Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Author Jeanette Baker Talks About Genre Labeling

It’s my pleasure to welcome award-winning author Jeanette Baker asJeanette the special guest blogger today as she makes a stop on her virtual blog tour for her latest release, CATRIONA.

Here’s a brief synopsis of CATRIONA: Kate Sutherland has always felt out of step growing up in Southern California, but it isn’t until her adoptive mother’s death that she travels to Scotland to discover the truth about her heritage. There, with the help of a high-priestess of an ancient Scottish sect, she experiences the visions that reveal she is one of the twice-born and that five centuries before she walked the earth as Catriona Wells, daughter of an English earl and a Scots princess, first cousin to James IV of Scotland, English spy and harbinger of a shameful secret.

Catriona, determined to save her young brother from the deadly political clashes of 15th century England and Scotland, embarks upon a fragile balancing act between the court of Jamie Stewart and his arch rival, Henry Tudor, King of England. But Cat’s cunning is no match for Patrick MacKendrick, laird of Hermitage, legend of the borders, right hand to Jamie Stewart who suspects her story for the lie it is. As intrigue in the Scottish court builds and Jamie Stewart’s enemies are unveiled, Cat realizes that the man who deserves her loyalty is the one she has bargained to destroy.

Meanwhile Kate, whose visions rapidly take on a reality of their own, is caught between a present-day attraction to Niall MacKendrick, a Scots historian, the drama of her own adoption—and risking everything in Catriona’s world of passion and bloodshed.

Jeanette is here to share her thoughts on genre labeling, how romance has evolved and on which shelf or shelves her novel belongs in a book store.

CATRIONA is, I think, my most sensual novel currently in print and yet, I would still classify it as historical fiction rather than romance. Because there is no designated spot for historical fiction, all romances from the steamy to the sweet are shelved under Romance in your local book store, and thankfully so. I'm not sure I would have been as avid a romance reader if I hadn't started with Georgette Heyer, Jan Cox Speas, and Mary Stewart, books heavy on plot and character with great tension, subtle romance and intensely satisfying, albeit innocent, happily-ever-after endings.

catrionaRomance, as a genre, didn't actually come about until the 70's. Before that, romantic stories and other genres, were lumped together as fiction. I remember standing in front of the shelves in my local library reading book jackets to insure that I would find a book with enough of a love story to keep me interested. Romance as a genre has come full circle. Although the bodice ripper is still out there, romantic fiction covers a tremendous span from the steamy heat of Virginia Henley and the wise-cracking comedy of Janet Evanovich to the satisfying warmth of Marcia Willett. 

A good friend of mine always makes a point of introducing me to his male friends as, "This is Jeanette Baker. She writes romance novels." Then he asks the proverbial question: "Have you ever read a romance novel?"

I know why he does it. He loves the reaction, the look on their faces that reveal the dilemma. Will she be offended if I say no? Will she think I'm strange if I say yes? Does this woman who looks like my Sunday school teacher really write those novels?

I don't know whether to put them out of their misery or keep silent and enjoy the game. The truth is, I have written those novels, the sensual kind like CATRIONA, and I have also written the kind that aren't the least bit R-rated. It depends on the story and whether or not the plot is enhanced by a sensual scene. 25% of those who read fiction, read romance. Amen to those publishers who continue to offer readers a wide variety of romantic fiction. 

CATRIONA began, as you might expect, in Scotland, at the ruins of Stirling Castle. After exploring the grounds, I climbed the stairs to the watchtower where Margaret Tudor, daughter to Henry VII of England and James IV of Scotland, waited for her husband to return from the Battle of Flodden Moor. This was a particularly difficult time for her because her husband and father fought on opposing sides. I’d read in the small brochure handed out when I turned over my nominal fee for visiting the castle, that she had carved a poem into the wall. The poem is no longer legible and no one really knows what her thoughts were, but standing there with a death grip on the parapet because of the terrifying wind, I imagined what they might be. 

Jamie Stewart was a handsome, charismatic king who spoke 8 languages, fathered 38 illegitimate children, founded universities and demanded that the nobility learn to read. History tells us the marriage was not a love match, I decided, for purposes of my novel, that it would be. That very day, the idea for CATRIONA was born. Why not, I thought, create a woman, with ties to both England and Scotland, a woman with a shameful secret who needed Jamie’s protection for her own purposes? Why not pair her with her equal in intelligence, Jamie’s favorite, a powerful border lord, who’d helped him win the crown? Why not set the two of them amidst the intrigue of the Tudor and Stewart royal courts? 

Then it was time to create the contemporary plot of my novel: enter Kate Sutherland, her descendent, an American born 400 years later, an educated woman searching for answers to the odd circumstances of her birth and her frightening ability to see what others could not. 

CATRIONA is offered in print as well as electronic format. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did creating it. Jeanette
Jeanette, thanks so much for guest blogging. I enjoyed your outlook on genre labeling. I especially like stories that fall into several genres as you mentioned. Life is not filled with just one emotion so why should books be labeled under just one. Wishing you much success with your writing and CATRIONA.

Now for a bit of background on Jeanette. She is the author of 15 novels, published by Pocket, Kensington and Mira Books, many of them set in the lush countryside of historical and contemporary Ireland where she lives and writes during the summer months. Her ancestors, the O’Flahertys, hail from Inishmore, the largest of the Aran Islands located off the coast of Galway. Jeanette takes great pride in the prayer posted by the English over the ancient citygates, ‘From the wrath of the O’Flahertys, may the good Lord deliver us.’

Jeanette graduated from the University of California at Irvine with a degree in journalism and international relations and holds a Masters Degree in Education. When not in Ireland, she teaches in Southern California, reads constantly, attempts to navigate the confusing world of Facebook and, more recently, e-publishing, concocts creations from interesting cookbooks and enjoys the company of friends and children. She is the RITA award-winning author of NELL.

For more on Jeanette and her writing, visit and blog with her at

If you’re a writer, do you think genre labeling sometimes helps or hurts when readers are searching for your style of work? As a reader, do you go strictly by the genre labels or do you browse the shelves for your reading pleasure? Thanks, as always, for stopping by and sharing your thoughts today.


  1. Jeanette, thanks again for sharing your thoughts with us today. Wishing you much success with CATRIONA and your writing.

  2. Mason - Thanks for hosting Jeanette.

    Jeanette - You are so right that as fiction of all kinds evolves, genre labels can be limiting. For example, your work is romantic fiction, but it's also historical fiction. To call it just one or the other would be too limiting. I wish you well with Catriona.

  3. Hi Jeanette. Enjoyed your post. I'm always interested to see where bookstores and libraries put books that I know are blended genres, especially the combo of mystery and romance.

  4. Jeanette, your book sounds very interesting. Yes, it's interesting to me where books land. I have read romance novels rich with history. Good luck!

    Mason, thanks for your hosting.

  5. Interesting post! I think it's interesting how readers seem to have preconceived ideas about writers of different genres, too. As genres blend into each other, I think it's a great opportunity for writers to pick up readers who might not think of themselves as romance readers or mystery readers.

  6. Interesting discussion.

    Labels can be troublesome, but with my latest, a cosy mystery, I do all I can to use that label positively as part of my marketing campaign. I think that is wiser than just calling it crime fiction and run the risk of annoying readers who loathe cosies.

  7. Good for you for not being pigeonholed! I wish science fiction had some broader sub-genres.


I'd love to hear your thoughts on today's post. Thanks for dropping by.