Neither This nor That . . . or Both This and That

By Allison Brennan

Genre is important. So important that publishers market to genre expectations and authors write to genre expectations. Not because they are selling out, but because they want people to know–in a moment–what type of story they’re getting. If it’s a mystery, there needs to be a crime or puzzle to be solved. If it’s a thriller, there needs to be a fast, page-turning pace and high stakes. If it’s a suspense, there needs to be high, page-turning tension. If it’s a romance, there needs to be a happily ever after. If it’s a paranormal, there needs to be fantastical elements–be them grounded in the “real world” like Kay Hooper’s psychic FBI series or urban fantasy like Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake vampire huntress or true fantasy like Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings.

Genre blending is popular with both authors and readers because we like to take common, accessible story elements and twist them a bit to make something just a little bit different. Romantic suspense is a blended genre that has become it’s own separate genre from which other genres can be blended.

In romantic suspense (or romantic thrillers–same thing, just romantic thrillers, IMO, focuses more on the thrill than the romance and romantic suspense tends to be more romance driven. But that’s just my personal definition.) Anyway, my knee-jerk definition of romantic suspense is, “A thriller with a hero and a heroine who both live and are together at the end of the book.” But the truth is, there is a broad range of romantic thrillers, with very light on the suspense (my very good and talented friend Roxanne St. Claire writes the incredible Bullet Catchers series which has a suspense subplot, but the romance–with hot guys–take center stage) to very light on the romance (such as one of my all-time favorites–even before she gave me a quote for my FBI Trilogy–Lisa Gardner who writes thrillers with relationship subplots, such as her Quincy/Rainey series or Kim/Mac.) Some authors are very well balanced, such as the incomparable Linda Howard.

With the wide range of romantic thrillers, it’s no surprise that those of us who are writing them start incorporating other elements.

JD Robb’s futuristic romantic suspense novels, her IN DEATH series, is one of the strongest out there. Set in 2059, she has a compelling mystery, strong characters, and a constantly developing and growing relationship between the richest man in the universe (Roarke) and New York City’s top cop (Eve Dallas.) I remember Kay Hooper as one of the first to write a back-to-back-to-back trilogy, in 2002 I believe, with her SHADOW books, introducing psychic FBI agents. Real life crimes solved by real life FBI agents–who had a six sense. It added an interesting twist on an established genre.

In 2003, before I sold, I had sent out a bunch of queries for what ended up being my debut novel, and while I was waiting for responses, I came up with an idea I really loved. While it was still vague in my head, I wrote a few chapters. What if an evil coven releases the seven deadly sins into the world? What if the seven deadly sins were demons? Who could stop them? How?

I ended up selling my romantic suspense, and I put the seven deadly sins series on the back burner. Partly because I knew, in my heart, that I didn’t have the skill to write the story I could picture in my head. Nor did I have the discipline to write it. This isn’t to say that romantic suspense is easy or formulaic, but there is a comfort in writing genre fiction. I KNOW that my hero and heroine are going to live. I KNOW that the crime is going to be solved. I may not know anything else about the story, but the two musts of the genre keep me focused toward the goal. And I’ll admit it’s really fun to throw lots of danger in the mix and figure out how on earth these characters are going to survive.

Twelve romantic thrillers later, and I am on the verge of completing the first of my Seven Deadly Sins series. ORIGINAL SIN will be released on January 26, 2010. I’m excited and scared to death at the same time.

Genre is like comfort food. You always go back to it because it makes you feel good. It’s there when you need it, it’s satisfying, it’s rich and full and thoroughly delicious. You know what to expect. This is good.

As Alex said yesterday (and no, we didn’t plan to blog on similar topics!):

The challenge of genre is delivering something unique and compelling within a proscribed form.

Now, I happen to be grateful for a proscribed form, because it gives a shape to a story from the very beginning, and let’s face it, when you first embark on a project, story is a vast and amorphous mass, or maybe that’s mess. Any signposts in that chaos are lifesaving.

Amen. This is why I love forensics. When I get stuck in a book, I focus on the evidence. What do my characters know? What is my villain doing? What does the evidence show? It’s a signpost that keeps me focused on the GOAL which is solving the crime in (hopefully) a “unique and compelling” way.

In all fiction, but paranormal in particular, worldbuilding is crucial. One definition:

Worldbuilding is the process of constructing an imaginary world, usually associated with a fictional universe.

Okay, I see that . . . but is the world completely imaginary? According to the continuing article it is, including:

It describes a key role in the task of a fantasy writer: that of developing an imaginary setting that is coherent and possesses a history, geography, ecology, and so forth. The process usually involves the creation of maps, listing the back-story of the world and the people of the world, amongst other features.

This is where I diverge. Worldbuilding does not necessarily mean a completely new world. What if we like the one we have? I do. I don’t have to create a map, for example, or an entire history. There’s enough in our own several thousands of years that will do nicely. I’ll just pick and choose what I want, and then adhere to those rules.

So I’m worldbuilding . . . but I’m not.

I created a fictitious town in Central California between San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara. I call it Santa Louisa and it’s home of the Lost Mission of California, or Santa Louisa de Los Padres Mission, which was “lost” because it was built too far off the mission trail. 

