Genre-Bending (or how to give editors heartburn)

I sent a tweet out today about a story idea I have, talking about how I couldn’t seem to write anything that fit one genre to a T. My UF novel had elements of horror. My dark fantasy had elements of lit and science fiction. And this newest idea is a mystery/urban fantasy/religion piece. So paranormal mystery? Who the heck knows what it’d be called.

What surprised me were the responses I got. All of them were positive, along the lines of “you go, girl!” I chatted back and forth with a few folks, and it was heartening how many people wanted to see more blending of genres. Because really–why shouldn’t there be? Elements from different genres mixing can make a compelling book. Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files combines urban fantasy with good old gum-shoe detective work. Kim Harrison’s Hollows series sometimes has thriller aspects or mystery. I’ve seen Stephen Kind blend fantasy and westerns, as well as horror and sci-fi. So why can’t we do it? Why are we sometimes so afraid to cross lines?

I think a lot of it comes down to marketing. An urban fantasy mystery is all well and good, but where do you shelve it in a store? If the plot line is all cozy mystery, but the protagonist happens to be a ghost, who’s going to like the story better? Fans of Diane Mott Davidson and Agatha Christie, or fans of Patricia Briggs and Carrie Vaughn? Personal experience tells me the Briggs and Vaughn fans–my mother is a lifelong mystery reader and hates it when her favorite authors zig into the realm of the weird. But will all UF fans embrace a book where the UF is secondary? It’s no wonder the thought of genre-blending can give editors a headache no Tylenol can touch.

But I don’t think that means we shouldn’t write genre-mixing books. I think it simply means we should expect to face challenges when trying to get them published. And challenges are okay. We face them anyway, trying to be one of the few among the masses that get published each year. Why should one more stop us, if it’s a story that won’t leave us alone? Passion and obsession with a character or plot is what makes our fiction go from flat to something “wow.” So write what you’re itching to write and have no fear.

Have a good weekend, all! And check back next week for my first-ever book review. I’ll be talking about the always-funny j.a. kazimer and her latest book, “Froggy Style.”

3 thoughts on “Genre-Bending (or how to give editors heartburn)”

  1. Ah, that would be Catholic/most sects of Christianity. I’m playing with the idea that certain unrepented sins might not get you an automatic ticket to hell, but that you might be able to work off the sin by doing various…things for the powers that be. Like some doppelganging and detective work.

    The sin in question is suicide. Let’s face it: despite being self-murder and thus a sin, it’s something you can’t repent after the fact because, you know, you’re dead. But mass murderers and serial killers who are alive can repent and be saved? ‘m picturing an odd mashup between Dante’s “Inferno” and “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” with a dash of Miss Marple and Nancy Drew.

    Yeah, it’s a mess, lol. But kind of an intriguing idea…

  2. It is an intriguing idea, and I personally would love to see a more-culturally-specific approach to representing demons and hell, etc. I mean, Tim Marquitz’ Armageddon Bound and Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim are very hell-centered urban fantasy, but neither of them really explores Catholic iconography and belief — despite it being a perfect opportunity to do so.

    Where I’m unsure about the idea is, if I’m understanding it correctly, a protagonist who committed suicide. I’m not sure how you could create a convincing character who would be willing to face a conflict rather than surrender, if they’d already surrendered once before. Of course, there are probably solutions you can find to that storytelling problem, and if you’re lucky, those solutions will lead to more problems for you to solve, until you’ve created a milieu that practically generates stories by itself.

    Go for it, I say.

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