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The Challenge of Writing a Romance That Isn’t a Romance by Susan K. Hamilton

Stone Heart
Susan K. Hamilton



Barnes & Noble

September 2022
On Sale: August 30, 2022
ISBN: 1737353687
EAN: 9781737353683
Kindle: B0B2K418QT
Add to Wish List

Also by Susan K. Hamilton:
Stone Heart, September 2022


“So, what genre is your novel?”


An editor asked me that question and it stopped me in my tracks. I had written a manuscript—about 90,000 words—and I knew it needed fresh eyes to help it grow and get better. The problem was, I didn’t know the answer to her question.


When I started writing Stone Heart, I wanted it to be about love and relationships, but also about regrets, unfinished business, and coming to terms with the past. Sounds like the perfect recipe for a romance novel, doesn’t it? The problem was, when I really thought about it, that wasn’t what I wanted.


Don’t get me wrong. I love a good romance novel with a happily-ever-after ending, and one of these days, maybe there will be a romance novel in my future. But that still left me in a bit of a predicament trying to figure out what I’d written. In Stone Heart there is a very important romantic entanglement between my main character, Lauren, and an ex she’s never quite gotten over. But the romance is a frame for the story, not the story itself.


Figuring out my genre was my first challenge…


What the heck did I write?


So here I was with a romance that quite possibly wasn’t a romance. But was it women’s fiction? Romantic fiction? I discovered that the edges are blurry when it comes to defining books that fall in these genres.


Let’s take a step back for a second and talk about the differences between romance and women’s fiction:


  • Romance Novels: If you go to Romance Writers of America, they define a romance novel as one with a central love story. The main plot focuses on people falling in love and the struggle they go through to make the relationship work. But it also has an “emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending”—one where the lovers are rewarded with unconditional love. The HEA or “happily ever after ending.”


  • Women’s Fiction Novels: At its core, women’s fiction is a story with a central theme of the protagonist’s emotional journey (yes, that means that if the story was about a man going through an emotional journey, it could still be considered “women’s fiction.” Confusing, I know!). This literary genre can range far afield and includes different types of novels that are often—but not always—written by women.


In all honesty, I agree very much with Lidija Hilje when she says, “The term ‘women’s fiction’ isn’t the best-suited for the genre, as it implicitly excludes men. A better term would be emotional fiction, or relationship fiction, or emotional journey fiction.”


And Lidija’s perspective helped convince me that my story was more women’s fiction than it was romance: the central theme of Stone Heart is about Lauren’s emotional journey as she comes to terms with regrets she has about her past, how they’ve shaped her for better or worse, and how she approaches her future.


For me, what made the difference is that I wanted my protagonist to learn something about herself through the romance, regardless of whether she rode off into the sunset with her lover. I wanted the point to be that she came through the relationship with a new and better understanding of who she is and how she moves through the world. I wanted her to make some really poor decisions along the way – I mean, who hasn’t made a dumb decision in the name of love? – and I wanted her to learn from those painful mistakes and grow as a person.


Okay, then. Challenge #1 surmounted: the book is women’s fiction… which brings me to Challenge #2…


Now that I’ve written it, how do I explain it to readers?


This was an unexpected challenge. I sent an early copy out to a reviewer who proceeded to say how much she loved the story, how she got so invested in the characters that she cried. Sounds like a great start, right? But she went on to talk at length (about eight paragraphs worth) about all the things she’d do differently in the book to get the ending she wanted Lauren to have… and that she actually gave it a lower rating because it didn’t have the type of HEA she craved.


I knew writing a romance that wasn’t a romance risked running afoul of readers who wanted (or expected) it to something it wasn’t. That early review really brought that conundrum into focus, and since then I’ve tried to be very careful about how I position my story so that reader expectations are set at the start -- and met once they get to that final page.


Ultimately, I’m glad I took the road I picked for Stone Heart. Lauren has become one of my favorite characters, and I’ve loved the parts of her journey I’ve written so far. Hopefully there is more to come—whether that “more” falls under romance, women’s fiction, or something else remains to be seen.

STONE HEART by Susan K. Hamilton

Stone Heart

Award-winning author's novel covers relationships, regrets, and the questionable decisions we make when we’re in love.

As a successful singer and recovering addict, Lauren Stone is no stranger to regret.

When a publicity stunt gone wrong brings her face-to-face with one of her biggest regrets—her high school flame, Danny Padovano—Lauren realizes she never let go of his memory, believing he’s the only person who ever loved her for who she is, not what she is.

But Lauren doesn't have time to pine over lost love. If she doesn't get her songwriting mojo back—and fast—The Kingmakers' new album is going to be a colossal failure.

With a devastating case of writer's block threatening to derail her career, and Danny's marriage on the rocks, they begin an affair that could not only wreck what's left of Danny's marriage but destroy Lauren's relationship with the band... and her hard-earned sobriety.

As Lauren’s world unravels, can she come to terms with her mistakes? Or will they finally destroy her?


Romance Music [Writing Bloc, On Sale: August 30, 2022, e-Book, ISBN: 9781737353683 / eISBN: 2940166191052]

Buy STONE HEARTKindle | BN.com | Amazon CA | Amazon UK | Amazon DE | Amazon FR

About Susan K. Hamilton

Susan K. Hamilton

Susan K. Hamilton is the author of Darkstar Rising, Shadow King, The Devil Inside, and Stone Heart (releasing August 2022). She is also had short stories included in several anthologies from Writing Bloc from Writing Bloc. Susan loves pizza, good stand-up comedy, and pretty much every furry creature on the planet. She lives near Boston, MA with her husband and spends a lot of time with her very opinionated bay mare.





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