Great Expectations: Plot Over Hot

There’s a place for all types of literature in this world. Where there is an audience, there is a writer eager to deliver. However, if someone cracks open one of my books expecting a damsel in distress, a cookie-cutter hero with abs that could slice open drywall, and gratuitous sex, they are going to be disappointed.

Let me explain. I am not placing judgment on writers who write these types of books, nor the readers who choose to read them. In fact, I have many friends who write books along this genre, whom I will support and encourage until my dying breath. I will even read their books, appreciating the effort and creativity, though they don’t fall within my typical reading preferences. I love them, and respect them. But I don’t write those stories myself.

Personal preference does not make one better than another. This applies to all aspects of life (dress, sexual orientation, career, faith), not just literary choices. I may not have any desire to read Fifty Shades, but I am grateful for any book that opens the world of reading to a wider audience. An upsurge of the “mommy porn” genre has certainly changed the publishing industry as a whole, and most especially the indie community. It’s a sort of escapism that fits well into a time and culture where we are struggling with our economic standing, social belief systems, and a world that all too often feels as if it might crumble apart.

To be clear: it’s not that I don’t enjoy a good sex scene. I do. I write them, with great relish, when they make sense. Shower scene from The Storm and the Darkness, anyone? 😉

Writers write what they want to read…mostly. My favorite genres are ones I will never write in. I enjoy historical fiction and non-fiction, but lack the focus to sort through the immense research required to make it sufficiently accurate (and my standards of historical accuracy are high).

Exhaustive research aside, I do write what I would want to read. I write about characters who are not predictable. People who make bad decisions, or illogical ones, because, like the rest of us, they are real. Dimensional. Flawed. I look for themes in decisions, and circumstances. I make choices in my stories not because they are convenient, but because they are natural. As a result, you might find my heroine is not entirely likable. My antagonist may make decisions that cause you to want to put the book down. My characters don’t always get happy endings, because we don’t always get them, either. Moral ambiguities exist all around us. As an author, my goal is not only to introduce complex themes but to help myself, and my readers understand them. Why do people do what they do? Sometimes the answer is, we don’t know. But shining a light on a dusty corner can often bring up some very ornate cobwebs.

I’ve always struggled with how to best categorize my books. Where “Literary Fiction” always felt cozy and right, encompassing the huge range of subjects I bridge, I realize that my audience likely includes Contemporary Romance readers. The challenge is that my books perhaps do not contain enough of the standard elements to keep the average Romance reader engaged. Not enough kinky sex? Not enough empowered businesswomen looking for love? Not enough well-muscled bad boys with a heart of gold? There’s nothing wrong with those things, but you will not find them in my books. So if you opened one looking for that, I am sorry.

I realize that this post could be very polarizing. There are those who may take offense (though I sincerely mean none at all). Others who might think I’m an elitist jerk (which is also not my intention). Those who know me well will understand where I am going with this.

Why am I risking censure? It’s really simple: I can’t solve the genre confusion. I can’t (nor would I want to) change reader’s tastes. But I can set proper expectations.

As an author, I will give you 100% of myself in each and every book. Unfortunately, my 100% may not be your cup of tea, and I can live with that. Variety is good, right?

18 thoughts on “Great Expectations: Plot Over Hot

  1. Very well said. I wish that there were appropriate categories for everything written. The authors could niche their books readily and nobody who be disappointed. Retailers don’t make that very easy. The first couple of readers of my book called it a romance…and I thought, gee, if that is romance for you then sorry to have to say it, but how boring. Romance is a part of everyday relations so it will end up in a good number of genres to some degree. The “complex themes” you write about are what defines you as a great author. Sex, really, if I wrote about my sex life it would make E. L. James blush. My husband was really bored with the series and thought it was lackluster and strained. She might have written about it, but she wasn’t writing from natural experience. Sex is not what I choose to write about, but it will naturally show up in my writing. I say, stay with it. Your methods are genuine. You won’t need to meet others expectations, just your own. That is enough. Mine is a non-fiction novel. Those were a fad in the 70s. Maybe there isn’t a big audience for them today, but it is what I was happiest writing at the time.:)

