When I started writing fiction, I was advised to “write what you know,” so I crafted a novel about a doctor who failed as a professional baseball player before going to medical school (pretty much my story except that it was semi-pro baseball while I was in college). I thought it was interesting, because it had lots of inside information about both the sport and the profession. It had a male protagonist, a strong female lead, and a charming cast of characters. Editors liked it, but their response was always the same: “It won’t sell.”
Fast forward through two more unsuccessful novels. That’s when I was urged to try my hand at writing a cozy mystery. In a cozy mystery, the protagonist is usually female and often an older one. There’s one central story arc, centering on a mystery (generally a crime) that must be solved. These books are typically short, and an “easy read.” I tried writing a cozy mystery. I failed. But, in so doing, I learned some things. (Of course, I also quit writing—but that’s another story for another time).
When I got back to writing again, I revisited the “write what you know” philosophy, but by this time I was a bit wiser about the industry. I knew medicine, but realized it was best to just sprinkle it throughout the manuscript, not make it the focus of the writing. I’d been reading suspense novels for years and knew what I liked about them, so I decided to incorporate that element into my work. And I’d become convinced that there should be a love interest in my novels, in order to appeal to the women who make up 85% of the readership of Christian fiction (so I’d been told). Thus, my next novel was “medical romantic suspense.”
By now I’d also learned more about the craft. The cozy mystery failed experiment taught me about keeping one central theme, without taking too many side trips. And I wrote without trying to conform to a specific genre, simply incorporating the elements that seemed to fall naturally into my stories.
The resulting novel, originally titled Run Away Home, was no overnight success, but it wasn’t long before my agent, Rachelle Gardner, called me with some good news. The book had sold to Abingdon Press, where it was given the title Code Blue. The launch date was April 1, and it was followed at six-month intervals by three other novels in the Prescription For Trouble series: Medical Error, Diagnosis Death, and my latest, Lethal Remedy.
That's my journey. For writers still looking to "find their voice," my advice is to first learn the craft (obviously), but after that, write what you know and/or love, do the best job possible, and worry about assigning a genre afterward. Write on.