Let me start by apologizing for the belatedness of this special request. This was originally a guest post due to be posted on a blog which closed its doors after having requested and received this post, and I didn’t find out about it until now. But here it is!
At the time of writing this post, I had been asked about genre by a number of people. I’ve always considered myself somewhat of an oddity, because I don’t write just one genre; I tend to travel from one to the other, and occasionally, write books that don’t even fit one single genre very well. That is the case of my latest release, Blood Relations, which is part horror, part supernatural, and part gangster/anti-hero fiction.
The questions I get on the subject often sound like “how do you pick your genre” and “do you think it’s ok to write in more than one genre?”. I don’t really pick genres, at least not at the beginning. I write the story the way it wants to be written, and when it’s done, I try to figure out where it fits; I think deciding on a genre stunts the growth of a story and forces it in a direction it might not want to go. And yes, it does happen that sometimes, it just doesn’t fit a specific genre; but in this day and age, that’s ok.
It used to be that books could only fit certain genres, and, for a lot of publishers, they still do have to fit a very specific genre to be marketable: romance, science-fiction, fantasy, mystery… Many traditional publishers, who count on brick-and-mortar stores for discovery, do not know how to market a book that crosses many genres and doesn’t fit neatly in a box, and so, the major drawback of writing cross-genre fiction is that it is hard to sell to a traditional publisher.
However, with online discovery growing faster and faster, books no longer need their designated shelves to reach their audience. In databases like Goodreads, they can be listed in as many of the genres that they tackle as the users want, through tools like Listopia on Goodreads, or read-alike searches. Books are allowed to transcend genre, and that’s a good thing, giving stories the opportunities to present situations that are fresh and unexplored. Now, a horror book can be funny, a fantasy book can also be a murder mystery, and a science-fiction novel can also be a western.
Is it too much? Of course, as with everything else, you can go overboard; for example, if you decide to put vampires, time-travel, dinosaurs, pirates, aliens, and ancient cults all in the same story, you could very well end up with something that is just trying to be everything and tries to be nothing (yes, I know Doctor Who does it, but it always brings it back to a science-fiction explanation, and tries to tackle no more than one or two of these things per episode, which is a story in and of itself). By the way, I’m not saying it shouldn’t be done at all; just that it’s hard to do well. As it happens, Neil Gaiman put all of these things in his latest book, Fortunately the milk and did an absolutely wonderful job of it, as he usually does.
Which brings me to my last point. Cross-genre fiction, or multiple-genre fiction, has always existed, in the form of young adult and children’s books. Wasn’t it about time for adults to break out of their boxes too?