The Writer's Circle – Week #8 [Pushing Genres]
Hi everyone and welcome to Week #8 of the Writer's Circle. This week I found an article from the 'Take Note' section of the March 2009 issue of “The Writer” magazine. The headline is “Authors push genre boundaries” and it covers how some authors move from the genres they are established in to write other types of novels. However, their successes are not always as great as the original genre they started with. Written by Chuck Leddy, this article may be something for those of you who are thinking of applying your skills to a different genre.
Authors push genre boundaries
by: Chuck Leddy
In literature, as in life, if you do something well, there's pressure to keep doing it. Naturally, we want our neurosurgeons to focus like a laser on doing surgery well. Similar pressures, if not quite so life-and-death, confront singers and actors. We don't want opera singers performing rock music. And when an author strikes it rich in one genre, has successfully surmounted the challenges of attracting a readership and building a reputation, both his publisher and his readership will expect him to keep moving in the same direction.
But nobody like to be pigeonholed, especially people as creative as novelists. While the concept of literary genres attract readers with predictable plot elements, and publishers, with a built-in audience and reliable revenues, authors yearn to take creative risks. Against all the financial pressures to keep on mining the same genre, a number of authors have begun pushing the boundaries, marking out new courses that may lead to more creativity, if not more money.
British author Nick Hornby began his career writing comic novels, such as High Fidelity and About a boy, for an adult audience. These books focused on single, twenty-something male protagonists who try (often in bumbling fashion) to make romantic commitments and find meaning. Yet after buildin a successful career in this literary vein, Hornby moved from adult fiction to young-adult fiction. His 2007 YA novel Slam tells the story of a teenage boy in love with skateboarding, who suddenly finds himself forced to face the responsibilities of fatherhood. The novel sold well, was well-reviewed, and opened up fresh creative territory for the author.
As Hornby's example shows, the boundary between adult fiction and young-adult fiction has blurred over the last decade. Curtis Sittenfeld's mega-bestselling novel Prep (published by Random House as an adult novel) was rejected by 14 other publishers before it was published. “At least half of them said no because they thought I was YA,” Sittenfeld told The New York Times. Michael Cart, a columnist for Booklist, also sees a blurring of the adult and YA genres: “These days, what makes a book YA is not so much what makes it as who makes it – and the 'who' is the marketing department.” Established adult authors such as Joyce Carol Oates and Sherman Alexie have also moved into the YA genre with recent novels.
Of course, YA novels can also cross over and become big hits among adult readers. Think of the millions of adults who read the Harry Potter books and made J.K. Rowling the richest author in history. More recently, author Stephenie Meyer (Twilight) found a large adult readership for her YA books that feature teenage protagonists. And in May 2008, Meyer published her first adult novel, The Host. It debuted at No. 1 on the New York Times' bestseller list – not bad for an author's first efforts at genre-crossing.
Yet crossing genres, and trying to find new readers, can result in failure. Michael Cunningham built a large readership as an author of literary fiction, especially after success of his novel The Hours. Cunningham's first post-Hours novel (2005's Specimen Days) was an attempt to cross into the science-fiction and fantasy genres. While certainly a genre-bending effort, Specimen Days was met with a lukewarm response from some readers and critics, who unsurprisingly criticized Cunningham for moving in a new direction.
Likewise, James Patterson attempted to move from adult fiction to YA with his Maximum Ride series. After disappointing sales, Patterson published the fourth book in this series as an adult hardcover, and saw his sales pick up.
But as genres blend and readers feel comfortable crossing them, more authors will continue to push the borders.
-- Chuck Leddy
I have to say, I am a prime example of what this article talks about. A little over a year ago, I got the push I need to start seriously writing. And it happened right here on Heresy. When the fiction comp of 2008 came around. I had been writing for a little bit, nothing serious though. It was just a hobby and something that I enjoyed doing whilst in high school. But when I saw the comp post up calling for “Heresy Online Fiction Extravaganza!” I figured i'd finally set my mind to something. Well, somehow I won last years comp. Even though I think there were other stories submitted that totally kick the shit out of mine. Oathbreaker being the prime example! Dirge really writes some awesome shit. My hat goes off to you, if you're reading this.
Anyways, within the span of a year and a couple months, I'm still writing the fiction for 40k, however I'm also doing video game writing for THQ, EA games and Microsoft. Its awesome working with authors and writers of the caliber that you see in these fields. I don't quite know how I got to work with them, but someone must have like my work. lol That is just my example of how I have 'crossed genres.' I'm still surprised that I've been able to do this so early on in my career. Now, lets get to the discussion questions.
1. How many of you are thinking of switching genres?
2. How many of you think you'll stick with the current genre(s) you write in?
3. If you are thinking about switching genres and trying your hand at another form of writing, what form of writing is that? Poetry? Memoirs? Articles? Another fiction genre?
4. Have you read any of the books above? What are your takes on these books? Good or bad?
Well, that about wraps up Week #8 of the Writer's Circle. I hop you all have enjoyed reading it! Come back next week for another great article!