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Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Do You Choose the Genre, Or Does it Choose You by Sarah J. McNeal

Not all writers find the genre that best suits them right away. Finding the genre that best fits your writing style, knowledge, and interest can be a journey for some of us. Many of us start out writing the kinds of stories we read or what we know about and love. Sometimes a writer gets lucky and the right genre falls in his or her lap.

The famous western romance writer, Linda Lael Miller, wrote in several genres before she settled into western romance. She wrote a vampire trilogy, a detective trilogy, and a time travel western before she became exclusive to western historical and contemporary romance. She used her actual name for all her work rather than a pen name specific to the genre. Her brand became established as a western author. I wonder sometimes if she ever decided to go back to writing in widely different genres would she still stick to her actual name or create a pen name for the new genre. Would her brand suffer because of the change in genre?

Nora Roberts writes mostly contemporary romance often with a touch of paranormal tucked into the stories. She established her brand early in her career—and then she decided to write murder mysteries. Perhaps because she had already established her brand, she decided to write under the pen name J.D. Robb for her detective books. Her readers know exactly what genre they are purchasing because of her pen name

James Patterson writes murder mysteries for adults and also writes for middle school age children. His name does not change, but the covers for his books make the different genres obvious. He also personally announces his new releases on TV ads and tells the readers if it’s for adults or kids.
How do we know what genre is right for us and do we differentiate our work if we write in several genres?

I did not start my writing career as a western romance writer. My first stories were not even romance; they were paranormal and science fiction…straight up, no chaser. They did not sell. A writing instructor suggested I add romance to the stories because romance is a very popular genre. (See? There are many readers out there apparently reading romance novels hidden behind their high-falutin’ biographies, political essays, and world order and financial advisory tomes.) Romance is a circumstance that touches us all at one time or another—even though many men deny they have an interest in the romance department.
I took her advice and added romance to five of the stories previously rejected. They all became published in magazines. Next, I decide to dedicate my time to lengthier stories and began writing novels, but kept to paranormal romances. Dark Isle, Lake of Sorrows, and The Light of Valmora gave me a fair start and later I combined them into the trilogy titled Legends of Winatuke. They have succeeded fairly well, but I still needed something. Then I wrote a time travel romance, The Violin, which led to greater success. I wrote a couple contemporary stories and a vampire story, but I still hadn’t found that certain something I was looking for that would feel right for me.

And then I wrote a western.

I wrote a time travel story that took my heroine back to the west to the fictional town of Hazard, Wyoming and a man called Harmonica Joe.
A haunted house, a trunk and a date with destiny.
Lola Barton’s life has been chaotic and uncertain. When she inherits a rundown plantation, she believes her life has finally taken a positive turn. But, when she finds a mysterious trunk in the attic, it takes her into the past and to a man with dark secrets—and she’s married to him.
Joe Wilding carries his shame in his pocket in the form of a harmonica. The woman he thought he married to save her life, is beginning to break through his stoic wall and find the secret he hides. Loving her could be his ruin. Only time can tell.

Harmonica Joe’s Reluctant Bride was supposed to be a one time western, but something began to take shape. I had never written a western before, heck I’m a southerner from North Carolina, what did I know about the old west, or even the new west? It just so happened that readers liked Harmonica Joe and, at the same time, I fell in love with the secondary character, the homeless, streetwise kid named Banjo.

My writing life was about to change.

I loved Banjo so much I felt compelled to write another western with him as the lead in the World War I book, For Love of Banjo.

Deceit stands between Banjo Wilding’s love for Maggie O’Leary and his search for the father he never knew.
Banjo Wilding wears a borrowed name and bears the scars and reputation of a lurid past.  To earn the right to ask for Margaret O’Leary’s hand, he must find his father and make something of himself.
Margaret O’Leary has loved Banjo since she was ten years old but standing between her and Banjo is pride, Banjo’s mysterious father and the Great War.

There would be no turning back for me. I researched the state of Wyoming, its history, geography, plants and trees, horses, cattle, and ranching. I was fortunate to have visited the state some years back and lived in Nebraska for about a year.

