Today Jessica Barksdale Inclán, author of 12 books, joins us at RU to talk about the challenges and opportunities involved with changing genres. Her most recent book, Intimate Beings, is the second in her paranormal series about a trio of siblings separated during childhood and forced on their own in adulthood to confront their special abilities and find not only each other but their own true loves.
Jessica, thanks for taking the time to visit with our Romance University readers!
Kelsey: What genre(s) were you published in prior to publishing a romance?
Jessica: Hi, Kelsey and Romance University readers!
I actually started out my writing career as a poet. I was very literary and very serious (I am an English professor, after all!). The classes I took were focused on poetry, so the study and my writing were about figurative language, description, detail, metaphor, and symbol. This focus still serves me well, as I think that I am able to bring those skills to my storytelling. I later moved into short story writing and then novel writing. My first six novels are considered literary/contemporary novels, and as I moved into that writing and then into romance writing, I feel I’m just carting around a bigger set of tools. I have a huge tool box! I’ve also dabbled in screenplay writing, though, truly, I don’t do that very well. I need another few classes, many ten or twenty. And I’m now turning my attention toward non-fiction, and grabbing more tools as I take classes and revise my essays.
Kelsey: When and why did you decide to write a romance novel?
Jessica: I write quickly, and my agent suggested that I try my hand at a genre that would allow me to publish more than once a year. I really can’t “not” write, so it felt good to be productive. I had to “learn” romance, so I studied and read about 100 romances one summer. Then I set about writing my first romance novel, When You Believe, and my agent was able to sell it to Kensington. I really got the “bug” for writing romances, and my sixth with them–The Beautiful Being–will be out October 2009.
Kelsey: Do you find different writing skills are needed to become published in the romance genre? Different PR skills?
Jessica: There is a format to a romance, and that is a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that it provides a framework, the very basic one being: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back. The curse is that you get a wild hair and want boy to find another, better girl and then die at the end, the romance reading population is likely not going to be very happy about it. The HEA is very important, and woe to the writer who steps out of bounds. The blogsphere will take her (or him) to task.
I think that good writing is good writing. All writers need to do the heavy lifting. I am of the opinion that some romance writers could help us all out by not relying on some very tired and overused phrases, especially related to sex scenes. Just because it has worked 5,607 times does not mean we have to write “her heart beat wildly against her ribs” one more time. I would like to start a mandate that forbids any writer from using more than three clichés per novel (we all need to have at least three because a cliché is often based on truth and sometimes nothing else will work). Any more than that, and the writer has to go back and take a poetry class.
Romance writers do more PR than any other type of writer, though, sadly, with the market the way it is, I see all writers trying to market and promote themselves. When I first published, there wasn’t this Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, contest wildness. But now it’s what all writers (even poets!) do.
Kelsey: Tell us about the challenge of writing in more than one genre at a time.
Jessica: The challenge is in remembering the audience. Literary audiences want theme and character more than plot. Genre readers often want plot and character more than theme. Poetry readers want to think and feel and not be told. Short story readers want the package to be perfect and meaningful with snappy, clear dialogue. And essay readers want to relate, be amazed, laugh, cry and empathize with the writer. Keeping all that in mind can be a bit exhausting.
Kelsey: Did you face other challenges in making the transition to writing romance?
Jessica: I think some of my writer friends were embarrassed for me. They thought I was “slumming.” I was outraged by that because we have a huge literary tradition, we romance writers, starting, perhaps, with Jane Austen. Pride and Prejudice is truly a romance. And anyway, who doesn’t love love? Who did my writer friends think they were?
More people buy romance novels than any other genre–more women read than men. We are holding down the reading front, we romance writers, and we are writing what people want.
Ultimately, I don’t argue with my snobby friends, and I just keep writing. I enjoy what I write, I put all my skills into it, and I am proud of what romance writers do.
Kelsey: What do you wish you had known before pursuing this market?
Jessica: That more is usually more. To not hold back. To say yes to opportunities and not be picky because sometimes, opportunities only come around once. To get right on the Internet horse and ride it as far as possible. I had a web site from the moment I sold my first novel–Her Daughter’s Eyes–a year before it was published, but I was clueless about ways of bringing people to my site.
Now I’ve got it down, but so do 150,000 other writers with books out this year. I do my best, but I think we learn as we go.
Kelsey: Do you have any other advice for writers who are considering changing genres or writing in more than one genre?
Jessica: Take a class on the genre you wish to write in. One of my early teachers told me to consider the first ten years of my study as a writer as an apprenticeship. This work does not come easily, and we have to write and practice and grow and not imagine that it’s going to come “now” just because we want it to.
I teach a day class at UCLA on writing and selling the romance novel, and a woman showed up to one session and told us that she wanted to quit her day job, write a romance, and live off the proceeds. I nearly fell off my chair (I was standing, so that would have been hard). She did not like my advice to “not quit her day job” at all. But think of the hard work you are doing learning this new genre as practice and don’t expect it to all unfold immediately. Sometimes, miracles happen, but don’t count on them. Work. Read. Study. And keep writing.
Jessica, we appreciate your honesty on the skills and fortitude it takes to be a writer, whether writing in one or more genres. I guess if the first ten years is an apprenticeship, I have almost eight years to go!
Jessica Barksdale Inclán’s debut novel Her Daughter’s Eyes, published in 2001, was the premier novel published under New American Library’s new imprint Accent. Her Daughter’s Eyes was a final nominee for the YALSA Award for the best books of 2001 and best paperbacks for 2001 and has been published in both Dutch and Spanish. Her next novel The Matter of Grace was published in May 2002. Her third, When You Go Away, came out April 1, 2003. Her fourth, One Small Thing, was published April 2004, and was translated into in Dutch and Spanish. Walking With Her Daughter, was published in April 2005, and her sixth, The Instant When Everything is Perfect in February 2006. Starting in June 2006, she published the first in a trilogy from Kensington Books, When You Believe. Reason to Believe, and Believe in Me. Her next trilogy began with Being With Him and Intimate Beings. The final book in the trilogy–The Beautiful Being— will come out October 2009. She is a 2002 recipient of the CAC Artist’s Fellowship in Literature. Inclán teaches composition, creative writing, mythology, and women’s literature at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, California, and on-line and on-land creative writing courses for UCLA extension. She has studied with Sharon Olds, Anne Lamott, Kate Braverman, Grace Paley, Marjorie Sandor, and Cristina Garcia. Her short stories and poems have appeared in Rockhurst Review, Hotwired, The Salt Hill Journal, Free Lunch, The West Wind Review, The Prairie Star, Gargoyle and many other journals and newspapers. Her short story Open Eyes was given first prize by Sandra Cisneros for El Andar magazine’s 2000 writing contest. She co-edited a women’s literature/studies textbook Diverse Voices of Women (Mayfield Publishing, 1995). Ms. Inclán has degrees in sociology and English literature from CSU Stanislaus and a Master’s degree in English literature from SFSU. Ms. Inclán lives in Oakland, California and is currently at work on a contemporary novel and a book of essays and another romance.
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