The Big Idea: Jennifer Estep
Sometimes, combining your favorite things can result in something even better than the individual things you put together. Like pineapple on pizza, or peanut butter on pickles. Or in author Jennifer Estep’s case, genres. Come along in the Big Idea for her newest novel, Only Bad Options, to see which genres she chose to perfectly pair together.
I’ve always loved stories with a little bit of everything in them – action, adventure, danger, magic, and romance. As an author, one of the things I enjoy most is taking my favorite elements from one genre and mixing them with my favorite elements from another genre to put my own spin on things.
I consider this process my own monster mashup of genres. A little bit of this, a little bit of that, and then I shock it – write it – to life and see how the story, characters, and worldbuilding hold up. insert evil mad scientist laugh here
In Only Bad Options, my monster mashup of genres is science fiction, urban fantasy, and historical romance. Why these three genres?
I had been thinking about writing an enemies-to-lovers, soul-mates type of story for a while, but none of the urban or epic fantasy worlds I was contemplating seemed quite right. Then I thought, “What if I made it a sci-fi world, but with magic?” And that was my first light-bulb genre moment.
Suddenly, a whole new world (ha!) opened up. I had never written a sci-fi book before, and it was like being handed a brand-new set of toys I had never played with as an author. It was a little overwhelming, so I thought about my favorite things about the sci-fi genre – planets with different climates/creatures, characters being stuck on spaceships together, and epic battles with freaking laser beams. So that’s why there is a boiling lava planet of doom, forced proximity, and pew! pew! pew! action scenes in Only Bad Options.
But I still wanted my characters to have magical abilities and weapons, which are some of my favorite elements of the fantasy genre, so I decided to write about psions – people with mental abilities like telepathy and telekinesis that would fit in with my sci-fi world.
Vesper Quill, my heroine, is a seer who has a photographic memory and can see how things works and how to fix them, something that comes in handy in her job as a lab rat (think engineer/inventor) at a powerful corporation. Meanwhile, Kyrion Caldaren, my hero, is a psion who is capable of telekinesis and more that he uses to dispatch his enemies.
But something was still missing, and I needed one more genre electrode to really bring my book to life. When I get stuck like that, I often think about the theme of my book or how I would pitch it someone. For example, I often describe my Section 47 series as “spies with magic” and my Elemental Assassin series as “an assassin who runs a barbecue restaurant.”
So I started thinking about what other genre I could add to Only Bad Options. And I thought “What if you had all this technology and magic, but the society was sort of old-fashioned and focused on marriages, alliances, and bloodlines, like in a historical romance book?”
I literally sat bolt upright on the couch, like “Yes! That could work!” And that was my other genre light-bulb moment. Suddenly, I had the perfect pitch for Only Bad Options – “space opera meets Pride and Prejudice.”
I also thought about what I love about the historical romance genre. The answer? Snarky banter between the characters. And since Only Bad Options features an enemies-to-lovers plot, snarky banter made perfect sense. That dash of historical romance also helped me hone my characters – Vesper, the smart, sarcastic inventor who is determined to expose corporate corruption, and Kyrion, the broody, uptight, Mr. Darcy-type space assassin. And thus my monster mashup of genres was complete.
From the outside, Only Bad Options might seem like a weird mix of genres, but to me, it’s all the elements I love about three different genres rolled into one story. The book features that little bit of everything that appeals to me as both an author and reader, and I hope it will appeal to other folks too. Thank you for reading.