Recently, I had the pleasure of attending a small, local writer’s conference here in Austin. Had a great time, learned a lot, reinforced pretty much everything I’ve been doing (whew!), and enjoyed the camaraderie immensely.
But something happened in the beginning that was a little… off-putting.
The participants were given badges with our names preprinted on them. On the bottom they said, “I write…” and had a small, blank space where we were supposed to write our genres.
So I grabbed me that Sharpie and in big, indelible letters I answered the question wrong.
“Wait!” I said. “I didn’t mean to write that! Can I get another one, please?”
The nice ladies at the door smiled and wrinkled their noses as they shook their heads.
I didn’t even leave room to say “Time-Travel ROMANCE” or “Non-traditional ROMANCE with a lot of history and adventure and sci-fi/fantasy and inspirational elements.”
So, when I wasn’t hobnobbing or participating in workshops, I found myself reflecting on this. Why did I decide to write romance on my name badge, when my stories are much more than that?
To be honest, it’s because I haven’t let go of the idea that, at its core, The Journeymen is a love story. It just happens that I use this fish-out-of-water, historically-set, adventure-laden story to drive home the fact that Sarah and Giovanni are falling in love.
And love is hard.
Especially if you find yourself five hundred years apart from each other.
I’m not ashamed to be a romance writer, but I have to admit, most fellow authors will look at me askance when I identify this way. It’s a shame, but I think I understand why.
There is an idea that if you write romance, your story fits neatly into a certain box. And while I’ve read a number of romance stories that fit into that box exceedingly well, it doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy them. And it certainly doesn’t mean that every romance fits in the box.
In fact, romance is a pretty general genre. It has a central love story and an emotionally satisfying ending, according to the Romance Writers of America. From there, it can go pretty much anywhere, which makes for a pretty big box, right?
It just so happens that my story started off comfortably in a cozy box as a happy little contemporary romance and it wandered out and turned into something else. It transcended the genre. That’s scary. I liked the box. Otherwise I probably wouldn’t have written ROMANCE in huge Sharpie letters as my chosen genre.
During the conference, I had another revelation. We worked on being able to answer the question, “What are you working on?” without opening our mouths and allowing a great heaping vowel movement to come forth.
Admittedly, this has been something I thought I was getting better at doing. (At least I was using actual words.) “Well, it’s about this guy, Giovanni, who is trying to straighten out his life, and he meets a nice girl, but then he finds out he’s a time traveler…”
By now there’s enough glaze over people’s eyes to make a box of Krispy Kreme donuts.
“…They’re called plumbers of time because they have to go back and fix all the clogs.”
And just like that, the light would return to their faces and I’d get a chuckle.
So what if my novels weren’t just about Sarah and Giovanni finding true love? What if they were also about a group of time travelers who clean the clogs of time?
That sounds fun, and there would be no mistaking that for something that comes from a box, I hope.
Ultimately, I’m not telling a genre. I’m telling a story. It’s a story about love. And about personal growth. And about the disruptive nature of time travel. And about life in 1578 Italy.
In the end, the best part of writing The Journeymen is blurring genre conventions and having fun telling the story of these poor hapless time travelers who really would prefer to be normal and fall in love and have the satisfying happy-ever-after we expect from romances. But like life itself, it just isn’t that simple.
Life is a blurry, complex genre mix that is best lived without boxes.
I’d love to hear from you! What genres do you enjoy reading? Or authors, what do you write? And how much fun is it to get outside of your genre and play in other sandboxes now and then?