Have you ever wanted to know what writers really think about genre? Well, how fortuitous, because the ladies of RAD are back with the second ever “Writers On…”!
This week, RAD Writing got five authors together on Facebook, to have a little chat about genre, what it means, and how it should be used in your writing.
Read on to find out if authors know what genre they’re writing in when they start the book, and if short stories even have a genre at all.
Writers On… Genre
Rani Divine: Hi ladies!
CD Yensen: Hi!
Ashley Gallegos: Hi
Rani: I'm really thankful I set an alarm on my phone, cause I was knee deep in writing haha
Tammy Boehm: Sliding in, glasses awry, hair frazzled, food in my teeth... Good thing this isn't a Skype meet.
CD: I think the same thing!
Ashley: I feel you, Tammy! Super casual on this end too!
Rani: Casual is better. So much better. haha
Tammy: LOL, actually for me I'm a mess because of work, the after work commute, and then the dinner with the "family." It’s been one of "those" days. I'm glad I made it here, on time and in one piece.
CD: I'm glad you made it too
Rani: I'm glad you made it, three!
MJ Neal: Checking in
Rani: Hey MJ!
CD: Hi MJ!
MJ: I almost decided to say something super geeky like "Red Five standing by," haha. Can I get an amen?
Rani: ha! That would've been perfect! Would that make me Red Leader?
MJ: Or Gold leader.
Tammy: Love that!
Rani: I feel like red matches my hair better.
Rani: Shall we begin?
Ashley: Sounds good!
Tammy: I'm ready
CD: Same here
MJ: Copy that
Rani: Great! So what genres do you guys usually read?
CD: Fantasy, sci-fi, fiction. Every now and again romance, mystery, and thriller or horror
MJ: I read pretty much everything. As long as it's well written, I'll probably enjoy it. That said, I have a slight preference for sci-fi fantasy
Ashley: I read a large variety. I like romance (non-erotica), crime, thriller, mystery, horror, fantasy, paranormal, sci-fi, etc.
Rani: I'd say that I'll read whatever is in front of me, as long as it's well written. I've had a leaning toward sci-fi and fantasy lately too though.
Ashley: My favorite books fit more than one category.
Tammy: Soup labels, Facebook posts, bumper stickers... No really, I read everything from fantasy fiction to ancient history. It’s easier to pin what I do not read.
MJ: Tammy, I know what you mean!
Rani: haha! Okay, so what genres don't you read? Me, I don't read children's lit. Because I have no children.
Tammy: I shy from erotic writing, and anything blatantly violent.
Ashley: Pretty much self-help and erotica. And children's books because stories involving animals make me sad.
Rani: Aww! Very good point there, Ashley. I too, stay away from the erotic, generally speaking.
Tammy: But fantasy fiction is probably my favorite.
MJ: I have boundaries when it comes to violence, sexual content, and, if I'm honest, postmodernism.
Rani: Ahh, the dreaded postmodernism... I forget that even exists, I so infrequently read it.
MJ: It's just so depressing, and most of the time I wonder why the heck I'm reading it when I haven't even gotten very far in.
Rani: I agree, MJ. I've had to read it, in the past, but it's just so depressing.
CD: Apocalyptic is always fun
Rani: Apocalyptic I write, so... I like it.
Tammy: I do think that reading as a writer and editor has opened up my "horizons" a bit, allowing exposure to writing I might not "think" I would like.
Ashley: For me as a reader, picking a genre is easy. If I want to read something, I browse and select. As a writer, it's a nightmare. I write the story that's in my head, and then it's horrible to have to select a box to make it fit into.
Tammy: That's a good point, Ashley.
Rani: That's a perfect segue into my next question! What genres do you guys write, generally? Or, do you know what genre you write, while you're writing it?
CD: Fantasy and fiction
MJ: Sci-fi fantasy, poetry, and devotionals
Ashley: I write romance and suspense. My latest novel, however, is a paranormal suspense novel with some romance thrown in so I don't even know what to do with that once.
