered. Are you a writer or are you not? I asked myself. You’re not gonna let this assignment kick your ass, are you? My initial hesitation made me the ‘Ginny-come-lately’ as far as my submission went, but it succeeded; the resulting story, Orion, should see print next spring.

Orion cemented my paradigm shift: I just love to write! I’ll tell ya any story you want, so long as you read it. Essentially, all genres are the same; it’s just a matter of where you place the emphasis. You can tell the exact same tale in both horror and romance. It’s just that in horror, you emphasize the pain and the fear; in romance, you emphasize the love, the human connection. But all of those elements will nevertheless be present in both versions of the tale.

And Kilbride…?

Raised from the ashes under the title When the White Knight Falls, it’ll be coming your way sometime this winter. It’s under contract from Black Velvet Seductions, a well-respected romance imprint run by one of the best people I know, Richard Savage.

Brigham Young once wrote that we should ‘pray like God’s going to do it for us, and work like we have to do it ourselves’. My blood, sweat, and tears would have been all for naught had God not steered me toward the right people… and He did.

So yeah, I spent well over a decade re-learning something that I knew all along…

Genre is irrelevant.

Writers are not!

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7 thoughts on “Changing Genres

  1. Great blog post Virginia! I too started off as a fantasy writer… and switched to romance because I wanted to break into the short stories for magazines market. Now I write fantasy romance! I can’t wait to read your book. I loved your story in Desire Me Again.

  2. Great blog, Virginia. I would tell Alice Cooper to take the bus. No excuses. I don’t know if you were going there but what I just read said to me, I had excuses and I got rid of them. Now I can succeed. ❤️

  3. Love this post! A writer is a writer. Period. Looking forward to your story in the cowboy anthology and When The White Knight Falls.

  4. I really enjoyed this post! Yes, it’s conflict in the romances that I admit I love reading 🙂

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