Genre Bender

TPOC_cover300I hate genres. No, put down the torches and pitchforks; I don’t mean genre fiction. Genre fiction is fabulous. But fitting into one of those slots? I’m having a harder time there. It’s been a problem ever since I finished my first novel and someone asked, “What’s it about?” Oh, I could have told her all day long (and I may have) about the hero’s quest to find his biological father, the inconvenient romantic entanglements, things he learns about himself along the way. Then, as the silence drew out, she finally asked, “No, I mean…is it a romance? A mystery? A comedy? A thriller?”

“Yes,” I answered.

Exit one potential reader.

I have often wished to be one of those lucky writers whose work slots neatly into a category. “Cozy mystery” or “historical romance” rolls off the tongue (and is probably easier to sell) than “contemporary realistic character-driven fiction with sparky dialogue and usually romantic subthemes.”

Yeah. Try to find an Amazon category for that.

So I end up pissing some people off. When I even breathe the word “romance,” I repel readers who immediately equate it with formulaic, boy-meets-girl-and-even-though-complications-arise-they-get-together-in-the-end stories. [FYI, here’s an excellent and enlightening post by author Donna Fasano on modern romance novels.] Or I manage to disappoint readers in the other direction: they love romance, and I don’t give them enough of the formula, the happily-ever-after payoff (known as the HEA, in the biz), so I end up on the “delete” shelf.

Not that I’m complaining. Okay, I’m complaining a little. Some stories I write are just hard to categorize, and modern life sometimes defies and craves categorization at the same time. It reminds me a bit of adolescence. We want to be individuals, dammit, so we’re doing it by all wearing the same horrid clothes and hairstyles.

Anyway, enough about the ’70s. I’m just glad we didn’t have Instagram then.

See, I write what falls into my head. A character comes along and wants his or her story told. Yes, I’m a pen-monkey mercenary to my characters, so I listen. Charlie came into my life when I wrote Don’t Tell Anyone. He wasn’t a point-of-view character, because this wasn’t his story. It was Estelle and Liza’s story, a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law who had a few issues to work out. Charlie is Estelle’s younger son, the son who didn’t marry Liza. Mainly because Charlie is gay.

When the book came out, Charlie developed a bit of a fan club. He has a story, too, one that only played out in the background of DTA. He was patient, or as patient as Charlie knew how to be. He waited until I finished the next novel. Then he wanted his own book. People start checking my medication dosage when I tell them this, but yes, he hung around and badgered me, usually starting at ten thirty or eleven (I am not a night person), to start making with the typing on the keyboard. And put on some Sinatra, while I’m at it.

These characters can be so bossy.

But the more we talked, the more he told me, the more I realized that I might be at a disadvantage. Okay, I told him, I’ve lived with and been friends with more than a few gay men in my years on this planet, but have you noticed that I’m a straight female old enough to be your mother? Do you trust me to write this story?

Fuck, yeah, was his reply. [I keep transcripts of our interviews. That was exactly what he said.]

Okay. He trusted me, and that was all I needed.

But there comes a point where the storytelling hat is replaced with the marketing one. Mr. Charlie Cool is nowhere to be found when I ask, “What the heck category do I put this in? Romance? Gay fiction? Contemporary fiction? Does it matter? I can’t really call it M/M fiction, because that’s usually sexually explicit and this isn’t. But if I don’t mention that my leads are gay, will readers feel like I’m hiding the fact? If I blast it all over the place, will I get hate mail?”

I guess there’s only one way to find out. Choose some categories and jump into the pool.

What do you think? If you write, how do you decide on categories? Readers, what do you like to read? What do you think about stories that fall in-between?

25 thoughts on “Genre Bender

  1. Yvonne Hertzberger says:

    It’s something I have struggles with from the beginning. My work won’t fit neatly into any existing category so I had to do the best I could. We have to play the hand we’re dealt. Sigh.

  2. dvberkom says:

    I write action/adventure crime thrillers with a little romance and a dash of mystery…but, it’s easier just to list ’em under thrillers or suspense.

    REALLY looking forward to reading your new one, Laurie.
    Fuck yeah 😀

  3. dawnrigger says:

    I feel your pain. “Character-driven near-future science fiction with comic-book elements, loads of snarky dialogue and a soupçon of romance.” IT does not fall trippingly off the the tongue. It is not flying off shelves. It *was* the story I wanted to tell.

  4. donna dillon says:

    I thought of that, too, Laurie. It’s not what I consider “gay fiction” but, I guess to most people it would be. I hate to see my Charlie pigeonholed like that. I don’t know why it can’t be categorized as a great fiction story, because that’s what it is.

    • laurieboris says:

      Aw, thank you, Donna. Amazon had fun mashing around my key words and description to come up with these categories:

      Books > Gay & Lesbian > Literature & Fiction > Fiction > Gay
      Books > Gay & Lesbian > Literature & Fiction > Fiction > Romance
      Books > Romance > Contemporary
      Books > Romance > Gay Romance
      Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Literature & Fiction > Genre Fiction > Gay & Lesbian > Gay
      Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Literature & Fiction > Genre Fiction > Gay & Lesbian > Short Stories
      Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Romance > Contemporary
      Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Romance > Gay Romance
      Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Romance > Sports

  5. acflory says:

    I giggled and cringed my way through this post, Laurie. Finding a category is hard at the best of times, but with Charlie you do have a problem. That said, I think it’s time you bit the bullet and just categorized your work as contemporary literature. God knows your prose is every bit as good as the best out there. The fact you also tell great stories with characters that readers care about is just a plus in my book.

