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The Challenges of Genre Bending, Straddling and Hopping by A.B. Michaels

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Three times a week I take a class at our local gym (which I think of as “dance” instead of the dreaded “e” word just to get me out of bed to do it) and yes, I count the jumping around as part of my daily steps. But it occurred to me that I’ve been doing something similar in my writing, which, even though it doesn’t count as steps (darn it), is still quite a workout. Here’s what I mean:

When I published my first book four years ago, I had a vision: I would write about generations of characters associated with a fictional place on the Northern California coast called “Sinner’s Grove.” The contemporary series was straightforward. I have two books in that series and am working on a third; they all fall squarely within the genre of “romantic suspense.” Easy peasy.

The historical line, however, posed a challenge: I thought I was writing historical romance, but it turns out, I wasn’t. It was more like “romantic historical fiction.” Those of you who read both historical fiction and historical romance know there’s a noticeable difference between the two types of fiction. In historical romance, the relationship is paramount; the story centers around the (usually) male and female lead characters and whether or not they’re going to solve their problems and get together. There must be a “Happily ever after” or at least a “Happily for now” ending. The background for their struggles is some kind of historical period, such as Regency, 18th century Scotland, the Wild West, etc. but the period serves primarily as a framework through which the relationship is explored.

Historical fiction is different in that a romantic relationship isn’t required, and the ending doesn’t necessarily have to be happy. Even if there is a relationship (as all my books contain), that relationship isn’t always front and center.

Take my latest book, The Price of Compassion. The story of Dr. Tom Justice (who was introduced briefly to readers in books two and three of “The Golden City” series) is primarily about the choices he makes throughout his life that lead to his arrest for murder. It’s a novel about taking responsibility for the not-so-great decisions we make, of course, but also for the difficult choices, even if they’re the right ones, that we often have to live with.

Is there a love story? Yep. (Honestly, I don’t think I’d enjoy writing a story that didn’t contain some kind of romantic element, and I definitely prefer reading stories that contain a bit of romance, even if it’s subtle.) But the relationship between Tom and Katherine takes place over several years and is not the primary focus of the story.

The Price of Compassion is set in the Gilded Age, which is the latter part of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth. That makes it historical. Is it romantic? I certainly think so. But is it a romance? No, not in the strict sense of that genre. In my mind it straddles the two genres, or perhaps bends one into the other. And sometimes it hops back and forth between the two.

All of which makes for difficult marketing, let me tell you! Some historical romance readers love the structure of that genre and may be disappointed in the flow of my stories. One reviewer, for example, said of my first novel that I “took too long” to get the hero and heroine together. Another reviewer said she loved the fact that I took the time to tell each character’s story before getting them together! The truth is, some historical fiction readers will find my work too romantic, and some historical romance readers will find that it’s not romantic enough. I just have to live with the fact that my writing is “betwixt and between.”

The good news is, there are plenty of readers who don’t worry as much as I do about the structure of a given genre. They just love a page-turning tale about interesting characters living through a fascinating period of history. If romance is part of that story, so much the better. Those are my peeps and that’s what I aim to deliver with every novel I write. As the famed movie director Vincent Minelli once said, “It’s the story that counts.”

Ugh, now back to getting more steps…

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