Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Mystery of Romance

A guest post by New York Times bestselling author, Jessica Park

When people find out that I’m a writer, one of the first questions they ask (usually after telling me that they TOO have always wanted to be a writer, then launching into an hour-long explanation of their top forty book ideas that, you know, perhaps I might want to write for them) is: “What do you write?”

This is when I freeze. And stammer. I mean, it’s a simple question, right? Or it should be.  

But because I’m me, and complicated, and think that I’m all sorts of unique and rebellious (this alternates with extreme self-loathing and doubt, just so you don’t think I’m a total jerk), answering this question is hard.

I could simply say that I write romance. That Left Drowning is a new adult romance, and Flat-Out Love is a young adult romance. But then I desperately want to qualify those genre labels! My books are more than just romance, I want to explain. There’s romance, but a strong literary style, plenty of humor, intense psychological exploration of ... I don’t know how to answer because it’s impossible to feel that a one-word genre label captures what I hope my stories are about. That’s the neurotic, strung-out, paranoid author in me. I’ve learned to live with it. But my neuroses aside, I think I’m on to something....

One of the things that I’ve worked so hard to do in my books is to incorporate as many layers as I can, to give depth and explore a variety of subjects and angles beyond a linear love story. Family dynamics, trauma, mental health, friendship, survival... You name it. And I’m driven to write about how our pasts catch up with us no matter how hard and how far we run. How we cope, and fail, and succeed in many aspects of our life because of our pasts.

And when we start talking about the past—and about hiding the past—we are really talking about secrets. And secrets inevitably lead to mysteries. And clues. And stupendous scenes of revelation and understanding. Themes and plot designs that we typically associate with being only in true mysteries or thrillers are actually often found in so many other genres.

A really good piece of fiction has to keep readers turning the pages, right? What’s next? It’s about how authors dole out information, tease our readers, lure them in, and make them wonder. Much the way mystery and thriller novels work. In my books Left Drowning and Flat-Out Love, both stories absolutely follow romantic paths, but big questions are also raised early on. There are gaps of information, personality quirks that allude to hidden stories, and discoveries made through conversation and experience. There are the equivalents of crimes, clues, suspects, investigative action... You name it, romance can have it.

I’ve been mixing up my romance with mystery, literary fiction, and humor—plus lord knows what else—and having a blast. And it’s why I encourage readers to stretch beyond what they think they love (only romance, only crime fiction, only sci fi); elements we love in one category are so often found in another.

The hard lines that we believe separate genres are often much more fluid than we know, and fluidity can be magic.

Jessica is the author of New York Times bestselling FLAT-OUT LOVE, RELATIVELY FAMOUS, and her latest NA novel, LEFT DROWNING. She lives in New Hampshire where she spends an obscene amount time thinking about rocker boys and their guitars, complex caffeinated beverages, and tropical vacations. On the rare occasions that she is able to focus on other things, she writes.

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  1. What a fun post, Jessica. Thanks for joining us.

    If any story, regardless of labeled genre, doesn't have an element of mystery to it, I get bored and move on. Your books seem deeply character driven with more intensity than fluff. I'll be checking them out!

  2. Hi Jessica, Your work sounds extremely interesting. Seems to me (I'm a former publisher & NYT bestselling author) your work could also be called "women's fiction," "literary fiction" and/or "mainstream fiction since all of those genres can also have strong romance elements. As you say, it's frustrating to pigeon-hole multi-layered books you've considered from many POVs to one word!

  3. Thanks for joining us today, Jessica!

    One of the things I love about your novels is that, from the very beginning, I could sense a secret brewing beneath the surface and building momentum. As each layer fell across the pages, the complexity of your characters went deeper, the secret more enticing. Then the final reveal came, tying everything together (and blowing me away).

    I totally agree with what you say here. I'd never read NA or YA novels until yours and realized how much I was missing by confining myself to only thrillers.

    1. And it's what I love about your books, Andrew. I get the benefits of reading thrillers but with the added layers of other genres. You have a very lit fiction/novel feel to The Lion, The Lamb, The Hunted and to Darkness and Shadows, and you're one of the authors who continues to make me appreciate blurring lines. Good writing is good writing, so let's keep throwing the rules out the window, shall we?

  4. Thank you for having me, everyone! It's been so interesting to explore and play with different genres. I love that readers are really embracing stories that step outside of hard genre lines, and a lot of the widening scope of stories is credited to self-published authors who pushed boundaries and published books that big publishers told them would never sell. It's such an exciting time to write!

    1. Pushing bounderies is something that, a few years ago, was unheard of. We are writing in an exciting time. Gotta love it!

    2. Flat-Out Love was rejected by every NY imprint we submitted to because they all felt it was too old to be dubbed a YA book and too young to be an adult book. It didn't fit into their mold, so they didn't know what to do with it. But readers did. :)

  5. Great to have you here at CFC, Jessica! Your books sound intriguing - I'll be looking for them!

  6. This post really spoke to me, Jessica. I feel the same way about my WIP. Thank you! :)
    Michelle Militi

  7. I like your philosophy about mixing it up, genre bending, whatever you want to call it, because I'm the same way. :) Maybe we're twin sisters of different mothers, lol. But seriously, I've always written "romantic" novels (my latest are published with Harlequin Luna), but writing a true romance that's the main story has been a struggle for me. I'm getting better at blending romance with whatever other genre strikes my fancy at the time because I do adore the intensity and immersive nature of romance. I just don't like the way some "pure" romance novels can devolve into excessive repetition. Anyway, my latest poison has been fantasy. I have a horror romance novel I'm close to embarking on soon. There are just too many genres I enjoy reading and writing to stick with just one.


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