Today’s guest Jeannie Ruesch wrote her first story at the age of the six, prompting her to give up an illustrious, hours-long ambition of becoming a Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader and declare that writing was her destiny. That journey to destiny took a few detours along the way, including a career in marketing and design.
Her first novel, a fairytale-like historical romance, was published in 2009, but the darker side of life had always captivated her. After a dinner conversation with friends about the best way to hide a dead body, Jeannie knew she had to find a way to incorporate suspense into her writing (the legal outlet for her fascination). Today she continues writing what she loves to read—stories of history, romance, and suspense.
Of Jeannie’s recent novel Cloaked in Danger, Flashlight commentary said, “Far from the average romance, Ruesch’s second novel defied my expectations and swept me into a whirlwind of wit, romance and intrigue.” Jeannie is also the creator of the WIP Notebook a writer’s tool to help you stay organized while you write (see her website for more information). Connect with Jeannie on Facebook and Twitter.
Perfecting the Mashed Genre Recipe
Write the story of your heart. Let the words flow. Be one with your scifi-YA-literary-thriller-with-the-alcoholic-zombie-lead-set-in-the-Civil-War novel. (Well, the alcoholic zombie might be too much.)
In a dozen ways, we’ve been told to write the book we’re passionate about. But what about when your book mashes genres or creates new ones? How do you feel about throwing a little avocado in your coffee? What about some vampire action in your literary book? Writing a book is like making a great stew: the flavors and aroma you create depend on what you stir into the pot. So how do you discover the right recipe for a yet-to-be-proven genre?
Despite my cooking analogies, I’m as far from a cook as you’ll get. If there’s a way to burn it, overcook it, and undercook it all in the same meal, I’m your gal. But I’m determined to become a master chef in mashing genres, since that’s where my passion lies. Imagine Judith McNaught’s historicals meet Lisa Gardner’s suspense, and you’ll get what I’m aiming for. My recent release was my first historical romantic suspense. Writing it was an exercise in self-doubt—was it enough suspense? Enough romance? Did I kill off enough people? (Only one. No, actually two.)
Readers choose their favorite genres with emotional gusto and expectations. The problem is you might not understand just how far you can smash those flavors together until you’ve already dished up your masterpiece. I wrote the best book I could, one my editor loved, and waited to discover on the flip side how well that story resonated. Yes, I’m talking reviews. When you’re blending genres, I believe reading reviews is imperative. You can’t please everyone, and you’ll make yourself crazy if you try but when you’re writing in a mixed genre, readers are the ones who will tell you what worked—and what fell as flat as a startled soufflé.
What are your readers’ non-negotiables?
People read the genres they do for one core reason—emotions. We fall In love with how a book makes us feel- be it smarter, happier, spooked under the covers or enthralled with a new world. We’re drawn to similar books to relive those sensations. Those are the elements you must deliver to make or keep a fan. Romance readers want that happy ending, but I believe the one absolute is ending the book with closure and hope. Oddly enough, I think suspense readers want the same thing. Bad guys vanquished, faith in humanity restored. Hope.
It’s important to understand and meet the non-negotiables for your genre. Did I meet the must-haves for my readers? One reviewer of my book said she “really, really wanted to love the book.” She liked it, gave an insightful review, but she felt gypped because it wasn’t enough of a romantic resolution. A few other reviews were similar, and some loved it as it was. The good and bad, I appreciated them all. (Thank you, reviewers!) We want to write what we’re passionate about AND we want readers to love it. Studying the reviews has helped me gain understanding about the must-have elements. So, what are the non-negotiables for your genre? How well have you honored them?
What story are you compelled to protect?
The degree to which you deliver those non-negotiables depends on your core genre. At the heart of your project you’ll find there is a story you’re determined to protect. For my mashup, it was the emotional fall-out of the suspense story. My heroine was abducted and emotionally tortured. Not the stuff of fairytale romances, and I had a need to protect and honor that fall-out. That need drove me while writing the book. So my base genre? Suspense—with a generous dollop of romance that complicated everything.
Set the expectations
Part of that choice includes drawing in the right readers to your work and letting readers know what to expect. This is about building your brand and making a promise you can deliver on. Tracey Devlyn, author of historical thrillers, states, “Much to my publisher’s dismay, I’ve always categorized my writing as historical romantic thrillers (translation: a slightly more grievous journey to the heroine’s happy ending). This notation is in my bio, part of my website’s description, and how I verbally refer to my writing when asked. I do this because I want the readers to know what they’re in for before they ever read page one.”
Readers want to love new books and authors. We have that on our side. As a mashup author, you’re asking readers to trust you while you mess with their beloved genres. By listening to their needs and wants, hopefully, we can gain new fans from all the genres we’ve mashed and start the next trend. Post-apocalyptic zombie cozy mysteries, anyone?
What are the non-negotiables for your genre, and how well have you honored them? What are some of your favorite mashups?