Rani: That's a problem I have a lot! My books fit into four or five categories, frequently.
Ashley: Exactly, Rani! I write for the story rather than what category or genre I want to try to sell it in. I just want it to be a great book and develop it as much as possible.
MJ: I agree!
Tammy: Fantasy and fiction, although I have been toying for a few years with a historical fiction project
Rani: You'd be awesome at historical fic.
CD: Am I the only one that has trouble leaving my genre?
Rani: CD, not at all! I tend to stick to a genre for a long time before I'll try something else.
Tammy: I wrote poetry exclusively for the first twenty years of my writing obsession. Then I wrote a horror short story. I think if you're comfy in a genre, that's fine.
Ashley: I'm the oddball, I guess. I want to write every genre! Haha! I have too many plots floating around in my head.
Tammy: One can never have too many plots in one's head.
CD: It just seems that all of the things I have ever written fall into the fantasy genre. I did have 1 poem published, so I guess that counts as leaving my comfort zone.
MJ: For me, writing always necessitates at least a very basic idea of what genre I'm in (for reference), not because I have to stay there, but because I'm so terrible at staying on topic sometimes. I need to learn how to make words count more and not fly all over the place, haha
Rani: That's a good point! It can be a really good way to keep on track, especially if you tend to float between a few genres, I would think.
MJ: Genre can be a really useful tool for boundary just so long as a writer doesn't allow the story or characters to become trapped by the rigidity or legalism of those boundaries.
Rani: Very true! It can be very confining, trying to stay in the limits of your genre.
Tammy: To me, the ability to cross genres is equivalent to crossover music. It can open up a whole new audience for a writer.
MJ: Tammy, I agree! It makes certain genres suddenly accessible to those who would otherwise never pick it up
Rani: That's a really good point. I hadn't thought of that before, but I think that's how I've found a couple of the authors I regularly read now. How do you guys define genre, personally?
Tammy: I would define it based on multiple things, elements in the plot, the storyline as a whole, the major characters. The setting, the "voice" of the piece.
Ashley: I agree with Tammy. There are a lot of new hybrid genres too, like urban fantasy and light romance. It's hard to keep up.
CD: It is very hard to keep up.
Tammy: I also think holding the idea of genre loosely may assist if a writer is a bit "stuck," sometimes letting the story tell itself enables the thing to get finished. Maybe your suspense really wants to be a comedy.
MJ: I struggle to define genre. Even though I understand the concept completely, when I try to describe it, I flounder. To me, genre is more of a feeling I get when I read it (if that makes any sense).
CD: I agree with MJ.
Rani: Do you think it sometimes gets too detailed, when it's being defined?
Ashley: I tend to think of everything I write as contemporary fiction until it's done. I think that's the most broad spectrum genre and least defined.
CD: Goodreads tells me the genre. I decide if it is worth my time to read based on the plot.
Rani: Agreed—the plot is the most important part!
Ashley: That's a good point about browsing on Goodreads for books using genre. As a romance writer who doesn't write erotica, my books are listed under romance. However, there isn't a separate section for erotica. So a lot of people who pick up my book are expecting erotic scenes and are surprised when they don't get it.
Rani: I really don't understand why romance and erotica aren't split into two genres, honestly.
Tammy: They should be two genres.
Ashley: Exactly, Rani.
MJ: I think it definitely helps to keep the genre loose and comfortable during the first draft or so, give the story room to breathe
CD: Genre is not at the forefront of my mind when I read.
Tammy: It seems to me that sometimes genre is a convention of the large publishers—I was told once after presenting a teen fiction to consider Amish Romance because it was selling at the time.
Rani: A lot of publishers do seem to use it that way, you're right.
Tammy: It’s almost more of a "marketing" tool than a writing tool to me, sometimes.
Rani: That's an interesting way of looking at it, because, you're right, it does almost make more sense from a marketing standpoint than a writing one.
