My afternoon with genre outlaws: Fiction without borders

Is it a good idea for writers to straddle genres? That question was the focus of lively debate at a program I attended over the weekend. Moderated by Edgar Nominee Christa Faust (whose books have the hottest covers in town, by the way), the panel included comics author Steve Niles, Linda O. Johnston, and Matt Wallace, a Nebula and Bram Stoker Award Nominee.

Christa kicked things off by having the panelists pull genre labels from a paper bag. The panelists then had to pitch a story that combined multiple genres. Pulp noir and techno-thriller, anyone? Matt came up with a story set in the 30’s, involving a stolen iron lung and a death ray chase.  It got a big round of applause.

Cross-genre writing is here to stay, seemed to be the message. Linda, a self-described “Romantic Suspense, Paranormal Romance and Mystery Novelist,” has no problem combining genres. One of her series involves a pet rescuer; another features a sexy military man who just happens to be a werewolf, and the veterinarian who saves him. Holy Genre Smack-down, Batman

Writers who cross genres must build their “author’s brand” to draw readers across the borders, was one message we heard.  Sue Ann Jaffarian, who writes paranormal cozies and “regular” cozies, was cited as an example of successful brand building. She and Christa recently did a tour to help spread the word that readers shouldn’t be afraid of jumping genre fences, such as from cozy to hard boiled. We heard that writers should determine where a story belongs, rather than trusting the publisher to assign it to the right genre. (Although publishers can, and sometimes do, overrule our choices). If you’re not sure which genre your story belongs in, pick the most prominent one. (And as Jim reminded me in the comments, it’s important to write a story that you’re passionate about: Don’t combine trendy genres as a sales gimmick.)

Science fiction and horror have often been described as the cheap-seats of genres, but when horror and sci-fi writers become successful–think Stephen King–they usually get promoted to the general fiction aisle. So maybe it’s up to writers to break down the arbitrary borders.

The program venue, by the way, was Meltdown Comics, a place I loved discovering (Before Sunday, I hadn’t opened a comic book since the Love Comics of my ‘tweens.) Matt said later on Twitter, “Frontage in @meltdowncomics is great. Telling patrons they can find your work under the head of Thor is priceless.” The staff made our MWA SoCal group feel right at home.

So what about you? Does your writing (or reading) straddle genres? Which ones? Have you ever had something you wrote exiled to the wrong genre section, where it was hard for readers to find you?

Frontage in @meltdowncomics is great. Telling patrons they ca... on Twitpic


10 thoughts on “My afternoon with genre outlaws: Fiction without borders

  1. It was my first SoCal MWA meeting even though I’ve been a member for a while. Thoroughly enjoyed it. I have pubbed in cross-genre paranormal romantic suspense. It’s a tough sell, but worth it if it’s your calling.

  2. The panel agreed, too, that cross-genre needs to be done out of genuine passion for the story, and not as some gimmick you’re giving a try.

    Currently, I’m enjoying the Dresden books by Jim Butcher, a cross between “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and Raymond Chandler.

  3. Welcome, Gillian! When asked why genre borders are breaking down, someone suggested that readers are tired of reading books that “color inside the lines.” I’m glad you’re able to write according to your passion! Jim, you’re right that it’s important to avoid combining genres as a sales gimmick. Writers should never pursue a story based only on what is trendy–they should write the story they have passion for.

  4. To TKZ authors, have you considered writing outside of the thriller genre? Or are you happy-go-comfy where you are and plan to stay for the long haul? And are thrillers where you envisioned yourself in your early days of writing?

  5. Brock, when I was in high school and college, my tastes in reading were science fiction and fantasy. I never considered writing books, but I loved reading them. Now, my love is thrillers and anything suspenseful. That’s what I read and that’s what I write. I can’t see it changing much other than maybe to explore the various offshoots of those such as political and romantic thrillers.

  6. Brock, my current series is a soft boiled, traditional mystery. My WIP is a techno thriller, and BLOOD REMAINS, my short story which just debuted in TKZ’s anthology, ‘Fresh Kills,’ is a paranormal thriller. So I’m all about jumping genre fences.

  7. Brock, I want to write things readers can’t put down, so suspense and thrills for me. Those things can be in any genre, of course, but I like contemporary urban.

  8. I’ve always loved spy stories and military tales, epsionage, smart thrillers and historical fiction with a twinge of romance…the manly kind (but ,referecing Jim’s post the other day, not porn, hate porn scenes in books I get all red faced and no one around me knows why). I also like the occasional well written literary novel that crosses into different territory. Ireland by Frank Delaney is a good example I think of crossing history/legend with modern literature.

    On the other hand, in the spirit of doing something different, I propose to create a new espionage thriller series that crosses into the realm of veterinary science and scifi and middle eastern historical fantasy fiction.

    Its about a strikingly handsome Israeli Mossad agent named Basir Sandesman who falls in love with a former Hooters girl turned American CIA operative named Mia Moray whose partner is what appears to be a talking ferret named Colin who spends most of his time nestled warmly between her…in her sweater. Colin the ferret contains the entire MI-6 database in his brain via a computer chip he accidentally ingested in a bowl of ferret kibbels while undercover in an Al Qaeda pet shop sting. Unknown to Basir and Mia, Colin the ferret is actually my time travelling cousin Leonard who went to the past and met a hard hearing Genie who gave him two wishes. First Leonard said he wanted to find his true love, well actuall he said “I want to meet and get close to Mi Amore” then for his second wish he wanted to look like Colin Farrel. The genie, being hard of hearing did his best. Now Colin (Leonard) is jealous of the sparking relationship between Basir and Mia but is afraid to shift back to his true identity because Mia will almost definitely not let him stay between her…in her sweater.

    The working title is:
    Ferret Whisperer #1: A Warm Jiggly Place With A Gun

    Opening line:

    “Colin did not like wonder-bras.”

    …let the action packed historically romantic scifi spy stuff being!

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