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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Writers LIfe: Who are you and what do you write?

Ms Stuart glumly contemplates her writing
Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away, I had coffee with my agent. It was New York and I was having coffee with MY agent in New York. You have to understand for an aspiring author from “downunder” this was pretty exciting. This particular agent had taken on my first book, which eventually came out as BY THE SWORD (no thanks to him… we did in fact part company not so very long after that coffee in a New York Deli). He had ALMOST sold it to Bantam, the editor liked it and wanted to buy it but the marketing department had said “No… we can’t sell it.” and that was that.

The ghist of what my agent was telling me was that, apart from being set in the English Civil War (”unsaleable period of history”), it could not be neatly labelled as either “historical fiction” or “romantic fiction”. “Make up your mind what you are writing,” he told me. “Publishers need to be able to file books in the right part of the bookstore, and you are straddling the fence.”

I didn’t listen, I didn’t learn from what he was saying, I just went right on writing the stories I liked to read - good solid historical fiction with romance. BY THE SWORD eventually found a publisher, as did THE KING’S MAN. Then came a long hiatus which ended with the publication of GATHER THE BONES. That agent would be throwing his hands in the air. What was I thinking? Here was a story set in 1923 (historical), we had a hero/heroine and a HEA (romance) but there were ghosts (paranormal?) and a murder mystery (suspense?). How many fences could I straddle at one go? Of course, because I don't listen, I promptly followed this up with SECRETS IN TIME… It’s time travel with witchcraft…

I have to say there is a genuine craft to writing a good cross genre story - the parts must blend seamlessly. You can't just bolt bits on and hope it hangs together or you end up with a "Frankenbook", as I did when I attempted to change a regency romance with a mystery to a regency mystery with a romance. You are fooling no one - particularly your readers. I have written about my journey with the "Frankenbook" in a previous post: Black Moment of the Writer's Soul.

The “Submission Island” segment of the recent Romance Writers of Australia was an eye opener. A panel of editors passed judgments on different pieces of work submitted by brave authors. They then had to say why they would have passed on the book or asked for more. I have written about this at greater length HERE. What that session did for me was to bring home the lesson that the long ago agent (and a number of loyal friends) have been drumming into my head for the past *ahem* years. MAKE UP YOUR MIND WHAT GENRE YOU ARE ADDRESSING. I knew that…I really did know that…but…but… I like to read the sort of books I write.

Needless to say I returned from Perth feeling a little glum until I picked up the August edition of the Romance Writers Report (the journal of Romance Writers America) and the magazine fell open at this article ‘A DASH OF THIS, A PINCH OF THAT: Serving up a slice of history, mystery and romance” by Anna Lee Huber. What? Isn't that what I write?

Anna Lee Huber, I love you… you are my soul sister.

Anna Lee writes: “…Like a well-brewed cup of coffee, rich dark rum and expertly whipped cream are each delicious, so are historicals, romance and mysteries. But combine all of the elements, and, as Laura Willig said ‘You have the literary equivalent of tiramisu: coffee, alcohol and cream all layered together’…”. I haven’t read any of Laura Willig’s works (or Anna Lee but I have added her to my TBR pile).

It is an excellent article and I am cutting it out and keeping it next to my computer because Anna Lee Huber, has given me permission to write “cross genre novels”. I finally have a “label” I can live with. 

People...READERS… my name is Alison Stuart and I write “cross genre historical novels”. 

As one dear friend who bailed me up in a corner once said. “Ask yourself… if a reader picks up an Alison Stuart do they know what they are getting?” YES! Dear friend, they are getting a cross genre story… There is romance for those who like romance, history for those who like a meaty plot and those extra little elements for people who like ghosts or mysteries or time travel, or medicals… That is who I am, that is what I write. I have changed all my descriptions to read “author of cross genre historical fiction” because I have a label and I am not afraid to use it!

There is of course a downside to this revelation and that is how to sell books, which is a universal problem. As Nina Bruhns said at the Perth conference (paraphrasing). “In today’s publishing world, you can certainly publish that sixteenth century Japanese gay spy story — just don’t expect to pay the bills”. Anna Lee doesn’t have an easy answer for me… (curse you, Anna Lee!). It all comes down to word of mouth. So (pathetic plea follows…) if you have read my books and liked them, tell one other person - that’s all it takes. Or write an Amazon or Goodreads review and if you are a fellow author, remember Julia Quinn’s words of advice from the RWA Conference: “No author ever harmed their career by helping another author.”

Dear readers,if you are looking for historicals with a bit of a difference - that is cross genre historicals, the fine tiramisu of the writing world, try an Alison Stuart. You can find out about them by clicking HERE.

PS. GATHER THE BONES has been nominated for four major awards this year... in several different categories from paranormal through to mainstream. Another downside of cross-genrism!