MJ: It's true, and I can't fault a publisher for trying to make sure their investment in an author is safe. They need to stay in business after all, but it seems to me that trying to predict what will sell is like the science of trying to be able to tell which videos will go viral on YouTube.
CD: I agree.
MJ: Marketing is important, but if it strangles the story, plot, or characters, the story may just die.
Rani: You're right, MJ. We shouldn't be writing from a marketing standpoint, I think. I remember this one movie where they predicted that the best-selling movie that year would be about Abraham Lincoln's doctor's dog, because those were the best-selling topics at the time... LOL
CD: lol. Marketing then becomes an economics issue... and that just gets complicated.
Rani: And who needs more complications? Writing the book is hard enough!
Ashley: So many authors do write from a marketing standpoint in a writer's group I am in, and it frustrates me. I just want my books to be the best possible and for my readers to enjoy them.
Tammy: Yup, it’s a double edged sword and you will deal with it inevitably as you seek publication, but if you're the type of writer who genre jumps, hang in there. Maybe you'll invent a "new" genre.
MJ: I think the key is to stick it out, even if it means not getting published for a while. I write to hopefully bring something beautiful to readers, not to make money. If I wanted to make tons of money, I would have become an engineer, haha
Rani: I think that's something a lot of writers now are neglecting, MJ. They're writing to make money, to be the next big thing, not to get a great story out there that people will love.
Ashley: Tammy, I see a lot of authors who use different pen names to go back and forth between genres. Do you think that helps or is necessary?
Rani: I don't think that's necessary, to use multiple pen names. I think, as a reader, it's really cool to find out that my favorite author writes in several genres.
CD: Yes! I have enough problems deciding which "lives" I need to enrich and which ones to kill.
MJ: CD, I can so relate!
Tammy: I would think it would depend on the person—I've seen that too. I wouldn't do it, because I get so excited about publishing ANYTHING. But if you are developing a persona, and you want to stay in character, fine. I can't run multiple personalities myself.
Ashley: I personally would like to not use multiple pen names because if they like my work, I want them to be able to find my other work, despite the genre change. There are several big name authors that write different genres.
Rani: But you almost have to be one of the big names, to make the multiple pen names thing make a difference, it seems. Otherwise, you're focusing on too many things, and making it harder for readers to find YOU.
CD: Yes, that is what agents are for, to keep the multiple personalities straight.
Rani: There are so many names out there—why would you want another one?! haha Fair point, CD!
MJ: Truth! Getting published and standing out is hard enough these days.
Tammy: Maybe that's why I don't have an agent? Scary personalities.
Rani: Probably why I don't have one either, Tam!
Ashley: Maybe we need an agent discussion! Haha!
Tammy: I can see the point of ONE name if you want to keep your business at arm’s length. That can be beneficial.
MJ: Story Idea, people: A writer with multiple personality disorder who has published bestsellers under different names! Sorry, off topic.
Rani: Ohhhh.... I like it though.
CD: MJ, please do it!!!
Rani: Yes, please!
Tammy: Great one!
Rani: Back on topic: I totally understand the reasoning behind a pen name, it can make it so much easier to separate things out and make sense of things. But two... just, no. That's too many names. You'd have three names, then!
CD: Yes, and if you do any extracurricular activities that require alter egos, then you could have even more names to keep track of! I am okay with only 1 pen name. It makes sense.
Rani: Agreed, definitely. Have you guys found yourselves labeled as a writer of a certain genre?
CD: Only in the sense that I have sort of labeled myself.
MJ: I've always thought of myself as a sci-fi fantasy writer, but my people often tried to get me to pick a less popular genre so I wouldn't get my hopes up. Non-fiction devotionals, for example.
Ashley: I was asking myself that question last night. The majority of my books are romance. But I received a review for Last Chance Baby that said they were surprised on how it wasn't romance but all suspense. I was very confused!
