This is another one of those mish-mash posts where my mind wanders to a couple of different things, but I hope in the end has some coherent point.
First of all, Harlequin’s SYTYCW contest is going global. It kicks off this September and if you’ve wanted to write for Harlequin, here’s a chance for you to get in front of editors. I was a mentor for the Mills & Boon New Voices contest last year and I learned a lot from it. My mentee, Victoria Wu, has since sold novellas to Samhain and Entangled and is on her way to the next step of the writer’s journey as a published author.
Now the name of the contest is obviously a play on the popular “So You Think You Can Dance” TV show, which I’m newly addicted to since one of my critique partners, Bria Quinlan, pointed out the super hot martial arts dancer Cole Horibe. I’m a big fan of Cole, Glitch (OMG, you have to see him move), and the two ballroom dancers, Whitney & Lindsey.
As part of the show, dancers come in with their dominant style, but are put in situations where they have to dance in new styles and really test their limits. So the final winner is supposedly not just a master in their discipline, but an all-round great dancer.
This leads me to a question that’s come up a few times recently. I was recently doing a blog interview where I was asked if I had plans to ever write in other periods or genres that are more popular. For example, Jade Lee also writes Regency historicals. Or perhaps the Qing Dynasty would be more popular than the Tang because there are more “East meets West” elements.
My answer to those questions is always that I wish I could! I wish I were talented and/or prolific enough to do so. It feels like it takes all my effort and inspiration just to keep on building on what I do. I know it’s a niche with a very limited readership, but I kind of feel like Zoey Deschanel’s character in the movie “Yes Man” who sings her little quirky songs and has a small, close-knit group of fans who enjoy them.
I was chatting with author Charlotte Hubbard this weekend at the booksigning (who also writes as Naomi King and Melissa McNeal) about genre-hopping. I was advising an aspiring author to stick to what she did best and not to try to change her story to fit what agents were requesting (not bad advice). But Charlotte had a good point that twenty years ago, historical authors all thought they’d be writing westerns forever and readers would continue to glom them. Now that market has narrowed, but the inspirational market has opened up for Westerns. When publishers were interested in Amish romances, she knew she could take what she’d done and write an Amish romance. She also writes historical erotica, but when that market dried up, she moved elsewhere and kept on writing. (pretty good advice and from an author with much more experience than me)
This made me evaluate my own perceptions of myself.
Someone asked Charlotte which books were more fun to write and her answer was perfect: “I don’t do it if it’s not fun.”
She puts her heart in every book, whether it be a Zebra historical western romance, a Regency erotic romance, or an Amish inspirational romance.
To be a career romance author, it may be required that you change with the times. This is not compromising your integrity as an artist. This is about earning a living and I could hardly expect to be a programmer working on the same technology forever any more than I can expect to be an author writing the same thing forever. Successful authors like Jade Lee and Charlotte Hubbard have found a way to meld their craft with commercial success.
Charlotte said something else that stuck with me. She said, “The truth is, you can write whatever they need you to write.”
I don’t feel I can–this statement hits upon my fear that it’s not that I don’t want to do anything else, but that I can’t do anything else. I feel this is my personal limitation and not about being an “artiste” or a judgment about what authors should do. And the issue is not that I have to write a bunch of different genres to prove myself — the issue is I’ve found a block inside myself. It means even if I do continue writing Tang Dynasty romances as I do now, that block is still in there, holding me back.
So if I ask myself honestly right now, “Jeannie, do you think you can write?” Really, truly write? I’d have to say not yet, but I’m trying to get there.