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Friday, January 17, 2014

Taking Tea with...Anna Lee Huber

You know how sometimes you hit a low point in your life, be it personal or professional but just at that moment someone says the right word and it all becomes clear?  

Around August last year my writing life hit its nadir.  I have long since accepted that I wrote stories that were too historical for historical romance and too romantic for historical fiction. Add in a few ghosts, time travel and more recently, a murder or two and things were getting complex.  I had just written a blog about trying to fit what I wrote into a neat little package with an appropriate label. (THE BLACK MOMENT OF A WRITER'S SOUL). I had no clear idea of how to dig myself out of the hole into which I had fallen. By sheer chance (as I don't always read it), I opened the August edition of the Romance Writers' Report and it fell open at an article titled “A Dash of This, A Pinch of That:  Serving up a slice of History, Mystery and Romance” by Anna Lee Huber.  In the article Anna Lee wrote about the concept of being a "cross genre" author... and in a sense gave me (and I hope others) "permission" to say 'I an author of cross genre novels" (I tried saying "I am a cross genre author" but I thought that made me sound like a cross dresser). 

I tore the article from the magazine and contacted Anna Lee to thank her for her inspiring words and in August I posted a long blog about being the writer you want to be. WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT DO YOU WRITE?  It is now my great pleasure to welcome RITA winner, Anna Lee Huber to my tea table.

Hi Anna, George will be bringing in the tea tray shortly…. What is your preference in tea or are you a coffee drinker?

I’m definitely more of a tea-drinker, with cream or milk and sugar or Truvia (AS... had to look that one up! It's a sweetener for my non US readers), it depends how decadent we want to be. J My favorites are English Breakfast and Chai.  (AS:  Decadence is our middle name, isn't it George? Bring the cream...although I do have to say cream is not my first choice for tea...it's one of those strange American practices that no matter how many times I visit the US, I have not adapted to!)

Your article in the August edition of the Romance Writers Report leaped off the page at me.  At last someone who clearly articulated the sort of stories that I write – cross genre!  What prompted you to write the article?

I’ve often felt somewhat afloat in the genre/label-driven world of the publishing industry. My novels don’t quite fit in any one genre. They’re mysteries set in historical times with a liberal sprinkling of romance, and most of the novels I like to read are very similar, spanning a wide variety of genres. I wrote the article because it’s something that I would have liked to have read when I was just starting out - a confirmation that I’m not the only one out there writing cross-genre, along with some tips on how to navigate such a tricky publishing world.  I wanted other cross-genre writers to know they’re not alone, and to see their diverse subject matter as a strength rather than the weakness that many have tried to make us believe.

In a world that requires nice neat labels, what advice do you have about marketing cross genre stories?

Market to all of the genres your novel hits, within reason. If you have a publisher, they will try to pigeonhole you in one genre, and that’s fine. They do need to shelve you somewhere. But don’t let that limit your reach. Many readers read across genres (AS: Me for example! I am a reader too and I write the books I like to read!). This is a good thing. But accept that not everyone will be thrilled with your broader storyline. You’ll receive contradictory comments – one reader will say your story has too much romance, while another will say it has too little. You can’t please everyone, so just please yourself.

If you’re pitching to agents or publishers, my best advice is to be honest and up front about your novel’s cross-genre nature, but don’t make too fine a point of it. Tell them it’s, for example, a historical mystery with strong romantic elements, and leave it at that. A hint of those romantic elements should be in your synopsis so they can see where it weaves in, but don’t make another mention of it. Let them become excited about the story, not immediately leap to the conundrum they might face in marketing it. A good story is a good story, and they’ll see that.

Carnasserie Castle - part of the inspiration for Banbogle Castle in MORTAL ARTS
What or who ignited your passion for history?

I’ve always loved history. It was my favorite subject in school. In a way, I think it’s in my blood. Many of my ancestors were history buffs. I’m not sure what exactly first inspired me to write historical-set novels, except that it was what I often chose to read, and many of my daydreams took place in history. I’ve just always seen the amazing narrative potential in our past.

You are writing a series of romantic mysteries set in early Victorian England,  “The Lady Darby” series. What was the inspiration behind these books?

Some of my favorite authors write in this cross-genre, and following the advice that you should write what you love, I decided to give it a try. Everything about it was completely intentional, even the character of Lady Darby. I created her and crafted her backstory specifically to give her skills that would be useful in a murder investigation and to provide her with obstacles to overcome. However, from the moment I put pen to paper and began to write, it was magical. It was as if she’d always lived in my head and was just waiting for me to let her speak. So perhaps the raw inspiration was there along and the analytical side of my mind just needed to believe it was done with intention. (AS:  I am writing a mystery series set in Singapore in 1910 and for a pantser I have spent a long time working on the character of my protagonist, Harriet Gordon - I know everything about her but she can still surprise!)

Tell me a little bit about your protagonists Lady Kiera Darby and the enigmatic Gage?


Kiera is the widow of a famous anatomist and a gifted portrait artist. Her miserly late husband forced her to use her talents to sketch his dissections for an anatomist textbook he was writing. When he passed away, her involvement in his work was made public, and she instantly become a social pariah. She’s intelligent and passionate about her art, and intensely loyal to those she loves. After her disastrous marriage, she has no intention of ever marrying again. That is, until she meets Sebastian Gage, who unwillingly stirs something inside her.