I’ve always been fascinated by a noble group of people who band together for the common good, battling evil to protect the many from violent death. Isn’t that what crime fiction is all about, anyway? Cops, prosecutors, and others battling personal demons while saving innocent people from violence, solving a crime, and catching the bad guy.

Really, my seven deadly sins series is the same thing. Just not cops, and their battling inhuman evil, not only human evil (though they battle that, too.)

And in worldbuilding, according to several articles, you have to answer a bunch of questions about your world and the people who populate it. Hmm, that sounds a bit too much like plotting, so I skipped it.

But as I wrote the first book, I needed some basic rules. I couldn’t just make them up as I went. (okay, okay, I admit it. I made it all up as I went. That’s what revisions are for, to clean up the messy beginning.) I grounded everything in the real world. I have a sheriff as a main character, for example, who investigates the crimes as any cop would. But she knows there’s something supernatural at work as well. Her theory and focus is that if she can stop the HUMANS responsible for summoning demons, she can beat them. She’s grounded in law and order; right and wrong. 

The hardest part of creating this world (read: writing the book) was figuring out the rules the villains had to follow. I couldn’t have magicians ala Harry Potter flying around on broomsticks, but in truth, the occult is essentially the practice of magic–controlling physical and supernatural forces.

When in doubt, I fall back to research books. Over the last two years I’ve lined my shelves with a wide-variety of religious and supernatural and occult books. In my crime novels, I get inside the head of the villains; I had to do it with the coven as well. And I learned a tremendous amount of information about what true witches–magicians–aspire to. It’s not about making a deal with the devil–in fact, one author commented that it was the weak magicians who resorted to pacts with demons–it was about amassing enough power and knowledge to gain control over supernatural forces.

That gave me exactly what I needed. Real-life beliefs and mythology (for lack of a better world) that I could build into a fictional occult group. They have immense power because they have honed their skills, but there are physical and emotional limits to their power. This isn’t Samantha Stevens twitching her nose, or the Charmed sisters casting spells.

As I finish up book one, I noticed something about how I wrote it. When I got stuck, I fell back into my comfort zone: forensics. The investigation. Trying to figure out how someone died when there is no physical evidence. When I didn’t know where the story was going, I went over to the sheriff, my comfort character, to see what she was doing. She’s the cop, the real-world foundation. Once, she was interviewing a suspect in his best friend’s murder. Oh, an interrogation! I can write that.

And his answers gave my the big break I needed for my characters to figure out what was going on. Wow. I love it when a story comes together.

All this is leading me back to one of Alex’s main points: that genre provides a signpost in chaos. And I so needed to hear that right now.

Toni and I have often talked about what happens when you write a book that doesn’t fit neatly into the mold. Toni’s BOBBIE FAYE series (book two: GIRLS JUST WANNA HAVE GUNS is out as of last week!) doesn’t neatly fit the mold of thriller or romantic suspense–it’s sort of an combo. And when you already have one established “blended” genre (romantic suspense) it’s hard to tack on another genre to “re-blend.”

But the book is incredible. One of the most fun series I have ever read. But when you blend too many genres, you sometimes get stuck in the middle of the Dead Zone–also known as the “general fiction” aisle. These are where the out-of-genre books go to (usually) die. At least, commercially die because most commercial readers browse the genre sections first.

I have written twelve romantic thrillers. They are in the romance section of the bookstore. (And there’s a reason for that, some good, some not-so-good, but that’s a blog for another day.) I’m happy in romance. I have a happily ever after in all my books and the bad guy ALWAYS gets what’s coming to him. (If I killed off the heroine and the bad guy sometimes got away, I’d be in suspense, but I’d be depressed and wouldn’t write anymore, so that’s that.) But it’s true that my books tend to lean a little heavier on the suspense side.

Now add on another tag: paranormal. My series is a paranormal romantic suspense.

But there’s no genre tag for that.

Which really screws me.

My base is in romantic suspense. Thus, my book is listed as a “paranormal romance.” Which really doesn’t fit. There IS a romance, but it’s a multi-book relationship arc. And there is paranormal, but it’s grounded in real-world mythology and physics. For example, one plot point in either book two or three (I’m not that far yet!) is the reality that in America, witchcraft isn’t illegal and summoning demons from hell isn’t illegal, so if you kill a witch who summons a demon from hell, and you get caught, you’re going to stand trial for murder.

I feel like I’m in genre limbo. I’m not trying to write outside of genre, because I love genre fiction. 97% of my fiction shelves are genre. But I’m neither “paranormal romance” or “supernatural thriller”–I’m both. I’m a “supernatural romantic thriller” . . . but there’s no code for that in the system.

Sometimes, the system needs fixing. Because creative people can and will mix and match genre to entertain readers. It’s what we do.

So, I was thinking about some of my favorite “paranormal” stories. THE MATRIX and RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK; SUPERNATURAL and FRINGE; and THE STAND by Stephen King. They all have one thing in common: real, ordinary (or extraordinary) people in the real world with a paranormal twist.

Hmm, is it any surprise that’s what I’m writing now?

Do you like the supernatural? What are some of your favorite paranormal movies, tv shows, books? Comment and you get a two-fer . . . two books for the price of one comment. Bawahaha — you’ll get CHARMED AND DANGEROUS by Toni McGee Causey (Bobbie Faye book one) and SUDDEN DEATH by me (FBI Trilogy book one.) 

