If I’ve been cruel to Georgiana Derwent over the past two years, it’s because The Cavaliers had the potential to be something truly remarkable. Despite my bitching, and often a severe lack of time to read, I have enjoyed this vampire trilogy – and the end, in my opinion, is perfect.
I am delighted to have a guest post today from Georgiana, talking about genres, clichés and tropes, and how to please all the people all of the time – or not.
Write the book you want to read. It’s one of the pieces of advice to would-be writers that I see cropping up again and again. And on one level, it’s a good suggestion. If you’ve written a book that you love, then to a large extent, how it’s published, how it sells, and whether or not readers enjoy it is irrelevant. You’ve achieved something amazing, and hopefully, you feel happy and you feel proud. Job done.
So what book do I want to read? The trouble is, I have eclectic tastes. I like hardcore epic fantasy of the sort that in the popular imagination, tends to be read by men. I like history, of both the gripping non-fiction and the well-researched fiction variety. I like mythology and folklore, and contemporary tales that weave it into the plot. I like literary fiction with unconventional narratives and a touch of post-modernism. And of course, I like vampires, as long as they are both romantic charmers and bloodthirsty killers – neither the sparkly variety nor the mindless, zombie-esque variety work for me.
So I guess you could argue that the book I should therefore write would be some combination of all those genres and all those themes. But I’m only human, and self-respect can only get me so far. I also want to write a book that other people want to read, and even if I succeeded in creating something that contained all those elements and that I enjoyed, would anyone else?
For the Cavaliers Series, I compromised. I focussed heavily on the vampire side of things, and seasoned it with splashes of history and mythology and flashbacks and foreshadowing and quests and magical artifacts. And on the whole, I was bloody happy with the overall effect, especially by the time I reached the third and final book and felt I’d got into my stride.
The trouble is that once I’d decided on “Vampires” as my main genre, there remained the issue of sub-genre. On the whole, a category of creatures that can be broadly grouped together as vampires appear in three types of novel – horror, urban fantasy, and paranormal romance.
I had no interest in writing straight horror, which I would broadly categorise as the sort of story where the vampire is a purely malevolent force, and the plot focuses on the heroes trying to survive and destroy them. The lines between paranormal romance and urban fantasy, on the other hand, seem far more blurred. In my head, at least, both can have vampires who are part love interest and part villain, and both can have some of the plot focussed on romance and some of it focussed on something else – a mystery, a crime, a quest, a fight for survival. The difference is just one of degree.
At the furthest extreme, paranormal romance can be 99% love story – girl meets eligible vampire, some obstacles get in their way, but they fall in love and live happily ever after (add or subtract copious amounts of explicit sex scenes according to taste). It doesn’t have to be the case, but in my experience, the closer to this model a book gets, the more likely it is that the “vampire” love interest is broadly indistinguishable from a super-hot, super-strong human man. It’s basically your standard Mills and Boon story, with vampires slotted in.
At the far end of the Urban Fantasy spectrum on the other hand, romance is almost entirely absent. Things are gritty and dark. It’s either Raymond Chandler with paranormal creatures, or it’s Lord of the Rings happening in the real world.
Clearly, there’s a hell of a lot of middle ground between the two. When I started Oxford Blood, the first novel in my Cavaliers Series, I was unashamed about focussing on the romantic angle above all else, but also clear that it couldn’t be the only thing driving the plot. There’s the dreaded love triangle (a trope, incidentally, that dates back to antiquity, not just Twilight, and that I’d defend to the death, though that’s another blog post for another day) but there’s also a murder mystery, a quest by the heroine to stop the worst of the vampires’ excesses and a bit of history. That said, I’d definitely call that first book paranormal romance – and I see nothing wrong with that. It’s a genre, not a judgement on quality.
As I started the second book, however, and even more so as I progressed onto the third, while I kept the central love story ticking over, I feel I moved further and further towards the urban fantasy side of things, adding in more and more vampire history and politics and focussing more and more on the centuries-old conflict between the two types of vampire, Roundheads and Cavaliers.
As a result, I was undoubtedly writing the book I wanted to read, combining sex and sedition, romance and relics. The trouble is, many readers tend to be slightly further towards one or other of the “sides.” There are lots of readers who like the balance that is struck, but there are also lots who love one aspect and not the other, whether it’s the beta reader who pleaded with me to excise the love triangle entirely from Ivory Terrors by having one of the vampires disappear early in the book (not going to happen) or the numerous reviewers who were a little shell-shocked by my refusal to give the heroine a conventional happy ever after. And somewhere in-between, there are those who want more sex and those who want less sex, those who want more history and those who want less. Those who bemoaned what they saw as the clichés, and those who objected (or just failed to notice) when things played out in a way different to what the clichés would make them expect.
So what’s an author to do?
Genres are useful for Amazon listings, but most of my favourite books wouldn’t fit neatly into one genre either. Fundamentally, my conclusion for writing is much like my conclusion for life – you can’t make everybody happy all the time, so do what makes you happy (without being totally awful), and at least one person will be satisfied. And hopefully, most readers will appreciate that you haven’t compromised, and even if they’d have preferred there to be more of something and less of something else, at least some of them will be satisfied too. Basically, I’m back to where I started. Write the book you’d want to read. Oh, and then edit it properly and get it a nice cover, of course.