I mentioned my test stories earlier on the blog and I thought it was worth an entry to talk about them. But first, we have to jump into the way-back machine to talk about why I was doing them in the first place.
Long ago and far away, I made my first (and second and third and so on) RWA recognized sales to Ellora's Cave. The first book won an RT award along with earning enough money to encourage me to continue, and my career was off and running...in the erotic romance niche. My first book in print was an anthology with Jaci Burton and Shiloh Walker, among others, so I was in excellent company.
But life and publishing moved on, and I began to see the limitations of the erotic niche from a creative perspective. The boundaries between subgenres blurred, mainstream got hotter, and erotic came with increasing pressure to focus on the exotic and more of it. Books considered "erotic" in the early days are mainstream by today's standards.
For those whose imaginations flourish in the realm of exotic and lots of it, no problem. For me, I found myself increasingly frustrated by the fact that I couldn't focus on aspects of stories I thought were more interesting than sex and that I wanted to devote more space to, but couldn't and still be producing an "erotic" romance. The endless pressure to be hotter, hotter, hotter, interfered with my creativity and I began to struggle to write at all.
I tried writing a romance with no sex on the page, but that didn't seem like a balance to me. Romance, let's face it, deals with sex. Sex is not the be-all and end-all, but it's part of romance. And very, very few romances have none, unless they're inspirational. Which is not where I fit.
The problem of sex and romance and how to balance it with the kind of story I wanted to write led me to set everything I was working on aside and take a break. I considered leaving romance altogether and writing YA or UF solely. But all of my ideas for those genres also had strong romances. So I kind of had to face the fact that my imagination runs to romance. In particular, my writing has a UF/para rom bent that due to the blurring of lines between them is not marketing death anymore.
Enter the test stories. The first one was a test of; could I return to writing the occasional erotic story and be happy with it? The answer was a flat no. I couldn't get past chapter one.
The second one, Mad Stone, was a test of writing the kind of story I wanted to write, the way I wanted to write it; UF with romance and heat. It was fun to write, and while it was not easy, and I invested a huge amount of work into it for the final word count, it did what I wanted it to do. It was the story I wanted to write, the kind of story I'd like to read. And it proved to me that I am ready to pick up the work I set aside and finish it, putting romance and sex and story together in the blend that I think serves best.
It would be a real fairy-tale happy ending if this led to fame, fortune, NYT bestsellerdom and book contracts galore, but the most important thing, believe it or not, is that I'm happy with what I'm writing. I hope that makes readers as happy as it makes me.