Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Genre: The Root Of All Confusion

A while ago I did a post titled Genre: The Root Of All Evil.


Since then the issue of defining genre has come up on many twitter chats, for example on #bookchat which is about marketing, and #scifichat which ranges all over the "fantastic" -- and where even the very erudite experts have a hard time classifying a work.

Recently, a comment emerged addressed to me via goodreads.com
 in response to another blog post I did here on aliendjinnromances
MIRIAM wrote: JL, this is where I most recently 'caught up with you'. Usually I see you on Twitter and its been a while. I was humbled into submission about the SWFA membership pieces and am still baffled by the genre difference - lol, is that like gender difference?, between my first and second novels. The 2nd isn't even SF, but still feels like it 'should be' because 'I am' or something irrational but mysteriously truthful like that.

Here's my reply substantially embroidered from what I wrote Miriam.

"Genre" is an invention mostly I think of "marketers" trying to figure out how to "account for taste" so that if you like one novel, they can then supply you an endless chain of novels "just like that only different."

Here are a couple of my blog entries on accounting for taste:


And on "the same but different" (a Hollywood term)
Astrology Part 8 is about "the beat sheet" and why it works commercially.

"Genre" is about selling (or marketing) professionally.

Art is totally different.

Art is about saying what you were born to say to the people you were born to talk to, to help, to scold, to enlighten, whatever.  Art is about your purpose in life while making money is about staying alive long enough to complete that purpose.

Since Genre is in fact an artificial construct, its borders and definitions are subject to whimsical change without notice as public taste, and "markets" (i.e. groups of people who like one thing, like Harry Potter fandom) shift and change, influenced by successful marketing of another product.

That's right - genre shapes the world of entertainment so that what you may may have access to, or may discover first, depends entirely on what others want rather than on what you want (or really need).  So you learn to be satisfied with what others want - and in a way that's "good" because it allows you to "fit in" and to discuss what others know about. In another way, though, it sows confusion within you about "who" you really are, what your purpose in life is, and how that relates you to everyone else. 

The Internet, (interweb and other terms), Web 2.0 and above required, is changing all that too fast for marketers to catch up. They are seriously confused. especially where "social networking" is involved.

See my recent entries on the value of social networking:


And the following one posted May 3rd.  Note my blogs on writing come out on Tuesdays.  You may be able to sort them out by searching on Tuesday.

You will likely be successful now at mixing genres to make new ones, whereas in the past you would have failed -- because SF has bled into "mainstream" -- i.e. you see the motifs that originated in SF (like alternate universes) appear in general fiction meant for people who hate Science Fiction.

My personal theory about why people "hate" science fiction is that they were force-fed Ray Bradbury in High School under the label "science fiction" (but his stuff, while very literate, does not in any way shape or form resemble science fiction as I know it.)  Oddly, "Romance" has pretty much escaped that fate so far.

On Twitter, I made a writer-friend who does historicals who asked which of my SF novels she should try reading since she dislikes SF.  I pointed her to Molt Brother, and I don't know if she finished it but halfway through she liked it and intended to finish reading.  Molt Brother is an interstellar, human/alien relationship (not romance, but deep intimate involvement) where the driving force of the plot is an archeological mystery.

And likewise on Twitter, I made another writer-friend who is an SF fan but writes contemporary mystery (with a bit of fantasy mixed in) who eventually decided to try reading one of my novels - chose House of Zeor, the earliest published Sime~Gen novel and to her astonishment liked it and said she could see why it had spawned a fandom that writes fanfic in that universe.

You can find all of these (in ebook and print) by clicking the tabs in this Amazon "store" (you can then dig up the books on your favorite supplier's website.)


This genre definition confusion issue is extremely relevant to the brand new Sime~Gen novel, FARRIS CHANNEL, which I'm now working to finish.

In this new novel, which tells the story of the founding of the House of Zeor, and is a sequel to FIRST CHANNEL and CHANNEL'S DESTINY, I wildly mix genres until you can't figure out which is what, which is kinda like "reality" you know.

I've got to write more, and at considerable length, in this blog about Sime~Gen, not just because Margaret Carter asked in her post here where she discussed Jean Lorrah's Sime~Gen novel TO KISS OR TO KILL (which is a genuine SF-Romance with sociological romance overtones), but also because as I was re-re-reading these novels to proof for the new publisher, and to prepare the new novels, I discovered that the principles of worldbuilding I've been discussing here are illustrated precisely in these novels.

Here's a link to Margaret Carter's post on Sime~Gen:


Jacqueline Lichtenberg

1 comment:

  1. I can briefly weigh in on one or two things. When I polled some female co-workers, the consensus was indeed that they didn't read sci-fi, and hadn't since high school. The main reason stated was because there was too much "tech and scientific stuff" and not enough of a story. Unfortunately, for a lot of people one or two bad books in a genre will put them off forever.
    As you state, genre is an aid to marketers and sellers. A main genre designation is important for book stores, of course. When the books come in, they have to placed in a "section", and sometimes there is some head scratching about where something should go. (I used to work at a bookstore part time for about 12 years.) The advent of computers in stores now allows books to be cross-referenced, so that a book in fantasy may be also be listed in secondary fashion as "romance", etc. Then customers can find them readily.
    Since more and more people are researching and buying books online, I think genre is becoming less imortant. You can now search "paranormal romance thriller" and get a few titles instead of wondering if you should look in the fantasy/sci-fi section, mystery, romance, etc. I know some say the internet is the death knell of book stores, but they seem to be doing fairly well where I live. For many of us, the internet is a wonderful tool to access writers and books we'd never know about, but for me nothing will replace the smell and feel of books. Hopefully, they can continue to co-exist side by side.