f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Double Your Pleasure, Double Your Fun: Two, Two, Two Genres in One

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Double Your Pleasure, Double Your Fun: Two, Two, Two Genres in One

Let’s talk today about writing in two genres at the same time. You know, Historical Romance. Romantic Comedy. Peruvian Yak Herding Mysteries. Those sorts of thing.

On one hand, the writer, if she’s good can double her prospective audience by appealing to say both Peruvian Yak Herders and Mystery fans at the same time. On the other hand, she’s bound by most of the conventions of Peruvian Yak Herder stories and Mysteries and that may become restrictive at some level. (Usually, though, you don’t just “happen” to write cross-genre stories. Normally your idea makes sense for both genres and you’re not just forcing it in.)

Moving away from Peru and Yak Herders, let’s talk about actual books that seem to cross genres. Like always, these are titles that come to mind off the top-of-my-head and meant are simply to be a representative portion of what’s available rather than comprehensive.

American Gods - Joe at Word Foundry just finished this and brought it back to my mind. Here’s his review. Gaiman is a fascinating person in the publishing industry right now, juggling novels, children’s books, picture books, graphic novels, and even monthly comics. He’s Midas, and deserves every ounce of credit and praise because he’s just immensely talented. American Gods brought him his acclaim as a “serious” author as it transcends his more standard “fantasy” stories. Basically it blends myth/fantasy with a hard-boiled detective story. Only all the suspects and red herrings are gods—either new gods like “technology” and “fame” or old gods brought over by immigrants, who are dying as they are increasingly ignored or forgotten. This won’t ever see a CBA bookshelf, but it’s a super story at most every level. Another in this genre, oddly enough, is Gun, With Occasional Music (I love that title) by Jonathan Lethem, which features an rage-filled kangaroo. Don’t ask, just read.

Gain - This doesn’t really count, because it’s actually two stories, but Richard Powers gives us both wrenching family drama and clinical history as he examines generations-long rise of a chemical plant out East and the havoc it wreaks in one modern family’s life when a employee is diagnosed with cancer because of working at the plant. Splitting stories like this, is an “easier” way to blend genres as each is kept distinct and only the story threads are allowed to merge.

Moby Dick - This blends a whaling instruction manual with a revenge saga. A beloved book of mine.

Crime and Punishment - Write an 800 page book and you’re allowed to throw a few genres in. On the surface this is a murder-mystery (the detective being the eventual inspiration for Columbo). Beneath it’s an existentialist drama about one man’s tortured mind.

Every CBA Novel Ever - Yep, that’s right. See CBA is just another adjective prefixed to the description of the book. We have CBA romances. CBA westerns. CBA thrillers. Even CBA non-genre books, which as I said yesterday is a genre in and of itself.

I think that’s where some problems arise. As I mentioned, it’s sometimes hard to be bound too many rules. Or what happens when rules contradict each other. Romance novels, typically, call for disrobing and lotions and, well, let’s be adults here, “nookie.” Thrillers often lead to blood. I’ve been told flat out that CBA horror is a contradiction so complete that such an entity can’t exist. And to be frank, I’m not sure that’s wrong.

That’s why it’s so imperative to try and unburden ourselves of the CBA tag. It’s simply too restrictive. “Christian” fiction, defined broadly, is much easier to work with. Writing is hard enough without jumping through hoops that don’t necessarily even need to be there. Where and when, we need to rid ourselves of those hoops and write to both our and our story’s strengths rather than some pre-fab template for acceptable content.

Go and do likewise.