My Muse Done Me Wrong

By Karen McCullough

There’s a song there, and I’m singing the blues because I can’t manage to do the one thing I need to do for a successful career writing fiction. Pick a niche and stick with it.

Maybe my parents are to blame. After all, their library included Agatha Christie and Ngaio Marsh and Rex Stout and Ian Fleming and Alistair MacLean. Or maybe it was the school libraries, where I found Arthur C. Clarke and Asimov and Heinlein and Andre Norton, that were the culprit. University courses insisted I read Austen and Dickens and Trollope and Dumas and Rilke and Thomas Mann. Later, in bookstores I tripped over J.R.R. Tolkien and Nora Roberts and Dorothy Sayers and dozens of Gothic romance novels.

To a voracious reader like myself it was all too much temptation. I devoured them all and more. And they all embedded pieces of themselves in my imagination, influencing my daydreams, my fantasies, and the stories I would go on to write.

The result is I don’t seem able to restrict myself to a single genre in my writing. I’ve been published in Romance, Romantic Suspense, Fantasy, Paranormal, and Mystery. But almost all of them cross genres, some more blatantly than others. My published romances all include elements of mystery. My mystery novels have elements of suspense and romance. Even some of my fantasy novels include romance and mystery.

This is not a good career move. Editors like consistency. Readers want another novel just like the last one you did, only a little different. And many mystery readers won’t read anything with fantasy or romance in it, just as many romance readers don’t want any fantasy or mystery, etc.

Which brings us to my self-published novel, The Wizard’s Shield. In that one book I manage to cross so many genres I can’t even figure out what to call it. Is it contemporary urban fantasy with mystery and romantic elements? Is it a paranormal romance with mystery and suspense? Or paranormal mystery with suspense and romantic elements? All of those would be fair descriptions.

What I hope is an even fairer description though is: It’s a good story!

It’s a story my muse insisted I had to write. My muse doesn’t care about whether a book is marketable or whether it will help to build my career. My muse has something to say and a definite idea how she wants to say it.

And when I tried to tell my muse that I needed to get that next book in the mystery series done, she went, “Yes, yes, of course. We’ll get to it. But first you’ve got write this one about the physicist who is also a strong wizard. The one who has a tortured past and creates a magical shield to protect himself, only to have it stolen by the magical bad guys. The physicist who has to reunite with the woman he loved and lost years ago to track it down before they can learn how to use it. The one who has to figure out who killed his mentor in order to discover where his invention is now. And the one who finally has to decide what is most important to him and what sacrifices he’s willing to make.”

Right. So I wrote the book. And let it sit on my hard drive for a while. I finished the other book and a couple of others. I sent it to a few editors and agents. The response almost always went something like this: “Good book. I can’t place it (agents). Don’t know how to market it (editors). Lots of luck.”

I decided to self publish it. I can’t say it’s been a bestseller, but it has sold some copies. More than it would’ve sold sitting on my hard drive anyway.   It’s gotten a few good reviews. And my muse let me move on to the next project. In a different genre entirely, of course.


Abandoned as a child, betrayed during adolescence, and tortured when he was just barely an adult, Michael Morgan refuses to be so vulnerable ever again. Using his expertise in both magic and physics, he invents a shield to protect himself.

Dismayed by the shield’s potential to disrupt the balance of powers, the magic councils send his former girlfriend to convince him to destroy it. Michael and Ilene have been estranged for years and their reunion is less than cordial.

But when the shield is stolen, they join forces to follow a trail of murders and retrieve Michael’s invention before a ruthless, powerful wizard learns how to use it for his own dark ends.

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Author bio:

Karen McCullough is the author of more than a dozen published novels in the mystery, romantic suspense, and fantasy genres and has won numerous awards, including an Eppie Award for fantasy. She’s also been a four-time Eppie finalist, and a finalist in the Prism, Dream Realm, Rising Star, Lories, Scarlett Letter, and Vixen Awards contests. Her short fiction has appeared in several anthologies and numerous small press publications in the fantasy, science fiction, and romance genres. She lives in Greensboro, NC, with her husband of many years. 

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1 Comment

  1. Thanks for letting me drop by to gripe about my troublesome muse!

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