Since my first novel was published in 2012, finding the right shelf in the bookstore for my stories has been a challenge. I’m talking, of course, about genre. Turns out, my stories don’t fit in any particular genre.
Genre is a handy label to give readers an idea of the kind of story they’re about to read. The label also creates expectations. Fail to meet those expectations and genre purists blow a gasket.
My novels are labeled as m-m fiction with additional labels — such as mystery. thriller, or historical — tagged on for clarification. Even when I try, I don’t write the kind of story romance readers expect.
Happy Independence Day was my first serious attempt at a traditional m-m romance. The story revolves around not one, not two, but three relationships (Philip Potter and George Walker, Terrence Bottom and Cameron McKenzie, Harold Clarkson and Marty). The verdict from readers and reviewers was unanimous: This is not a romance.
Being a slow learner, I tried again. Whippersnapper was supposed to be a May-September romance between young Tellumo Magnamater and crotchety old man, Oliver Crumbly. This time, the wonderful folks at Dreamspinner Press assigned a special editor to help make the story more of what romance readers expect.
Again, I failed. The editor (who’s fantastic, by the way), did her best. The problem is that the story isn’t a romance. The relationship between Tellumo and Oliver doesn’t get going until better than halfway through the book That’s not what romance readers want.
The story didn’t conform to m-m romance conventions, so readers and reviewers alike didn’t know what to think. Nearly all the reviews say something about Whippersnapper not being a romance. Some still enjoyed the story — others, not so much.
As with its three predecessors, I’m proud of Whippersnapper. If I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t change anything about the story. I would, however, change the blurb so readers didn’t expect a romance.
Romance readers want a lot of sex. Any sex scenes I write — and there aren’t many of them — advance the plot or reveal something new about a character. With few exceptions, the stories I’ve read wouldn’t suffer a bit if the multi-page sex scenes were reduced to three words: They had sex.
But then, I’m not a romance reader. In fact, getting through more than the first few chapters of even a good romance is a challenge for me. Given that truth, it’s no wonder that writing romance isn’t my cup of tea.
After four novels, I know who I am as a writer. I write the kind of stories I like to read — stories true enough for government work. Realism matters. My characters aren’t real people — but they could be.
I write fiction that reflects real life. Or at least,I try. Whether I’m successful or not is a different issue. As to genre, it is what it is — whatever you want to call it. At this stage of the game, I have no desire to change.