    Go on! Do it. I know Lit. is a four letter word but sometimes you just have to be brave. 😀

    -big hugs-

  6. M.P. Witwer says:

    Laurie, one of the reasons I haven’t published more of my work is that so much of it falls outside the standard categories. I thought I was safe putting my short story “Writer’s Block” in Contemporary Romance — it takes place present-day and involves a new courtship — until a friend confided that the story didn’t have enough “romance” to suit her. Ah yes, I immediately knew what she meant: The story has no sex in it, which seems to be requisite in contemporary romance. In fact, it didn’t fit neatly into any category. I describe it as a “cozy romance,” but apparently that isn’t a real thing. 😉

  7. J.R.Barker says:

    Isn’t contemporary just another way of saying, “does not fit into any category, but has suspense?” that’s how I interpret it anyways.

    • laurieboris says:

      I don’t know, JR. I think it popped up because the old “mainstream” and “general” fiction categories seem to be vanishing. What else do you call your basic novel these days? Perhaps I need to do more research.

  8. direktor59 says:

    And know for the male perspective. Granted, we all have to choose a category for a listing, no matter how convoluted or bizarre it might be to us, as the writer. All we can do is address the diverse categories the work will explore, is in the blurb. This way potential readers know what to expect. I struggled with the Vampire work “Occupation.” i bet that just turned off a lot of people. First word that crops up is……..Twilight! ugh. So, I explain, in the blur, how this based on the actual history of WWII. Now I have there attention. If there still interested I delve a little deeper into the vampire clans and the history surrounding their formation. Now, they’re curious. If there still talking to me, I inform them, plain and simple, this about evil versus evil. Does this mean it falls into the vampire genre, alternative history or plain nuts! Hmm, haven’t seen that one yet. The key is: give them a good hard hitting synopsis without the fluff. As Joe Friday would say, “Just the facts ma’am, just the facts.” Now it’s up to the readers.

    • laurieboris says:

      Thank you for this. (Oh, dear, vampires and twilight!) I can’t really dodge the issue in the blurb: Television producer Charlie Trager spends his days working with beautiful women on a daytime talk show. But underneath his cool façade, there’s a hollow spot in his heart, waiting for the right man to ease his loneliness. Then he meets the show’s next guest, a handsome young politician with a bad case of nerves—and a secret that could turn both their lives upside down.

      Even though I chose “short story” and “contemporary romance” as my categories, the Amazon bots crawled through my blurb and came out with the above. It feels like a tightrope walk. Okay, here’s our hero. You’d think he’d be happy with this great job and all these women, but not so much. I can’t really sidestep the core of it. I feel that might be disrespectful to the characters and to potential readers. And I know some readers aren’t as open-minded as others. I guess I’ll just have to trust that the right readers will find it.

  9. direktor59 says:

    Ugh, I spelled ‘now’ wrong in the first sentence and then found five other problems.My apologies. Yes, this is why I have an editor. I downloaded the copy, granted, this isn’t my genre, but I’ll see if I can supply some insight.

  10. Lorraine Devon Wilke says:

    Ack, I’m with you… genres suck!! Frankly, I’m not a genre reader, much less a genre writer. As a reader, when I’m scrolling through titles and blurbs in search of what to read next, all I’m interested in is a STORY that pulls me in; I could care less whether it’s about crime lords or PTA moms. As a writer, the fixation on genre is only off-putting when I’m told, “Oh… literary fiction… that’s the least popular genre there is; did you know that?” Yeah, so I’ve been told. But it’s what I write, what are you gonna do? Well, I’ve actually had people suggest I consider vampires, murders, or bad sexual narrative (I mean, who can argue with 50 Shades? Oh wait, I could… but that’s another thread! :). But… naw. Gotta write what you’re moved to write.

    But I do get it from the standpoint of marketing; it’s easier to promote something when you can call it something. But just give me a good damn story. I loved both the original Dracula AND The Devil Wears Prada so don’t fence me in!

    • laurieboris says:

      I agree with you, Lorraine. I just want to read a good story…from Moby-Dick to Bridget Jones. And The Devil Wears Prada. Definitely gotta write what I’m moved to write, too. One NaNoWriMo I tried to write a mystery, just to see if I could. It still ended up going somewhere else. 😀

  11. Lee I says:

    I just read The Picture of Cool. I’d read Don’t Tell Anyone, so I knew Charlie and knew he was gay and was pleased to hear more of his story. It was tender, romantic,titilatting, suspenseful. It had me rooting for Charlie. Liza and Charlie reflected something of my early years. My “first love” turned out to be gay. He has been a lifelong friend, though separated by the width of a continent.
    On top of that, I recently read some fairly explicit gay stories by Steven Saylor, who is not a straight female old enough to be his mother. (I’m a straight female old enough to be his grandma.) All this to say that I’m not someone who would be squeamish about reading about gay characters. But so many, if not most, people that I know of my age, would be, which makes me think “gay” needs to be mentioned at some point in the categorization. Did I understand from reading The Picture of Cool that you have some more of Charlie for us in our future? Looking forward to that.

    • laurieboris says:

      Hi, Lee,

      Thank you for your kind words, and thank you for sharing your story. Yes, I’m coming across some people who have been supportive, and that’s fantastic, but some who are squeamish. So I’ve categorized the story as “gay fiction” so I won’t be misrepresenting it to anyone who doesn’t want to read that. Funny, but I’m finding that some readers of M/M fiction (which is NOT what I’ve written, in the true definition of that genre) are annoyed that there isn’t more sex here. Oh, well. If it fit the story, I would have included more. But thank you for reading, and there will be a full novel, a sequel to Don’t Tell Anyone that will focus mainly on Charlie and Liza. I’m working on the second draft now.

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