Monday, September 16, 2013

Writers and Genres

In talking to a writer friend the other day, she mentioned my “genre.” That seemed a little odd at first because I rather pride myself on writing in lots of genres—Fantasy, Horror, Western, Science Fiction, etc. In our discussion, it seemed that she meant, primarily, fantasy, but only a portion of the stuff I’ve written would be classified as fantasy by fantasy readers.

After I thought about it, I began to divide my fiction writing into two ‘broad’ genres. These are 1) action-adventure and 2) weird. Weird includes stuff that carries elements of horror, noir, and the surreal. Since it was of interest to me, at least, I thought I’d post the breakdown here. In part, I’m wondering if the breakdown into these two broad areas might help sales a bit. I know some folks who read specifically, and only, in one genre. For some readers, if they are looking for “X” and happen to read “Y” by a writer, then they’ll avoid that writer in the future, even if most of what he or she writes is indeed “X.”

Anyway, here’s the breakdown for myself, as I see it:

Action-Adventure                        Weird
Swords of Talera                         In the Language of Scorpions
Wings Over Talera                      Midnight in Rosary (with erotica)
Witch of Talera                           Micro Weird
Under the Ember Star                  Harmland
Bitter Steel                                  Wanting the Mouth of a Lover
Cold in the Light
Killing Trail
Harvest of War

I was thinking of other writers I admire and how they might fit into one or both of these categories. I decided to place those writers in the same categories below. This is my opinion, of course. Any discussion is welcome.

Action-Adventure                              Weird
Edgar Rice Burroughs                         H. P. Lovecraft
Robert E. Howard                              Edgar Allan Poe
Louis L’Amour                                    Ray Bradbury
John D. MacDonald                            Clark Ashton Smith

Someone who combines the two throughout much of his body of work is Joe Lansdale, and maybe Dean Koontz.

What say you?


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I never thought Bradbury was that weird. Lovecraft, definitely!
And I am certainly not in the weird category.

Sidney said...

Good thoughts. I think the early Bradbury and things like Something Wicked This Way Comes definitely fall into Weird. There's actually an interesting feel to Death is a Lonely Business, even though it's technically a mystery.

Jack Badelaire said...

I'd actually categorize Howard under both categories. While almost all of his writing falls into "Action-Adventure", much of it is definitely tied to an over-arching Weird worldview.

I've heard it said more than once that Howard and Lovecraft essentially wrote in the same universe (and indeed, the two corresponded with each other and were aware of each others' works), but while Lovecraft's protagonists typically scream and go insane when confronted by Things Man Was Not Meant to Know, Howard's characters snatch up the nearest lethal instrument and go to work.

Randy Johnson said...

I agree on Lansdale, but haven't really liked Koontz since he became a bestseller. Used to like his strictly SF work.

Chris said...

I pretty much agree, though you can certainly drill down sub-categories on both sides of your graph.

Charles Gramlich said...

Alex, Bradbury certainly doesn't strike me as an action writer, although there is action in some of his tales, particularly Fahrenheit 451.

Sidney, good point. I have that "lonely business" collection but have not read it yet.

Jack, I was wondering if someone would bring that up about Howard. I agree with you. He crossed those lines, although I think primarily action adventure.

Randy, I liked some of Koontz's early thrillers, like Midnight, Lightning and phantoms.

Chris, the "weird" side is definitely very broad and could be broken down in a lot of ways.

Ty said...

I think of my writing in a similar fashion, but in what I consider as even more simplistic. I have my speculative writings, which is the majority of my work, and then my non-speculative.

Secondary to this, my speculative works I break down into epic fantasy and horror. Within those boundaries there are all kinds of sub-genres and modern terms and even arguments (among some) over which titles are appropriate to what kind of story. I tend to ignore all that and just focus on my story.

As for readers being confused by or turned off by a writer who delves into more than one genre, I think the author is safe as long as he or she makes the genre(s) clear in the description of the work(s).

Adventuresfantastic said...

I think one of the best ways a writer can keep from going stale is to write in multiple genres. Bill Pronzini, Ed Gorman, and Loren D. Estleman all write mysteries and westerns. A number of science fiction authors have written mysteries.

