What’s Your Genre?

Upmarket. Historical fiction. Family Saga. Mainstream fiction with a central romance. All these terms describe my work, which doesn’t fit neatly into a single category. I see this as a strength. Love beautiful writing tackling profound subjects? You’ll find it in my novels. Love history? I’ll wow you with my research. Love epics about multiple generations set in multiple locales? I’ll sweep you away. Love love stories? I’ve got you covered. My first two blurbers (published novelists who’ve read and endorsed my work) called it a drama, which is equally spot-on.

What my novels aren’t: Christian/inspirational fiction. Many of my characters are Catholics, and one is a Catholic priest. I explore theological questions because they impact my characters’ lives. But I am very critical of traditional Catholicism, and I try to show the harm fundamentalism can do. At the same time, my work is not a polemic against organized religion. I find the “bells and smells” of Catholicism fascinating and often beautiful. I try to be respectful of the Church’s good points.

Neither are my novels romances in the modern genre sense. While finding and accepting love is central to my work, while my couples experience intense joy together, not all of these couples get happy endings. I prefer love stories that are suspenseful and realistic, and I find tragedy cathartic. I think the heartbreak makes the happiness more satisfying.

My original inspirations for the Lazare Family Saga were doorstopper epics later made into television miniseries: Alex Haley’s Roots (1976), Colleen McCullough’s The Thorn Birds (1977), and John Jakes’s North and South trilogy (1982-1987). Also influential were Anne Rice’s The Feast of All Saints (1979), Lucia St. Clair Robson’s Ride the Wind (1982), Janice Woods Windle’s True Women (1994), and Clancy Carlile’s Children of the Dust (1995).

More recent historical epics with romantic elements include Sara Donati’s Wilderness series (1998-2009) and her follow-ups The Gilded Hour (2015) and Where the Light Enters (2019); Paullina Simons’s Bronze Horseman trilogy (2000-2005); and Jennifer Donnelly’s Tea Rose trilogy (2002-2008).

I love the scale of a classic multigenerational family saga, and I am awed by novels that tackle centuries instead of decades, like the work of James Michener and Edward Rutherfurd. These epics are a fantastic way to learn history and travel vicariously. However, because these authors have so much ground to cover, their characters are usually static. These characters witness dramatic events, but they rarely grow as individuals. Their internal conflict only skims the surface.

Much as I adore the sweep of history and external conflict, I also find internal conflict delicious. I wanted to have my cake and eat it too. I wanted to dig deep and really unpack the psychology and sociology of racism and Catholicism. I didn’t simply want to show Racists Being Racist and Zealots Being Zealots. I wanted to explore the implications of growing up in a racist society and a fundamentalist home on a person’s decisions and sense of self-worth. I wanted to write about flawed, struggling people like me. But I didn’t want to sacrifice the satisfying way one generation impacts and recalls another in a family saga. I also wanted to write about the American South and the American West.

I wanted to choose “all of the above” and find the surprising connections between them. How is being a priest like being a slave? How is being deaf like being a person of color? How is the spirituality of a Cheyenne Indian like Catholicism? Juxtaposition and duality are at the heart of my fiction. As one of my first readers put it, my work has layers. It’s not either/or. It’s and.