Reading Outside Your Comfort Zone

Before I was a writer, I was a reader. And I read mostly mysteries, biography, history and some literary fiction.  The characters in these books were white heterosexuals.

When I decided to try writing a novel, I never considered anything other than a mystery. And while I don’t believe mysteries should have (or need) sex, I did want to include a romantic interest for NYPD Detective Chiara Corelli, one of my two protagonists. But at that time I was sure mainstream readers wouldn’t read a mystery with a lesbian protagonist, so Corelli was straight and her romantic interest, Brett Cummings, was a tall, blond, male stockbroker who owned a boat. 

The scene where Brett and Chiara meet, takes place in Brett’s office where Chiara is waiting to interview him about the murder of his boss. She picks up a picture from the credenza and stares at the tall, blond, handsome guy leaning against the mast of the boat with a tall, blond, beautiful woman in his arms. When Parker announces Brett Cummings, Chiara is surprised to find Brett is the beautiful blond woman, not the handsome man, his sister.

The two women experience an immediate attraction. I WAS SHOCKED. This was not what I intended. I tried to rewrite it but it didn’t feel right so I went with it, knowing I was limiting my audience. But now I had to figure out who this woman Brett was, so I wrote a short story about her. And that turned out to be a romance, a lesbian romance, of course. Which was interesting since I’d never read any romance, straight or lesbian.

Since I firmly believe reading extensively in the genre you’re writing is important, I began to read lesbian romances. I fell in love. And because many lesbian romances are folded into other genres like mystery, historical fiction, science fiction, fantasy, paranormal, thriller, and action/adventure, I encountered characters who were not just everyday white lesbians like me but all colors, spanning the LGBTQI spectrum. These characters were regular people but also werewolves, shapeshifters, vampires, superheroes, and fantasy creatures living in other worlds and other civilizations.

Reading beyond the outer limits of my comfort zone has stimulated my imagination and encouraged me to dream. And, I hope, made me a better writer.

What about you? Do you read outside your comfort zone? Do you read books with characters who are different than you?

Catherine Maiorisi

Catherine Maiorisi is the author of the NYPD Detective Chiara Corelli Mystery series featuring Corelli and her partner Detective P.J. Parker–two tough women, fighting each other while solving high profile crimes. A Matter of BloodThe Blood Runs ColdA Message in Blood, and Legacy in the Blood are all available as ebooks, paperbacks, and audiobooks narrated by Abby Craden.  

In addition to publishing multiple mystery and romance short stories in various anthologies, Catherine has authored four romances novels. Her latest book, The Disappearance of Lindy James, was awarded a GOLDIE for Best General Fiction.


  1. What a great story! I love reading biographies because they expose me to decisions people make that are so different than my own. I feel like that broadens my fiction.

  2. Years ago Salem West (now of Bywater Books) had a lesbian book review blog. She was impressed enough with the only novel I’d written outside the LA Franco series to ask if I’d like to do a guest review. The book she had in mind was Catherine Wilson’s historical fantasy “When Women Were Warriors”. I accepted her offer with the caveat that I didn’t like fantasy and never read it.

    To my great surprise the book was an absolute delight. It opened the door for me to read Manda Scott’s “Dreaming” series and a host of other fantastical fiction. I’m so grateful to Salem for nudging me I outside my comfort zone, not just because it’s expanded my reading opportunities but also because my granddaughter loves fantasy fiction and often we share the same books.

    I’ve found that now I enjoy almost any genre be it literature, music, or film, as long it’s a good work within its genre. Well crafted art often eases me from my comfort zones into whole new vistas of appreciation. I’m forever grateful I said yes to Salem!

  3. What an interesting thing to have happen, Catherine. I do try to read things other than my comfort crime–I like biographies that show me about someone’s life outside my orbit and classics I missed in school. And some historical fiction really teaches me about other times and eras. I’m still not into SciFi but all three of our sons love it and several of the Grands, too.

  4. I read pretty much read any genre, although mysteries are my favorites. I also love fantasy, and to be honest, Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series is my hands down absolute favorite of all time—and it’s fantasy, not mystery. The first book I ever tried to write, which thankfully lives only in the deepest recesses of an ancient hard drive, was a fantasy. But I do read everything, from classics to business to how to’s, biographies, health, and cookbooks ( odd because I don’t cook). The only thinks I don’t read are true crime and serial killer books, because they scare me too much. But other than that, my heart totally belongs to the mystery genre

  5. Confession time here. I read almost exclusively crime fiction set in the UK. I know I should branch out, but every time I start a book set somewhere else, I lose interest. I attended a meeting of our local SinC group today with a debut author whose book is incredible–The Night Flowers. She said (and I listened) that authors should read at least 20 books currently hitting the charts–in all genres. I should. I really should.

  6. I do tend to focus on books that grab me, but that’s why I’m in two book clubs. Between them, I end up reading books I’d never read otherwise. For example, one such book was Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, a nonfiction book about the death industry written by a mortician. It was FASCINATING and I couldn’t put it down. I would have NEVER picked it up on my own. But I recommend it!

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