Guest Post: Lillah Lawson on Crossing Genres
The bio that I’ve been using for years proudly states, “Lillah has wanted to be a writer since she was eight years old.”
And it’s true! I’m that annoying person who has known since I was a child what I wanted to be. Oh, there were brief moments where I thought I might be a veterinarian, or maybe a baker, or possibly a teacher, but deep down, as I scribbled in my notebooks, poetry journals, and later, my teenage ‘zine aptly titled The Monthly Friend, I always knew my calling.
I was the tender age of six when I wrote my first (terrible) poem, about Garth Brooks of all things, eight when I won a short story contest in which a Princess refuses the help of the Prince and saves herself, eleven when I co-wrote a Sweet Valley-esque series with my besties in middle school, and fifteen when I penned a hilariously un-self-aware letter to the Atlanta Journal Constitution lambasting them for giving Keanu Reeves’ then-band Dogstar a bad review (they published it, and to this day I blush to my hair imagining the belly laugh that newspaper must’ve had when they opened my painfully sincere defense of a megastar who definitely didn’t need me in his corner*).
I have always, always loved to write. I have an entire shelf in my basement devoted to my notebooks, slap full of the short stories, poems, essays and prose I’ve been writing since I was a kid. I’ve always been a voracious reader of all types of literature – literary fiction, thrillers, romance, historical fiction, non-fiction, fantasy, sci-fi, horror – I’ve never been particularly fussy about what I’ll read, so long as it has good world-building and characters I want to root for. When I tell you I’ll read anything, I’m not exaggerating. I’ve been known to grab one of my Papa’s beloved Louis L’Amour novels to devour between rock n’ roll autobiographies, and I’ll wash it down with the latest Stephen King tome. I love Outlander and Shakespeare, Charlaine Harris and Mary Shelley, political essays and graphic novels in equal measure.
So, it stands to reason that I would want to write those worlds and those characters, too.
My first published novel, Monarchs Under the Sassafras Tree (Regal House Publishing, 2019) was historical fiction. I’ve always been fascinated by history, and when I set out to write a Depression-era, southern gothic love story, about two lost souls who have suffered more than most, I knew I had something special coming from my pen. Digging into the historical details (and boy did I do some digging – three years’ worth of research) of the time period was one of the most fulfilling, poignant and illuminating things I’ve ever done. I interviewed my grandparents, poured over literature from the era and immersed myself in 1920s and 1930s Appalachian folk music. I found that falling into that world for a time was every bit as enjoyable as actually writing the book.
After Monarchs, I assumed I would continue writing historical fiction. With an idea under my belt, I set out to begin my next book – a dual-timeline (1960s and 1990s) story of mothers and daughters called So Long, Bobby. I got about halfway through the novel, when, to my surprise, another novel started whispering in my ear (any writer will tell you that the characters choose you – you don’t choose them. And when they decide to speak, well…you listen). The main character of this novel was very much not historical. Rather, he was a rock star, recently come back from the dead. His heroine? A vegan librarian and accidental witch named Stormy Spooner.
So I put down So Long, Bobby and started a brand new adventure, writing what can only be deemed a horroromance, the book that became my novel Dead Rockstar (Parliament House Press, 2020). This fun, spooky, witchy little book that I was writing just for fun became, much to my shock, a three-book trilogy, and better yet, it got a book deal!
I can still see people wiggling their noses at me. “But wait…your first book was historical fiction. This book is…what? Fantasy? Horror? Romance?” And, maddeningly, I would just nod and say, “Yes.”
Reader, the words take you where they want to take you. I can but write them down.
So many authors stick to one genre, and sometimes, I envy those authors. The ones who simply know who they are and what they write and they have a tried-and-true formula that works for them time and again. How much easier that must be. Alas, that is not who I am.
The truth of the matter is that my writing is every bit as all-over-the-place as me. I’m a little bit country and a little bit goth, and so are my books. I’m equally comfortable writing fiction about old-time Appalachia as I am writing a present-day story about an undead rock star who drinks too much wine and melts panties with his gaze. Occasionally this does confuse readers, and perhaps it makes me less marketable – after all, the industry does want to put you neatly into a box – but at the end of the day, I enjoy the variety. My end-goal for my writing career has always been to write what I want to write – yes, getting published is another one of those end-goals, but fame and fortune has never been one of them. If that happens, great, but all I really want at the end of the day is to find my audience, the group of readers who love my characters, the worlds I’ve built, and the story – no matter if it takes place in 1930s Milledgeville or 2020 Panama City Beach (with a zombie boyfriend).
One of my favorite things about my upcoming So Long, Bobby (yes, I went back and finished!), is that it combines my love of historical fiction and my more modern love of music and present-day current events. Because of the dual timeline, I was able to explore multiple worlds and points of view. The story, which follows the characters of Bobbi Newton (1968), her daughter, Ella Newton (1995), and her granddaughter, Kasey Newton (2018), visits points in history many of us remember, such as the Vietnam War, the March on Washington, the death of Kurt Cobain and the end of grunge, as well as exploring many themes that we can all relate to: grief, the complex relationship between mothers and daughters, first loves, coming out, the end of friendships, addiction, and so much more.
Another reason I took a break from this novel to write Dead Rockstar, I think, is because I needed to sit with the novel for a beat and really let it marinate. Often with historical fiction, you need time to let the underlying theme of the novel sink in. Us writers can become so inundated with the historical details of the time period that sometimes the book can lose its essence; it’s soul. For me, it helps to stop and take some time to let it steep, then come back to it with fresh eyes and an open heart.
I may have taken my time with this novel, and even written a couple of other novels in between, but So Long, Bobby is my favorite of my books thus far. It’s the book that took the longest to write, the book that’s had the most stops and starts, and the book that has the most of me contained within its pages. Midway through writing, I lost a beloved family member and that grief laid me low for a long time. When I came back to it, I was ready to start anew, with all those experiences and perspectives to add to it. For all these reasons, So Long, Bobby is my favorite of my books.
I’m so excited to be part of the Sword & Silk family and I hope you enjoy So Long, Bobby. As for me, I’ll continue reading AND writing books in all the genres I possibly can, because the world is big and wide, full of light and dark, and I want to talk about it all!
*I stand by my defense of Keanu. He is a treasure!