Genres are funny, and not just because ‘genre’ is a hard word to pronounce.
There’s baggage attached to genres. Stereotypes and expectations and all that, which blur an entire body of stories into one grossly generalized trope. I can list a few here:
“Sci-Fi” = Star Wars/Trek
“Romance” = Porn
“Paranormal Romance” = Vampire Porn
“Literary Fiction” = Book Snob
“Horror” = [insert title of Stephen King book here]
“Chick-Lit” = Fluffy Beach-Reads
I could go on and on, but you get the gist by now. In fact, you’ve probably formed similar opinions yourself.
Place yourself in a writer’s shoes, and you find yourself in an interesting situation. First of all, why’d you steal those shoes? Do they even fit you? Secondly, a person asks you “what’s your book about?” the primary modus used to explain books is by genre. And that’s where I answer “well, it’s a fantasy book,” and already people jump to conclusions about the book and the quality of the story.
Because one (or a combination) of these four images below just flashed into their heads, totally coloring what I’m about to say concerning my book.
1) Princess Wolf Fantasy Porn
I know what you’re thinking: why the hell does that tiger have wings? Everything else is totally believable… Because this is what fantasy can look like, and can read like: the only thing missing is the unicorn. The problem is, that’s not what my writing is like at all. But this is fantasy, so for those folks who don’t know the subgenres within the genre, my book could be about flying tiger porn. Similarities? My book has women in it?
2) ONE MANLY MAN ARMY:
Seriously, Conan? Why are you wearing a woman as a boot? And why isn’t she wearing anything? You’re clearly surrounded by an army of enemies… Oh that’s right, you can somehow kill the whole army BY YOURSELF! Well, my book has fighting in it too, but if my main character was faced with an army of enemies, he’d run away. And he certainly wouldn’t wear a woman as a boot…
3) duh duh duh duh duh duh duh duh daaaaaaaaaaaaa (you’ll hear it)
Well, that’s nice of you to lump me in with GRRM, but my characters don’t die as much as his do. And there’s not as much graphic sex. Sorry! And my book isn’t a doorstop; it’s a measly 360 pages. Some folks hear “fantasy” and imagine a hulking tome that you’d need to be careful with around small children or pets, lest you accidentally crush them… But my fantasy isn’t like that.
Well, if it’s not like any of the images up top, then it has to be a Tolkien clone, with elves and orcs and dwarves. Well, my book has different races, but the world is a little more brutally racist than Tolkien’s Middle Earth. Sure, there are people who could be called elves in my book, but they live in a ghetto, not tree-forts, and they’re second-class citizens, not immortal gods and goddesses.
Don’t get me wrong: I love the fantasy genre. I’m super proud of it. It’s complex, incredibly diverse, and totally breathtaking. And the fans rock, too.
So it comes down to this: books are about people. Book are about people’s lives and stories and all the crazy stuff that happens to them. Maybe that stuff involves dragons and magic swords, maybe robots, maybe a shirtless, ludicrously-muscled man. But this is why I get a headache when I think about genres. Genres–like covers–are all about marketing. With that in mind, when you go to the library to pick up a new book, throw marketing to the wayside, ignore the rules, and judge a book by its credentials as a story about people rather than by its genre.
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