And a winner! The winner of last week’s contest hosted by Toni and open to everyone who commented on the “Dear Summer” entry is Marisa. She did not register an email with us, so Marisa, please contact Toni at toni [dot] causey [at] Thanks for playing!




34 thoughts on “Neither This nor That . . . or Both This and That

  1. Chris Hamilton

    Maybe you’ll create a new genre and be the next big thing. We seemed to be amazed with the idea of the supernatural and impeding supernatural doom. If you don’t fit a genre you’re really good and your timing is just right, you transcend genres.

    And I like the idea of storing your ideas until your skills build enough to fulfill the idea.

  2. billie

    Nice follow up to yesterday’s post. I love it when synchronicity hits Murderati… ๐Ÿ™‚

    I grew up watching Dark Shadows and Twilight Zone and Night Gallery. And of course reading nonfiction about ESP and the Rhines and writing papers about things to do with that.

    I’ve always been intrigued with stories about the supernatural that didn’t portray the "evil" side of things – i.e. spirits that are present b/c of their own torment or b/c they want to help in some way. They can still be scary while they do it, but in the end there’s no intentional evil going on.

    It’s interesting – when it comes to genre the books I love most/best are sort of, imo, "genre-less" – because the story is so good and the characters so real everything else falls away.

    That’s what I’m trying to accomplish, which doesn’t mean I don’t have any idea what I’m writing, but does mean it’s a slightly more winding road to walk. ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. PK the Bookeemonster

    There is a HUGE market for paranormal these days, especially in the romantic genre (as you’re aware). I don’t think think there will be any problems tacking on the extra genre tag at all.
    I love shows that are "quirky" (I don’t think that tag will work at all), but there is an extra style to the mythology that just zings. X-Files, Fringe, Firefly, recently on tv Virtuality… In books, JD Robb as you mentioned, is set 50 years in the future so there are buzz words that are different but fit and some tech advances and a history of Urban Wars adding depth. In common … perhaps they are thinking in three dimensions rather than strictly narratively.
    Creating that unique world is key; no borrowing of what is trendy right now (vampires are not attractive, IMHO) or a remake of what was successful in the past (the new Harry Potter reincarnation). Authors who truly use their creative imaginations to do that has me at the first page/chapter.

  4. mikaela

    My defintion of worldbuilding is using the background research to create new structures, or twist existing myths, religion etc. So that it fits the story. I am a bit nervous right now, since I have two ideas that are contemporary, set in USA. I don’t even live in the USA! But it is a challenge. And I will do my best.

  5. Brett Battes

    Great unintentional follow-up to Alex’s post, Allison. Blending genres is something I’ve tried in the past, and have really enjoyed. Now that I’m on the published side, I hope to return to it someday. I’m fascinated by worlds built off the foundation of the one we know. Shows like LOST, X-FILES, and though I’ve only seen a few episodes so far FRINGE. Those are the kind of "realities" that really get me going!

    Love the idea of unleashing the deadly sins!

  6. toni mcgee causey

    Such an excellent post. And between you and Alex, you both cleared up some of the chaos in my head (which is no small feat, lemme tell ya) over what I’m currently writing. THANK YOU.

    When I get letters from men, they are sort of shocked that they are enthusiastic about the book. [I love those letters.] After all, the trade version–shelved in general fiction–had a pastel cover and looked more like a YA cover (to a lot of people) than a cranky, take-no-prisoners, southern-fried thriller which just happens to have a woman’s name in the title. (I have long said that there are three main characters in the series, and the two men share–and sometimes have greater "screen time"–than Bobbie Faye. But she’s the glue that holds the story together.) The men who’ve read the CHARMED AND DANGEROUS version almost always did not buy that book for themselves because it is shelved in the romance section. [They usually preface the letter with, "My wife loved your book and made me read it." God bless wives everywhere.]

    If I had known then what I knew now about how difficult blending genres was going to be on marketing the book, it probably would’ve scared me off the project. Good thing I did not know any better.

    And you’d think I’d have learned my lesson and would now write something that is straight genre just to make everyone’s life a little easier when it came to marketing it. But, um, nope, sadly, that is not the case. I’m writing something that is much darker, has a supernatural element to it (and a historical element), which is grounded in the real world and is a romantic thriller. I am so passionate about this story, I cannot think of anything else. I even tried to re-group and ask myself if I was doing myself harm, career-wise, when someone very kindly pointed out to me how incredibly difficult I was about to make it on myself when it came time to market this. I went into mourning for a week (I’m not even exaggerating) and realized, if I love it that much, I have to write it the way I believe in and just hope the rest will follow.

    The "genre" system is great in stores in the sense that it helps readers find things they’d love. It’s detrimental when there’s no real way to cross-shelve books that would appeal to a second genre’s audience, except to plunk them down in general fiction.

    One day, cross-referencing blended genres will be just a click away on touch-screen pads in the bookstores (or at home, online). The browsing keyword features help.

  7. Alli

    I’m a "supernatural romantic thriller".

    Oh, Allison! Just like you did for Toni, you cleared up the mess in my head, too! My current MS fits into this category perfectly, and I’d been battling to work out exactly where it fell, genre wise. Thanks so much for helping me out here!

