Pushing Boundaries with Trauma and Genre

Maryann: Please join me in welcoming guest blogger, LK Hunsaker.

Hi Maryann! It’s great to be here to talk with you and your readers today. Since your blog focuses on the absurdities of life, I thought I’d talk about Pushing Boundaries with Trauma and Genre.

I’m a big fan of mainstream/literary fiction: those authors who delve deeply into the grittiness of life – John Irving, Leo Tolstoy, Mark Twain, Joyce Carol Oates. They don’t pull punches. They write what they’ve seen in some manner. And they write about some of the biggest societal issues of their individual times. They’re social historians.

On the other hand, I’m a romantic at heart. I like happy endings. I enjoy exploring what makes us choose one mate over another and what holds us together or drives us apart. When you mix those genres, there are bound to be crossed lines.

Up to now, my novels blended the two without much line-crossing. Finishing Touches can nearly be called a sweet romance, although I push it just far enough to call it sensual. Its biggest line-cross is that there is only one POV – the heroine’s. Otherwise, the story reads quickly and deals with loss and personal exploration, but mainly with relationship building. It ends happily. My Rehearsal series is fairly light, although each one gets heavier as the characters grow up, and includes both heroine and hero POV, plus the antagonist’s viewpoint. Its biggest line-cross is the length: each book is quite long.

My most recent, Off The Moon, is a true boundary pusher. It is still romance, with the necessary “girl-meets-boy, separation of some kind, happy together ending” story line. However, unlike most contemporary romance heroines, Kaitlyn is not strong, independent, and sure of what she wants. (Or is she?) She’s very quiet. Ryan often has to try to figure out what she means from her cryptic words. She’s also very young for a romance heroine. This is part of the story conflict that leads to the mainstream approach of exploring cultural issues. How is age of consent determined? Who decides when it’s proper and when it’s not? Where does that line between right and wrong meet and cross? In current society where so many of our teens are having children while they still are children, this issue is foremost in many minds. Why are they starting so young? Is it hurting them? What are they looking for?

The story is gritty. It deals with loss and abuse and trust issues. There are references to casual sexual relations, although none is shown more than a hint. Mental care issues come in to play, as does health care and single parenting.

As I was writing the story, I was often in a quandary about where it was headed. I allow my characters to go where they need to go, to tell their story as they need to tell it. This one took a very deep turn as Ryan’s voice pervaded and I kept stopping to think, “Oh, but romance readers won’t expect that, or possibly appreciate it.”

Still, his voice wouldn’t silence. Neither would Kaitlyn’s. They had things to say and it had to be said true to their stories.

Kaitlyn has a lot of trauma in her past by the time she meets Ryan. There were times I thought I’d pushed it too far, had given her too much to deal with. And then I would catch bits of the news, real events I had trouble believing would actually happen. Life is absurd, indeed. Fiction might need to make more sense than life in some ways, but it should also reflect it.

Did I push the boundaries of romance fiction too far while merging with mainstream this time? For those who want light and quick, probably. It’s not a quick read. It includes not only scenes necessary for the plot, but also Ryan’s musings about the plot issues. For those who enjoy very deep, full characters with full backgrounds and family histories, I think it isn’t too far across the line. Boundary pushing readers will understand. Maybe they’ll even see themselves here and there.

It does have a happy ending, as will all of my novels. Even if life doesn’t always.


Buy Link for Off the Moon preorders:

free US shipping through Nov. 27, discounted outside US

Off The Moon website:

Also, be sure to check my BLOG for novel-related features. I have an interview with NYC drummer Gino Scalmato up, as well as an interview with singer/songwriter Vicki Blankenship. More to come! http:

Off The Moon
LK Hunsaker

“Riveting” Ryan Reynauld is immersed in a world of music, parties, and temporary companionship. Having risen to the top of the pop charts, his biggest concern is objecting to the way his music is produced. That is, until he finds a young woman standing on a window ledge. Against the advice of family and friends, and through media attacks and fan protests, Ryan determines to care for her himself, making a promise that threatens to destroy his career.

Convincing the skittish girl she can learn to trust again comes with a steep price. Sometimes the path to recovery begins by allowing your world to implode.

Elucidate Publishing
November 2009

21 thoughts on “Pushing Boundaries with Trauma and Genre”

  1. Hello again, Maryann! I’ll be here through the day today and then will check back now and then over the next couple of weeks.

    I look forward to conversation and questions. 🙂

  2. You sure do cover a lot of issues in Off The Moon. This is the type of book that I really enjoy as opposed to the ones that are just for entertainment. I guess because I focus on social issues in my work as well. I think in some ways that makes the stories more real. Real people are concerned about social issues.

    Do you have trouble keeping your views and opinions from your characters, or do you actually use your opinions?

  3. I appreciated that about your books, as well, while I was looking at them.

    My opinions: sometimes I use them. To be honest, I would have to say I use them often. However, I also use opposing opinions to try to find both sides and something of a balance. One thing I like about literary fiction is that, while it brings up issues, there aren’t clear-cut answers. It’s really opening the floor to consider viewpoints instead of preaching. I don’t like to be preached at and so don’t do it to my readers.

