For about as long as I can remember, I wanted to grow up to be a novelist. I took my first real stab at it in high school, when I wrote the beginning of a novel about a character who wore Chuck Taylors and a trench coat and was ultra-eighties cool (I don’t actually remember much about that story beyond the fact that my protagonist bore a strong resemblance to David Tennant’s 10th Doctor nearly two decades before the 10th Doctor even existed. Does that make me prescient?).
I do know that I didn’t want to be just any kind of novelist. I wanted to write horror and dark fantasy. My biggest inspirations were Stephen King and Anne Rice. I got in a lot of trouble over this because I was a Good Christian Girl and Good Christian Girls weren’t even supposed to read those authors, let alone try to write like them. As I grew into my twenties, my inspiration pool grew to include Neil Gaiman, C.S. Lewis, Batman comics, Buffy, and George R. R. Martin, and while I was still drawn to horror, I decided that my true calling was to be an urban fantasy author. I made several more attempts at writing novels, all of which contained vampires or fairies or non-human creatures of some sort. When I finally finished my first novel around 2000, it was a mash-up of The Island of Dr. Moreau and Beauty and the Beast. It lives on the bottom shelf of the bookcase in my office.
Up to that point, I’d never even considered becoming a romance author. I read the occasional romance, but even though I enjoyed it, I bought into the myth that romance was the bottom of the barrel and not something to be taken seriously — as though my darkly romantic (but not romance! Because romance novels have happy endings–and therein lies the difference) monster mashup was the height of literary hoity-toititude.
And then I went back to college to study social science and was too busy writing lengthy term papers about Max Weber and Sigmund Freud to even think about noveling. This was the height of my Buffy obsession, so I got my fiction writing fix by writing fan fiction. And even though I told myself I didn’t have time to write another novel, I wrote several novel-length fanfics during that time. And do you know what? every single one of ’em were romance novels.
I was shocked when I realized that, and even more shocked to realize I was good at writing romance, and that I enjoyed it. Even so, when the time came to get back to serious noveling, I clung to my identity as an urban fantasy author. I spent years (and years) post graduation (in my defence, a lot of life happened in that time, including meeting my husband, planning a wedding, getting used to being married and then buying a house, all of which tends to slow a writer down) writing an urban fantasy about the Fae living in an alternate Los Angeles.
And then I wrote a book called Restless Spirits, a ghost story that was part paranormal fantasy, part mystery, part chick lit, and all romance. After spending a couple of years editing that book, I decided to self-publish it, but I was in denial about having written a romance novel. I marketed it at first as a paranormal fantasy, and then as a mystery. I didn’t really start to move copies of it until I finally gave in and marketed it as a paranormal romance.
And then last year, because God is awesome and also kind of has a twisted sense of humor, He placed it in front of an editor at a Christian publishing house that mostly publishes inspirational romance and YA. And that publishing house offered me a contract to let them re-package that book and also write two sequels–all of which they plan to market as paranormal romance.
So I guess that officially makes me a romance novelist. But an inspirational romance novelist? Surely not. Not this girl who grew up sneaking Stephen King on the bus rides to Youth Group gatherings.
And no, Restless Spirits and its sequels don’t fit the inspirational romance mould. They’ll be relatively clean, but nothing about them is overtly Christian. So God’s not steering me toward actually writing Christian romance.
A couple of years ago I wrote my one and only non-fantasy contemporary romance for National Novel Writing Month. I wrote it, and then I hid it away on an unused hard drive, because that’s not what I write, and also the story lacked focus and had problems I didn’t want to spend the energy to fix. I had actually forgotten all about writing that one.
Recently, I remembered it — I’m not sure what it was that served to remind me — and it’s been on my mind pretty relentlessly ever since. And I’ve thought of some tweaks I could make that would fix the focus issues, but would also push this book dangerously close into inspirational romance territory. And do you know what? I think it would be good. And I’m kind of excited about digging it up and starting revisions on it once this sequel I’m currently writing is done.
Does this mean I am an inspirational romance author? The Lord sure does seem to be nudging me in that direction. Other ideas for other novels that fit that mould are also starting to take hold. And I’m not sure how I feel about that, or how to reconcile this with the horror and fantasy stories that are still vying for a place at the starting line in my imagination. How do I reconcile this with the brand I’ve already established as a paranormal romance and dark fantasy author? Will I have to get a pseudonym?
I do know one thing — my one word for this year is “lean,” as in, lean into God, and lean into what He’s doing in my life. Already this has taken me and my soul in surprising directions, and March isn’t even over yet. If He makes it clear (as He appears to be doing) that He wants me to start writing inspirational romance, then inspirational romance I will write, and I will trust Him with the outcomes, just as I’ve been trusting him to rewrite my identity and uncover the woman He always intended me to be. That also means letting him make me into the kind of writer He made me to be.
It’s a little scary, this yielding and letting myself be remade, and not all aspects of the remaking have been pleasant to walk through. But so far they have been utterly worth it. I can trust that this will be, too.
How has God surprised you this year?