    I am a huge Raider’s fan. I always wanted to be Ms Indiana Jones. So much so I contemplated studying archaeology – until I realised I was crap at maths and science. So now I write about female aracheologists swinging from vines across alligator infested waters. Accompanied by a handsome sidekick, of course.

    And as for being put in the romance section… I have found some absolutely amazing books in that area (yours included!). I love books that are grounded in the real world with paranormal elements. To me, it gives me a sense of fiction becoming fact, oh so easily. It makes me look over my shoulder!

    I am really looking forward to your new series. It sounds amazing!

    And Toni, it sounds like you’ve found the "book of your heart". Don’t give up on it. You already have a fan base and your readers will follow you, I promise. You have me intrigued – hurry up and finish so I can buy and read it!

  8. Pari

    What a tremendous sister to Alex’s post yesterday.

    I had to set ground rules early on in my new series and it was a real challenge. The protag and hte world she lives in are contemporary and nothing fancy or out of the norm, only she can communication with anything that is, or once was, alive.

    I decided I’d be true to the science –as best I could with a "psychic" of this nature– and not let her us English or human language with nonhuman animals or plants. So the challenge becomes doubly difficult because I have to decide how communication CAN happen across species and plant families.

    I hope the books find a good publisher because I love the conundrums I’ve set for my character and myself.

  9. Allison Brennan

    Chris, more likely I’ll flop big time and crash and burn my career. But I like your optimism! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Billie, I loved TWILIGHT ZONE. Psychologically, it was among the best out there for fear.

    PK we’re soul sisters. I LOVED the X-Files (through season six) and I LOVED FIREFLY (watched the only season twice.) FIREFLY should never have been cancelled, but the network screwed with the order of the shows and it really hurt it. I didn’t want it until after the moving SERENITY and then bought the dvd set, which had the episodes how they were supposed to be released. And if I ever write a vampire book, they’ll be portrayed as the evil bloodsuckers they really are. (But I have no desire to write a vampire book. If I do, it’ll be a human who thinks he’s a vampire and killing people because he’s a deranged, sick psychopath. But I digress.)

    Mikaela, Elizabeth George doesn’t live in England, but she has a pretty good career setting her books there ๐Ÿ™‚

    Thanks Brett! I’m behind on LOST. We’re only in the middle of season three. My husband doesn’t like the same shows I do, but we were in agreement on LOST . . . but I don’t watch as much tv as I used to, and if I do it’s late at night.

  10. Fran

    I’m the one in the shop that reads urban fantasy, and it’s a steady seller. Some of our best selling UF authors are Yasmine Galenorn and Kat Richardson and Jayne Ann Krentz writing as Jayne Castle and Caitlin Kittredge (and if you haven’t read her STREET MAGIC, man, you should!). They’re our local ladies. Away from the PNW, in addition to the ones you mentioned, we sell lots of Carrie Vaughn, Kelley Armstrong, Kim Harrison, Keri Arthur, Shirley Damsgaard, and never overlook Jim Butcher.

    What I’d really like to see — and this is just me — is a laugh-out-loud urban fantasy mystery. Is there such a beast?

  11. Louise Ure

    The whole "what sub-genre is this?" question seems so much more important for booksellers and editors than it does for readers and writers. I say, the broader the definition the better. Sometimes I like to read outside my comfort zone. Sometimes I like to write that way.

    There was a Twilight Zone marathon on TV yesterday! Yeah!

  12. BCB

    Everything I’m reading this morning is making me think, damnit. How am I supposed to write if everyone expects me to think?

    Thanks for this post. I feel better… and worse. I’m trying to write something that doesn’t really exist either. I cut my teeth as a reader on political thrillers. Then discovered romance. And kept thinking how much better political thrillers would be with some steamy "emotion" thrown in. Or how much more interesting romances would be with a good political conspiracy or two. Sigh. Political romantic thriller? I’m so screwed.

    I’m all there for paranormal romantic thriller. Eagerly looking forward to it. Sounds like Bob Mayer and Jenny Crusie’s latest collab (also due out early 2010) might fit the same "non-genre." Maybe you’re not as alone as you think.

    [Disqualifying myself from the book giveaway — don’t need duplicates. ๐Ÿ˜‰ ]

  13. Denise McClain

    What an excellent post! I can’t tell you how many times recently I’ve done a review and wasn’t quite sure what to label it. Well, it’s paranormal but I GUESS you could call it a romance, but the HEA is really a HFN. Does that count? Maybe it’s UF with romantic elements? Is it a thriller, or is it paranormal? So many books nowadays genre blend and bend. I love it. It allows some strictly genre readers to experience a little more of the world, eh? But with me, since I love many genres and sub-genres I often get several reading fixes at once.

    I have a friend who is a romance author. First she started in historical romance, then dabbled in contemporary romance. Soon, she decided she wanted to push the envelope and write things she hadn’t written before. So, she picked up a pen name and wrote some erotic romance. Her latest series is paranormal romance.

    I love writers who aren’t afraid to move beyond their comfort zone. I am not a genre reader. I’m not even a genre reviewer. In fact, my reading tastes range from romance to thrillers to bios to horror. Why should I demand that the authors I read remain in their one genre if I don’t?

