OK, so I'm rarely in jeopardy, but I write woman-in-jeopardy novels—otherwise called "Modern Gothics"—and this is my blog. It will probably have lots of time between posts, but I'll try not to bore you. Welcome.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Categories, Cockapoos, and a Little Help from You

Left: My dog Sam, Photo © Me    Right: Purebred Poodle © Appleping | Dreamstime.com

Why the dogs? More on that in a minute...
The RITA Awards, for those of you who aren't familiar with them, are the equivalent of Oscars for the romance-writing community, judged by peers and awarded at a gala evening ceremony where the gowns could rival anything that Hollywood could throw at them.

As a proud member of the Romance Writers of America it's been my privilege to help judge the RITAs (and find great new authors to add to my reading list), and it's been my honor to have two of my own books final for RITAs themselves: The Winter Sea in 2009, and The Rose Garden in 2012.

Although neither book won, I did get to actually touch a RITA statuette this past summer at RWA Nationals in Atlanta while celebrating with fellow author Simone St. James, who deservedly won two awards—Best First Novel and Best Novel With Strong Romantic Elementsfor her debut romantic historical ghost-hunting mystery The Haunting of Maddy Clare.

Watching Simone win (that's her on the left, by the way...if she looks a bit blurry, it's only because we were all a bit blurry that evening) was wonderful but bittersweet, because the category that she won in, and that my books finaled in, is being retired by the RWA and, beginning next year, there will no longer be any RITA awarded for Best Novel With Strong Romantic Elements.

A quick read through the lists of past winners will show you that categories change all the time in the RITAs: new ones emerge, old ones vanish, and others are blended together, all of which is a natural consequence of the RWA continuing to try its best to serve the ever-evolving needs of its broad and varied membership while keeping to its mission.

But it does leave a writer like me with a bit of a problem. And here's where we get to the dogs...

Purebred Cocker Spaniel Puppies
In the photo at the top of this post, the dog on the right is a Poodle—a purebred. The one on the left is my former dog Samson, a Cockapoo. Samson had elements of Poodle in him, as you can see, but they were jumbled up with elements of Cocker Spaniel, meaning in a dog show he could only have competed against other dogs like him—the crossbreeds—because he would never have been judged "Best Poodle" or "Best Cocker Spaniel".

My books are like Cockapoos. Actually, they're more like what you'd get if you crossed Cockapoos with Puggles (which themselves are a cross between Beagles and Pugs), because my novels tend to be "Contemporary-Historical-Romantic-Suspense-with-Paranormal-elements", crossing several sub-genres without fitting neatly into any of them. 

The Novel with Strong Romantic Elements category, given that part of its original purpose was to provide a place for works of romantic fiction "not belonging in another category", used to be a catch-basin for those of us whose novels crossed sub-genres, but I've been reassured by both veteran RWA colleagues and National head office that any book that meets the criteria for romance, by having a central love story with an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending, should fit well into one of the remaining RITA categories.

I find that heartening, because The Firebird is definitely a romance. Two romances, in factone in the present and one in the pastboth of which end happily. It also happens to be my favourite of the books I've written so far, and I really want to enter it. I just don't know exactly where it fits.

So here's where YOU come in.

I'm letting you choose. There are four categories, by my count, the book could be entered in. Here they are, as set out in the RWA's official Category Descriptions: 
Contemporary Romance: Novels that focus primarily on the romantic relationship and which are greater than 65,000 words. In this category, the love story is the main focus of the novel, and the resolution of the romance is emotionally satisfying and optimistic.
The word count of The Firebird is, not including the epigraph and afterward, 152,466 words, of which 64,889 words are used to tell the contemporary love story between Rob and Nicola. Which has a happy ending. 
Historical Romance: Novels set in any historical time period. In this category, the love story is the main focus of the novel, and the resolution of the romance is emotionally satisfying and optimistic.
The remaining 87,577 words of the novel are used to tell the historical story that follows Anna Moray from her childhood to her coming of age in early 18th century St. Petersburg, Russia, including her romance with Edmund O'Connor. Which also ends happily. 
Paranormal Romance: Novels in which the future, a fantasy world or paranormal elements are an integral part of the plot. In this category, the love story is the main focus of the novel, a futuristic, fantasy or paranormal element is blended with the love story, and the resolution of the romance is emotionally satisfying and optimistic. 
Rob and Nicola are both psychics. They communicate telepathically a lot. The book begins, in fact, with an accidental meeting of their minds, and it's Nicola's undeveloped ability to "see" an object's past while holding it that starts them on their quest to trace the history of the Firebird carving, with Rob using his more advanced remote viewing abilities to bridge the past and present while he tries to tutor Nicola in how to fully use her own gifts. So there's that.
Romantic Suspense: Novels in which suspense, mystery, or thriller elements constitute an integral part of the plot. In this category, the love story is the main focus of the novel, a suspense/mystery/thriller plot is blended with the love story, and the resolution of the romance is emotionally satisfying and optimistic.
The origins of the Firebird carving do present a mystery, Anna has a woman-in-jeopardy sort of childhood, there's a spy plot in St. Petersburg, and overall the sort of older-style suspense one might associate with books by Mary Stewart. 

So, you tell ME: Which of these four categories does The Firebird best fit into? 

Leave a comment with your vote. I'll tally them before the contest opens in October, and wherever most of you believe the book should go, that's where I'll enter it. And thank you for helping me figure out just where my crossbreed belongs.

Me in a Very Pink Shirt, holding Samson as a puppy.


