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Live Or Die By Your Genre

Ugh, I hate it when they say this genre or that genre is dead, don’t you? How could someone validate such a statement? Did they literally witness someone murdering the genre, smoking gun in hand? Hardly. Such statements are merely opinions circulating like unwanted chain letters. If you’re a writer, you hate to hear these telegraphed opinions, supposedly passed down from industry powers-who-be. You may feel obligated to adopt their opinions for your own, and then pass them along as warning to the next writer. But isn’t there a danger to the writer who fails to live (or die) by his genre? I believe the practice has potential to kill a few writing careers…but that’s just me.

A few years back, I was preparing to give my Western-themed novel, “Bodie,” a first edit, when I was told by a publishing mucky-muck the Western was dead on arrival. Hollywood wasn’t interested in westerns anymore, so neither was the publishing industry, he’d said. The next to die, was Sci-Fi Fantasy; deader than a box of hair, I was assured–DOA, from lack of interest. Whatever I do, don’t write in the Sci-Fi Fantasy genre, I was warned (as if). Indeed, it did seem to me the star fleet had played itself out, but what did I know about it? I don’t write Sci-Fi.The following summer, Scott Mitchell Rosenberg’s graphic novel, “Cowboys and Aliens,” was adapted to screenplay by the same name, and Presto! It’s big box office. Suddenly the rumor mill was claiming Van Zandt wanted a Western in the worst way. Writers went scrambling for their laptops, or their corkboards and index cards, and all began chasing the newest literary fad. Thank the good Lord and the old fire bell that we’d not already buried the western and rang out its age, eh? And while those writers were excavating western bones to pick and gnaw, some young upstart went and published a trilogy in, of all genres, Sci-Fi Fantasy. The first book in the series has already become a wildly successful motion picture. Well slap my fanny and set my phaser to “reanimate,” the Sci-Fi lives! Of course, those of the fair-weather genres are now chasing after that fad.

Here’s what I think: During my life, I have seen a vase filled with flowers painted in a million different ways. Is the still-art, vase-with-flowers dead? Of course not. So it also goes with writers. Good writing never goes out of style, so there can be no such thing as a dead genre. But if you’re a writer who has a tendency to abandon your genre and go chase after the latest fad, how will you ever discover which genre you’re best with? I think we would all like to believe we can write in any genre–I can write in a couple. In addition to historical, I’ve done okay with horror, and I won an award for some humorous flash-fiction. But I know it’s not my strongest suit. And even though I do enjoy some fantasy, I know I can’t write it. It isn’t in me. What’s my genre? Historical fiction. It fits me comfortable. So, as a writer, I chose to develop my skill in that genre. For instance, I learned the subtly of how much historical fact to leave out–and that it’s just as important as how much I leave in. But, would I have developed a strong-suit genre at all, if I’d always been off chasing/writing the latest fad?

And that’s what can do-in a writing career. Because, by the time the fad-chaser has written his masterpiece, edited it and submitted or pitched it, chances are good the mucky-mucks have already moved on–they’re looking for something completely different–emphasis, “completely.” That masterpiece goes on a shelf, maybe next to some earlier masterpieces already collecting dust on that same shelf. That’s when discouragement can rear its ugly head. And, soon, another writer’s candle burns dim. It’s just common sense to go with your strong suit (write what you know), develop your writing skill, and ignore the writing “fads.” Genres will always become impacted/saturated with manuscripts at one time or another. But there will always be room for more good ones.

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