    I know plenty of readers who whine that their favorite author left her genre and has tried other projects, other creative endeavors. I’ve met so many who loathe the fact that Nora left romance and is now writing under JD Robb. Some dislike Iris Johansen’s suspense. The friend I mentioned earlier continues to get unpleasant email that she ‘abandoned her genre’. I find that viewpoint so incredibly narrowminded.

    Some editors, reviewers, and agents I’ve met say they’re getting annoyed with vampires and paranormal. I don’t know why. I’ve always loved paranormal and supernatural stories.

    I still DVR the X-FILES on SciFi. I get my weekly fix of SUPERNATURAL, FRINGE, and cannot WAIT for WAREHOUSE 13.

    My favorite paranormal books include Lara Adrian’s Midnight Breed series as well as JR Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series.

    I also really like any archeological thriller which has to do with proving or disproving something Biblical or religious. Michael Byrnes THE SACRED BONES and its follow up THE SACRED BLOOD are excellent. I’m also becoming a big fan of James Rollins and then of course, for the odd and often supernatural Douglas Preston/Lincoln Child books are ALWAYS an auto-buy.

    I cannot wait for your 7 Deadly Sins series. It sounds like it’s just up my alley and I’m sure at book one’s end, I’ll be impatiently clamoring for more.

  14. Monica

    Wow, that was a great post. Cleared up my head about genres. I love paranormal books. I have read all the HP books and have recently started reading the books for the True Blood series on HBO. Matrix movies are ones that I watch over and over again.

    There is always room for a new genre.

  15. Maureen McGowan

    Great post. It is so hard, especially for unpublished writers, to pick one recognizable genre to label our books, when what we’re writing blends genres… But I do think we have to. Broken system or not, it’s the system.

    Some of my fav TV shows that blend the real and unreal include the ones you mentioned, plus LOST and TRUE BLOOD and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. A movie that recently came back into my mind was Dead Again, with Kenneth Branaugh and Emma Thompson, back when they were married in real life. That story blended the real and the supernatural in a way that made the hair on the back of my neck stand.

  16. JT Ellison

    Diana Gabaldon is another that defies genre labeling. The Outlander books are in the historical romance suspense time travel genre. So it could always be worse.

    I’m so looking forward to your deadly sins series, Allison. It’s such a great premise!

  17. TerriMolina

    Great post Allison and I pulled a great tip, so thanks! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    I love the supernatural–demons/witches–not so much the vamps/werewolves and, like Rob’s post earlier in the week, I’m also facinated with the afterlife/reincarnation.
    Mexicans have a lot of superstitions and I grew up listening to stories of ghosts and witches and bad magic, so it felt natural to include them in my own works. When I was on submission a couple of years ago we were pitching my novel Dark Obsession as a romantic suspense with paranormal elements, but it’s actually a supernatural romantic thriller (it’s a character driven novel but the plots are equal love story and thriller). Needless to say it hasn’t sold as no one knows how to take it because, like your upcoming series, it has no real genre. *sigh* But, I love the book so I’m not giving up on it. (and already had it copyedited).

    But, back to your question. I also grew up watching Dark Shadows and Twilight Zone and Night Gallery oh and Night Stalker, never missed that one. Strangely, I never watched X-Files, I think because it was too scary for the kids (who were too young and tended to watch what I watched) Now I watch Supernatural (of course), Medium, Lost, Heros, I’m a new viewer to Ghost Whisperer (it’s okay, not awesomegreat though). When Buffy, Angel and Charmed were still on they were must sees in my house. Occasionally I’ll watch Psychic Detectives on TruTV or the one on A&E (can’t remember what it’s called).
    I’m also a big fan of author John Saul (started reading him when I was in junior high school) His book The Homing was the first book to creep me out (but that’s because it had bugs in it…lots and lots of bugs! I really hate bugs!)
    I also read the occasional Dean Koontz book.

    Your series sounds great Allison. I’m looking forward to reading it.

  18. Jill James

    I spent the 4th of July watching the Twilight Zone marathon, they were celebrating 50 years. The writing was brilliant. The stories cutting-edge, even now. They could plop new actors in those storylines and redo them today. They were thinking that far out of the box back then.

    I love Fringe and Heroes. And Chuck. I know Chuck is not supernatural, but I love how the ordinary guy becomes extraordinary. A little sci fi I guess, he does get a computer downloaded into his head.

  19. Leanna Renee Hieber

    Allison you are singing my cross-genre song, my dear! For the longest time, that’s why The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker had such a hard time selling. Editors liked it a lot, but they said "we just don’t know what to do with this" – If you want to add up all my genre elements: I’m Historical (Victorian) Fantasy Paranormal Romance with light Horror and YA appeal. If you have to pick one word, I’d have to go with a Gothic novel. But even then, while the word Gothic sometimes evokes the Victorian sensibility of my 1888 gaslight tale, does it let the reader know about my prophecies, powers and ties to Mythology in this Strangely Beautiful series of novels that makes me a Fantasy author too? What about my main plot of romance, as in if my hero/heroine don’t get together the Underworld takes over? Leisure books / Dorchester thankfully has been excited to take on this challenge. They’ve put "Historical Fantasy" on the spine and I’m not exactly sure when I walk into a store where it will be shelved. May depend. Either Romance or Fantasy. I belong in both. I’m a member of RWA, Science Fiction Fantasy Writers of America and just joined Horror Writers Association. I can’t seem to write without taking cues from my very, very favourite genres and so I belong somehow in each of these places, just as you Allison, and your awesome books, belong in all the genres you blend too.
    (And yes, Toni’s Bobbie Faye series is one of my faves too)

    What a great post, thanks!


