What do you love to read? The same thing, all the time? Me neither. Nor do I like to write that way, but I’ve found that there is a certain constraint I need to be aware of, which actually works to my advantage.
So, there are 1000 different flavors to romance/erotica novels. Some are pure porn, one sexy romp after another while the characters stumble through something like a plot. Others are deeply erotic, treatises on sexuality and kinks/fetishes. Some are all flowers and feelings and fade-to-black. There is no one right way to right for this genre, and there is a reader for every style.
As a writer, though, I’m called to think about this from the perspective what I’m trying to share with my readers. One thing I learned quickly when I started writing again via fanfiction is that I’m not a good PWP (porn without plot) writer, as much as I enjoy reading those kinds of stories.
Why not? Because I’m a plotter. I like thick, meaty plots that revolve around antagonists and/or surmounting problems both inside AND outside of the romantic relationship.
I think that it’s important for me to own this, because I’m a writer who really likes to trip through genres (fantasy, contemporary, sf) and categories (M/M, poly M/F/M, het) and for a while now I’ve been very worried about reader expectations for my stories.
A little history: I grew up in the 80s and 90s, back when publishing was locked in by the legacy publishers. To get published back then, you had to bleed ink, beg like a dog, and pigeon-hole yourself. If you wrote contemporary het, then that was all your name could be associated with. Authors I knew ran through pseudonyms in order to publish in various genres, and even within genres (I knew a writer who used one name for his action/adventure sf, and another name for his tie-in novels for a sf movie because the publishers did not want to two related. He was, needless to say, my hero).
I know a lot of writers now, especially fellow Dreamspinner Press authors, who flip through genres and categories like it’s no big thang. This was disconcerting to me at first, because I wondered if they weren’t alienating their readers through their “inconsistency.” But they aren’t. At all. Some of them are very damn popular, in fact!
In looking closer, I’ve found that those writers have a trademark style, a type of character/plot/setting mix that their readers know to expect, no matter the genre or category.
So what’s mine?
I think my upcoming book The Protector, a M/M paranormal romance, is a great example of it: angsty character development combined with romantic obstacles and a larger, over-arching plot. I don’t do murder-mystery, although The Protector has some elements of that. The hero of the book is a widower weredog who doesn’t want to ever fall in love again, which is simple enough for a romance novel, but in the background is a nefarious, murderous antagonist who is threatening the lives of the people my hero holds dear. So there you go: complicated.
The book I’m working on now, a re-write/expansion of my short story Rough Trade, is an sf M/M that is similarly structured with romantic and external travails. My poly M/F/M story about the werebear Ursula is along the same lines: there is a huge mystery regarding a magical bracelet that Ursula wears, which isn’t even resolved in the first book of the series. Meanwhile she’s trying very hard not to get involved with two handsome werewolves who have taken a shine to her and have their own dark pasts to contend with. See? Complicated!
I hope this resonates with readers. My book Dawn in the Orchard is reflective of this style, while Mixed Signals is not. But Mixed Signals is deeply flawed anyway, written under pressure when I was besieged by graduate school, and so I did not actually invest in it the way I have now with The Protector or my other current works. Also, The Protector was built with the idea of writing other stories in that universe, and they are not always going to be M/M stories. In fact a small sub-plot of the book is a M/F/M relationship. Future stories could be M/M, M/F, and poly. I’m not really sure, and if the book tanks I won’t continue the ‘verse anyway, but I like the idea of world building across categories. We’ll see.