Between a Rock and a Hard Place

I’ve been facing a dilemma for a while now. I think it’s a silly dilemma, but unless it’s life or death, most usually are. They are usually not of your own making as well, at least in my case. My current writing dilemma is making me a little bit irritated, but maybe you guys have some thoughts on it that will help me decide what to do.

As you may be aware, I attempted my first romantic suspense story during NaNoWriMo. The characters were the easiest I’ve ever written–the story flowed from my fingertips with few moments of “what the heck should they do now?” or “what is she going to say to that?” Some of the characters are a little too fond of sexual innuendo and some of them are alpha males, so while the book doesn’t contain more than a simmer, it’s too much for a line like Love Inspired Suspense.

Not only did I fall in love with these, the two tamest of the characters so far, ideas for other people in their world took off. I have outlines or ideas for three more romantic suspense offerings. But beyond these four stories that I am happily charting? I don’t know if I have any other suspense books in me. The first book was a fun adventure into something new, and the others are characters from that bold new thing that just clamored for their own story. I don’t have any other suspense ideas waiting in the wings. But I have a TON of Love Inspired things waiting.

I have a big connecting event that links eight stories I’m tentatively calling the Always Series. I’m still getting to know the characters, but I love them and their stories. I have a little something from most major tropes and I can’t wait to twist them into something that’s uniquely mine. They feature strong Christian characters whose beliefs are put to the test and the things that they’ve held onto that aren’t like God are stripped away by this life changing event. And there are other stories beyond this series–Pleasure’s story, Josie’s story, Hope’s story, Patience’s story–that are not connected but would fit with the Love Inspired line. Not to mention stories that fit neither of these modes. I love and read all sorts of stories and want to write all sorts of stories. I still haven’t given up hope of branching into memoir, literary fiction, and non-fiction Christian living. But it doesn’t seem possible to do it all the way I would like.

I spoke to some people familiar with Harlequin, my dream home for my romances, and they have said that Harlequin prefers that as a new writer you build your audience in one line. Only veteran authors write across lines after establishing their audience and building a solid fan base. So if I sell my romantic suspense first, I would be committed to romantic suspense for the foreseeable future and then would have to speak with my editor and agent if applicable to try and work out writing for another line. Also, there is the general rule of thumb that if you write for the inspirational lines you should write across lines. I’m sure I didn’t say that correctly, but that’s the gist.

The only options I could think of are to write one genre under a pen name, go with another publisher for one genre, self-publish one genre, or give up on a genre…for now. I’m not new to writing by any means. I’ve spent 25 years with all of these stories backed up in me waiting to spill out. I’ve taken classes and attended workshops and have followed forums, boards, and threads. I have developed my voice if not my following. I don’t want to give up on getting ALL of the stories I have within me out to the masses.

One other option presented was to try and gear the romantic suspense stories to Love Inspired Suspense, but the characters won’t work within that line. For example, Mallory’s best friend Emma is bawdy and full of sexual innuendo and Jake’s body makes Mallory think about liking her way around his abs, even if she doesn’t do it. A lot of the fun of the stories is this offbeat humor and flirty fun. I’ve been told that not having premarital sex may not fit with the other romantic suspense lines, so I may have to submit my romantic suspense elsewhere for that reason anyway.

Does anyone have any suggestions? Does anyone know of another reputable publisher I should be considering? How do you solve your writing dilemmas?

XOXO,

Erica

P.S. A couple of things:

1. I am going to be adding reviews to this site! That was part of the original purpose, and I have a few reviews on here, but I want to start reviewing some Harlequin titles and get my readership up to be approved for Love Inspired titles through NetGalley. I will create a tab for reviews and link all of the pertinent details. I also review Harlequins (not inspy) on Harlequin Junkie. All my reviews have Erica tags.

2. There will be other changes to the site that I am working on but they aren’t ready to be revealed yet. Any changes you would like to see?

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My Love/Hate Relationship with the AA Lit Section

Like Richard Wright's novel Native Son, I Know...

I need to see more of this man in my bookstore, and not in the AA section. Image via Wikipedia

I’ve been moving this post further and further back in my mind because I didn’t know how to approach it or if my readership would understand exactly where I was coming from. However, the more I think about it, the more I realize that I’m not the only one who is being done a disservice here. At least I know I am being shortchanged. So, without further ado:

I have a love/hate relationship with the African-American Literature ( heretofore known as AA Lit)section in bookstores the world over. Whether it was Borders or Barnes and Nobles, or the used bookstore I found in the historic downtown district of my relatively small town, they all have a small AA Lit section somewhere. I am conflicted about this. There are pros and cons, in my mind, to “our” literature having its own section. I’ll go through the majors with you:

Pros:

  • I know where to find any book by, about, or “for” African-Americans.
  • I can see at a glance if a book by an AA author is in stock.

