My writing voice has a very distinctive chick lit edge. My heroines have flaws, are not always self-assured but often have a wicked sense of humour. For many stories, the main character discovered who she was through creativity – whether it was photography, art, music. The creativity was a major part of her journey to self-awareness. But at the same time, she would always end up with a guy at the end. It wasn’t always clear whether the guy would be Mr Right – perhaps he was just ‘Mr Right-for-Now’ and the ‘happily ever after’ was a ‘happy for now’ ending.
A few years ago, I joined Romance Writers of Australia – I don’t write conventional romance, but it is the closest genre to what I do write, and I’ve found a wonderful community of writers in RWAus.
But I’m facing up to the fact that I am never going to write conventional romance – the one man/one woman stories which are almost solely about striving for a romantic relationship. I could never write category romance – the focus is too narrow – when I love lots of characters, parallel or contrasting sub-plots, and the general interference of reality. I shudder at the thought of secret babies and so far not one of my characters has unintentionally fallen pregnant. But I must admit, I do love the ‘pretend relationship’ trope, and have even used it in my real life, and like the contrast: ‘the secret relationship’ (and admit I’ve also done that in my real life.)
For a while I tried to convince myself that I was writing romance – after all, the girl always got the guy in the end. Even if I hadn’t intended to end it that way. But after entering romance competitions for several years, and polarising my judges on more than one occasion, I’ve decided that my writing is too far outside the ‘romance’ box for the conventional romance readers/judges to get it.
Reality Check was given a severe slap on the wrist by all three judges because the 29 y.o hero slept with the 19 y.o heroine on the first date. And yet without that as part of the set-up, what would it matter if they then sign a contract that forbids them from sleeping with each other? And hello, first dates sometimes do end up in bed together on the first date in real life.
I’ve been told that polarising judges is a sign of a fresh voice, but while I’m buoyed by the comments from the higher-scoring judges, and find some value in the constructive feedback of the lower-scoring judges (and find it very bizarre that lower-scoring judges can give some fantastic comments and then mark you with a low score), I’m done with contests. I don’t want to pay money out to have judges who don’t get my writing. As Jenny Crusie would say, ‘not my readers’.
Instead, I’m concentrating on making my writing the best it can be, telling the stories I want to tell (and not being boxed by a convention) and improving my writing craft. I’ll be enrolling in online courses, applying what I learn to my works in progress and submitting to agents.
I’ll no longer be entering competitions that are defined by genre, and instead will step into the bigger competition – the real world of publishing. Wish me luck!