  20. Allison Brennan

    Whoa, I leave for church and everyone shows up to play! Yeah!

    Toni, you and I are in the same boat, but I honestly believe that when you write what you love, your passion shows through in the writing. It’s why, even though I’m scared to death about this series, I’m excited because I really am loving writing it. I was getting burned out on romantic thrillers. Not because I don’t love them–I do!–but because after writing 12 in a row, I needed something different. Not TOO different, but enough to recharge my creative energy.

    And yes on the wives and mothers and sisters . . . I have a great fan base and they do a terrific job spreading the word on my books. I have a strong male readership, though I get a few too many emails that they don’t like going to the romance section to find my books.

    Good luck, Alli! ๐Ÿ™‚ Glad I could help . . . but you had the answer all along. One thing to remember is that there ARE finite places a publisher can market your books. Buyers (ie booksellers) don’t do as well with the "hard" sells, ie books that take too long to explain. That’s why genre is important in marketing. It’s a mystery, a romantic suspense, a thriller, urban fantasy, etc. It’s part of a series or stand alone. Buyers need to know what they’re ordering, where it fits, and how they’re going to do on the book–which is why you get stuck sometimes when you mix and match. But at the same time, the first author who put a strong suspense element in a romance was breaking new ground. And romance readers are voracious and well-read. They read A LOT of different genres and are willing to try new things in their romances, which is why most of the cutting edge and emerging genres come out of the romance genre.

    Oh, Pari, don’t you just love putting your characters in a mess and seeing how–and if!–they can get out of it? Last night I left a character in a mental health hospital being psychologically tortured by a doctor member of the occult because the character has information about a spell (though he doesn’t know it.) I have no idea if he’s getting out, if he’s going to live, or what’s going to happen if he does live.

  21. Allison Brennan

    Hi Fran: I doubt my publisher will market my series as urban fantasy, and it doesn’t quite fit that mold, either, though it’s closer to that than it is to paranormal romance. I love Jayne Castle and in fact read those books before Jayne Ann Krentz. I love the world she created, though I’d put her more in the "fantasy" element with a completely new world (as opposed to our world with fantastical elements.) I have several Kelley Armstrong that I bought after meeting her (she is absolutely a smart, nice, wonderful person) but I haven’t read them yet. I’m a bit scared reading anything in the paranormal realm because I don’t want to be influenced. It’s why I rarely read RS when I’m in the middle of writing a book. I’ll read straight thrillers, mystery series, or romance. Since I have my world in my head, I don’t want to think I’m doing it wrong. And I probably am. My best friend and her husband love Jim Butcher and have read everything he’s written. Last RT I went to he was there and I bought a bunch of his books signed for them.

    Louise, exactly (see my comments to Alli) — booksellers need to know and it’s important because they are the ones placing the orders with the publishers.

    Hi BCB–you are sweet–I’m entering you and if you win, you can have them sent to a friend. I’m all for spreading word of mouth!!!! BTW, everyone asks me if I was going to write a political thriller because I spent 13 years in the legislature . . . um, no! But they would be so much better with high conflict of the romantic version. I wrote two short stories set in the california capitol–the first more a thriller without a romance (5,000 words–hard to write an effective romance!) and a mystery where a lobbyist was found dead and stuffed in an armoire of the senate minority leader’s office. That had a hint of romance–the minority leader was a mentor to my heroine, a state senator, and the hero was a detective who the heroine broke up with a few months before.

    And I love a good conspiracy. Fatal Secrets had a conspiracy, Playing Dead too. ๐Ÿ™‚

  22. Allison Brennan

    Denise, email me and I’ll make sure you’re on the reviewer list for ORIGINAL SIN. ๐Ÿ™‚ . . . now TELL ALL . . . what is WAREHOUSE 13???? This sounds right up my alley. And in SUPERNATURAL, are you a Sam girl or a Dean girl? My oldest daughter is Dean, I’m Sam, but season 4 and Sam drinking demon blood got me with the yuck factor, and I felt so awful for Dean . . . and amazed at how incredibly the writers have turned the series around and the heroes journey for Sam and Dean have crossed pathed and diverged, so Sam became more like Dean at the beginning, and Dean more like Sam. It was brilliant, really. Eric Kripke (sp?) said in an interview once that he had a five season story arc and I HOPE AND PRAY he keeps true to his vision. It needs to end on a high note. Too many brilliant series were killed when they went too long. (X-FILES, MASH, SEINFELD, and even L&O is getting . . . blah.) BTW, I don’t think that Nora Roberts ever left romance. She writes a big single title romantic suspense every year, plus she has romance trilogies out every other year. AND I think JD Robb is perfect as romantic suspense. You have a relationship that is continuing to develop, an incredible cast of secondary characters that are all well-developed over the course of the series, and two strong protagonists.