Tammy: I haven't. I've had adjectives thrown at me, but not genre specific ones.
MJ: Same here!
Rani: I usually get labeled as a sci-fi fantasy author, mostly because that's the majority of what I have out there. Do you guys like having that label, or do you prefer just being a writer?
Ashley: I just prefer being a writer. I just want to write everything.
Rani: That's how I feel. I know most of what I have published is in that genre, but, I do write other things.
MJ: I don't mind it, in the general sense. It's what I like and what I primarily write. There's something to be said for narrowing your platform.
CD: Honestly, I have never thought of myself having a label until now. So, I suppose that I just want to be a writer. Never mind the extra "politics" that surround it. Get the story done.
MJ: It's sometimes the difference between a "book about a life" and a "book about a WWII Ace shot down over enemy lines and his daring espionage to freedom."
Rani: Solid point!
Ashley: Very true!
CD: I can see that.
MJ: As always, I believe there should be a balance in genre labels
Ashley: When I'm promoting a certain book, I have to say I don't mind being portrayed as a writer of that genre. I just don't want to be boxed in as if I can't write other genres.
Tammy: The only time it concerns me is when I'm labeled as a "Christian" writer. Usually when I'm labeled as such it is dismissive, because I do write other things.
MJ: Exactly! Good writing is good writing, all boundaries aside
Rani: Ashley, that's where I'm at. In promotions, heck yeah I'm a sci-fi fantasy girl. But when I'm working on anything else, I'm just a writer. I take a lot of time to distance myself from the Christian label, for that same reason, Tam.
Tammy: I am a Christian who writes. But I don't set out to write uniquely "Christian" writing.
MJ: Tammy, that's a really good point. There's a lot of confusion and debate in the faith-based writing world. What qualifies as "Christian fiction" and who is a "Christian who Writes" as you said.
Ashley: That's a good point! There's a big difference!
Rani: Also, apparently, Christian publishers are now eliminating their fiction sections.
CD: Rani, that sounds like it is a step backward.
MJ: I was rejected by a Christian publisher, because my book had a magical element.
Rani: I just find that ridiculous. There's nothing wrong with Christian-based genre fiction, people
Tammy: Me too.
CD: If they remove the fiction genre, what is left?
Rani: Nonfiction, I guess?
CD: That was my thought.
Tammy: My first novel carried a Christian message, and I was told by a Christian publishing agent to consider Amish Romance. It frustrated me, because I felt there was more to fiction than Amish Romance.
Rani: There is SO much more to fiction than Amish Romance haha!
MJ: That may be one example of the rigidity of genre being taken too far. I've read lots of mediocre Christian fiction where the faith element takes center stage to the point of being uncomfortably preachy. Good writing takes a back seat to the Christian label if we are not careful. I think it's important to also "witness by our excellence" whenever possible
Ashley: I think that's a good point about the difference of writing for the genre vs writing once again.
CD: MJ, that is exactly why I do not read Christian fiction. It feels too preachy.
Rani: I definitely agree, MJ. Which is why I steer clear of the Christian label. My Earth-Space series (coming circa 2021) is fairly Christian based, but I hid it in the background of the story, so it'll appeal to more people and isn't preachy.
Tammy: Agreeing with the room—definitely.
MJ: You don't have to compromise what you believe to write or vice versa.
CD: If the Christian labels do away with the fiction genre, can we expect the romance to go away as well?
Rani: I think the authors will still keep publishing, and they may still use the Christian genre, but they'll publish with a different house.
Ashley: I've read some Christian fiction that reads like a Sunday school session. Then I've read some Christian romance that is almost just like my books—light romance sans erotica—and they basically put the Christian label on it to make it clear that it is not in the erotica genre.
Rani: That's actually not a bad idea. If it's Christian labeled, then people would know it's not erotica.
Ashley: True. But those books also didn't have a religious element so I wasn't sure what made them Christian as opposed to another religion.