I'm less concerned about what genre an author is pigeonholed into and more concerned with do the tell an interesting story with characters I care about.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I am stuck with crime and so-called literary. I wish I could read more widely.

ivan said...

Edgar Allan Poe "weird?"

I'd say warp speed.

ivan said...

Edgar Allan Poe "weird?"

I'd say warp speed.

Charles Gramlich said...

Ty, I think I haven't always done a good job in making it clear what pieces of mine fall into which category. I need to do better at that.

Keith, I think I'd definitely have a hard time staying to one genre. It just seems pretty unnatural to me in many ways, because I don't just read in one.

Patti, pure mystery, romance, and Urban fantasy are really the only genres I seldom read.

Ivan, without Poe we wouldn't have Lovecraft. I definitely think he was a bit weird in writing.

Riot Kitty said...

I think that is very cool that you 1. came up with that genre, and 2. put yourself in it!

The best writers can do multiple genres, no? Otherwise that's like saying you can only cook one kind of meal, or wear one kind of outfit. Or have only vanilla sex.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Charles, I've read books that could pass off as action-adventure, weird, sf, fantasy or suspense, so placing them in any of these genres has been a bit of a problem. Perhaps, we need a collective term for all these categories. I think of ERB when I think of all these genres.

BernardL said...

I think you're right about readers expecting certain genre characteristics, and when they don't get them, they many times will avoid the writer. I thought the long previews now given by book market outlets would eliminate most of the misunderstandings, but they don't. I'm with you. Writing stories is not about genre, but we can be penalized for not being specific with labeling our product. On Amazon, even with specific categories listed there are still misunderstandings.

Charles Gramlich said...

Riot kitty, I agree that a 'writer' generally ought to be able to write anything. There are certainly things I'm better at than others, though.

Prashant, dividing things into genres is almost always problematic because there will be things that just don't fit. I still find it kind of useful to think along these terms, though. It helps me understand how writers approach certain works as opposed to others.

Bernard,yes, I think you've seen it happen. And it's disconcerting when it does because we're trying to be clear. Of course, one is never going to be clear enough for everyone.

Richard Prosch said...

Bradbury works in a sub-category I'd call "literary weird" contrasted with the "genre weird" of Lovecraft. I (sadly) agree that readers often expect one thing from a writer, more now than in the past. Modern folks like their media pigeon-holed. Right-wing, Left-wing, crime, SF, comedy. About the only thing that crosses all genres (even the "Christian" market) and beliefs is sex.

Rick Robinson said...

I do consider your Taleria books as fantasy though I suppose they are really more sword and sorcery, but to my mind that's a sub-genre of fantasy. All these definitions are cockeyed these days compared to the times when I formed them in my mind in the 1950s and 1960s.

Charles Gramlich said...

Richard, literary weird vs genre weird. I can see that. Interesting, though. Maybe worth a post one of these days.

RkR, yes, things have definitely changed. The whole urban fantasy phenomenon messes with my head. It generally has less of what I read fantasy for

David Cranmer said...

Labels. Drives me, occasionally, batty. I have a friend who is into what she calls literature. I just call it a damn fine story. She, of course, views my work as less than top tier and mentions the word genre frequently. An old story we've all heard, I know. Like I said batty on occasion. I do enjoy the way you broke 'em down though.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I think you write from a certain sensibility more than a genre.

Charles Gramlich said...

David, in talking with such folks who want to be on the more literary side of things, I tend to embrace my label as a genre writer with gusto!

Patti, hum, interesting. I rather like that.

Travis Cody said...

Maybe this will come across as wishful thinking, but I just think it shouldn't be so hard to publish a good book and get it into the hands of people looking to read a good book.

Just recently I bumped into a book I thought was terrific. It came up in my Amazon recommendations so I gave it a try. It was a first time writer, so he stumbled a little, but the basic story was compelling. I read two more of the books and they got better with each chapter. I'm now waiting for the next in the series.

The genre is cafe mystery, more specifically a genealogy mystery, which many discount as fluff. If I had followed that advice, I would have missed three terrific stories and the debut of a person I think is a great writer with something to say.

I guess my point is that I'm learning not to focus so much on genre, but to do a bit more investigating before I accept or reject a writer or a story.