I think one of the biggest challenges for un- or under-published authors is trying to figure out what genre to write in. What will be hot when we're ready to publish? Remember jumping rope during recess back in your school days?
Maybe I'm dating myself here! But there'd be a long rope and a girl in pigtails at each end, turning it. Sometimes they'd even have two ropes going in opposite directions. Cool kids could jump both at once! You're poised there like a runner with feet on the starting blocks, rocking, one foot in front of the other, pulsing with the revolving rope to get the timing, and then you leap in and start jumping. Successfully. Or else you trip and get tangled up and have to try again or, even worse, stumble away in humiliation.
That's like a writer trying to jump into writing a hot genre. Someone else is swinging the rope. You have no idea whether they'll speed up or slow down or drop the handles and walk away altogether. You have no idea if you'll be able to hop in and stay in sync, or trip and fall smack on your face. For a long time, I felt like I was doing the latter. I started out writing speculative fiction twelve years ago, but as I got better at the writing craft, I began to realize that my stories wouldn't likely ever find a publishing home. Very few fantasy novels were appearing from CBA houses. Odds have changed. . . slightly. . but not for the stories I was writing back then.
I wasn't into paranormal speculative. I wasn't into dystopian. I still don't get the whole werewolf/vampire/zombie thing. But I'd begun to check out the other skipping ropes around the schoolyard. Historical romance? Contemporary romance? Historical sounded like too much work to get right. Mary Connealy makes it look easy, but I'm pretty sure it's not. So that left contemporary, only I wasn't into high heels, designer purses, and the height of fashion. I'll pause for a moment while you envision Ruthy jumping rope in her stilettos. While swinging a Prada handbag. In skinny jeans. You're welcome for the visual. (Ruthy note: she's pretty sure she could do this AND write seventeen books/year while working full time, so she likes this Prada-swinging visual!!!)
What could I write on that playground—which rope could I jump—that stayed true to me? I began writing Farm Lit three years ago, long before I'd heard the term. The skipping rope for that was way over in a weed-infested corner of the playground—or maybe it was my vegetable garden, but I digress—with one handle tied to a picket fence and the other lying in the oregano. Oregano wants to take over the world, by the way. A more invasive herb you'll never find. Oh, am I getting sidetracked again? Nobody was turning the rope. That made jumping it easy. I could hop from one side to the other without missing a beat. Nobody was watching. But still, you know, I wanted a viable rope. I wanted to be one of the cool kids, with expert handle-turners and others queued up, wanting a turn.
I wrote about what I know. I've lived on a farm for most of my adult life. I'm into the whole gardening, bread-making, beekeeping, and canning thing. We're dedicated local-food lovers at our place. It seemed eventually other kids would wander over. After all, local food was (is) a hot topic in the media. Farmers' markets are springing up all over North America like dandelions after a spring rain. Heirloom tomatoes are as popular as Lululemon. Everyone loves to hate Monsanto and genetically-modified "foods." Eventually the rope began to twitch. Barbara Kingsolver picked up the handle that had been buried in the oregano when she wrote her memoir Animals Vegetables Miracles. A while later, Ree Drummond untied the handle from the fence and gave The Pioneer Woman a rotation.
A few people began to notice. "Hey, we can READ about farm life, not just buy eggplant at the farmers' market!" And the Farm Lit genre skipping rope began to revolve. Was I the first kid to jump in from the inspirational side and (hopefully) not trip? I have no idea. I do know that three years of practicing—of honing my craft, of writing several local-food-based romances—is paying off.
In unrelated timing, The Atlantic posted Chick Lit is Dead; Long Live Farm Lit only a few days before I signed a contract with Choose NOW Publishing for a 3-book series we're calling A Farm Fresh Romance. It leads off with Raspberries and Vinegar, which finds Josephine Shaw and her friends renovating a dilapidated farm with their sights set on more than just their own property. Transforming the town with their sustainable lifestyle and focus on local foods is met with more resistance than they expected, especially by temporary neighbor, Zachary Nemesek. Jo needs to learn that a little sweet makes the tart more tasty. The other two books, featuring Jo's roommates, release in 2014. What about you? Where on the playground are you hanging out? Are you standing in line watching Mary Connealy line dance while jumping three ropes at once and wondering how you could ever compete? Are you standing over at the contemporary line, where Ruthy juggles adorable toddlers and chases chickens and never misses a beat? Are you in the line where Julie smooches while doing the jitterbug and keeps right on jumping? Or where Debby can skip rope while shooting at a target—and get a bulls-eye every time? Maybe you're trying to hop the Amish rope or the mystery rope or the spec fic rope. Are you in the right line for you?
You might well be, but think about it. Pray about it. Maybe God wants you to go find a different rope, even if one end is tied to a fencepost in the back forty. Maybe He plans to put the right people on the handles at the right time and give that rope a good workout. And if you've been practicing hopping over it while it lies lifeless on the ground, you'll be ready to skip like a pro when the rope starts turning. No jump rope is dead if God holds the hands of those who hold the handles. What part of the playground are you going to check out today?
To celebrate the release of Raspberries and Vinegar, I'd like to give a copy to one Seekerville commenter (or a digital version in your choice of format if the winner lives outside the USA as I do). But all of you are winners! My publisher and I have put together a Book Blast package for anyone who orders a paperback copy of Raspberries and Vinegar from August 6-9. Order a paperback and email your receipt, and you'll receive not only the digital formats of the novel but a whole bunch of other fun downloads as well. Check out the graphic for details.
I know Seekerville is all about the food. I knew that even before the Virtual Retreat in June, but wow! That brought it home. In honor of Raspberries and Vinegar I've brought Raspberry Vinegar which just happens to be a punch-like summer drink featured in the book, and one that's a regular summertime staple at our place. I've also brought a virtual pan of Raspberry Chocolate Chip Coffee Cake. What do you have for the sideboard that's made from raspberries? Feel free to add something tart as well! Let's share some recipes.
And while we're visiting over the buffet, I'd like to invite you to a Facebook party at 9:00 p.m. EST tonight, hosted by my publisher, Nicole O'Dell. You'll need to like my author page then stop by for a visit, bringing a (virtual) item of food that is local to you. Everyone who joins the food fest will receive a custom menu by email tomorrow with all the ingredients in use. Should be fun! Bring something unique and make it a challenge for me. You know you want to, for poking fun at Ruthy. Half an hour in we'll be switching to a webcast, where you can ask questions about local food, about books and genres, about beekeeping—whatever you want to know—and put me on the spot. I really hope you can join us. We'll be giving away copies of the novel there, too.
Wow. So much information! Hope to see you at that other party tonight but, for now, let's talk skipping into genres while we sip Raspberry Vinegar out on the veranda. The ceiling fan is lazily rotating and there are plenty of porch swings, wicker rockers, and Adirondack chairs for everyone. Sweetpeas and morning glories climb the trellis, wafting a gentle floral scent. Flies and mosquitoes have been banished. Let's talk. Which jump rope line are you in? How is it working out for you?