Writing gurus tell us to read books in the genre that we want to write. Before I started my novel, I was reluctant to do that because I didn't want to copy anybody, even unintentionally. Now, I realize that not only is my story unique, but its specific genre has even changed since I started. Reading other books has not only taught me techniques, but has also helped me define what my future book is.
I thought it was going to be "historical" and I read Nathaniel Philbrick's Mayflower — all 480 pages of nonfiction. Hmm, maybe a little too historical. I've always aspired for my multigenerational story to be like Roots by Alex Haley. I read that and The Peaceable Kingdom by Jan de Hartog, and learned a lot from those two sagas. They seem to fall under historical fiction.
Today, as my manuscript has evolved and my reading list lengthened, I would call my work "Christian historical fiction" with elements of romance. So, the first half of this year, I've sought out a few Christian romance books to read — and been a bit disappointed. This seems to be a popular genre, but when I asked for recommendations, the bestsellers were set in modern cities. I needed historical. And the ones I picked off the shelves were...O.K.
One that I had owned for years and finally read was so disappointing I finished the first of the four stories in it and then gave it away. Yes, there was a bad guy, but most of the crises were caused by the MCs just acting stupid. Like falling in love with each other and then getting engaged to other people for no realistic reason. A more recent book that I got at the library was a little better, but terribly — or comfortably — predictable. And the denouement (the way they got out of a jam and into a happy ending) was too convenient and not very believable. However, I learned how Christian genre authors bring God into the plots and subplots, an aspect I had forgotten to include. I learned something from every book I read, even the bad ones.
I just picked up another Christian historical romance, set near the era I'm writing. I had seen the cover several times and a blurb on the author's blog (one of my Twitter and blog acquaintances — there's another lesson), but in light of the recent disappointments, I checked it out from the library instead of buying it. I didn't have time to read it right away since I'd committed to writing that afternoon, but I glanced at the beginning as I fixed lunch, to get a sense of the style.
I devoured four pages by the time the microwave rang off. The pace moves quickly but historical touches seep through. I have immediate concern for what's going to happen to that poor baby. I can identify with the frustration of people who are too proud to let you help. Yes, yes, this may be what I'm looking for! Something to learn from and enjoy! I'll let you know.