Wednesday, January 13, 2010

WIP Wednesday: The Big Feelings About Genre

Horror this. Sci Fi that. Fantasy whatever.

This isn't the post I intended to do. I intended to go all "I think Loathsome, Dark, and Deep is about as good as it gets and my query is coming along nicely thank you very much blah blah blah."

No. I'm going to talk about identity instead.

Genre identity.

I'm a member of the HWA because being a member of a professional organization is the right thing to do. I've always felt that way. I joined the NEA when I started teaching. Do I agree with everything the NEA does? Hell no. Do I agree with the HWA's policies? Doubt it.

But I know I'm not a horror writer.

Oh yeah, I write horror. Really dark sh*t sometimes. (Nothing pleasant at all about "The Distillery" forthcoming in Necrotic Tissue.) But mostly I just bend the rules of reality. Cyborg children. Clockwork birds with souls. Dead people who are neither zombies nor vampires. Books that don't require magic words for the magic to work. Implants that make men want to eat each other. (Okay, that one was pretty horrific.) And don't forget the goldfish.

Sometimes, I look at other writer's websites, and say to myself "ooooh, look how he/she has tailored everything (graphics, words, etc.) perfectly for horror/sci fi/fantasy/what-have-you". Then I feel a little sad. "What's my schtick?" I ask.

But I know what I write. It's usually dark if not horrific. It's weird. At the best of times, it touches something universally human. At the other best of times, it's entertaining enough. I'm still working to become a better writer (read: I haven't quit yet). I want those best of times to hold hands and skip tra-la through every word, sentence, story, and book with my name on it. That's a big job.

So does lack of a clear cut genre identity really hurt? Commercially, maybe. I dunno.

By the way, Loathsome, Dark, and Deep is done. Done. Done. It's a wonderful historic-adventure-science-fantasy-horror novel. I hope you can read it some day.


Cate Gardner said...

I still call myself a horror writer despite very rarely writing horror. I think we're hopeless causes.

Fingers crossed for Loathsome.

Alan W. Davidson said...

I hope that I can read Loathsome some day, too.

I don't see that the lack or fancy words and graphics (ie. schtick) is a drawback in any way. If you are a good writer, people will recognize you as such regardless of the window dressing.

Karen from Mentor said...

KUDOS on the done done done.

I'll echo Alan on the window dressing. Your work is awesome Aaron. Regardless of how you've built the set....they will come.
Karen :0)

Jamie Eyberg said...

I have determined that most of my work is dark, but, for the most part, I am just a writer. Some of my writings are horrific but not most. 95% is definitely dark. The remaining 5% is a ray of sunshine trying to hold back the clouds.

Barry Napier said...

Yeah, I've basically given up on trying to figure out the whole genre identity thing. It may seem a cheap way out, but I'm sticking by "dark fiction" for now.

Elana Johnson said...

LOL-ing at the last line. I hope you put that in your query letter.

And yeah, genre can really put a kink in your system sometimes. I'm all about speculative. It's a big umbrella that everything I write seems to fall under.

Aaron Polson said...

Cate - When you do write something dark, it's so lovely. Hopeless cause or not.

Alan - Thanks.

Karen - I'm planning on eating a Kudo bar. Or maybe a snickers.

Jamie - I just wrote a piece where the MC was looking for sunshine. Poor guy.

Barry - I don't think that's the "cheap" way out at all. It's honest.

Elana - The whole hyphenated genre would land a number of form rejections my way, that's for sure. ;)

Fox Lee said...

Woot on finishing Loathesome!

Genre labels are a funny thing. I've noticed that in BORDERS, for instance, whether or not I find Steve Alten in horror depends on what state I'm in.
MA - yes. MO- no.

Katey said...

Yeah, it's a weird thing, because they, whoever the hell they are, tell us not to genre-hop... but does that mean we don't write the things we think of? Honestly, eff that. There is no author I like that I won't follow into any genre happily. I get it, from a business standpoint, but that's just not how people work.

