Just like the best people, some of the best books are an eclectic mix.
For those that don’t know, GenreCon (run by the fabulous Queensland Writers Centre) is a meeting of the minds, a conference for the writers amongst us that have their stories shelved in their own corner of the book shop.
Whilst, in fact, that isn’t me, I decided to gatecrash anyway, and see what I could glean from their writing conventions, their readers expectations, and their valuable experience.
I write general women’s fiction, and at times, wish I had a few “conventions” to give me some guidance on what readers want and expect. But mostly I think I’m just not creative enough to invent parallel universes or my own species. Similarly to historicals, I’m just too damn lazy to research if a certain poem existed in Federation Australia, or when the zip was invented, before I include it in a novel.
I like to think that the strength in my writing comes from being “real”, the polar-opposite of most genre fiction. Even romance beds itself (pardon the pun) on escapism, with the fantasy hero and all those heart palpitations and visceral reactions. But we all need that escape sometimes, and it delivers that in spades. After all, who want’s to read about taking public transport or changing nappies? Those experiences are real, but aren’t exactly entertaining.
Hopefully, my strength isn’t in the detailed description of world-building, it’s in the ability for readers to relate. (That’s not to say that people can’t relate to a two headed zombie having a relationship with a vampire, but I’m far too boring to pull that off.)
Whilst you could say I write love-stories, you could say I write suspense, I think I write reality. Reality Fiction. There’s a new genre for you. I like to think I write in a frank manner that people can relate to – because it’s honest. About relationships. About friendship. About people. And whilst sometimes we want to be drawn away into another time and place, sometimes we just want to make sense of the world we’re in. I know many of the conflicts of fantasy and sci-fi are universal, but it’s nice to read how someone not-unlike-yourself, got themselves out of a dilemma too.
GenreCon was great. I caught up with some old friends, and made some new ones, and enjoyed the variety of speakers and workshops on offer. But I came away wondering, what is Genre anyway, but a marketing tool? A way to define a work in order to sell it? I understand readers need to be aware of what they’re getting into. I hate investing time in a breezy chick-lit, only to find the main love interest turns out to be a ghost part-way through (sorry, the ghost thing doesn’t do it for me. Yes. I’m a skeptic to the core).
Genre is useful for that, for creating expectations. But what about cross-genres, and stories with square edges that just don’t fit in the round holes marketers need? Can’t the world hear those stories too? Books are as individual as people. Whilst they have defined personality traits (a bit like genres), there is no accounting for those eccentrics that just rewrite the rules (and, from my experience, some of the best people (and books) are eccentrics). I’m still not sure what genre Losing Kate is – a mystery? A love story? A general fiction? Who knows (and who cares?!). It is what it is. Eclectic. Skizoid. Weird. The fact that it straddles genres may have made it harder to pitch, harder to sell (and shelve) but it did get picked up. So your cross-genre story can too.
Write the story in you, not the one that fits into a popular genre or the next trend.
Is the very existence of “genres” sucking the originality of our stories, with writers grinding away those rough edges to fit their novels firmly into the pigeon hole their publisher/agent needs? Let’s hope not.
That would be a sad story.