Friday, June 11, 2010

Writing on the edge of genres

by: Joelle Charbonneau

Well, here I am pinch hitting for the amazing Russel McLean while he does right by his country and serves on jury duty. For all of those keeping score – that is two of our illustrious crew that have served on a jury this year. Of course, his is across the pond while mine was here in the states. I admit that I am curious to compare notes about our respective experiences. Perhaps a joint blog post might be in order in the future.

Personally, I am amazed that both of us weren’t thrown off our respective juries because of our interest in crime and mystery. Okay, maybe I’m just shocked that Russel wasn’t tossed off his panel. His books are dark and gritty edge of your seat crime fiction. (If you haven’t read him, you need to go pick up one of his books!!) If I were a prosecuting attorney, or even the defense, I’d think twice about having Russell serve on my jury. He’s smart and he knows crime. A deadly combo – one that probably has him serving as a leader of his jury right now.

Me, well, my writing wasn’t about to get me tossed out of jury duty. Not that I didn’t try. I did say I wrote murder mysteries. Then the judge asked me to explain the plot of my book. That’s when my chances to get booted from the panel went up in smoke.

Without intending to, I have managed to write on the edge of genres. Yes, my book is a mystery. Honest it is. It says so on my cover! But it's not the same kind of mysteries or crime fiction pieces that you find being penned by my fellow DSD writers. (Insert dramatic sigh here.) See, I also write funny…at least that’s what they tell me. And while I’ve been told that I’m technically a cozy mystery because of my town and the lack on on-screen violence – most people who have read cozies tell me I don’t exactly fit there. I guess grandfathers in most cozies don’t have active sex lives and pets don’t have personality disorders. Who knew? I didn’t. Perhaps therein lies my problem.

A lot of writers will tell you that you should know what genre you are writing before you start writing your story. And maybe it is easier if you do, but I can’t ever do anything the easy way. I write the story, enjoy the ride and analyze it after I’m done. Which begs the question – what do you do when you write? Do you know what genre you are writing in when you start and stick to it all the way through or do you straddle the genre lines? And more important – tell me, what sub-genre or sub-genres does your writing fall into? This is a chance to pimp yourself and your work. And more important – I REALLY want to know.


Todd Mason said...

I never writing anything that doesn't straddle arbitrary categories, but I barely write fiction, and sell even less. But, then, doing likewise with "genre" hasn't stopped Kate Wilhelm, among my culture-heroes...even if she isn't as widely-known as the rather similar, in many ways, Joyce Carol Oates.

Chris said...

Ugh. Your "edge of genre" definition resonates with me, because I, too, just wrote my two that are our on submission without a thought as to where they'd be slotted -- and I worry sometimes that I should've taken the other route. THE ANGELS' SHARE is a small-town mystery, not quite gritty enough to call rural noir, and not nearly well-mannered enough to call a cozy. Oh, and either my protag's a little imbalanced, or there's a paranormal element as well (I won't say which).

Then there's DEAD HARVEST. The struggle between heaven and hell recast as a Golden Era crime pulp. Angels in Crown Vics, demons running drugs and whores, the whole nine. It's fantasy, sure, but crime-fantasy. And I worry editors haven't the faintest idea what to do with it.

Chris said...

Grah. "Out", not "our".

Dana King said...

My first few efforts were straight ahead PI fiction. Lately I've moved toward what I think of as sui generis "crime fiction:" good guys and bad guys, multiple POVs with crime at the core, not unlike what John McFetridge writes. (Just not as good.)

Writers often get two key, yet contradictory pieces of advice: write the best book you can, and be definite about the sub-genre, so the bookseller knows where to shelve it. The two don't have to be mutually exclusive, but they don't go hand-in-hand, either, especially when couple with Deadly Advice Number 3: Be original.

Laura K. Curtis said...

My first book was an "academic mystery." Little did I know then that "academic mysteries don't sell." Ooops. Thus I couldn't find an agent/publisher.

My second manuscript, the one that got me an agent was technically a cozy, I suppose, because the hook was craft-based (beadmaking). However, the characters weren't cozy at all.

My current WIP is Romantic Suspense, which I suppose straddles categories in and of itself!

Mike Dennis said...

Very provocative, Joelle. I once sat down to write a cozy-serial-killer-techno-political-horror-swamp-western-romance novel, but I don't know, it just didn't gel. I think it was a POV problem.

In the end, I settled into noir. I'm very comfortable there. It's really all about the human condition, and the tendency of certain ordinary people to cross the line when beset by the consequences of their own poor choices.

Joanne Young Elliott said...

I'm having a hard time classifying the novel I've written. I've settled on contemporary fantasy...but I'm not sure that says enough. I've tried calling it low fantasy, urban fantasy, paranormal, etc.

As you can see I wasn't clear going in...but that's ok. I just write the story that's floating around in my head.

Thanks for the post about this. It's helpful to know I'm not the only one.

WriterMarie said...

I know I definitely fit into inspirational romance. But it's not just inspirational as in God, but also in going for your passions and dreams. And...there is more to it than just trying to win the guy over. I guess I have a main genre with a few subcategories thrown in! :o)