Blog No. 120
What are the things within a story that allow it to be categorized? Sometimes the answer is obvious. A horror story is scary, a sci-fi story has amazing technology, fantasy has a lot of walking. More often than not, there is way more to it. Every genre has many sub genres, plenty of books cross the strict categorical boundaries, the writing and style play a part, along with how others perceive the author. I spent many years working at Chapters, shelving books. I mostly spent my time in fiction, sorting the types so I could take piles of book (literal armloads) to the corresponding shelves. For a long time sorting was easy. If there was a picture of a dragon, it went into fantasy, spaceships went to sci-fi, ghosts, vampires and blood went to horror, and half naked dudes went to romance. There were always exceptions, but it was very easy and straight forward. Then things started to change.
I blame romance publishers (or maybe the readers). The naked men were becoming vampires, werewolves, ghosts, and somehow sexy zombies. Determining what went to horror and what to romance started to become work. Then the mystery books started to get more and more bloody. Maybe they always were, but the covers started to depict it. I’m not sure why horror was stolen from first, but sci-fi was next. Romance in space and half naked aliens (that looked a lot like the firefighters that used to grace the covers) started appearing on the shelves. In retaliation, horror started to rewrite history and sci-fi looted fantasy for dragons and long complicated quests with too many characters and thousand page novels that went on for 20 plus book series. Fantasy fought back against romance and everyone started reading children’s books (myself included). It was a mess that just got complicated from there.
I never did see a resolution to the issue. I left the book selling world with things in chaos. It used to be that the only section swapping happened due to specific authors. Stephen King was the biggest culprit, though it was never his fault. He often branched out of horror, writing everything from fantasy to books about baseball. The problem came when people wanted to find his newest books (which was a problem in itself due to the speed and regularity that his books were released). Readers would always look in horror for Mr. King, because he was a horror author. It was very simple and rather than drag people to other places in the store, we just put all of his books, regardless of category, together. There are exceptions, but even when things were supposed to go elsewhere, they found a way back to horror (be it customers or lazy employees). On the opposite side, Neil Gaiman wrote so many different books from the very start of his career, that he was all over. Only dedicated fans knew where to look for his books, everyone else had to go on a treasure hunt through the aisles.
I find I’m thinking about this as I write my new book. It’s an adventure story with a teenage protagonist. Right off the bat, most people would put it in teen books. Throw in the comments I’ve received about the juvenile nature of my writing style (at least one was meant as a complement, but I didn’t buy it) and it’s a slam dunk. Although it’s not common, there are popular books about young protagonists that are considered for adults. Our friend Stephen King has one, and the book I’ve mentioned several times on this blog (Ready Player One) fits the category too. Does it goes back to subject matter and writing? Should I swear and throw in tons of dark scenes to make sure it doesn’t become a teen book? Many teen (and kid’s) books have dark tones, and I’m pretty sure the two books I mentioned don’t have any swearing in them.
It’s way too early for me to think about this stuff, and I shouldn’t worry about it anyway. There is a ton of story to come and a plethora of edits and rewrites to look forward to first. Even when I’m done, it doesn’t matter where it’s categorized, as long as it fits the story. My editor can help with that. Besides, who am I to talk? The collection that Christian and I are writing is specifically a mash up of his horror and my sci-fi. At least we won’t be half naked on the cover.