Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Genre Specificity

Genre specificity: that exhausted theme addressed over and over again on this blog and others. Here I am revisiting it, beating it like a dead horse. But here’s my question: why are authors pigeon holed into one particular genre? Is it chance, or choice?

When one of my colleagues discovered that I wrote romance novels, her first question was, “You’re a scientist, why not science fiction or medical drama?” My answer for her was simply, “Why not romance?” A similar question arose when I did an interview on Shauna Robert’s blog though phrased differently, “How did you become interested in writing romance?” My response was “It was a natural fit.” The thing is writing for me is an escape. An escape from the mundane or hectic things of life: my work, my daughter’s constant questions, changing diapers, figuring out what to cook for dinner, trying to keep my house from deteriorating into a pig sty. I don’t write science fiction because I’m not inspired to. After spending all day in the lab repeating experiment after experiment, analyzing data that makes no sense, and reading scientific journals why would I want to revisit that in my imagination?

The truth is, I write by inspiration. I have a lot’s of stories in my head and partially written from various genres (not sci-fi though). But nine out of ten times the stories that come to me are romance stories. Which leaves me to revisit the question: are writers known for specific genres because of choice or because we a pigeon holed into a particular genre?

I couldn’t help but notice many well known authors who cross genres do so under different pseudonyms or in collaboration with other writers. Is it a case where like actors, once we establish ourselves in one genre of book (or film) that we are expected and thus steered into writing that particular type of book? Or is it where our passion sends us?

Even great actors find themselves stuck in repetitive roles. For years it seems Denzel Washington kept doing the role of the great all American hero (with some notable exceptions), until “Training Day” seemed to break the mold. Matthew McConaughey and Sandra Bullock seem forever stuck in the role of romantic comedy. Most likely they are pigeonholed into those roles. Is that the same for authors?

Though I’ve never attempted to publish fiction other than romance, I would love to publish other genres as well. But is it a case that once we start with romance we’re expected to repeat it? How difficult will it be to break into a different genre?

There are some authors like James Patterson, who break the mold. He writes across genres: crime, drama, sci-fi, even romance. Others, like John Grisham, stick mostly to legal drama. But to tell the truth, I as a reader have certain expectations of authors. When I pick up a Danielle Steele or Nora Roberts, I expect romance. Maybe that’s the driving force behind the genres we write: the readers’ expectation.
What causes you to select your particular genre: passion, chance, or expectation?


Maria Zannini said...

I've been an avid SFF reader since my teens, but I started reading romance only recently--and by accident.

I was on my way to the airport and realized I had nothing to read, so I stopped off at my office where one of the clerks had finished reading a historical romance. I borrowed it and was hooked!

I loved the chemistry between characters, the world building, and tension.

I still read SFF, but only if there's a relationship story inside.

Phyllis Bourne said...

I am a HUGE romance novel addict. I got hooked on them in college.

Right now, I can't imagine wanting to write anything else.

Genella deGrey said...

All is fair in adult literature (fiction or non) but if one chooses to mix those genres with YA and children's books, that's were one would need a different pen name.

Liane Spicer said...

Publishers (allegedly) don't want to confuse readers. If your name is associated with erotic romance, for example, they don't want your readers to pick up one of your books and find you've thrown a medical thriller or space opera into the mix. That's risky, and publishers (and studios) don't like taking risks with their money.

The pseudonym provides a way around that hurdle, although some writers (Judy Blume, for example) have written across genres without having to resort to this. I would imagine she was already a bestselling author in one genre and thus was able to call the shots as she messed around with juvenile, YA and decidedly adult stories.

I've written in at least four genres thus far: romance, mainstream, memoir and SF but published only the romance so far. I see other names in my future!