Out of My Comfort Zone and Into Spec Fic
In 2012, I stumbled on a renaissance in queer fiction, a new wave of books called "lesfic." This was a revelation to me since I thought most of these types of books had disappeared some time in the 1980s, with an occasional release coming to my attention every now and then. My bookshelves are filled with lesbian fiction from the 1970s and 1980s, published by pioneers like Naiad Press, Persephone Press, Kitchen Table Women of Color Press, and Firebrand Books. I spent the 1990s and the 2000s reading literary fiction, which was great and all, except that I rarely saw myself in it.
It turns out with the advent of the internet people started to write and post fan fiction, much of it focused on the Xena Princess Warrior universe (a show I never watched). These "uber" stories usually had a dark-haired woman and a blonde in some sort of romantic situation. Once books could be sold online, some of those fan fiction authors became novelists and even publishers, leading to the birth of lesfic.
Once I discovered these books, I gravitated toward romance, the most popular of the lesfic genres. I read one after another until I realized that the incomplete manuscript I had scribbled into a notebook years ago about three young women in college could become a romance novel. Fast forward and the next year I self-published my debut, "Exception to the Rule," which ended up being awarded a Goldie for Debut Author by the Golden Crown Literary Society, which had been created to lift up lesfic books, readers and writers.
I followed up with two more romances, one also self-published and the other released by a small, lesbian press. Then I turned to writing Young Adult, but still sticking with the romance genre. I published two stories in anthologies and turned to reading queer women's YA.
Then Trump was elected, Charlottesville happened, and incidents of hate crimes soared. I started reading more and more about polarization and the growing divide between Blue America and Red America. Would the country have to split in two? Could it? What would lead to such a drastic event and which populations would go where?
I'd long loved reading alternative histories like The Plot Against America, The Man in the High Castle, and The Yiddish Policeman's Union, all of which asked that same question: WHAT IF?
So now I was making a genre change, from the comfortable and familiar tropes of romance with their happily ever after endings to the unknown of speculative fiction with its detailed world building and action-filled plotting.
As I mentioned here recently, I'm not great at plotting conflict, so moving from romance to spec fic really tested my author muscles. Writing YA spec fic gave me a bit of a break since the inner conflicts of teens are just, if not more, important to them as the external worlds in which they live. So I didn't feel like I had to work out every detail of the structures of governments, militaries and international relations like I might have had to do with a spy novel or something more adult-focused. But some of those things did have to be worked out, enough to make each new country believable. I have to admit I was helped by the fact that the US right wing was becoming more and more radicalized so there wasn't much I could invent about the God Fearing States that would have seemed too fantastical.
The other shift I made from standalone romance books with some interconnected characters was to decide that my spec fic story had to be a trilogy that unfolded slowly between my main characters' junior and senior years of high school. This was a total leap of faith for someone who isn't capable of plotting out one book in advance let alone three.
Now that I'm about the write the last third of the second book in the trilogy, I feel that I'm able to pass on a tiny bit of wisdom about switching things up.
Read your new genre. Since I'm not big on sci fi, my love of alternative history gave me some grounding in writing spec fic.
Come to terms with the marketing challenges. You have readers and fans in your original genre who might not transfer over to your new one. So it's important to seek out new avenues for promotion and new reader communities.
Follow your muse. If the next book inside you means a genre switch is in your future, write that book. Don't force yourself to go with what you know. Switching things up might just help you grow as a writer, even if you end up going back to the tried and true.