I'm thrilled to be hosting my good friend Tanya today. That's me (right) with Tanya (left) during the RWA Literacy Signing at the RWA National Conference last month. Three-time RITA finalist Tanya Michaels is a split personality--writing romances for Harlequin American and, as Tanya Michna, women's fiction for NAL Accent. She's been nominated for awards under both names and has won the Published Maggie of as well as the Booksellers' Best two years in a row. Published in nearly a dozen languages world-wide, she's sold more than forty books, novellas, essays and short stories. Tanya Michna has a Facebook page, while Tanya Michaels prefers to tweet. Take it away, Tanya...
At least once a day, I find myself reminding my seven-year-old that he has to focus. And I get annoyed with my husband’s self-proclaimed “multitasking.” (Just because he CAN have dinner with me, while watching a baseball game over my shoulder and updating his facebook page via phone doesn’t mean he SHOULD.) And yet, when it comes to books, maybe my attention span is arguably worse than theirs.
Not that I ever get bored with a particular genre, just that I can’t seem to say no to others. I’m amazed by people who pass on great historical novels, saying, “I only read contemporaries.” Or people who absolutely refuse to try anything in first person; others won’t read anything that’s part of a connected series because they don’t want to be “obligated” to read the others. (Me, I write in on my calendar when the next books in a series are coming out!) I read historicals and contemporaries. And fantasy. And young adult. And essay collections. And series romance. And… What about you? Do you find that you stick to one particular subgenre, or do you bounce all over the place to any title that catches your attention?
Frankly, I think that being well-read as a writer gives me an advantage. I feel like it keeps me creatively open-minded, helping me think outside the box instead of focusing too narrowly on the tropes of my subgenre. (Granted, there are certain things that I need to do or not to for my book to qualify as a Harlequin American Romance and satisfy reader expectations, but I don’t want my HARs to be interchangeable with someone else’s.)
To date, I’ve been published in lots of category romance lines and imprints owned by Harlequin, published by NAL Accent (trade women’s fiction) and published in short fiction as well as nonfiction. I learn from all of it. I think that shorter work, especially, is helpful because it forces me to tighten my word choices, keeping me “toned” as a writer. This August one of my Harlequin Americans (Mistletoe Mommy by Tanya Michaels) hit bookstore shelves, and earlier this summer, Baggage Claim (by Tanya Michna) was released. So I was thinking about some of the differences and similarities between my two personalities and what writing for the different publishers gives me.
For starters, there’s increased job security which, in this day and age? Hell, yes. But there’s also double the work and double the site maintenance (as I’ve been traveling all summer, neither Tanya Michaels nor Tanya Michna have been updated recently…sigh). So is it worth it? Absolutely.
I love romance, and I love writing for Harlequin. I like that readers know exactly what they’ll get and how to find it. You want a hot romance? Try a Blaze. You like your romance paired with suspense? Sounds like you need an Intrigue. For Harlequin American, I write warm-hearted romances (sometimes comedic, sometimes poignant, occasionally both) that center not only on the hero and heroine but their surrounding community and family. I personally love to read books with a hefty sense of community, whether it’s one of Jennifer Crusie’s contemporary novels, Eloisa James’ Georgian historicals, or Kresley Cole’s paranormals, with her unique “Lore” community of valkyries, vampires and phantoms, oh my! When a reader picks up one of my Harlequin Americans, she’s promised a love story with a strong secondary cast and a happy ending.
Tanya Michna (who writes women’s fiction) does not promise happy endings. Sometimes, that’s liberating. I don’t feel pigeon-holed. I don’t feel so constrained by word count. But I also struggle more with meeting reader expectations (or figuring out what the heck they even are), nailing down the plot’s turning points and my apparent need to give everyone a romantic storyline. Baggage Claim is the story of two women with little in common who mistakenly pick up each other’s suitcase at a Houston airport. One is a housewife who’s never had a career but considers her long marriage and her grown daughter her successes; the other woman, a professor, is poised to make university history by becoming the youngest ever tenured faculty. She is unquestionably brilliant and driven, a success by many standards, but her personal life is a wasteland of destruction (which is brought home—literally—when her father is killed in a car accident and her injured mother has to move in with her.) Because of the professor’s emotional baggage, she begins the story as a fairly abrasive character. She never would have worked as a heroine for Harlequin, but there was a certain freedom in that. (I see now why the writers of House might enjoy their job—although, because a book has a finite end and television shows go on for seasons, I was able to give her a more complete character journey.)
Mistletoe Mommy is the story of a single father with three (somewhat estranged) kids who meets a small-town pet-sitter who’s never quite seen herself as mother material. Since my own mother runs a pet-sitting company, I thought this would be my chance to use some great anecdotes that I’ve stockpiled over the years (including a pet-sitter locking herself out of the client’s house and having to work her way back in via the doggie door). But the truth was, most of those anecdotes were a word count luxury I didn’t have in a short contemporary novel. Then again, as a mom of two small children, I love how Harlequins are a little shorter and fit into my busy life (I do a lot of reading in carpool!) And I have to admit, there have been a few times as I’ve struggled to meet a women’s fiction deadline that I’d hit a word-count of about 60K and think, “If you were writing a Harlequin, you’d be home by now.” Or something like that.
And then there’s the not yet sold young adult paranormal I’m working on, but let’s not jinx the project by discussing it here!
So, what do you think? Do I have the inability to focus, or am I just creatively well-rounded? What about you guys? Do you find that you enjoy sticking primarily to one genre or are you all over the map?
Let me know what books and genres you’re currently enjoying and be entered into a blog comment drawing—the winner will receive a book from Tanya Michaels and Tanya Michna! (You can decide for yourself which one of them you like better…)