Taking risks can feel quite scary, but it’s something that artists do all the time. Sometimes taking a chance can end up resulting in something quite delightful. These Bella authors share what happened to them when they took a big risk with their writing and it paid off.
Heather Rose Jones: Writing the Alpennia series was a massive risk–a risk to my writing career, a risk to my potential readership, a risk even to the likelihood that the series would ever be completed. Why? Because the series breaks most of the rules that people expect for every readership it’s aimed at.
Lesbian readers look for contemporary stories that center romance and have a lot of heat. Fantasy fans look to their favorite genre bookstores, mainstream publishers, and social networks for new reads. And capital-R-Romance readers of all types have some extremely specific expectations: that a series will focus on a single couple in each book, that their relationship will follow defined story beats, and that “happy endings” are defined in very particular ways.
I took a risk in trying to target all those readers with a story that dodged each of their expectations. A lesbian story set in the past, but without the familiar action-packed sword-and-sorcery themes we loved in Xena. Romantic arcs that work to build an ensemble “found family” throughout the series rather than pushing previous protagonists aside. An epic fantasy series that can only crack the enthusiastic SFF readership through slowly-accumulating word of mouth.
And for all those readers, I took a risk in giving each book its own flavor–a coming of age romance, a political thriller, a mystery, an angsty YA adventure, a scientific quest. It was a risk at every turn. But what is a world without risk? Where is the joy in always doing the safe, predictable thing? If that were what I wanted, I never would have written books at all–and certainly not the books that caught up my heart and dragged my pen along.
Jaime Clevenger: While I’m not a big risk taker, I’m also not a rule follower. I love doing my own thing. One time while I was swimming laps (that’s when I brainstorm most of my stories), I got this idea to write an erotica story in the second-person point of view. I wanted the reader to be intimately involved in the erotica and what better way to do that then ask them to submit to being the main character? In doing this, not only was I breaking with standards for lesbian fiction and erotica, I knew I was also taking the risk of losing potential readers because they’d be too uncomfortable with the concept to even pick up the book. Adding to the fact that I was using an unusual POV (point of view), the story also has multiple endings, some mild kink is involved, and the reader is in charge of their story. Not your typical lesbian fiction fare for sure. So how did it pay off? Well, I had more readers contact me about Party Favors then any other book I’ve written. For most authors, hearing from readers is better than any award we could win. What’s more, I made new friends because of that one book. And last but not least, I enjoyed the heck out of writing the story. Sometimes the best payback is just doing what you love.
Lara Hayes: When I first sat down to begin writing my debut novel, Terrible Praise, I didn’t know the first thing about writing a book. Five years later I can say with absolute certainty that no one knows how to write a novel until they write one, and that you’re never done learning.
I started Terrible Praise armed with a series outline. I knew my protagonist Stela as well as I could before immersing myself in her persona. Three chapters into Terrible Praise, book one of The Redamancy Series, I quickly learned that while I had a feel for Stela (what she might say, what she might do, what she valued), I had no sense of her love interest, Elizabeth, whatsoever.
My work came to an abrupt halt. I didn’t know what Stela, my centuries old vampire, saw in the object of her affection. Why was Elizabeth so special? Why was this human nurse the woman for whom Stela would defy convention and direct order.
As I said, I didn’t know the first thing about writing a book. I didn’t know how to fix the “Elizabeth” problem. She needed her own goals, her own desires and motivations. If I couldn’t give her that depth, the best I could hope for was a pretty caricature of a person.
I began writing the fourth chapter from Elizabeth’s point of view, purely as an exercise. I had questions only she could answer, and I could think of no better way to communicate with her character directly.
It only took one experimental chapter to fall as madly in love with Elizabeth as Stela had. One chapter to realize my entire series would need to be reimagined. I found Elizabeth’s voice and I couldn’t let go of her, or she wouldn’t let go of me. So I went back to the proverbial drawing board and drafted a new series outline. One that would suit a dual point of view narrative.
Elizabeth, once awakened, could not remain an ornament. She would have equal time and her fair say in every matter.
Melissa Price: At the time that I wrote Steel Eyes, my debut novel with Bella, it felt like a huge gamble to create a believable “anonymous” renowned rock legend who was also a spy. As a big fan of intrigue stories, I wanted to write the intersection of the lesbian romance thriller. As it turned out, the name of that street was “Lesbianage” Lane. I wondered if I could realistically pull off a two-decade story without having my character’s identity breached. Could the woman who had inspired Steel Eyes to become a legend remain her unrequited lost love long enough to carry the story forward? Could Steel Eyes fight the good fight as a spy, achieve world fame anonymously, and still have the impetus to recapture her lost love? At times gritty and strong, yet at other times vulnerable and sultry, once I fell in love with the Steel Eyes character and her legend, for me there was no turning back.
Emily King: In lesbian fiction, books featuring health care providers are among the many I gravitate toward reading. I’ve read books featuring main characters as physicians, veterinarians, and nurses, to name a few. As a pharmacist, I’ve always wondered where the pharmacists are. Seldom have I seen mention of any but in passing, so set out to write a novel featuring one. That book is Cracking Love, my first and a romance. It was a risk in the sense that “sexy” may not be one of the terms that initially comes to mind when one sees the word “pharmacist,” not like it might with say, “surgeon.” But I wanted to share the story of regional pharmacy manager Janet, and it was a lot of fun, especially when getting to explore her interest in walnut farmer Gail.