Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Getting my genres crossed

A couple of weeks ago I was working away at Book Three, and finding out how unclear I still was on the concept. When I’m stuck I consult, but half the time I end up even more brain-scrambled. I was faced with the whole concept of genre, which I had not considered before, and particularly with the fact that my potential book fits into rather too many, and thus possibly into none at all.

This wasn’t an issue for, say, Douglas Adams when he wrote Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. He described the book as “A thumping good detective–ghost–horror--who dunnit--time travel–romantic–musical--comedy–epic.” But the author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy could get away with anything. Not only would people read anything he wrote, but the book is wonderful so they kept reading.

But a reader who opens a bdsm book has certain…shall we say… expectations? Yes, bdsm erotica is now combined with science fiction, paranormal, romance, steampunk, mystery and no doubt many other genres. The genres are usually obvious from the cover and the blurb, and the readers who open those books also know what they think they’re getting. In the commercial world of publishing, genre is crucial. Formulas come into play. Readers’ anticipations have to be met and fulfilled, book after book.

I can relate to being disappointed when something doesn’t fit the genre I was expecting. I recall a couple of books that should have been detective fiction according to their blurbs. In both, the policeman protagonists were more tragic figures than detectives, and figured out nothing at all. The blurbs were totally misleading, obviously written by someone at the publishing house who assumed a clear-cut genre when the novels didn’t fit.

But I’m reluctant to shoehorn myself into a particular niche. The story I’m plotting has plenty of bdsm, of course (that’s a given), and is contemporary, like As She’s Told, but it has elements that might get it labelled as paranormal. Those seeking paranormal bdsm might be disappointed, though, because I think of it more as magic realism (remember The Time Traveler’s Wife?). I’m also trying to write a serious bdsm-lit novel focused on characterization and relationships, so those looking for a quick and raunchy kink fix are going to be grumbling and skipping a lot of pages.

I don’t fit. That’s really what this post is about. And I hope I’ll be forgiven, because I’m stubborn as hell and will write the book I want to write, genre be damned. (And will then of course agonize over the confusion and negative reactions I’ve engendered.)

Do you care if genres get mixed? What’s your reaction if a book goes down some road you didn’t expect?

6 comments:

  1. I think part of the key to how people react is whether they perceive it a mere expectation, or as a promise made by the author/marketer (and I think most people are unlikely to distinguish.) If a book is marketed at detective fiction, you're likely to think that you've been promised a whodunnit. A reader places their trust in the writer much like a submissive places their trust in a dominant, and if they think their trust has been betrayed, they're likely to respond with similar anger. But if you *tell* them that you're writing a serious novel, and/or tell them you're writing magic realism, or come up with some words to convey in advance that you are not making the "paranormal" promise, then there won't be anything to forgive, and you'll be judged by the standards of serious literature instead of the standards of bdsm paranormal genre fiction. Which would scare the hell out of me, but I'm guessing, not you.

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  2. Oh, it scares me, too. And it's why I'm having so much trouble mapping it out. I'm pretty sure I'm fighting above my weight with this one, but what the hell. That's the kind of thing I read, so that's the kind of thing I try to write.

    It is important to be straight with readers about what they're getting. My publisher unfortunately added "bdsm romance" to the blurb for As She's told. That was pretty misleading. I got her to take it out, but it was too late to keep the description out of a number of websites. Result: many squicked and pissed off romance readers.

    When it comes to paranormal, I have to admit I have no idea what such a book would consist of, as I've never read any.

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  3. Have you ready any "Urban Fantasy," such as Patricia Briggs or Laurell Hamilton? I think "Paranormal" is the romance versio of "Urban Fantasy" and the word itself may already imply romance as a result. There are some similarities between Urban Fantasy and Magic Realism, but both are UF and Paranormal are lowbrow, genre fiction terms, really. I can't think of an example of Paranormal "literature" without going back to something like Bram Stoker's Dracula or Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. And I don't think anyone would market those books with the "paranormal" term, even though it kind of fits. (As does, for Frankenstein, "Science Fiction")

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  4. I was thinking along the lines of what Sindra wrote - Urban Fantasy paints such a broad brush that it can fit all kinds of things into it - vampires, werewolves, witches, fairies, giants, gnomes, genies, gods and goddesses from mythology, nursery rhymes brought to life, etc. I think the actual definition has to do with fantasy elements that are placed into the world we live in. In just plain old Fantasy the whole world has to be created, but in Urban Fantasy they are on planet Earth in either a real city or a fictional one that could easily be real -- but there are elements of fantasy built in. And, even better, most people who read Urban Fantasy are okay with finding that it has detective aspects, or other action/adventure type aspects. So, it's quite possible that all of your genres could be wrapped up neatly by just saying it is Urban Fantasy with heavy BDSM.

    Or, maybe not. But you mentioned magic and detectives, and that's pretty standard stuff for Urban Fantasy.

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  5. Hmm. By the description I'd say it's not going to be Urban Fantasy. What would you call The Time Traveler's Wife? No detectives; that's in Dirk Gently. Just one thing that's weird, and all the consequences that result.

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