Why can’t Good be a genre?

Genre wears many faces and most are confusing.
Genre wears many faces and most are confusing.

I don’t know what I’m reading anymore.

I don’t know what I’m writing anymore.

Does anyone?

Novels are being caged.

Authors are being imprisoned.

The cages and prisons all have the same name.

They’re called genre.

I was talking to a friend the other day, and she writes science fiction: pure, raw, hones, and unadulterated science fiction.

Stories of a distant time.

Stories of a life that is to come.

genresBut are her novels really science fiction?

Or are they speculative fiction?

Or apocalyptic fiction?

Or post-apocalyptic fiction?

Or dystopian?

Or steampunk?

She doesn’t know.

And it damn well matters. Amazon makes it matter.

Your novel may be listed under one genre today and another genre tomorrow.

Do you have any idea why?

Neither do I.

On line I found a definition for genre as presented by Darwin, whomever Darwin may be. It said: Book genre is something (readers) would like to read. Except in very specific instances where a writer (often an academic) deliberately chooses to fit his or her book exactly into a certain format, books in one genre can and do cross over into other genres, which is part of the genius of creativity. It is easier to market a book if you think you know what group of readers you need to target also, so in a way genre is also an artifact of the modern publishing industry. In addition, new genres arise all the time as interests change. Some folks insist that books that fall into a genre are formulaic and simplistic, unlike “real” literature, yet others are quite aware that literary fiction is itself a genre, at least in terms of readers being able to find what they want to read and publishers being able to market the books.  

Figured out what Darwin is talking about?

I’m not sure either.

But then, this whole dependence on genres is usually chaotic and usually confusing.

For example, I write thrillers. At least, I thought I did.

They follow an operative, probably a spy, for an intelligence group that probably doesn’t exist, into war-torn Europe during Hitler’s mad march for power. It is filled with intrigue, suspense, espionage, uncertainty, anxiety, terror, conspiracy, a little romance and a touch of adventure.

It has all of the ingredients for a thriller.

I know.

I read the rules.

But, alas, the novels are set in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

These novels aren’t thrillers. That’s why I’m told.

They are historical fiction.

Foolish me.

I thought historical fiction focused on wagon trains and settlers moving west, fighting tough times, bitter weather, Indian threats, and holding gunfights in the middle of a Dodge City alley.

No.

Those are Westerns.

But if the cowboy kisses the cute little schoolteacher, it’s historical fiction, and if she takes her dress and pinafore off often enough, it’s erotica.

In my reading life, always thought the novels featuring Sherlock Holmes were mysteries.

I felt the same about Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon.

And Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep.

I guess the stories are historical fiction, too.

So did Jules Verne write science fiction when his characters went from the earth to the moon or journeyed to the center of the earth?

Or did he write historical fiction as well?

They did happen a long time agao.

I’ve often wondered: In what year do contemporary novels begin, and when does the past end?

Can anyone tell me?

Does anyone know?

Do you write a romance?

Or romantic suspense?

Or historical romance?

Or is your novel modern enough to be chick lit?

Or sexy enough to be erotica?

Is your heroine a nurse?

Maybe it’s medical fiction?

Or is she a detective?

Maybe it’s only a mystery or crime fiction or a romantic thriller

We are all chained to genres – readers and writers alike. There was a time that I separated novels into two categories.

Books and authors I liked.

Books and authors I didn’t like.

I read Shane one week, The Guns of Navarone the next, The Robe when mother was watching, and The Martian Chronicles before the month ended. They were a western, a World War II thriller, Christian fiction, and science fiction.

However, I never gave genre a thought.

They were good books.

I liked good books.

Why can’t Good be a genre?

ConspiracyOfLies

Please click the book cover image to read more about Caleb Pirtle III and his books. Conspiracy of Lies is a thriller. But it’s set in the 1940s. Does that make it historical fiction?

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  • Roger Summers

    Guess all the rules are fiction.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      So is life.

  • Caleb Pirtle

    I still look for books that friends and other writers tell me are good books. I don’t care what the so-called genre is. It’s all about the story and how well it’s told.

  • Caleb,
    I never thought about genres until I tried to figure out the book business. As a reader, I just always read books I liked. Now the whole deal is discoverability. I’ll be glad when we find a way to show readers good books in a way that doesn’t chain them or us to genres.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      Amen.

  • Solution: market it in ALL the genres that apply – but be careful to change the description appropriately – and indicate the non-traditional aspects.

    It is easier to cross-categorize things electronically than it ever was to do it on shelves in a bookstore. Why can’t a great romance be set on a fictional world with magic? Or vampires? Just don’t write it so that ONLY the readers of your primary category can understand it.

    ‘Good’ works for me – but then I’ve always read everything (except scary stuff – I believe it too much to sleep).

    • Caleb Pirtle

      I’d like to market the book in All genres that apply, but Amazon usually cuts me off after two, then comes back and changes the genre altogether.

  • Darlene Jones

    Genre is so limiting. I write “soft” sci-fi, with a good dollop of adventure, some fighting, another dollop of sex and romance and love story. How do I market that? “Good story” works for me!

    • Caleb Pirtle

      Darlene, it looks to me like you’re writing Dollop Fiction.

  • Sharon Stephens

    I’ve just created a magically realistic historical literary fiction in which a teenaged protagonist assumes management of her cousin’s honkytonk while the cops search for his body. (grin)

    • Caleb Pirtle

      Are you sure that’s not nonfiction? I live near the honky tonk. You understand what I’m saying.

  • Brilliant! Caleb, that’s so beautifully said and expresses perfectly the incredible feeling of annoyance any mention of genre triggers…Basically, most of us write cross-genre, but the catch is: cross-genre is the toughest sell! Readers don’t trust an author who tells them that the book is a romance – thriller – science fiction – historical (uh? Can such a thing exist?)

    In fact “genre” is indeed a tool invented by the publishing industry to keep track of what sells by category and (secondarily?) help readers find the sort of book they like – yes, an artifact, nothing more. That’s why I thought Boomer Lit might help a more mature audience find the kind of books they like to read…Provided we define Boomer Lit as well (and as broadly) as we can, then it can be a useful “book discoverability” tool. There’s an interesting on-going discussion now on the Boomer Lit Goodreads group site (see here: https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/1581352-boomer-lit-definition-re-visited-and-debated) Do join the discussion!

    Short of relying on genre to discover good reads, you’re right, Caleb, word of mouth is still the best way – the oldest, totally non-technical but the best!

    • Caleb Pirtle

      You are right, Claude. If a friend tells me to read a book, I read it and am glad I did. And not once do I ever ask: “What genre is it?” Frankly, I don’t care.

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