Howdy, folks! Bet you didn't expect to see me today. I didn't either. But when Joyce put out the SOS, I had this nice rant all worked up and ready to go for my September blog date, and now I get it out of my system sooner.
(FYI, the RITA is RWA’s top honor. It’s like the MWA’s Edgar, Malice Domestic’s Agatha, or the science fiction people’s Hugo award. A pretty damn big deal in the romance genre. She also has a Reviewer’s Choice award.)
I should mention that it was my idea to push the romantic suspense angle this year. There are a lot of romance writers in Nashville—everywhere, really—and they weren’t coming to the conference because they didn’t think it contained anything for them. I talked the executive director of Killer Nashville into inviting a few of the bigger local romantic suspense names to attend, and they went with Annie and with the enormously successful Sherrilyn Kenyon.
Anyway, there we were, sitting in front of a bunch of published and pre-published mystery writers discoursing on Love and Murder: how to juggle romance and mystery in crime fiction.
We were talking genre, because that’s what we write, and the various expectations people—agents, editors, readers—have when they pick up one of our books. In romantic suspense, a couple of sex scenes, more or less explicit, are de rigeur. Same for romantic thrillers and a lot of traditional mysteries. Hardboiled, noir... descriptive, even graphic sex is fine. In cozies, a sex scene looks more like this:
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At the end of the panel, we opened it up to questions from the audience, and this woman—who shall remain nameless, although I’d really like to share her name publicly—pipes up. Not with a question, but to tell the audience that genre is bogus, and that they shouldn’t worry about it; they should write the book that is in their hearts and let the chips fall where they may. Her publishing company—yes, she was an editor, soliciting manuscripts during our panel—doesn’t care about genre conventions. She ended up with a question—to the panel—that sounded a lot like: “Do you just write genre for the money?”
Hell, yeah. And I told her so. After which she went on to suggest that I was selling out and didn’t have an artistic bone in my body.
And you know what? I’m good with that. As far as I'm concerned, she can believe anything she wants about me. I don't know her, and after that, I don't care if I ever do. Here’s the thing, though: I’m all for writing the book of your heart. Absolutely, you have to do that. I’ve been there and done it. A Cutthroat Business was the book of my heart. But if you can write that book within the conventions of the genre you’re trying to enter, it’s going to be so much easier for you to sell it. As Marilyn Monroe said, "It's just as easy to fall in love with a rich man as a poor man."
See, if it’s a cozy with a sex scene, it either ceases to be a cozy—and cozy editors will turn it down—or you’ll be asked to prune all those beautiful words you agonized over. Same thing with subject matter: if the book that’s in your heart is about a serial killer, you’re probably not writing a cozy. You may not be looking at a mystery at all, but a suspense novel or a thriller. If you can’t put the hero and heroine together in the last chapter, and they don’t get their HEA—Happy Ever After—you haven’t written a romance. If there are vampires or demons, I don’t care how cozy the rest of the book is, or whether the hero and heroine get together at the end: it’s a paranormal. Just like you can’t write a paranormal without the supernatural element, you can’t write a romance without the HEA or a cozy with the sex.
And that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with toeing the line. If you’re looking for commercial success as a professional writer—big publisher, big advance, big distribution; maybe even making a living—the closer you can stay to the genre blueprint, the better off you are. That isn’t what everyone wants, or what everyone gets, but if that’s your choice, then more power to you. Do it, and write the best damn cozy or romance novel or thriller or noir mystery the world has seen.
Or write the book of your heart, eschew convention, spit on genre, and sell it to someone who doesn’t care about large-scale commercial success, but who loves it like you do and feels that it’s a book that deserves to be published and read, even if just by the few people who realize it exists.
Success is subjective, and far be it from me to tell anyone what their definition should be. And I'd appreciate it if everyone would just afford me that same courtesy.
Whoa, I feel better now. :-)
(The picture up above was taken by Rae Ann Parker. That's Annie on the left, me in the middle in full yap, next to me is Laura Elvebak (she's wearing peach, and you have to squint to see her), and in the black and white is Karen Gallahue (I believe). We had two Karens, the other was McCullough, but I think she arrived later.)
As it happens, I'm also over on the Southern Authors blog today, if anyone wants to stop by. The theme there this month is setting, so I'm babbling about some of my fave places.