Cons:

  • If I don’t know the author’s race, I can spend a lot of time looking in the wrong places.
  • I can assume the bookstore doesn’t have a book because I don’t know the author is African-American.
  • Other races of people, as well as African-Americans,  don’t have the same exposure to African-American literature, as they have to seek it out in its separate section.
  • All African-American books are in the AA section, regardless of the genre of the work. In some cases, the AA section will include both fiction and non-fiction, history, sociology, books on writing, erotica, gay and lesbian literature, romance, thrillers, and cultural criticism.
  • I can’t explore the specific genre an AA author writes in without leaving the AA section and finding the appropriate section.
  • Other than the agreed upon classics (Their Eyes Were Watching God, The Color Purple, Invisible Man), Urban Literature (“Hoodwives of Atlanta, etc), Erotica by Zane, and commentary by Tavis Smiley and Cornel West, the rest of Black/AA literature is glaringly underrepresented.
  • The AA section is usually in the back corner of the store, like a dirty secret.

It was recognized very early on that I liked to read. My mother and relatives always made it a point to buy/bring me books to read. They bought me books with little girls and boys on them that looked like me as well as the classic children’s books. I didn’t realize until I was older and buying my own books how hard it would be to find quality books by Black authors.

At first, it didn’t bother me that they had their own section. It made it easier to find Black authors if I wanted a specific book or author. But then, I noticed that the books were all the same after a while. They would stock a few that are inevitably chosen for high school or freshmen composition/English classes for the “African-American segment” of the class, a few that teen girls and popular fiction addicts would like (usually with adult themes of sexuality, infidelity, drug use/drug dealing, “pimping”, women using men for money, etc), and a few books by the default “Black leaders” of the day about how to progress. I stopped being exposed to new (to me) authors that I would like to read. I was relegated to Amazon to find a wider range of books by African-Americans. It was like they were telling me what I should be interested in reading by African Americans while making it difficult for anyone not specifically looking for AA Lit to stumble upon it.

I know that bookstores stock what they think will sell based up what has sold in the past, their relationships with publishers, the NYT bestseller list and probable book club/ school reading selections. But the placement of the books is in their control. I believe books should be placed by their genre, not by the race of their author. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings should be in the same section as Augusta Gone. The Dew Breakers should be in the same section as The Bonesetter’s Daughter. Erotica by Zane should be in the same section as the Best Erotica of 2010 compilation. Some Toni Morrison needs to be rubbing shoulders with Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner. I should be able to get The Broke Diaries and Prozac Nation without going from one end of the bookstore to the other. I wouldn’t expect Angela’s Ashes to be in a separate section for Irish-American Literature.

So, there. I’m calling bookstores out. I’m putting you “on front street.” I know you all are having big problems now that eReaders have cropped up and the magazine market took a nosedive. But I still believe in bookstores. I just want the bookstore to be a little more colorblind. When I debut my first book, I don’t want it shoved in the back corner in the Black Literature section, but upfront in the new releases, then eventually back in fiction…or memoir, depending which book I release first. Thanks.

One Chick’s Lit

Cover of "Bridget Jones's Diary"

Cover of Bridget Jones's Diary

My NaNoWriMo novel is my first attempt at Chick Lit. I have a love/hate relationship with the Chick Lit genre, mainly because for some reason, many authors get away with subpar writing in this genre. It’s a gripe I have with many genres, such as urban fiction and whatever it is that the Twilight books fall into (but you’ll hear me talk about that later). The second problem I have with it, like with many other genres, has little to do with the writing and more to do with the fact that no matter what I write, I will be stuck in literary segregation in the bookstore (more on that in a later post as well).

However, I do love some Chick Lit, and I like what the genre does when it is working well.

I fell in love with chick lit when I read one book: Bridget Jones’ Diary. I got the book from Amazon along with some other books, and I couldn’t put it down. I remember that it was cold when I read it, and I wasn’t in school at the time. I remember wearing sweats and bundling up in a blanket on the living room couch, reading voraciously. Bridget flitted from one cringe-worthy moment to another, getting herself in all kinds of trouble that her friends good naturedly tried to help her out of. She had a dead end job, a crappy relationship (when she had one), and crazy friends. As the book went on, her whole life was transformed. She blossomed right before my eyes. It was what all women wanted–to achieve success in career and love without losing the wonderful friends who made life worth it when you had neither. It was girl power–er, woman power.

That’s what I want for my NaNoWriMo novel. My heroine is not finding love–at the start of the action, she has a great man. She has one really great girlfriend (not the optimum three). Her job leaves a lot to be desired but her life is pretty boring. That is, her life is boring except she is a compulsive liar–a well-meaning one, but that’s what she is. She lies about everything. The thing is, she wants it to be the truth, and starts out trying to make it the truth, but life gets in the way. The next thing you know, time slips away and she is faced with delivering on the lies or being humiliated and shamed. She may also lose her amazing man.

I will tell you more about the story as it develops, but I am excited about it. I want to eventually publish it. It should be ready just in time for all the events in the book to have happened (some take place in 2011). We will see.

I’ve never read many of the current favorites of the genre–the Shopaholics books, the ones with Sweet Potato in the title–which all appear to be serials, but I’m sure I’ll get around to it. What I hope to find in them, as I hope can be found in my own work, is good/great writing, fun & laughter, character growth, an emphasis on female friendship, expansion on what it means to be a woman from one woman’s existence, and a way to create a dialogue about something larger than shoes & purses.

What’s your NaNoWriMo novel about? What are you hoping your book would add to the genre if published? What great book inspired your love of the genre?

P.S. Love the clinical word for compulsive liars: Pseudologia Fantastica–sounds sexy! 😀