Wednesday, January 9, 2013
So I realize as usual I've been off line for a while. My surgery has been delayed three weeks by a cold. If you have kept up with my face book page ("Bets Davies") you will note my current obsession with genres. Now I created fusion fantasy because I can't stay in one damn genre at a time. Larger publishing houses tended to send me back the info that they liked it, but they had no idea what it was, and would I please pick a sub genre of fantasy and stick to the rules. That's right. We don't just have genres. We have sub genres. Am I urban fantasy? Intrusion fantasy? Am I epic or high? Then please read the directions and follow the steps. I understand from my romance writing friends that everything is even more strictured. You have to hit certain points by certain chapters or word counts. If I sound a bit snarky, of course I am, being one of sour grapes who had trouble coloring inside of the lines her whole life (Yes. I knew trees were green and brown. The question was WHY couldn't color them blue and orange and stick a purple horse on top of the whole mess?) But I'm not here to bash genres for once. I'm here to question. Why do we have them? Since the greeks and probably earlier we've been separating things. Comedy. Tragedy. Shakespeare: Comedy, tragedy, history. Even then--we knew it was a comedy if everyone ended up married in the end. And they HAD to get married in the end. We knew it was a tragedy if everyone ended up dead in the end. And they had BETTER be dead. So what is it about the human psyche that we insist on doing it? It is easy to blame publishers from now until antiquity that you didn't get seen unless you played by the rule book and that was that. That's the easy answer. The thing is, you have to ask the next question: Why do publishers do it? What do they get out of it? They wouldn't do it if it didn't help sell books. So it isn't all the publisher. It is us. The reader. Maybe it is just that important to us to go into a genre novel knowing what we are going to get. I once compared the romantic vampire fantasy sub genre to a sonnet in poetry. Truth be told, I got that idea from the poet and professor Diane Wakoski. For all she is a supposed originality Nazi in her workshops, she was an obsessive reader of mystery novels. She explained them as if to a sonnet. We all know the rules. What makes them worthy--what rises them above the rest are the ever so slight ways they deviate from the norm. In Shakespeare's sonnet 130, rather than the norm of the day to compare the author's love interest to the most beautiful, lofty things, he begins his sonnet by announcing, "My mistress's eyes are nothing like the sun". Is he then, downing his girlfriend? No, he's simply rationally explaining she is a human, who he loves as that. This is a departure. This is why we all keep reading that sonnet. So is that why we make the rules? So that we watch for the small moments of clever breaking of the rules? Or is it because someone who likes reading epic fantasy likes reading epic fantasy, epic fantasy, and epic fantasy, and when they walk into a bookstore or peruse their kindle that all they need is to look for the word "epic"? Are we really such creatures of habit that a cozy mystery novel reader wants to make sure she is reading a cozy and not a procedural from the outset? True, these are flung so far and wide within the genre that a quick page flip or "Look Inside" should tell us all we need to know. Yet the divisions exist. I think we are that much creatures of habit. I stray out of reading my little niches occasionally, but a friend had better give me damn high praise or I'd better be reading for review before I look at something that smells of epic. I'm just not that epic. I like character's whose flawed, petty, humorous lives are celebrated. So while snarking about the petty nature of genres and sub genres out there, I actually sometimes make use of them. The tricky part is, alright, all of us tend to gravitate towards what we like because that's what we like. Fair. A little boring, but fair. But the publishers have kept track of these trends. They look at what sells. They find patterns. They KNOW the cozy market is glutted and they aren't buying anymore. The feel SURE of what makes an urban fantasy. By now they have all their little check points. So they don't want an urban fantasy that doesn't hit the points from A to Z. Writers aren't stupid. Sometimes we find the rules by doing a lot of reading. Sometimes we go to conventions. Sometimes we read a book an agent or a publisher wrote. By now we know that if we want to get pulished, especially that first book, we tow the line. Sure, once you are Stephen King you can write anything you damn well please and you will be published. But most authors aren't Stephen King or J.K. Rowlings. Most of us write and publish if we are lucky, and keep writing no matter what because we are addicts of our own stories. We don't read the story. We create it. But now's the problem. The publishers turn down people who don't play by the rules. This is in spite of the fact that the books that become run away successes and classics are the ones who break some rules. We--the reader, the writer, the publisher--we all made up the genre. Not inherently evil. Just remember. A lot of guys in the sixteen hundreds compared their ladies to a summer's day. We have no idea who they are. Shakespeare's the one who said his ladies' eyes were "nothing like the sun".