Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Cross-Genre Journey by Michelle Picard

Ever since I was a young girl and my fifth grade teacher read the class Peter S. Beagle’s novel THE LAST UNICORN, I have been fascinated with all things magical, mysterious and otherworldly. I wrote my first tragic fantasy novella in middle school, recruiting art-minded friends to draw pictures of the fantastical universes I created.

Taking the road frequently traveled (not quite as romantic as the less traveled variety), and getting a BA in political science and a Masters in social work, I settled in New England. Along the way I collected a husband, two sons and two cats.

Finally, I grabbed the proverbial bull by its spiky protrusions and pursued my passion. I now write fantasy and urban fantasy, and admit to a fascination with gateways and portals, which seem to crop up in any story I write.


Only after typing those titillating words, “The End” did I wonder if I might have a problem marketing my very first completed manuscript, RULING EDEN. I’d been reading a heck of a lot of urban fantasy when I started writing, and was in love with that first person kick-ass heroine voice, as well as long spanning series’ arcs. But I’d also been reading classic fantasy, with complex, slow-paced political machinations factoring into the plot. On top of that I loved romance and the relationship element in these books. Why pretend the romance subplot was anything but the most interesting, and was made that much more fascinating set within fantastical world building. I wanted it all. So I wrote it all--a first person, sarcastic earth-modern female point of view character, thrust into a unique, complex parallel realm, with loads of political intrigue, a series arc built into the story arc of the first book, a huge fantasy-typical cast of characters, and a romance plot that shared equal time with the fantasy plot. A fifty-fifty split. The book was long. Long like traditional fantasy is often long. Okay, not Lord of the Rings length, but long enough.

The next problem became how to market this. I made up my own category and called it “contemporary fantasy” because, really, there was no urban setting, but the mysterious realm of Eden’s Court is considered a part of modern earth, albeit a magical realm attached to it like some floating balloon tethered to a railing. I debated if this first book of my planned series had a happily ever after. I admit the initial ending did not have the hero and heroine together in a relationship by the final page. But I hated for all of those romance readers to turn their backs on a wonderful, sexy, exciting romance plot between my hero and heroine if I couldn’t pull out a happily ever after card. The hero was resisting a committed relationship, so I found a way to supply him with his cathartic moment leading him to embrace the heroine at the end of this book instead of pushing it off to the next installment. They hadn’t solved all their problems together as a couple, but enough to say they were together. I’d dare the wrath of romance readers the next book down the line where a less than perfect accord exists between the two, closer to a mid-series urban fantasy ending.

So here I sat with this unique novel, which, despite its large cast and complex micro and macro plots, had a pretty fast clipped plot, and didn’t know what direction to go with it. I was sure a market existed for the book, but I never felt completely comfortable when I pitched it to an editor or agent just as a romance fantasy or just as a fantasy. Not to mention it was too long for most everyone’s guidelines.

But even among the few years I’ve been writing for serious publication (I began in spring of 2005) cross-genre blends have taken off. I adore the sci-fi, futuristic romance blends and find even a wider variation of more substantial romance plots in the urban fantasies today. So, happily, after almost giving up on finding the right home for my longish romantic, contemporary, urban-like fantasy, I hit pay dirt. Crescent Moon Press. I pitched the manuscript at the New England Chapter Romance Writers of America conference last spring, assuming that if nothing came of the pitch this time I was done and the manuscript would be relegated to the cyber box under my bed to collect virtual dust bunnies. I’d gone on to write two other unrelated stories and would focus on those.

RULING EDEN finally found its happily ever after. The editor at Crescent Moon Press fell in love with my first baby and offered me a contract. I felt vindicated. All of the loving attention I’d put into this story over the years (I cut my critique group and writing craft teeth on this one) would result in a published novel. What did I take from this experience? The no brainer is to write the book of your heart and worry about finding it a home later. The second is that the launch and rapid propagation of e-publishers and their willingness to take risks on unique blends of stories has further whetted the reading public’s appetite for the same. I see more room even in traditional New York publishing for stories with blurred genre definitions. The progress is slow, but it exists. Of course this still leaves New York with marketing dilemmas. Paranormal romances and urban fantasies are commonly mislabeled in one direction or another, disappointing fans that are loyal to a particular genre.

To find out what my own cross-genre blend is like, please check out my novel, RULING EDEN at Crescent Moon Press

Most importantly, I’d love to hear about your personal take on cross-genre stories and about any of your sagas on the path to publication of one of these sweethearts. 

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