    1. You’re so absolutely correct. “Romance is a part of every day relations so it will end up in a good number of genres,” is about as accurate a statement as any. When people initially asked me about Dusk, I would say “its a love story, but its not a romance,” because I knew as soon as the word “romance” came up, a certain set of images and expectations would be attached…none of which would be accurate. I guess you could say my books have always been under a bit of an identity crisis 🙂

      Its glad to know there are fellow authors who experience the same things. And I’m going to parrot your advice back at you: write what you like. If people categorize it one way, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, I guess. 🙂

  2. I want you to know that I think your cover art is very tastefully done, and very professionally done. I am so glad that you did not openly embrace the romance theme of having a young man and a young lady on the cover. Not that there is anything wrong with that. I have friends who read romance daily. It is always on the cover, that image. Yours is a very well done love story, and one that will make you think deeply. That is the sort of writing that I enjoy. Writing that makes me think deeply. A well thought out love story, a murder mystery or a drama of some sort that makes me think will stay with me forever. It is not the same thing as the escapism that is found in trivial romance. I will tell you something that I don’t share often because it is so distasteful to me, bitter almost. My publisher (an independent) wanted to subtitle Red Clay and Roses with “A Romance in Black and White”. (Simply because of an interracial romance.) For one, it sounded racist to me, and for another, there is a brief but pertinent romance in the book. The book is not ABOUT romance. I was quick to say ,”No way!” He was pushing because he said romance is what is hot and it is what sells. Can you imagine what the people who read my book would have thought about that? It was almost like false advertising just to make a sell. I don’t want people to be misled into believing they are buying one thing and then get disappointed. I deliberately mention “brief” romance in the blurb to prevent that. Maybe that stops a lot of would be sells. I am okay with that.

    1. Wow, yes, I can definitely see why you found that offensive!! Yes, it is racist (or at least exploitative), and also misleading. This is one of the reasons I’ve avoided trying to market my books traditionally. I really don’t know if there’s a hot or emerging market for what I write, and I refuse to compromise. I love you for standing up for yourself, and for doing what you believed was right and true to you.

  3. In these days of indie eBook publishing, the whole idea of genre feels outdated. Why wouldn’t it benefit bothreaders and retailers to introduce a ‘tick box’ system where the elements of the book can be highlighted – or illustrated by a sliding colour scale as we have with rated domestic applicances?

    1. That is such a great idea. A genre to me is only a starting point. Subjects can vary wildly within that, and as a reader I usually know what the elements are that I like and don’t like. Andrew for President of Book Categorization 🙂

  4. That’s what I’m loving about your books! I’m not a romance novel girl, give me fantasy any day, but I love the story, and I don’t to have sex on every other page like some books, and three somes everywhere. I’m not a prude, but some books are just too much sex, not enough story. Books are all about story telling, and that’s what you do! Great job! 🙂

    1. Thank you! And that’s it exactly: too much sex, not enough story. I’m all for a good sex scene, but it needs to serve a purpose. And showing up at someone’s door to fix the plumbing dressed as a member of The Village People is not a good reason 🙂

  5. Hopefully no one is offended by this since I don’t think you said anything offensive. However, the wider the audience, the harder it is to avoid offending SOMEone. Oh well.

    Variety is what makes reading so wonderful! I want to be surprised and learn something new. I like being titilated but I don’t want it all the time. The books I enjoy just need to have a great story. I want to care about the characters enough to keep reading.

    The genre stuff can work against us sometimes as the genre drives the book rather than the books falling into a genre for taxonomy purposes.

    1. Thank you, Laurie. I can relate completely…I want a new experience with each book. Not different characters placed into the same pre-defined story. I also want to read a book that makes me think about the story long after I’ve put it down.

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