I definitely think of myself as a fantasy writer-- dark, historical, urban, epic, clockpunk, steampunk, whatever. Bending the rules of reality is the perfect way to put it. And I don't mind. Like you said ot Barry, it's honest.

Aaron Polson said...

Natalie - I have a damn hard time finding some authors at Barnes and Noble. No horror section. Joe Lansdale? Literary fiction.

Katey - I think it must be all business. (and what is clockpunk? Have I missed something?)

Matt said...

I honestly think my labeling thing came from the need to explain to people what I do when people ask me about it. Mostly people who don't write.

It's hard to tell them I write dark, weird stuff, because I have no idea what that triggers in their minds. If I say I write horror, or science fiction, I can guess what they're going to picture - vampires, zombies, robots. While this might not be anywhere close to the truth at least it gives me somewhere to start the conversation.

Clockpunk is like steampunk only the technology is based on gears and other types of stuff you'd find in a watch or clock. It's like cyberpunk without all the hi-tech or Punky Brewster without the cute dog.

Not sure about that last example, but you can look it up yourself.

K.C. Shaw said...

Congrats on finishing! And except for identifying the genre of a particular project to prospective agents and publishers, I don't think you need to label yourself as a writer of a particular genre. Or you could just say "speculative," although people will probably assume you mean SF.

Jodi Lee (Morrighan) said...

Genre-schmenre. Fiction. That covers it. ;)

Congrats for finishing Loathesome, Aaron! I've got my fingers finged for ya!

BT said...

Most importantly - congrats on getting loathsome done.

Next - nothing wrong with calling yourself a dark fiction writer, but with shorts, I don't think it matters all that much. You write fiction which tends towards the dark side but in the end, writers write, and you're a writer. You can use that next time someone asks.

But when you write longer works, and have an agent, then they don't want you to genre hop (at least not in the beginning and not with the same byline). But even then you don't have to decide on what genre you write in as the marketing department will do that for you.

Don't worry about the genre stuff - just enjoy the writing.

Doug Murano said...

Aaron, I'm glad you wrote this post. That very issue is something with which I've been grappling for close to ten years. I take comfort in this thought: the quirks that make our stories hard to market/classify at this point in our careers will be the very things folks will appreciate about our work if we're lucky enough to earn a readership.

Unknown said...

Ready for Loathsome myself.

I guess I call my stuff speculative, although most of it is dark (?). Personally, I don't care if it hurts my identity in the long run. I don't really like to plant labels on my stuff.

Aaron Polson said...

Matt - now my gears are turning.

K.C. - Agents like to know, don't they?

Thanks, Jodi.

BT - I hope one day to invent plenty of pseudonyms.

Doug - You nailed it. "You'll know a Murano story by the..."

Jeremy - Funny how labels hurt at one level, but then the "big biz" is all about labels. Silly, really.

Danielle Birch said...

I hope I get to read it some day too.

Mostly I just say I write dark fiction.

Tyhitia Green said...

I consider myself a horror writer, even though I write sci-fi, fantasy, plus I've written an action/drama screenplay and a children's picture book story.

I've decided to write whatever I want to and allow other folks to place me in their neat little categories. ;-)

Aaron Polson said...

Dainelle - You will, one way or another.

Tyhitia - Oooh...what's the children's story about?

Katey said...

Here's a good concise definition: Clockpunk. I love that shit!

Anonymous said...

I heard a great piece of advice at Killer Con last year. Heather Graham was there, and she said, "At horror conferences, I'm a horror writer. At thriller conferences, I'm a thriller writer. At romance conferences, I'm a romance writer." That really struck with me. I think genres blend into each other so much now that it's okay if we don't have a rock-solid home.

I say. Because I write whimsical horror/fantasy/nonfiction/literary/uhhhh....

I'd like to think that this doesn't do a disservice. It simply makes us versatile.