  23. Allison Brennan

    Thanks Monica! I love THE MATRIX, like the second movie, hate the third. I was actually planning a blog on THE MATRIX but I didn’t have time to write it, so think I’ll do it later ๐Ÿ™‚ I started it and called it THERE IS NO SPOON. Love that scene. Classic mid-point in every respect.

    Maureen, I always wanted to see DEAD AGAIN–never did. I love both Branagh and Thompson. They are both so talented. Time to see if it’s cheap on iTunes . . . and you’re right, the system may not be perfect, but it’s what we have. I liked Buffy, but it went on too long. Now I’m watching it with my two oldest daughters and we’re almost done with Season Three. I think seasons 3, 4, 5 and the best, and I missed half of them, so it’s fun to watch them again.

    Thanks JT, and for mentioning Galbadon because that’s a GREAT example of multi-blended genre.

  24. Allison Brennan

    Hi Terri! We’re kindred spirits. ๐Ÿ™‚ . . . John Saul is BRILLIANT. Love his books. Love, love, love them. I have a couple newer titles I haven’t read yet, but I always buy them right when they come out. Now that you mention it, I think I stopped watching Buffy because they changed the time from 9 pm (when my kids were asleep) to 8 pm (when they were not) and it kind of pissed me off because I don’t think it’s a little kid show. It really needed to stay at 9 pm.

    LOL Jill, I heard great things about Chuck, but that might have been from you on the MSW blog. Bawhahahaha. But I really love FRINGE. Loved the first season of HEROES, but they pissed me off season two . . . I have season three on my apple tv but haven’t invested the time. I started with FRINGE and was hooked immediately. She is my FAVORITE female television character. She’s smart, strong, not too-stupid-to-live, responsible, driven, with a thread of vulnerability. NOTE TO WRITERS: too often women are portrayed either as femme fatales or bimbos or hardened man-haters, especially by some male writers. (and some female writers who think they need to harden their characters to gain a male audience.) Agent Olivia Dunham is the perfect character. Not to copy her, but to learn how to create a strong female character that isn’t a caricature.

    HEY LEANNA!!! Thanks for stopping by. I am so excited about your series and I don’t read historicals, but I’m reading this one. Can’t wait. Why? Because if you write how you talk I’m going to love it. Gothic is likely a good description, and I love gothic, except for the idiot women that tend to populate the classic gothic novels. Which is why I like modern gothic novels with stronger, independent female characters. Hmm, I’m getting cranky in my old age.

    I think readers, if they can find the blended books, will ultimately be the arbitrars (is that a word?) of what works and what doesn’t. We just need a chance . . . though when I think about it, I’m sort of going back in time to classic supernatural. What some might call horror, except horror usually kills off the characters you like the most. And I’m not going to do that. Unless readers like the wrong characters . . . LOL.

  25. Denise McClain

    I love Supernatural! Kripke was pure genius in creating these two young men and all their exploits. I’ve seen the show since its inception. I’m completely a Sam girl. I always thought Dean was a bit manic. Fun to watch but my tastes went to Dean, for sure. I think it’s brilliant the way that although Dean has been in it from the beginning, Sam’s character seems to have more supernatural relevance. Of course this conversation could veer completely off path to a Sam/Dean fest…

    Warehouse 13 is a show starting 7/7 on the SciFi Channel. It’s about two Secret Service agents who, after saving the Prez, gets assigned to South Dakota at a massive storage facility called Warehouse 13. Basically they chase down reports of supernatural and paranormal things/activities. An updated X-Files is what it sounds like. It’s gotten rave reviews. So I’m crawling out of my skin waiting for Tuesday. If it’s as good as it sounds like it’ll be, I’ll be hooked for life.

    I’ve never really gotten into any of JD Robb’s books. And from what I’ve heard, you either love them or hate them. I’m sure I’ll check them out again at some point. Says me as I stare at my evil, replicating-before-my-eyes, over 300 book TBR pile/shelves.

    If you dig vamps and other creatures that go bump in the night, Adrian Phoenix has REALLY blown my mind with her THE MAKER’S SONG series. It’s UF and thoroughly entertaining.

    As for reviewing, I do so under a pen name. I review on one website and one publication. Do you mind?

    Cheers and happy writing,


  26. Allison Brennan

    Okay Denise, you sold me on WAREHOUSE. Hope they have it on iTunes because I’m leaving town Tuesday for 2 weeks.

    Mind pen names? Nope, not at all. Being in mass market I’m grateful for any attention my books can garner online or in print. When you’re in romance and mass market, you tend to get very little attention as we’re the evil, ugly step-children of publishing . . . 40% of fiction sales not withstanding.

  27. Denise McClain

    Ha! I don’t mind being the red-headed step child. I’m used to it.

    I fell in love with your writing when I was given THE PREY to read. Must. Have. Backlist!

    Then I went on and won your EVIL series on Brenda Novak’s auction. You quickly went from being a name I think I recognized to being an auto-buy.

    So for me, January can’t come soon enough!

    If you can’t find Warehouse online just come on over! I’ll have lasagna, chianti and my DVR waiting.

  28. Leanna Renee Hieber

    Hey Allison!

    Thanks so very, very much for your support and interest, that means the world to me! And the comment about ‘if I write like I talk’ is perhaps one of the finest compliments I’ve received.

