Genre – or categories – of fiction are things that people made up to sell books. Or, if you prefer, to figure out how to shelve books in a big, confusing bookstore. It’s helpful. It makes our brains happy. It sorts through all the books in the world and shows me the ones that are most likely to give me the happy romance feeling, the big explosions, the crazy mystery, or the exciting impossible fantasy. I like those feelings, and in a particular mood, I like to be able to find them quickly. The trouble is, those feelings are not mutually exclusive – nor are the genres built around them the only kinds of stories out there.
The idea of cross-genre books is the same idea of good writers everywhere. Let me take this new idea or interesting character and collide him or her with this other interesting idea or new character and see what happens.
For Linnea Sinclair this means taking rollicking good-fun science fiction space opera adventure and putting a heartfelt, deep-level romance in the middle of it. The result is so successful that I’ve seen her shelved both in the science fiction and romance categories. She doesn’t scrimp on action or worldbuilding – two things space opera fans love – but she doesn’t apologize for the deep emotions and meaningful sex the romance fans crave. Keeping both sets of fans happy has got to be tough, but she does it well.
For J.D. Robb (Nora Roberts), genre bending means writing mysteries in a futuristic world. Of course, because she’s Nora, there’s a strong and successful romance thread in the series, but the level of detail she puts into her worldbuilding and society of the future gets impressive over time. She stands up – if you give her several books – to many leading purely-science-fiction authors, and also manages to put an incredible depth of detail into the mystery plots she weaves. She does her research, she plants her red herrings, and she brings you to a satisfying ending in every book – something that keeps the mystery readers coming back for more every time.
For Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series, the genres she crosses are a little less mainstream. Remember the old sailing ship books a la Patrick O’Brien? Imagine those with dragons. Fighting dragons, in His Majesty’s Air Force. While the book has all the things people love about dragon stories and a vigorously-built world for the fantasy fans, what makes the series one of my favorites is the depth of the historical detail. She builds a world in which dragons interact with real historical events and personages – and with the food, the customs, and all the rest so carefully described, the world feels authentic.
There are, of course, stories that don’t fit quite so neatly into just two categories. Look at Kylie Chan, writing urban fantasy-type fiction with Chinese Mythology in modern Hong Kong. How do you categorize that? Or Laurell K. Hamilton’s urban fantasy / thriller / romance / horror Anita Blake series? Or the small-town travails of Sookie Stackhouse in Charlene Harris’s books? What these stories all have in common is the richness of their detail, and the way they stay authentic to the story they’re telling – in all its facets, with all its genre expectations.
So, when it came time for me to sit down with my novel Clean, having realized that the story would hit multiple genres, I had big shoes to fill. I had to stay completely authentic to the story I was telling, put in great detail, and still do my best to make the genre readers happy on all sides. The book is about a telepath detective recovering from a drug addiction. That’s two major genres - telepath means science fiction/fantasy and detective means mystery / thriller - and a specific kind of character struggle (recovering addict) all working together.
In science fiction, readers expect cool pseudoscience moments and consistent rules of the world – so I had to work those in. Mystery readers expect the hero to solve the case clue by clue and then (for the turn to a thriller) for the hero to track down the bad guy and confront him in an exciting way. So I worked on the structure over and over until the clues sang and the ending was as exciting as I could possibly made it. And then – for those folks reading for character and the struggle of the main character – I carefully layered in as much depth of character and meaningful growth as I could make fit in the remaining space. It took careful structuring to give enough page time to everything, but I knew the readers deserved the best book I could make it.
The truth is, as readers many of us love more than one thing – we read more than one kind of book on a regular basis. And so, when we’re given a chance to have two or more of our favorite things in the same package, it’s exciting. When the author can give us what we love from both genres, layer in rich detail, and be authentic to the story he or she is telling, well, that’s when the story becomes magic.
CleanMindspace Investigations 1
Roc, September 4, 2012
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 352 pages
A RUTHLESS KILLER—
OUT OF SIGHT, OUT OF MIND
I used to work for the Telepath’s Guild before they kicked me out for a drug habit that wasn’t entirely my fault. Now I work for the cops, helping Homicide Detective Isabella Cherabino put killers behind bars.
My ability to get inside the twisted minds of suspects makes me the best interrogator in the department. But the normals keep me on a short leash. When the Tech Wars ripped the world apart, the Guild stepped up to save it. But they had to get scary to do it—real scary.
Now the cops don’t trust the telepaths, the Guild doesn’t trust me, a serial killer is stalking the city—and I’m aching for a fix. But I need to solve this case. Fast. I’ve just had a vision of the future: I’m the next to die.
Alex has written since early childhood, and loves great stories in any form including scifi, fantasy, and mystery. Over the years, Alex has lived in many neighborhoods of the sprawling metro Atlanta area. Decatur, the neighborhood on which Clean is centered, was Alex’s college home.
On any given week you can find Alex in the kitchen cooking gourmet Italian food, watching hours of police procedural dramas, and typing madly.
What: One commenter will win a copy of Clean (Mindspace Investigations 1) from The Qwillery. Please note that the winner will not receive the novel until after it is released in September.
How: Leave a comment answering the following question:
Cross Genre novels - love them or leave them?
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Who and When: The contest is open to all humans on the planet earth with a mailing address. Contest ends at 11:59pm US Eastern Time on Wednesday, August 15, 2012. Void where prohibited by law. No purchase necessary. You must be 18 years old or older to enter.
*Giveaway rules are subject to change.*