    Maybe in small ways I do, such as my anti-smoking stance. That comes through at times. It’s hard to keep very strong opinions corraled. 😉

  4. LORAINE–I believe this is one of your best blogs. And to show you how good you are, I read every word. I liked the idea of pushing boundaries on different fronts. And to pinpoint those exact kinds of boundaries makes the piece a teaching tool. Thanks–a job well done. Celia

  5. Hi Helen, I read a post just a day or two ago about an author told to take such and such out because it might offend some readers.

    I’m sure it depends on which editor or agent, but a lot of romance authors have a hard time fitting their books to specific guidelines. It’s sad, I think, because it’s stifling as a writer and provides readers with less variety from which to choose.

    I’m always glad to hear from those who enjoy boundary pushing. 🙂

  6. I understand about having to corral strong opinions. 🙂

    I also like the fact that you don’t resolve issues. I can’t tell you how many times I have had an editor or a producer ask me to “tie things up nicely.” In real life, things don’t do that.

    In my mystery that will come out next year, I deal with racial issues between the two central characters, who are homicide detectives. My editor asked if I could write a little more at the end to let the reader know if the women resolve the issues. I thought about it, but realized in life it would take more time for that to be resolved — if it ever would be completely. So I left it as is.

  7. Celia, thank you! It’s a subject that’s close to my heart since I push so many boundaries within my life and work, and I feel my writing getting edgier through the years.

    From Kurt Vonnegut:
    “I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center.”

  8. Maryann, I like reading books that leave something open. There will always be more to the story, as you say. Leaving readers to imagine where it might go is very powerful, I think.

    I’m gaining a recent appreciation for mysteries that I lost somewhere after my eary Hardy Boys years, and I’ll have to check yours out.

    I’ll be on the lookout for uncorralled strong opinions. 😉

  9. Hi LK,
    Thanks for stopping by my blog and friending me on Facebook. Your work sounds fascinating. I love reading anything to do with pop music. We’ll have to keep in touch, maybe exchange books and review each other! And Maryann, I still plan to send you one of my books for review.

    Maryann featured me on this blog back on November 10th. My Blog Book Tour has been so frenetic, it already seems like years ago! I’ll have to scroll down and see if there are any new comments.

    Julie Lomoe’s Musings Mysterioso

  10. Hi Julie, thanks for coming by. I’ll scroll down and find your post here.

    Yes, maybe in the new year when we’ve had time to settle back in after our tours? I would love to exchange reviews!

  11. Wonderful to see so many people visiting and enjoying this guest author and all the other comments.

    LK and everybody, who are some of the authors you enjoy who don’t always hold to the conventional genre parameters? Dennis Lahane and Joe Lansdale are two I can think of in mystery that step out of the bounds.

  12. I’ll have to think about that a bit. I read so much mainstream and that, by definition, doesn’t have strict parameters. I think the most recent genre book I read that steps away if “A Dilly Of A Death” by Susan Wittig. It’s a bit mainstream mixed with cozy mystery since the first half is largely talking about the character and the town.

    I’ve heard mystery afficionados say someone is supposed to die on the first page of a mystery. Wittig doesn’t seem to care about that rule. 😉

    I’ll be back in a couple of hours. There’s a light parade tonight and I haven’t been to one in ages! I’ll be glad to hear other people’s thoughts on this.

  13. Okay, let’s go out of genre and just think of books that do what LK talks about, mixing and stretching boundaries. I just re-read Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd. A woman’s novel that is definitely a mix of mainstream and romance with a touch of mystery to it.

    Raymond Atkins books, Sorrow Wood and The Front Porch Prophet, also mix elements of mainstream, adventure and some mystery. Those are the kinds of books that I am enjoying the most of late, although I still read some of my favorite series mystery authors like Robert Crais, Kellerman, Sanford and a few others.

  14. Maryann, I have Mermaid Chair here waiting on me. I read her Secret Life of Bees after seeing her talk at the National Book Fair in D.C. That one was pretty straight-forward mainstream. I’ll be interested in comparing the new one since it’s a genre mix.

    If we go back in time to Lady Chatterley’s Lover, we find a true mix. It’s part literary and part erotica – they call it the first erotic romance.

    I haven’t read Laurell K since I’m not into vampires, but from what I’ve heard, that’s a mix of romance and paranormal with a literary edge.

    I think books tend to be bigger when they’re mixed. The straight genre reads might be easier to sell short-term, but those with real issues do seem to have a bigger overall impact.

  15. LK. I think you will really enjoy Mermaid Chair. But don’t expect a who-dun-it type mystery element. But the reader is led in one direction in trying to figure out why something happened, and then surprised at the end. At least I was. 🙂

  16. December and at least part of January will have to be “step away from my own stuff and read everyone else” time. 😉

    Now I’m wanting to pick it up and read now, but I’m in the middle of two others with a third in line so I can review it.

    Thanks for mentioning it, and for chatting with me! I’ll keep checking back now and then and will post the winner of the short story in a week or so.

  17. WINNER: Francesca Prescott

    (this is for the short story, to win the book, comment on at least 8 blogs along the tour!)

    I used WDC’s virtual dice and counted 3 comments other than myself and my blog host, plus previous winners and came up with number 2.

    Congrats, Francesca! The story will be mailed out after the book’s release date. Please contact promotions@classicromancerevival.com with your mailing address.

    Link to the contest rolls:

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