On the Value of Genre

I was reading through issue 00 of Doorways Magazine (free from Wowio – link at the end of the entry) when I came across this little gem from Gary A. Braunbeck.

Doorways: It’s been said before, by you as well as others, that your work isn’t easily definable—you often overlap horror, dark fiction, sci-fi, and even fantasy and mainstream fiction, as well as writing stories that fall easily within those boundaries. Where do you feel the majority of your work belongs, in terms of general category?Gary: The more I write and publish, the less I care about categorization—categorization is purely a marketing tool, a necessary evil that mid-list writers like myself—in my case, barely a mid-lister—have to accept and deal with. I was exceptionally pleased when Leisure decided to drop the word “Horror” from the spines of their books and replace it with, simply, “Fiction.”

He then goes on to talk about how he advises his writing students to “forget genre” and instead just tell the story as it should be told—which is great artistic advice, even if it’s a bit dicey commercially.

I, for one, have been disappointed making the rounds of my local bookstores and discovering that none of them have “horror” shelves. Instead, the horror titles are mixed in with the rest of the “fiction” section. The marketing reality of this is that if I’m looking for new horror—which, as someone working on horror manuscripts, I am—then I pretty much have to already know the title and author of the book I’m looking for instead of browsing or looking at a “new horror” section. Especially since my local book stores tend to fill over half of their floor space with the fiction section, making just general browsing a day-long activity. This is unlike the Science Fiction or Mystery genres, where I can walk over and take a look at one to two shelves of “New Science Fiction” and “New Mystery” and acquaint myself with what’s recently published.

Instead, I have to depend on outside resources like, well, Doorways Magazine, for a start, and those nifty cardboard standees at the front of Barnes & Noblesse Oblige. I’ve scanned those standees, by the way, and based on them, here’s the ideal back cover blurb for your latest horror masterpiece. You will adjust your plotlines accordingly.

The streets of [London/New York/Paris/Romantic Western Urban Locale] are dark and mysterious. Real mysterious. Not just episode-of-”Monk” mysterious, but, like, mys-teeer-ious. Life is dull and grey for [reporter/student/other career that involves words] Jane Merkinson [or insert favorite name of your choice]. Little does she know that soon her boring, comfortable life will be ripped asunder as a dark, sexy [vampire/vampiress] leads her into the blood-soaked, sensuous underworld of the undead.