It seemed so natural to me to begin writing about the next generation of Wildings including the children of Joe Wilding, Banjo Wilding, and Teekonka Red Sky. I found that I enjoy writing westerns. The way they talk, their down home attitude, no nonsense way of living, and belief in hard work and equality definitely appealed to me. I have come to love my Wildings and the people who live in the town of Hazard. I am thinking of going back in time a bit and write about the families that established the town of Hazard.

All my western romances are published by Prairie Rose Publications and some are under their specific imprints, but all the Wilding westerns are together on my Wildings page at PRP. For the present, my paranormal/fantasy stories are with another publisher in order to separate and the wide variance in genres.
So, I’ve become a western romance writer. The genre chose me and I am extremely grateful it did.

How did you come to write western romance? Was it the genre you planned to write or did it come as a surprise? Did you try other genres before you settled into western writing? Are western romances what you love to read?

Sarah J. McNeal is a multi-published author of several genres including time travel, paranormal, western and historical fiction. She is a retired ER and Critical Care nurse who lives in North Carolina with her four-legged children, Lily, the Golden Retriever and Liberty, the cat. Besides her devotion to writing, she also has a great love of music and plays several instruments including violin, bagpipes, guitar and harmonica. Her books and short stories may be found at Prairie Rose Publications and its imprints Painted Pony Books, and Fire Star Press. Some of her fantasy and paranormal books may also be found at Publishing by Rebecca Vickery and Victory Tales Press. She welcomes you to her website and social media:


  1. Sarah,
    I do believe you're right that stories, and by default, genres choose us. But it's up to us to hone the skills to write and market them. Haha. That's the hard part. I never consciously chose to write westerns, but the stories that came to me were just that. Somehow we have to find that sweet spot of story ideas and writer focus in our work. And it certainly takes many of us several tries before we get it right.

    1. You're certainly right about the marketing part because we all want our books to sell. I found that my historical westerns sell better than my contemporary westerns, so as soon as I get these 2 Wilding cousins written, I'm going to go back in time in my fictional town of Hazard, WY and write some historical stories maybe about the founders of Hazard.
      I like how you have a theme for some of your western stories like the Wings collection. The Wings stories that I've read so far are just wonderful. You certainly came up with the genre that suits you, Kristy.
      Thank you so much for coming by and sharing your experience with genre.

  2. Sarah,

    I intended to write westerns/western romance from the get-go, although I do have two contemporary western romances (currently in rights reversion limbo of revision/unpublished status). For what I tend to read... honestly, I read few western romances or romances in general---other than my sister Roses' stories. *grin* My reading nowadays tends to be nonfiction (research) and the 'classics' with occasional rereading forays of Louis L'Amour and Don Coldsmith.

  3. Kaye, it's so weird that you said you don't read many stories from the genre in which you write because I rarely read a fantasy novel even though, in the beginning of my career, that's what I wrote.
    I am addicted to romance stories though. I read them every chance I get and I especially love western romance. I don't even understand what makes the difference in my choice of reading compared to what I write. Clueless.
    I can understand your attraction to research because I can get lost in research, too. I also like to read classics (the Sherlock Holmes mysteries) and Regency romance (a genre I will never write.)
    I appreciate you coming by and talking about your experiences with genres both what you write and what you read. Thank you.

  4. Sarah, What a great question. I guess I just fell into writing 'romance'. I'd read some when younger, but had moved on the just about anything that was printed. (Still do read cross so many genres and a lot of non-fiction)I found that almost any historical romance was a fit, probably due to my love of history.

    Yes, I write romance, but have written murder mystery scripts, mystery stories and of course non-fiction. I consciously decided to use a pen name for my fiction, no matter what the genre, because I didn't want people confusing the fiction from the non-fiction work. I don't care that people know I'm Angela Raines and Doris McCraw, I just want them to know what they are getting when the purchase any of my work. Doris

    1. It my be a wise idea to have a pen name for widely different genres, Doris. About the last thing any of us would want to do is have our readers expect a romance story and get a documentary on dolphins or something instead. LOL
      I'd love to write a mystery, but I am too intimidated by that genre. I know I'd probably end up giving away the culprit by page 5.
      Thank you so much for dropping in and commenting.

