Thursday, July 7, 2011

Writing Cross-Genre

Back in February, I featured Charlotte Collins in the first of my Austenesque Lessons. Last week, Jennifer Becton released her second book. It's not another Austen novel (though Caroline Bingley is coming soon).

Absolute Liability is a contemporary mystery/thriller. Julia Jackson, the heroine, is an insurance fraud investigator for Georgia's Department of Insurance. One day, she took a coffee break from the insurance company she was working out of and learned on her way back to the office that she'd been abducted.

Obviously, the victim wasn't her. Equally plain is the fact that she was the target, which generates a suspect list drawn from her current cases. The DOI sends her a hot ex-Navy partner to wrap up those investigations--and to keep her safe.

I loved this book. The plot was tight, with no holes that left me wondering at the end. Both Julia and her partner, Mark Vincent, were well-drawn, three dimensional characters. The southern flair added a unique spark and left me wishing for some sweet tea. If you like mysteries and need a summer read, this is my recommendation.

However, it is quite a departure from the world of Jane Austen. Classic wisdom states that an author should stick with one genre, at least for their first few novels. "You're building a brand," they say, "and if your books are too different, readers won't know what to expect." That seems to sell the readers short, but the advice is oft-repeated.

So how does Jennifer make this work? First and most importantly, she writes stellar books, no matter what genre they are. The same attention to character details that made Charlotte Collins stand above the crowd is here in Absolute Liability. She knows the characters, she knows the plot, and she knows how to write.

Secondly, she understands how both genres work. Every genre has its own rules and clich├ęs, and ignorance of that stops many writers from succeeding at breaking the genre barrier. When I first read Charlotte Collins, I was impressed with the research Jennifer had done into the Regency period. Her details were realistic, which made the novel an enjoyable read. In Absolute Liability, I saw the same attention to detail. Her pacing in particular was impeccable, and we all know that can make or break a mystery.

Finally, she developed a sense of community with her readers in between the two books. This is that elusive thing known as platform. She didn't disappear after releasing Charlotte Collins in September and only resurface last week to pimp her new novel. Her readers got to know her in those ten months and wanted to support her new venture.

So really, the path to writing in multiple genres isn't any different than the path to writing in one. Do good work, do your research, connect with readers. Hmmm... maybe those readers aren't so easily confused after all.