While I was sick and not up to doing much of anything but thinking -- and even then in more of a daydreamy way -- while I was also having to make some career decisions, I found myself taking a good look at what I like and what I'm good at, and I came to some conclusions that rather surprised me.
One of the biggest is that love stories are my thing. I think about 95 percent of my reader mail involves the romantic relationships in my books or the swoonworthiness of my heroes. When I'm plotting or planning books, the relationship part is usually what comes to me first and is the easiest part for me to figure out. While I try to avoid being a real "shipper" in things I read and watch, a good romantic plot gets me every time, and the possibility of one will capture my imagination.
But I've tended to resist all this because I don't really like "romance." I failed at writing romance novels, though I suppose having any at all published wouldn't count as failure. It just wasn't my thing. I finally admitted to myself that I don't like "romance," as much as I enjoy a good love story. It's the structure and form of the romance novel that I dislike, not the fact that they contain love stories. Romance novels generally don't tell the kind of love story I find romantic. They're about people who have conflict with each other that keeps them apart, and they're mostly about the physical attraction even when the emotions are also dealt with. What I enjoy is a love story that develops along the way while the characters are doing something else, where it's a seasoning in another plot rather than the main plot. So, give me characters having to work together on a quest and very subtly and gradually falling in love as they get to know each other in difficult circumstances, but I'm not at all interested in the guy and the girl who bicker while lusting after each other.
This has given me some challenges in my career. I don't know if it's my Harlequin past or the fact that the Enchanted, Inc. series was published as "women's fiction" rather than fantasy, but the fantasy editors seem to have me pigeonholed as a romance author. Most of the books I've submitted to fantasy editors have been criticized and rejected for being "too romancey." That's one reason Rebel Mechanics ended up in young adult. I initially wrote it as an adult fantasy, but it was rejected, with some editors suggesting I try a romance publisher instead. I knew it wasn't a romance, and I knew enough about the romance market to know it would never sell there. I also knew I wasn't willing to do what it would take to turn it into something that would sell as romance. So since the characters were young and it was basically a coming-of-age story, I aged them down a couple of years, emphasized the youth, and we resubmitted as YA, where there aren't the same silos of books. The constant attempts by fantasy editors (many of whom were already fans of the Enchanted, Inc. books) to pigeonhole me as a romance author baffle me, since I've read books published by some of these same editors that are far more romantic than what I write and that could easily have been published as romances, when my books never could have. I don't know if it's just that mindset because of my history that makes them see things that way, or if that's what they pick up on from my writing, or what.
But I've decided that this is what readers like about me, so I may as well go for it. That can be part of my "not going back to a publisher until I'm the one with the clout" plan, since one of the benefits of independent publishing is the ability to break down barriers between genres and not adhere to genre rules. I'd been holding back on that side of the story for fear of yet another "maybe you should consider a romance house" rejection, but I'm going to write things the way I want them to be without holding back. It's probably not going to change things that drastically. There just might be a bit more of the stuff that's already there. I don't like writing sex scenes (so boring). I do like writing subtle attraction and slow build and partnerships growing out of adversity. If I do it right, the people who like my books for the romance will be happy, but it won't turn off people who aren't reading for the romance. In my grand revenge against the publishing industry scheme, if I do become successful, this will be part of my formula, so they won't dare tell me not to do what's been working for me.
I think I can also make this part of my viewpoint as a writer. One thing I've noticed in analyzing people with careers I envy is that they often have built a kind of cult of personality around themselves based on the things they talk about. This can be one of the things I talk about, finding the love stories in nerdy things -- like my saying that I find Aliens to be deeply romantic. So, yeah, I love dragons and quests and wizards and space battles and people falling in love while doing all these things.