Sometimes I read books for a complete and total escape. Sometimes I read them hoping to find a reflection of myself or something to inspire me or help me solve an issue that I'm dealing with. The best books for me do both at the same time, and in my opinion, both realistic fiction and paranormal/sci-fi/fantasy can do this. I really enjoy escaping into the world of Alyson Noel's Immortals series, which is paranormal, but those books have also helped me cope with grief. I expected to find reflections of myself in Tara Kelly's Harmonic Feedback, a contemporary realistic YA novel, but I also got so swept up in the main character Drea's life that I read the book all in one day. I'm currently watching two TV series, Battlestar Galactica with my husband, and The Gilmore Girls with one of my girlfriends. On the surface, they couldn't seem more different. But I am just as swept up in both. I care about the characters, the plots are engaging, and the writing is excellent (at least so far, I've heard BSG goes downhill). Those are the main elements I'm searching for in story. However I'm also looking for a unique take.
This, my friends, is where I start to get picky.
I won't pick up a book just because it is about vampires--in fact my inner goth girl makes me *incredibly* picky about vampire books. The vampire books I've loved most lately are Jeri Smith-Ready's WVMP series because the idea of vampires running a radio station, connected to the era they are from by music is completely unique. (Not to mention, the heroine, Ciara, is a chick that kicks butt and even though her vamp boyfriend is hot, she doesn't put him up on a pedestal while putting herself down and whining and swooning....) Of course, I won't pick up a realistic fiction book just because it deals with a certain issue I'm interested in either--if that was the case I'd probably be watching a lot more afterschool specials and Lifetime movies. I'm sure there are plenty of those about teenage pregnancy, but I'm willing to bet the characters wouldn't be as well drawn as Rand from Holly Cupala's Tell Me A Secret. (Got a two chapter preview of it at BEA and now I am dying for more!) So no matter what world a book is set in, it needs an interesting premise.
I'd have to agree with what Barb wrote on this topic earlier, though--that thing about paranormal/urban fantasy being the trend is that there are a lot of books out there that are very superficial and don't have the most engaging premise or plot or characters. And yet there they are on front tables of bookstores, getting attention just because they fit the mold. Meanwhile, some very compelling realistic YA stories aren't getting the attention they deserve because they don't. That definitely bugs me.
But I have to admit, I'm also working on a paranormal/urban fantasy novel. I'm not doing this to conform. I haven't tried to conform since sixth grade when I learned that conform was boring and made me feel icky inside. Like Barb, I write the stories that I want to read but can't find. And there is a story of finding inner strength, facing your demons and nightmares, and surviving grief that I need to tell. I tried to tell it as a contemporary realistic YA because that is my comfort zone as a writer. But after struggling with a couple drafts of the first fifty pages, I realized my agent was right, I need to allow otherworldly elements to come into the story. And I needed to challenge myself.
It's funny that as a writer I've always limited myself to realistic fiction even though my reading habits are probably fifty percent realistic fiction, fifty percent genre fiction. I don't know why I've been so scared of it. I guess it's because in addition to plotting out a story, you have to create an entire world and rules for that world. Even though it has taken me a lot longer to get the story going because of this (or maybe not... I tend to struggle at the beginning no matter what), I'm having a lot of fun with it. I have no idea if it will sell, but I'm definitely hoping so. I've been keeping it under wraps for the most part and all I will say is that it's inspired partially by this book that I loved very much as a child:
And this movie that I loved very much as a teen:
Now that I've taken the plunge into writing books that incorporate otherworldly elements, I think it is something I will continue to do. Of course I will continue to write realistic fiction as well. Since I love reading both, why not try writing both?
What about you? Do you read both? Write both if you are a writer? Were you/are you scared to write to both like I was?