  1. Easier to say what it ISN'T -- I defintely think Romantic Suspense should be your 4th option. I like Paranormal Romance first for the Rob and Nicola story, and Historical Romance second because the Anna story is really more about her growing up than her own romantic life.

  2. I am leaning towards paranormal romance. I think it is the strongest element and launches the storyline.

  3. I agree with the writers of the previous comments. Romantic suspense does not adequately describe The Firebird. The paranormal romance element is the strongest element. Anna's story is the link between The Winter Sea and The Firebird, not its main thrust.

  4. I would go with paranormal romance.

  5. I hate that they're getting rid of that option! I suppose Paranormal Romance, but I hate that because most of the Paranormal entries will most likely be vampires and stuff. I don't suppose you could enter it in all three (not the suspense category)?

    1. A book can only be entered in one category. So, nope. We have to pick just one.

  6. I would agree Paranormal Romance. I'm still reading so it was nice to see a few of your comments above!! Didn't spoil anything for me as I hoped for happy endings in both stories!

  7. My first thought was paranormal romance as well. Rob and Nicola's psychic abilities is the key element in their relationship and romance. Additionally the historical story is only brought to life through the paranormal element as well - even though their romance on itself fits very cleanly into the historical category (which would be my second choice).

    Hopefully the fact that it is not vampires or shifters will make it stand out all the more. Firebird is definitely my favourite book this year and deserves many awards.

  8. My first two thoughts are Historical Romance and Paranormal Romance. I hesitate with the Paranormal in that I agree with the other commentor that in Paranormal, people tend to think vampires, witches, etc.

    I'll lock in my vote for Paranormal Romance.

    Good Luck!!!

  9. Found it :) - Historical Romance would be my pick.

    Good Luck.


  10. I am torn between Paranormal Romance and Contemporary Romance. I feel that the historical romance does not fit because most of the historical aspect was, as you said, a "coming of age story" with romance towards the last half. One of the things I love most about your novels (besides the writing and amazing character developments!) is the paranormal aspect whether it is seeing into the past or actually traveling there. So overall, I think your novel would fit best in the Paranormal Romance category and hopefully it will look glorious compared to all the other vampire and dystopian romance novels!

  11. I agree this is a tough choice. I would immediately eliminate the suspense category, as others said. I have the same concerns others have about the competition in the paranormal category, but I think it is the best fit. It is a key element of the contemporary story and makes the historical story possible. I suspect it would be a breath of fresh air when compared to the other paranormal novels.

  12. This is a very difficult one Susanna! But, thinking about all the lovely books you've written, while concentrating specifically on 'The Firebird', I think I will have to vote for Paranormal Romance.

    Good Luck


  13. I would have to say historical romance. That was my favorite part of the Firebird at least :). It really would fit nicely in any category as it is spectacular and should win no matter what!

  14. I'd go for paranormal, because I think it would have the best chance there. And those who read paranormals (hand up here), found it fit all the ticky boxes and was wonderful. The competition in the other categories would be more specific to the category and you might get shut out for being a mixed breed. But it's all paranormal.

  15. I would class Firebird as a Historical Romance. For me, I enjoy the historical aspects of all your books. The paranormal is a vessel.

  16. This is a tough decision for you! My first thought was once I finished reading and watching the "sparkly vampire" series that was so popular a while back, I now tend to pass over the Paranormal genre. My second thought as many readers stated above, The Firebird would blow the rest out of the contest!! I choose Paranormal Romance.
    No matter which category you choose, we will find you!

  17. Wow, what a touch choice. It seems like Paranormal is the early favorite and I can see why people are liking that category.

    For me The Firebird is more Romantic Suspense, we have the mystery of finding the Firebirds origins in the contemporary story with Rob and Nicola; in the historical plot we have the Anna's past and how she ended up in Russia.

    Thank you for letting us be involved in this decision!

  18. Based on the categories you listed, I would classify Firebird as Historical Romance. Past and present are tied together. If the story was just about present day, I would say Contemporary Romance, but since it is I think historical is a better fit. I exclude Paranormal Romance because the psychic portion doesn't feel like the main focus - if you had some other beings as characters (say vampires) then I might be swayed to Paranormal Romance.

  19. Yes, I agree with the Historical Romance as my first choice. Then my second choice would be Paranormal Romance. The Historical Romance is a major portion of the story, past and present. I love this book, bringing many of the characters back into play from two previous books(that I loved)made the Firebird exciting and wonderful to read. Couldn't put it down, then my daughter grabbed it as soon as I finished. She loved this book as well. Thank you and good luck with the awards. You definitely deserve a win.

  20. I personally think Historical because it is what I love about your books so very much, the historical details. I always learn something, I always feel transported to that time and place. I loved this book so very much and it is my favorite, because it blended two of previous favorites.

  21. Historical Romance seems to be the main ingredient then Paranormal. Just finished this book and it was amazing!! Loved it! ;)

  22. Hi Susanna, not sure if it is too late to add a comment as I've only just read your blog. I would opt for paranormal romance over historical romance as the main connection is via the telepathy shared by Nicola and Robbie (but you could argue for the historical story as well!! Not being very helpful there!!). Good luck anyway whichever category "The Firebird" is entered into.

  23. Hey, I’m having trouble finding an email address. Can you email me back to ask you a question?

  24. As per these definitions, I would have to choose Historical Romance. It would be ideal if you could enter in both the Historical and Paranormal Romance categories. Either way, Firebird is a winner (although Winter Sea is my favourite book of all time).