Monday, January 28, 2013

Who cares about genre?

I can’t bring myself to write just one kind of thing, and I’m not quite sure if that’s good or bad. Also, I’m not sure how much I care. I’ve been told that, back in the pre-digital era, a writer had to define himself, had to brand himself, in order to find an audience. A horror writer had to stick with horror, a crime thriller writer had to produce crime thrillers. And if the said writer wanted to venture into other literary territory, he had to use a pen name.

A lot of writers STILL use that model today. But you know, I’m not so sure we need to anymore. It’s a new century and all, right? All I know is, as a reader, I enjoy multiple genres. I can only assume MOST readers feel the same way.

But you can make an argument that a reader has certain expectations. If she wants to devour a WWII spy thriller, she’ll pick up an Alan Furst, maybe. And if Furst decided to produce, say, a science-fiction story instead, the reader would conceivably be pissed off. It’s Furst, damnit! He’s supposed to write moody espionage tales!

Whatever the right answer is, well, honestly, I just can’t do it. Maybe that hurts me, in the long run, the fact that a reader can’t count on me to write in one genre consistently.

If that’s the case, I put it to you: why does genre even matter anymore? If you like the way a writer writes, if you dig her style and the things she has to say in the subtext, who cares what genre it is?

And why the strict definitions of genre, anyway? For instance, every couple of weeks I’ll come across some new piece on line that tries to define what “noir” means. I’ll read them sometimes (and sometimes they are insightful) but really, who cares what “noir” means? Why on earth would a writer want to draw lines around herself, and not step over imaginary regulated demarcations of genre?

Do we still really need to do this to find an audience?


  1. When I first started writing fiction, I was editing a zine called ASTONISHING ADVENTURES Magazine and the premise was PULP. But "pulp" as a category was really all-inclusive an umbrella title for nurse romances and hard-hitting westerns, and science fiction space opera and two-fisted tales. And I liked that. "Genre" seems a lot more limiting as a category and seems irrelevant. Most of my work probably falls into the noir/urban fantasy category, which wasn't even a genre until a few years ago. (Thank you Jim Butcher and Laurell K. Hamilton.) Having sais that, though, I will also admit that for years I've used a 'sudo for some of my work. I don't hide it--it's right there on my website--but it helps me compartmentalize the work. So I totally agree with what you're saying but I'm still divvying up my work into subcategories. (Yes, my favorite Emerson quote is "a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.")

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  3. Heath, I think you stay true to yourself no matter what genre you write in. You have a distinctive voice that shines through whether it is horror, crime fiction, or sci fi.

  4. I'm with you, Heath. The only limits are the imagination, as Rod Serling used to say.