Rani: Good point. And if it's Christian romance, you'd expect at least some Christian element, somewhere.
Ashley: Unless it refers to the religion of the writer somehow? It was confusing to read, but I did appreciate not having to worry about turning the page to find surprise erotica like in some romance novels.
Tammy: I almost hesitate to say anything, but it seems like a mistake for the Christian Houses to abandon fiction—and a little bit of heat in fiction once in a while. My opinion is that God is a creator, and also, a certain element of romance tastefully presented is healthy. I think it comes down to that narrowing of POV—if it’s Christian it will be preachy so let’s just write devotions because those usually are safe. I love to write and read devotions. I also like trolls and elves and space aliens.
CD: Good call, Tammy!
Rani: I completely agree, Tam!
Ashley: I agree.
Rani: Changing the subject a little bit, have you guys noticed that a lot of genre fiction (i.e. romance, sci-fi, fantasy, thriller, horror, etc.) tends to be looked down on by academia?
MJ: Yes, especially in the college world.
CD: Yes. And books like Oliver Twist and To Kill a Mockingbird are shoved down your throat.
Rani: Why do you think it is, that academia doesn't like genre fiction?
Ashley: With academia, it seems like books have to have years of staying power before they are even considered to be literature.
Tammy: I did take a contemporary Horror Fiction class at University of New Mexico. Amazing class, and it covered everything from Algernon Blackwood, to Lovecraft, to Poe to King.
MJ: I understand the way that academics want to think outside the box (i.e. genre fiction), but they often swing to the other extreme and imply that short fiction is the only quality writing out there these days. Like "high art" versus "low art" almost. Academics reject the cookie-cutter formula of genre, but sometimes they reject it all to the exclusion of really terrific writing.
Ashley: Very true, MJ. Also, academia tends to use the same curriculum every year, so the books they examine stay the same.
MJ: Academia is also heavily influenced by postmodernism, which rejects all meta-narratives.
CD: It feels like anything new may have new ideas and could actually spark discussion, or maybe the new fiction is just too reflective of society today. Either way, it seems that academia teaches so much that is irrelevant to any area of study, literature is just no different.
MJ: I definitely agree!
Tammy: I agree as well.
Ashley: Same here.
Rani: I would love to see academics take on some newer genre fiction though, to show people that there's not just one form of writing out there. Actually, you know what I'd really like to see, is UNM having a class on contemporary New Mexican authors. That would be awesome!
CD: YES! There are some good ones out there…
MJ: There's a concept!
Ashley: I think they have a section at the UNM library for New Mexican authors, but a class would be amazing.
Rani: They do have a section, I believe, but it's not very extensive, and nobody really looks for it last I knew.
Tammy: After that Horror Fiction class, I'm surprised they haven't done a NM author class. Maybe at the Continuing Ed level?
Rani: I don't think they had the horror one, when I was there.
Tammy: Yup I took that back in the 80s.
MJ: I think a balance would be great. Teaching novel writing as well as short fiction, because there are benefits to both for the reader and the writer.
Rani: Oh, definitely. I learned a lot by short story writing, but I would've loved some help figuring out how to novel write, when I first started.
Tammy: Me too. I've learned novel writing by trial and error. Mostly the latter.
CD: Me too.
MJ: Tammy, I can so so relate.
Ashley: Even if the Continuing Ed section had a weekend long short course on short story or novel writing, it would be really great and so fun. I would take it! I studied technical writing in college and did the creative side by instinct.
Rani: On that note, I'm curious. Do you think genre fiction is better suited to short stories, or to novels?
Ashley: I apply genre fiction to both short stories and novels, but that's just me. I think it's harder with short stories because there is less room to develop it into something else. Or maybe that makes it easier?
MJ: I'm not sure I've ever read any genre fiction short stories, or if I did I didn't know the genre. Most of the ones I've read were just placed under a category of author or country of origin (i.e. Flannery O'Connor or 19th Century British Lit).
