The nice thing about having a regular forum is that you can pick and choose, within reason, what you want to talk about. For example, I started to write a post on the differences between “literary” and “genre” fiction, but I decided I wasn’t terribly interested in that. I could only think of one substantive difference anyway, and I don’t feel like getting into the points of snobbery vs. resentment tonight. Instead, I’d rather talk about one of the things I love to see as a reader and love to do as a writer: toss out genre boundaries.
I love how, by mixing and matching tropes and ideas together, authors can bounce ideas and characters around and create stories and people who wouldn’t have come about otherwise. Like detective fiction and fantasy? Glen Cook and Jim Butcher have you covered. Want some Western flavor with your League of Extraordinary Gentlemen-like leanings? Catch a zeppelin with Joe R. Lansdale. Ever find yourself reading a piece of noir fiction and thinking, “Man, this is great, but it could really use some vampires?” Charlie Huston’s your man. Other examples from many authors abound: I’m thinking about folks like Andy Duncan, Ted Chiang and Terry Bisson. Even folks more known for traditional genre fiction, such as Anne McCaffrey and Connie Willis, like to blur the lines, mix and match their ideas.
Me, I like when the lines get blurred, because it’s far more interesting. New connections, new ways of examining stories and people: that’s what fascinates me as a reader, especially if I find myself admiring the audacity and scope of the idea. Whether it’s a supertanker captain towing the Corpus Dei to an Arctic tomb or European history being rewritten by royal marriages with vampire nobles, stories where you get fish and fowl just tickle my readerly fancy.
Trouble is, when it comes to writing cross-genre works, I sometimes suspect I like to traffic in that realm because I’ve never been terribly good at coloring inside the lines. For example, last year for NaNoWriMo, I wrote a dark fantasy novel set in the Old West, mixing Native American mythology with Lovecraftian overtones and setting a hard science-fiction concept as the linchpin. Does it work? I think so, storywise, though I’m still revising the damn thing and may always be. But, as it stands, even if I get it to the point where it’s polished and strong enough to sell, I may have a hard time placing it. It’s not Cthulhu-y enough for the hardcore Lovecrafters, and the hard sci-fi aspects of it may befuddle those expecting a more straightforward magical setting. It’s not something I lose any sleep over, but it’s something I have to consider when I’m ready to start the publishing rounds.
But, even if I were to conclude cross-genre work wasn’t in my best interest, that’s where my inner compass points, and I doubt I could give it up. Of the few things I’ve had published, at least half fall into this loose categorization. Even if I never publish anything else, I’m sure that most of my work will fall here, and I’m fine with that. The potential for new takes, different angles on the familiar is too great to ignore.
Of course, you could argue that the idea of cross-genre is too narrow to start with, since genre walls are pretty steep on their own. If you insist on strict definitions for genre, anything even faintly outside the lockstep of convention becomes game for a relabeling. It’s a valid approach, but it smacks of academic hair-splitting to me. Since I’m no longer an academic, I can leave the hair-splitting to others now. My point is that cross-genre work is, to me, inherently exciting to read and work on. It opens up all sorts of avenues and approaches, and the number of unusual possibilities you can come up assures you of subject material for a good long while. Which reminds me, I’ve got a story that I need to be working on…