  5. Looks like I'm not the only one who wandered around the genres before getting more settled. Romance sells. I also love historical, but every now and then contemporary sneaks in. Hence, the pen name.

    1. Glad I'm not alone in my journey to find my specific genre, Robyn. I like to write in the 1950's era, but they don't sell. I write them anyway. A pen name is a personal choice and it really works for authors who write diverse genres.
      Thank you so much for coming by and commenting.

  6. Looks like I'm not the only one who wandered around the genres before getting more settled. Romance sells. I also love historical, but every now and then contemporary sneaks in. Hence, the pen name.

  7. Looks like I'm not the only one who wandered around the genres before getting more settled. Romance sells. I also love historical, but every now and then contemporary sneaks in. Hence, the pen name.

  8. I too have done some genre hopping, but never thought about changing my pen name. So far covers have had to speak for the genre change. Wonder how hard it would be to have two pen names? Two websites? Interesting to think about. Thanks for the informative blog. Really enjoyed it.

    1. I have never had a pen name, C. A. so I can't imagine how an author would go about it. I don't think I would have 2 websites though. I would have just one site and, on the website, clarify what genre the pen names were assigned to.
      I decided not to have a pen name because I want all the credit for everything I write. I count on the covers to represent the story line and genre same as you.
      Thank you so much for coming by and sharing your thoughts, C.A.

  9. Linda Lael Miller is one of my top Western Romance authors. I began reading her books decades ago, and looked for every one I could find..all paperbacks. Goodness, I loved her stories.
    I have other longtime favorites, which I won't mention to save time, but one special lady is Janet Dailey. One of hers was my very first Western Romance to read, and fell in love with...romance.
    Sorry I'm late..just discovered you had a post up and did not want to miss it. Excellent, as always.
    And you? Keep writing those Wilding have a few more to go.I know you write other genres, but of course I'm partial to the Western ones.
    Excellent post!

  10. I've read some of Janet Daily's work and liked her. In recent years Linda Lael Miller has written so many 3 brother trilogies, I get sorta lost about what books I've read and what books are new. It's so confusing, I have drifted away from her.
    I have come to love writing westerns. Sometimes I yearn to write stories based here in North Carolina. This is the place I know and love. I haven't figured out how to write about stories in NC and still write westerns. I have to give that some thought.
    It is always such a delight to read your comments, Celia. I look forward to them. Thank you so much for kindness and friendship. I appreciate everything you have to say.

  11. I'm really late, Sarah! LOL I love this post of yours--it makes me realize that this seems to be more the "norm" than a fluke. I had it in mind--what I wanted to write was western romance. From the very beginning. But then...well, those contemporaries came along, and the Chicken Soup stories, and the alternate history story, and of course, Wolf Creek! I love it all--and it's all so totally different. I know some genres sell better than others for me, but I still love writing in the different ones and "stretching" a little bit. Like you, I will never write Regency. There is too much to keep up with and learn, and I know I would make a mistake.

    I did try my hand at a medieval story this past Christmas, and it was a lot of fun. Deborah Macgillivray saved me from myself a time or two, even in a short story! LOL

    I don't have a pen name, either, but I've truthfully thought of using one in the western genre just because of the bias against women writing westerns. Same with sci-fi--I have a good friend who uses a pen name for that very reason, too.

    Great post, Sarah! Sorry I'm late!

  12. Ya know Cheryl, if we ain't feelin' it, that story isn't going to work out well. It's amazing to me how much our writing reveals about ourselves.
    As close as I ever got to writing medieval stories was my Legends of Winatuke series way back at the beginning of my career. Although I researched that era, I was actually building an imaginary world in which the medieval era was the prominent theme, but it didn't have to be perfect--thank goodness.
    One day maybe I'll get the courage to send in a Chicken Soup story. I have no idea what I would write though.
    Thank you so much for coming. I know you're probably swamped with work, so I really appreciate it.