Sunday, July 6, 2014

Crossing Genres for Fun and Profit

Each month the RT editors select one book that is not only compelling, but pushes the boundaries of genre fiction. This book stands out from all the others reviewed that month, in the magazine issue and on the website. June 2014's RT Seal of Excellence — the editors' pick for best book of the month — is awarded to Jeffe Kennedy's fantasy romance, The Mark of the Tala.
This week's theme in the Literary Bordello? Cross pollination: mixing and matching your genres.

Boy, am I the girl for you!

For a very long time as a fiction writer, I didn't know that I wrote cross-genre. I started out as a nonfiction writer, more or less, and for years I wrote in whatever style or format struck my fancy. In many ways, the world of "literary writing" is much more tolerant of this. You get to play around and find out what format works best. When an essay didn't work - at the suggestion of several people - I reframed it as a set of poems. Which then won a poetry fellowship. I sold a magical realism short story to a literary magazine that published only creative nonfiction. Which was funny, because the woman in the "essay" has a cancer that turns her into a grizzly bear at the end... VERY creative. :-) In that writing world, format takes second place to art.

In the world of commercial fiction, however, genre is Queen. Book sales are driven much more by type of story than author. Where lit fiction and nonfiction might all occupy the same shelf in the store, my erotic romances and fantasy titles would really never be shelved together - unless some special category like "local author" trumped it.

But this is something I did not get for a very long time.

Admittedly, part of this also comes from me being a very cross-genre reader. I've always read pretty much everything - from Oliver Sacks' essays on neurology to Anne McCaffrey's dragon-fired fantasy to Anne Patchett's books - both her literary fiction and her excellent memoir work - to Nora Roberts' contemporary romances to a book of very smutty rape-porn I found in my grandmother's attic. I never really read by genre. Thus, when I began deliberately writing fiction, I wrote the kind of story I liked to read - not realizing that what I liked to read was a major stew of stuff.

So, I wrote this story about a woman scientist in the modern world who walks out on her annoying boyfriend (contemporary romance), has a strange experience at Devils Tower (magical realism), ends up in Faerie (fantasy), is chained to a bed and forced into a semi-sexual bargain (BDSM/erotic), becomes a sorceress and fights to gain her own agency (sword & sorcery/epic fantasy), and has a convoluted romance (romantic fantasy/fantasy romance). After a few years of hearing that this book (which became Rogue's Pawn) could not be marketed, I finally sold it to a digital-first publisher known for taking chances on cross-genre books (Carina Press).

After that, I thought I got better. I made an effort to write in-genre.

I'm not very good at it.

I think I may be too cross-pollinated. Too eclectic in my tastes and styles to color within the lines. I'm more or less resigned to it.

Plus this happened.

Just last week!

My newest book, The Mark of the Tala, received the June Seal of Excellence from RT Book Reviews. As you can see from the caption above, they give it to a book that "is not only compelling, but pushes the boundaries of genre fiction."

Isn't that the way of the world? One moment a misfit, the next a visionary! (Okay, "visionary" might be stretching things - but still!) In the end, I stuck with what mattered to me. Maybe those early lessons writing non-commercially made a lasting impression. For me, genre has always come in second to story, much as I learned to subsume the format as the art demanded. It takes persistence and more than a little courage, to withstand the marketing types who insist on clear genre boundaries.

Would I do it this way again? Absolutely.


  1. It's a major award! ;)

    Congrats Jeffe, that is exciting! And I think the best kind of readers are cross pollination readers, we know how to spread the love.

    1. Yes, you do! ~expects leg-lamp in mail at any moment~