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The Unwitting, But Perhaps Not Unwilling, Romance Writer December 5, 2011

Posted by shannonmuir in Advice, analysis, Books, ebooks, epub, fiction, indie, indie publishing, NaNoWriMo, novels, plot, poetry, publishing, theme, Writing.
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Apparently I’m a romance writer.

That definitely wasn’t by design.

I grew up reading fantasy and science fiction, and really like it, but don’t have my skills developed well enough to make completely fictional non-Earth places that strong yet. My training, being an undergraduate English – Creative Writing major, actually wound up focusing on my poetry when I learned to my horror that genre fiction was not OK in academic creative writing circles (the closest we came was a class I took called “Epic Fantasy” which was actually a thinly disguised excuse to read LORD OF THE RINGS for a grade over the course of a whole semester… the third time I’d read it). Because of that, I avoided the prose workshops like the plague because I had no desire to do anything short story wise except science fiction and fantasy, but since my original love of writing was sparked by poetry, that became the direction for my required workshops.

For years afterward, I actually pursued very little prose writing and focused solely on learning and honing the script trade. I even made a sale to an animated series taht aired only in Japan and was bought for dubbing in parts of Europe. From what I understand it was pretty successful where it aired.

So when I started doing prose again for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) again seven years ago, I just went with something that felt natural to me. I didn’t care about genre at that point. I just cared about trying to write a story again. The result that came from my efforts is TOUCH THE STARS, which became available in print last February and in ebook this past August. When it finally came time to put it up for sale, I had to think about where to categorize it. Initially, I went with Literature> Drama and Women’s Fiction, but noticed the latter category is rapidly seeming to fall out of favor and few books use it. So where else could I put the book, I needed to ask myself, when recently reviewing the classfications of both TOUCH THE STARS and my (not written in NaNoWriMo) follow-up, THE HEART’S DUTY?

I realized both of them have plots about men and women interacting, trying to see if they are right enough for one another, while others may be watching in the wings to see if there’s a fit. On a general level, I realized, that is what the heart of romance storytelling is. Neither of my books, admittedly, have steamy bodice ripper style scenes in them – that’s not to say there aren’t scenes of physical intimacy – but that is what they lean towards. So now I realize I am making baby steps toward being regularly categorized in the Romance category. I know myself well enough that no matter what I’m trying to write about women and relationships will always be interwoven somewhere in what I do.

I’ve actually had to read a lot of romance in the last year to get a better idea of what readers expect. It is my hope that both the books I’ve written are enjoyable, but I can tell you – and I will be honest about it – that they don’t come off like traditional romances. That is what they seem to be. My NaNoWriMo attempt for this year, HALF TRUTH AND FULL LYE, seems to be even closer to meeting “traditional” romance expectations, from what I can gather. It’s a weird process of reframing for someone trained that genre fiction is bad. Yet I argue, we did also have an entire class on Shakespeare (which I have heard is no longer required for the degree at my institution). If there was a list of masters of using expected plot formulas and tropes, Shakespeare’s on that list somewhere if not at the top of it.

So, though my settings and ideas I experiment with may mix quite a bit, realize that relationships – and the romance with them – will always play a role in what  I do.

ADDENDUM: And in a further complication to find my way to my niche, apparently someone doesn’t agree with my assessment. I tagged one of my titles as romance only to find on Amazon it has been untagged as “romance”. Probably because it doesn’t quite meet the traditional formula. Interestingly enough descriptions such as “contemporary romance” remained as tags. I really don’t know what to make of that.



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