Genre Fiction as a Means of Escape

By Linda Kepner, author of Second Chance and Second Chance Sister

Second Chance SisterI am Linda Kepner, and I write genre fiction. My main loves are fantasy fiction, science fiction, and romance. But romance is the most fun, by far. When I write romance, I am writing character studies of people I would wish for friends. All four genres (including mystery) are great escapes, and are meant to be. (Did you know “genre” means “sex”? So the next time you get one of those forms that says “M/F”, they could be asking you “Mystery/Fantasy.” Just a thought.) What the romance genre possesses is something you won’t encounter in any other genre: in-depth character studies. You get to know people in a way that no other type of book offers. You can befriend these folks, disagree with their decisions, argue with them, and come back to visit them at any time.

When we read genre fiction, we read to escape – sometimes to something, not necessarily away from something (except maybe a bad day). If you read Second Chance or Second Chance Sister, you will escape to 1969 Virginia, and Reunion Island. Not only that, you’ll speak French like a native, have a Ph.D. in comparative literature, have a good-looking and sympatico twin brother, and be the most physically fit you’re ever been in your life – without leaving your armchair. Bishou Howard has done all that work for you. On the down side, you will have two handicapped parents, a mildly-traumatized Viet vet brother, two little brothers you don’t want to desert, and a large amount of anti-female prejudice to contend with. But you are about to meet an attractive, absorbing man who will make all your problems seem like a walk in the park.

Louis Dessant may once have been naïve and impulsive, but he has learned caution. He focuses on his work – the one part of his life that has never let him down – and cherishes his few remaining friendships at home on his island, where people know the worst about him but have forgiven. Yet everything hurts. On Saturday nights, he pours himself his one glass of whiskey, turns off the lights in his front room, sits, and watches the world go by his windows. He doesn’t dare more than that. He is a very visible – in fact, notorious – prison parolee.

It is work that brings him to America, where he meets this beautiful, intelligent woman who speaks both his languages, French and agriculture. He tries his hardest not to fall in love with her. Better that she treat him as just a nice friend she can soon forget. Then he discovers she knows all the worst about him, and the bottom drops out of his world.

He is ripe for discovering that his shattered life can be mended with a strong dose of Bishou. And that’s the point of a good romance. It has characters who range from vaguely unhappy to utterly miserable. But the hurts can be fixed. We can all stand in the sandy, warm waters of Plage Est and forget about car accidents, prison fights, lost loves, and illnesses, if only for a while. We can meet the sort of people we would like for friends. That’s my goal – for you to be welcomed back by Louis, Bishou, Bat, the Howard boys, Pierre, the Dean (Monsieur le Doyen), Adrienne, and the faithful Campards (who always have Louis’s back). You can kick off your shoes and socks and take an ankle-deep walk in the warm Indian Ocean. You’ll come back to Louis’s beautiful house and have dinner, with the housekeepers serving. You will walk shoulder-to-shoulder with eminent professors at a (completely fictional) new university and be on the ground floor of its creation. You’ll ride the African commuter bus (half the speed of a lawnmower but twice as loud). Most of all, you will meet the people who live these joys and sorrows. It’s a brief, loving island vacation.

I was researching characters for another book when I stumbled upon a story about a felon from a French prison who eventually ended up committing suicide. The unfairness of this man’s life percolated inside my brain for several months, until my writers’ group suggested an exercise in writing a character study – and out came Louis Dessant. And the mender of his life, Bishou. And revenge in the form of Adrienne. And the mender of her life, Bat.

The rambunctious Howards hijacked both Louis Dessant and my keyboard. They have traveled to Paris, Boston, Cairo, and Nairobi, and come home to Saint-Denis. They have weathered Reunion’s dreadful chikungunya epidemic. They climbed the island volcanoes to volunteer at the observatories. The brothers have even fallen in love. Their tinkering with cutting-edge 1970’s technology has allowed me to play with seventies “steampunk.” In the process, the Howards helped Louis lose his fears of winter, desertion, and reaching out to others. Louis has acquired the family he ought to have had by this time in his life, and the strength to comfort and counsel them. He justifies the faith his best friend, Etien Campard, has had in him all along – and there’s no better feeling than that.

My favorite writing teacher, Kate Phillips, said that no matter what story you’re writing, it’s a human-interest story, because all stories are human-interest stories. We are all human (even if her most famous work is The Blob!).

What is your favorite genre — other than romance?? Share in the comments!