Gage is a gentleman inquiry agent working alongside is more famous father. They have a somewhat contentious relationship, and he’s eager to prove himself. He also has a somewhat mysterious past, and does not easily share his true self with others, though Kiera is slowly chipping away at his resolve.

I have Book 1, THE ANATOMISTS WIFE, on my Kindle and I'm so looking forward to reading it. As for Book 2...

Mortal Arts, Lady Darby Book 2

Scotland, 1830. Lady Kiera Darby is no stranger to intrigue-in fact, it seems to follow wherever she goes. After her foray into murder investigation, Kiera must journey to Edinburgh with her family so that her pregnant sister can be close to proper medical care. But the city is full of many things Kiera isn't quite ready to face: the society ladies keen on judging her, her fellow investigator-and romantic entanglement-Sebastian Gage, and ultimately, another deadly mystery.

Kiera's old friend Michael Dalmay is about to be married, but the arrival of his older brother-and Kiera's childhood art tutor-William, has thrown everything into chaos. For ten years Will has been missing, committed to an insane asylum by his own father. Kiera is sympathetic to her mentor's plight, especially when rumors swirl about a local girl gone missing. Now Kiera must once again employ her knowledge of the macabre and join forces with Gage in order to prove the innocence of a beloved family friend-and save the marriage of another...

And some more about my guest...


Anna Lee Huber is the RITA and Daphne Award nominated author of Mortal Arts and The Anatomist's Wife. A summa cum laude graduate of Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee, Anna majored in music and minored in psychology. She currently resides in Indiana with her family and is hard at work on the next Lady Darby Mystery. Book 3, A Grave Matter, will release on July 1, 2014. Visit her at www.annaleehuber.com

Dryburgh Abbey – the setting for Book 3, A GRAVE MATTER, releasing July 1st.

10 comments:

  1. I was having precisely this discussion with some other writers earlier in the week - whether we had to fit to one genre or not, and whether it was suicide, genius or something in between to write cross genre.

    Does it make marketing harder, or just give you more avenues to pursue and hence a wider target audience?

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  2. I'll be interested in Anna's thoughts on this.

    My opinion is "yes it does make marketing harder". Marketing is tied to your author brand so you need to be clear in your mind as to what that brand represents. If a reader picks up an "Alison Stuart" what does she/he expect? This is the question I was wrestling with when I read Anna's article and the lightbulb went on. When a reader picks up an Alison Stuart they get a "cross genre" book so my bio and blurbs are now tailored to that expectation.

    However the world still likes its nice neat labels so as Anna has suggested, I pick the predominant genre... generally historical romance and go with that.

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  3. What a wonderful interview! Thanks so much, Alison and Anna for sharing your insights into cross-genre fiction.

    I have read your 'Gather the Bones', Alison and Anna's 'The Anatomists's Wife' (just started 'The Mortal Instruments' two days ago too) and I loved them both, because they were different. I also enjoy reading novels from a number of genres (romance, crime/murder mystery, paranormal YA) so to see an historical novel with romance and a mystery combined...I'm in reader heaven!

    It's also good to know 'cross-genre' is emerging as a genre in its own right...I've come across quite a few posts/articles in the last 12 months declaring that the historical romance genre needs a bit of a make-over, so perhaps the cross-genre historical is the new way forward. It makes me think that perhaps I should knuckle down and write the cross-genre novel that's been floating around in my head for awhile!

    Thanks again Anna and Alison for sharing your stories and knowledge. It's an inspiration!

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  4. Thanks for your kind comments, Jen. Gather the Bones crossed ALL the genres... history, mystery, romance and ghosts! I really did make a rod for my back with that one but I have learned from the experience to go for simpler plot lines.

    I've been hearing the catch cry "historical romance is dead" for 20 years and it never quite goes away. While I label my stories "historical romance", I prefer the term "Historicals with romance" - two quite distinct genres crossing over.

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  5. First, I want to thank Alison for inviting me to tea. It's been so much fun. :)

    As for your question, Demelza... Yes and yes. Writing a cross-genre novel does make marketing it trickier. But one of it's greatest strengths is that it does touch on so many different genres, and thus potential readers. You have to take advantage of all of those avenues, as long as you bear in the mind that not all mystery readers enjoy a bit of romance in them. Or that all romance readers like historical settings. But there are so many readers who read across different genres. As for brands, I don't think my readers will have any more difficult time pinpointing it than with authors who write something more simply labeled. For example, Kristan Higgins writes humorous contemporary romance set in New England. That's her brand. Mine is Gothic historical romantic mysteries. That hits on a lot more genres than Higgins, but it's still just as clear.

    Jennifer, I think adding cross-genre aspects to historical romance is one of the ways it is evolving and reviving. It weaves something new and exciting into the stories. Or, at least, I would like to hope that's the way things are moving. :)

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  6. Okay you hooked me.:-) Just bought "The Anatomist's Wife"

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  7. Great post ladies! I was already hooked! Off for "The Anatomist's Wife"!!

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  8. Thank you so much, Janni & Tea! Hope you enjoy. :)

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  9. Very interesting post, ladies. I find meeting the requirements of a specific genre a bit stifling to creativity but it seems everything needs to be in a neat box. The Anatomist's Wife sounds wonderful, Anna!

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  10. I think the point Anna Lee made is a good one. If you write cross genre, pick the predominant genre and pitch to that. Although I must say speaking from experience with Claiming the Rbels a Heart it is so much easier being back with a clear predominant genre.

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