Tammy: I've read collections of genre fiction. Older authors though. Bradbury. Poe. Lovecraft.
Rani: True! I have several Poe collections, and that's definitely genre. haha
Tammy: Especially now when the expectations from publishing houses vs what "literature" is at the academic level are diametrically opposed. If only someone had told Dickens to get the conflict out in the first bit.
CD: I feel I would benefit from a writing course. Writing is just something that I have been doing since I was in Middle school.
Rani: I almost feel like genre works better for novels, just because like MJ said, a lot of short stories aren't categorized like that. And like Ashley said, sometimes it's hard to get your world built in a short number of words.
MJ: Right, especially for fantasy or science fiction. Isaac Asimov is probably the closest thing to short genre fantasy fiction that I've read.
CD: I thought that Short Stories was its own genre...
Ashley: That's a good point! I think a lot of people consider it to be a separate genre!
MJ: I have nothing very nice to say about the UNM writing program, Ashley, so I agree, haha
Rani: It is a genre, sometimes. But then, with Mavguard, we've had a ton of people ask what genres we accept, in short stories. It's weird.
Ashley: I think with submissions they are trying to figure out more of what you are looking for to try to write to what you are more inclined to accept. It's a little like what we were talking about earlier with writing towards marketing vs making a great story.
CD: That is weird.
Rani: That's entirely possible, Ashley!
Tammy: I can see that—I've always thought of it as classification—poet, non-fiction, fiction, short story, novel, novella—and then within pretty much all categories you can have horror or romance or westerns or whatever.
Rani: I do like to classify the stuff we get in for Mavguard, too. It makes life easier for me.
Ashley: You know what, I think RAD should put on a weekend-long writing seminar. I'd attend that for sure!
Rani: haha! Hey, I've thought about doing a writing seminar.
CD: Please do a seminar!!!!!
Rani: Hypothetically, what would you like to see in this seminar?
MJ: It depends on the writing level targeted, probably, but maybe what we've been kicking around: a basic novel writing course.
Ashley: In a seminar, I think it would be great to have a panel of published authors to ask questions, break-out sessions based on where you are in your career, break-out sessions maybe based on genre or have small writing prompts or something.
CD: I agree with Ashley.
Rani: I'm down to do a basic novel writing course, for sure. We'd have to get more organized for the rest.
Tammy: Perhaps rad needs to set up a Go Fund Me page for a seminar. We could think big. Maybe the Bahamas?
Rani: Ohhh yes, that sounds perfect! Bahamas it is!
CD: Yes, Tammy, the Bahamas!!!
Ashley: Let's go!
Tammy: All joking aside, I would be down for a basic novel writing seminar.
CD: I think a basic novel course would be great.
Rani: We'll see what we can put together for you guys. I think we'd better come to a close, but does anyone have any final notes they'd like to add?
Ashley: I think I'm good. We covered a lot today. This was a fun one!
Tammy: I'm good. So enjoyable to converse with all of you!
CD: No, I am good. Just another big thank you to Rani for putting this together. I love talking to all of you ladies. You are all great support.
Tammy: Makes my writer heart happy
MJ: Just that genre fiction may make it easier for a new or otherwise untested author to "break in," but just make sure that those structures don't limit you. Write hard and write well, and try not to merely cater to a marketing category.
CD: Well said!
Rani: That, I think, is a perfect final word, MJ.
MJ: Thank you, everyone! It's always uplifting to discuss the craft with fellow writers.
Tammy: A room full of talking writers—that is truly a gift! No joking. It’s great to see everyone fully engaged in the discussion.
Rani: I've had a ton of fun with all of you as well! Thank you all so much for being a part of this discussion!
Special thanks to Rani Divine for moderating this discussion, and Tammy Boehm, Ashley Gallegos, MJ Neal, and CD Yensen for participating!
If you enjoyed this discussion, be sure to check out our last “Writers On” post, where our authors discussed the pros and cons of everything editing, here.