    You’re not ‘getting cranky’ about ‘traditional’ Gothic heroines, I can’t stand aimless simpering. However echoes–perhaps a ‘shout-out’ to the classic Gothic heroine– are present in my sweet and timid Percy Parker, the difference is that rather than simpering, she believes that destiny has something for her to seize in her ghostly hands and she’s luminously passionate about that. I’ve been told she’s endearing as hell. I think while we as writers write in the genres we adore, adoration doesn’t come without a little handiwork, we may try and improve upon what we, in our humble opinions, feel we’d like to fix or tweak about said genre.

    You made a great point about bringing certain aspects of a genre BUT NOT ALL when you said that in Horror people die, and you cannot have your romance fans thinking that you’re going to kill off the beloved characters. ! It comes in handy to have a good cover, cover blurb, and information on your website to help readers feel comfortable with what parts of the genres you may dip into. I think the "packaging" has a lot to do with managing expectations and charting cross-genre waters. I am very grateful to have a cover and a title that is exactly indicative of my book. I hope I always luck out like this. And again, I have no idea how this series is going to do, so all of us in these Cross Genre waters with me, let’s just cross our fingers. I want every one of us to do very well, and I appreciate the breakout that you’ve accomplished, Allison, you and several other wonderful names many of whom are often mentioned if not contributors to this blog, you’ve made it easier and less scary for people like me. If it weren’t for my Cross-Genre foremothers, Dorchester probably wouldn’t have taken this chance with a book I started 9 years ago. I owe ya, because its truly impossible for me to write in just ONE genre and I really do like to write books…

    Thanks for all of your thoughtful responses, Allison!

  29. Allison Brennan

    Aw, shucks, Leanna. You want to come over to Denise’s for Lasagna and chianti?

    I couldn’t write what I write without brilliant female crime writers like Lisa Gardner and Tess Gerritsen and romance authors like Nora Roberts and Jayne Ann Krentz paving the way for blending genres in commercially viable ways. And before them, other novelists writing their heart out, literally, some to success and others not so much. Creativity has been around before the written word, and it’s transcended cultures and thousands of generations. Sometimes I realize what a small speck I am in this vast universe (just go to google earth and you realize how small you REALLY are!!!) and think about how STORIES are bigger than any one person. Human beings NEED stories to survive. Without stories, particularly happy endings (romance, justice, etc) I think we’d just wither and die as a society. Hope transcends everything.

    Anyway, yes, I need to be writing, but you mentioned cover copy. My publisher will probably be angry but I’ll do it anyway ๐Ÿ™‚ . . . I got my draft cover copy (okay, this is like the third draft, but I think it’s going to more or less stick. We go back and forth a lot ๐Ÿ™‚ . . . Here it is:

    Haunted by chilling memories of demonic possession and murder, Moira Oโ€™Donnell has spent seven years hunting her mother, Fiona, whose command of black magic has rewarded her with unprecedented control of the underworld. Now Moiraโ€™s global search has led her to a small California town thatโ€™s about to become hell on earth.

    Tormented by his own terrifying past, and driven by powers he canโ€™t explain, ex-seminarian Rafe Cooper joins Moiraโ€™s dangerous quest. But Fiona is one devilish step ahead. Hungry for greater power, eternal youth, and stunning beauty, the sorceress is unleashing the living incarnations of the Seven Deadly Sins upon the mortal world.

    Together with a demonologist, a tough female sheriff, and a true crime writer chasing the ultimate story, Moira and Rafe are humanityโ€™s last, best chance to snatch salvation from the howling jaws of damnation.

  30. Chris Hamilton

    You’re not gonna crash and burn. It’s always scary to blur the lines, but the old lines don’t count any more. The only thing that matters is what works: vivid characters, a strong plot, conflict that nearly breaks the characters before they resolve it. If your work has that, and if you’re lucky, you win big. But luck is the residue of design, as the great Branch Rickey said.

    I suspect your design is sound.

  31. Leanna Renee Hieber

    Allison, Denise, Yes please. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Indeed, there are so many people to thank along this path, it’s dizzying. And I couldn’t agree more about the need for Hope and the need for us to use it creatively.

    I love the Original Sin cover copy and think it’s really engaging, I’ll definately be eager for its release!

    Kudos! Now off to attempt some writing myself.

  32. Denise McClain

    Oooooh, I love the back copy of ORIGINAL SIN! But alas, I have to wait 6 months for it. What misery.
    Quel domage! I think I’ll have to console myself with a nice Chilean Malbec.

    Hi, Leanna, come on over! The more, the merrier.

    Write on!

  33. Terri W.

    One of my favorite movies is Howling VI: The Freaks and I also enjoyed watching Blood Ties and another vampires series but I can’t remember the name of the show. The actor who played the main character (vampire) died in real life.

    I enjoy reading the Dark-Hunter series by Sherrilyn Kenyon and the Black Dagger Brotherhood series by J.R. Ward.

    I also enjoy reading your books Allison and I’m also a huge fan of romantic suspense.

    I can’t wait until "Original Sin" comes out next year.

  34. Christine

    I love the supernatural stories – give me ghosts, zombies, witches, the occasional vampire or werewolf – I eat it up. =) My favorites are Matheson and Stephen King, but I also love Candace Havens and Shanna Swendson.
    Sudden Death sounds very interesting – can’t wait until it comes out!


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