I have been thinking a lot about genres–partly because I am asked to clearly define the genre of each book I write, partly because as an author genre partially defines me, and partly because I do a lot of writing research.
You may or may not find it surprising that it is difficult for me to categorize my work. Yes, it falls within the bounds of science fiction or fantasy. But I always find myself wanting to add explanations: “it’s not just science fiction.”
The truth is that genres sometimes remind me of high school stereotypes. Do you remember how in high school as soon as you told someone you were in band, or on the football team they immediately stereotyped you? That’s how it is with genres sometimes. People like to categorize books by content and not by whether they are good or not. And as an author starting out you are told to pick your genre and stick with it.
Here’s the problem: I’ve never been good at staying in boxes (shoutout to Pelangi, who knows this better than anyone!). Growing up between two cultures probably had a lot to do with this. I’m not a fan of blanket statements, I don’t like black and white thinking, and moderation and balance are two of my favorite words.
In thinking about genres, I came to two realizations: a lot of authors fully embrace and lean heavily into their genres; but I am not one of those authors. I came to this realization while contemplating the problem with the vast majority of romance novels: they miss the forest for the trees. I think I’ve shared that quote about endings being hard because they are false. Well, your typical romance novel focuses entirely on just that: a romance between two people. It’s almost as if the lives of these people before they met didn’t matter, nor will their lives after matter. I realized that the only romance I will write will be part of a bigger story. It will be a bigger story about life in general in which people fall in love. Because like it or not, life is not centered around romance. (Now, I am not saying that there are no good romance novels out there. I’m sure there are. I just think the market is flooded with bad ones, and I also think that I will never write one.)
What I want to write is the “Literary MVP.” Can you guess what I mean by that? In any sport you have your specialists and then you have your all-around players. Now technically a specialist can win most valuable player. But at least in my mind, the MVP was the player that carries the team because the coach can put her in anywhere. That’s what I’m talking about.
My favorite books transcend genres. Yes, they can be technically categorized, but they always appeal to a wider audience because they strike a common chord. They take a piece of human existence and insert it into their genre. But their work breaks down stereotypes.
I want my works to be strong in all areas. I want them to be quick on their feet, with spiderweb fingers, able to block if necessary, and able to punt when necessary. I don’t want to settle for being strong in one area. It takes a lot of work and training to be an all-around athlete. It’s no different for us all-around writers.
I’m well aware that at present I probably fall short in several categories–that is I haven’t reached champion status in all categories. I am okay with that. I will continue to aim high until I hit my target.