Several years ago, someone in the blogosphere referred to me as a “veteran author” of romance fiction. This term caught me by surprise because even after a decade and a half as a published writer, I regarded myself as a newcomer, someone who still felt astonished to be doing this for a living and still a bit awed by her own favorite authors when she chanced to meet them at conferences. But when I began counting books and years, I realized (with some chagrin) that the moniker “veteran author” had become true. I’d been too busy writing to notice.
Genre fiction is a relentless form of creative endeavor in the sense that the next book always looms on the horizon, whether you are ready to write it or not. Output is measured in pages per day, not pages per month. Books are counted, not by how many one can write during the course of a career, but how many one can write in a single year. For those of us with major publishers, genre fiction is also very specialized, with reader expectations and preferences always paramount, impelling the writer to weigh commercial considerations at least as heavily as creative ones. In light of that, the struggle becomes not to find ideas to write, but to find ideas that you haven’t written before.
Since this is a blog for Fresh Fiction, it seems appropriate to discuss this topic. How does a writer of genre fiction keep things fresh in an ever-narrowing market? The answer, of course, is The Twist. This is also known as The Slant. And lately, it’s been called the High Concept. But it’s always the same thing: finding a way to tell an age-old story in a fresh, new, still-commercial way. As a writer of historical romance whose colleagues were creating Regency misses gadding about London in lavish carriages, I decided The Twist was to be found, not in the heroine, but in her form of transportation. I moved into the early 20th century and gave my heroines motorcars.
In creating heroines who drive cars, I didn’t realize just how liberating it would be, both for them and for me. But as I wrote my two most recent books, WEDDING OF THE SEASON and SCANDAL OF THE YEAR, I found the heroines of these books doing things well beyond motoring around the English countryside, and I found myself trying things I’d never tried before. Beatrix of WEDDING OF THE SEASON decided to jump off a cliff (seriously). Julia of Scandal of the Year sought a divorce from her abusive husband. And I took my skis down a black diamond for the very first time. Though those Edwardian motorcars might have only had a top speed of forty miles an hour, they nonetheless imbibed not only the heroines but also their creator with a zest for adventure and a longing for some derring-do. Driving a car brought to those Edwardian women an exhilarating rush of freedom, and as I sit here, working on a new book, staring out the window at a cold and dreary winter day, I long for that exhilarating rush, too. I wonder how many weeks it’ll be before I can open the sun roof on my car and go for a drive?
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