Mysteries have always been my escape. As a child, I read Nancy Drew, Goosebumps, and E.L. Konigsburg “From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler” to get a break from being a kid with very little agency who felt like things were always happening around–or to–her.
When I got older, I went through a period of being obsessed with Agatha Christie and Stephen King.
In college, when writing my thesis on “The Authoritarian Personality Under Normative Threat: A Theory of Genocidal Violence” (rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it 🙂 ) I escaped with James Patterson. Imaginary serial killers were a welcome respite from interviewing the victims of real ones.
When I started to write my own books, mysteries were my natural home. I wanted to tell the stories that had once allowed me to focus on solving puzzles and saving lives along with the heroes.
So it’s been a shock to find that the latest story I had in me wasn’t a mystery, but a family drama.
Yesterday, I sent my first “Mainstream Women’s Fiction” novel, tentatively titled My Father’s Daughter, to my agent. This story is considerably more personal than my work in the mystery genre. While I read (and write) mysteries to escape my life, for this story I found myself drawing upon my own experiences as a bi-racial woman in America. I wrote from the perspective of two female characters that do not feel as though they meet the criteria for the ethnic groups to which they are linked. The story is about their struggle to come to terms with who they are in a world where people are accepted as hyphenated-American, but rarely American with multiple hyphens.
The plot is something of a mystery–sans any violence–in that it deals with one woman’s search for her biological father (who is he?) and another young woman’s attempt to come to terms with the role her estranged father had in her life (did he do what she thinks?). But it’s really a character study of two protagonists struggling to define themselves.
It was a challenge for me to write something in a different genre. While many of the aspects of my storytelling craft were the same, I had to think about my goals and what I wanted to say differently. I’m more nervous about this new work than I’ve ever been, but I am also proud of myself for pushing beyond my comfort zone–for not escaping.
To the writers out there, have you ever written something outside of your regular genre? How was it different or challenging for you? How was it the same?
For the readers, when you read outside of your favorite genre, how do your expectations change? If you read a Stephen King book that is more of a sci-fi tale or detective thriller, rather than horror story, how do you think about the new book? What expectations do you have when reading the different work?
I’d love to know.