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How I Chose a Genre

Updated: Feb 5

Author's Note, February 2023: Ignore this. All of this. The White Oak Trilogy is Young Adult Contemporary Light Fantasy. I've learned a lot in two and a half years.

I am not a very creative person. As someone who works in a technical industry, my joke is that I’m just creative enough for engineers. I have a lot of faith in my writing ability on a sentence- or even a paragraph-level, but I could never wrap my head around the world-building part of fiction writing. All novels, including those based in reality, have to build a world. The characters, their homes, their jobs, their pets and possessions—all of these things have to be imagined and lovingly crafted by the author for a story to resonate with readers.

I have always found this part of the writing process to be very intimidating. I had this idea for the longest time that if I could just nail down a story, if I could flesh out a world, the actual writing part would be easy. But I couldn’t do it. It felt like all my ideas had been done before and I couldn’t come up with a way to make them feel fresh. I must have started a hundred stories from my teenage years through my early thirties and, with only a few exceptions in college, finished none of them.

Attempts at writing literary fiction left me exhausted and uninspired. I briefly considered getting into the “women’s literature” space and writing contemporary romances, but adults are kind of boring. As I planned out a writing project that would stick, it became clear that I was drawn to the YA/New Adult space. YA felt like the best fit for my voice and, back in 2015 when I was starting this project, it was becoming more and more of what I was reading. The more stressful my life got, the more YA I read until we fast forward to today and probably a good four out of five books I consume are YA or New Adult. A huge portion of the television and movies I watch are also geared toward teens. Based on the amount of media that is released with teenage protagonists, I am clearly not the only one indulging in stories about people who don’t have to worry about money or jobs or whether their relationships will last past the credits. Plus the audience for this media seem a lot more forgiving of concepts that are trite or cliche. I have much different expectations for a fun Netflix original than the latest film by some auteur director. And, let’s be honest, I usually enjoy the Netflix movie more.

I had a target audience. Now I needed an idea. Lucky for me, I am married to someone who dreams in video game levels and consumes fantasy novels at a pace that pays for his Kindle Unlimited subscription many times over. It took ten years of us being together for me to put my pride aside and ask him to help me come up with a book idea. I knew this would mean fantasy, but as we sat down to brainstorm, I made some rules. I knew I couldn’t write high fantasy. I haven’t read enough of it and, as previously mentioned, I am not creative enough to build a world from scratch. Neither did I feel up to the task of building a magic system. I have zero aspirations to be JK Rowling. I knew I needed something with established boundaries that I could build upon.

We ultimately decided on an idea that doesn’t have a ton of competition (there may be a reason for that, but we’ll see!) and would allow me to write in a contemporary setting. J and I drafted the vaguest of plot outlines. I started dreaming about what kind of person the main character would be while J got super deep into lore. At this point, I kicked him off the project. I had a strong sense of where the book was headed and didn’t want to get bogged down by too much magic. Our interests and sensibilities are too different for us to actually co-author anything together. But I have him to thank for planting the idea and helping it grow.

Then, after I wrote an entire book, I realized that my genre is paranormal romance. I always thought the term paranormal was reserved for ghosts and ghouls, but turns out it now includes vampires, werewolves, and other "unnatural" characters showing up in an otherwise normal world. I thought I was pretty hip to the terms the kids were using these days, but I'm finding that there is always something new to learn in publishing.

I am currently wrapping up my first edit of Acorn, and J is going to be my first beta reader. I’m nervous! It will be the first time anyone other than me will have read the book cover-to-cover (not that it has a cover yet—that’s a future post!). A future post will focus on what I learned from that first edit, including that I am an idiot for not having set up a “Book Bible” during the first draft and being too lazy to do it during the first edit. I’m secretly hoping J offers to do this for me during his review. Stay tuned.

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