The Interviews — Part III

Scroll down for Parts I & II

What are the pros and cons of working in multiple genres?
TERRY: I’ll start with the bad news, the cons. I’ve been told by agents, editors, and other writers and friends that having too broad a collection of work means that it’s difficult to gain an audience. Some publishers are shy about someone who works in several genres (by the way, some people will read genre as the differences between nonfiction, fiction, short story, and poetry; while others will read genre as differences between science fiction, fantasy, romance, western, etc.). I’m talking about both, here, because I write in poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, as well as shift fiction genres. I suppose I shift nonfiction genres, too, in that I have written nonfiction books about spirituality as well as guidebooks for working with small presses and, of course, there are the technical articles I write, too. Oh, and can I suspect that by writing in traditional and non-traditional verse that my poetry crosses genres, too? Personally, I think it all gets ridiculous, to tell the truth. After all, I can enjoy a super hero movie, a romance movie, and a serious documentary, and no one every bats and eye. How about my food intake: vegetables, fruits, meats, dairy. In fact, in college I have to take a variety of subjects, so why can’t I write in them.

Okay, I’m done ranting.
NICOLE: I agree with everything above, and I think Dad touches on a very important point: it’s not realistic for writers to be expected to stay in one fiction genre. When it comes to books, I’d argue that most people have a fairly eclectic taste. I enjoy literary just as much as I enjoy fantasy novels—not to say that I don’t have genres I dislike, just that I don’t hold fast to one or another. Writers are expected to stick in a fiction genre for the sake of consistency and clarity for our readers, however I think the book business underestimates a reader’s loyalty to their favorite authors. Personally, if I really like an author, I’ll read whatever they put out, regardless of the genre. I realize the risk in losing some readership by putting out books in another genre, but you also run a good chance of gaining new readers by doing so.

I’d like to make a point about the other definition of genre Dad mentioned—what I like to call form: novel, novella, short story, essay, flash fiction, poetry in both fiction and nonfictional contexts. I have encountered agents, editors, and publishers who are interested in authors crossing this kind of genre—crossing form—in certain cases. This is due to exposure. I’ll give you an example: say you’re a science fiction novelist, but you also write a lot of science fiction short stories. This can be great marketing exposure—the more short stories you get published in magazines, the better the chance a reader will find your novels. I realize this can be complicated by, say, a scifi novelist with short stories in romance, but, as I mentioned in the previous paragraph, if a reader likes your work, they’ll at least check out your other stuff.
TERRY: Basically, the cons are all about marketing and sales and building an audience for a particular type of book. If you like my fantasy, you may not like my romance, and visa versa. Let’s face it though, if you like my first fantasy, you may not like my second one. I think we all forget that we don’t just pump out one bestseller after another—most of us don’t anyway. Finally, though, I’d like to bring to your attention Joyce Carol Oats, Ray Bradbury, Wayne Dyer, and there are hundreds more who have crossed genres and done quite well for themselves. Which leads us to the pros.

My technical writing has helped me learn how to be clear. When writing hard science fiction, it’s best if my reader understands the technology I’m talking about. There may be slight mysteries, but my writing has to be very clear in order for it to be believed. Poetry teaches me how to use simile and metaphor in a way that I wouldn’t normally do with general fiction. I learn how important sentence structure and line endings can be. So when I’m writing anything else, I understand that the way a sentence or paragraph ends may be important to my story. And the brevity of poetry, how it uses strong images to create specific emotion or wonder—it all comes in handy. Even nonfiction helps to deliver a story in a linear manner, helps me understand how to coax people to try something new. Every thing I write helps with the other things I write.
NICOLE: Seconded. Poetry, too, helps with the balance of concrete image and abstract emotion. This has done wonders for my fiction writing when it comes to portraying a character’s emotional state in a way that feels graspable to the reader. Nonfiction—especially personal essays—are great for tapping into your own feelings and articulating them, something that can be helpful when you’re stuck on a character’s feelings and need to use some personal experience to stoke the realism.
TERRY: Moving to the other definition of genre, my romance stories and novels help me understand the nuances of romance for when I need to add that to a non-romance novel. For example, in my series that includes (so far) Revision 7: DNA and Backyard Aliens, the main characters are man and wife. Writing romance helps me better understand their relationship, helps me better write about their relationship. Knowing the difference between fantasy and science fiction alerts me to when I’ve gone too far with one or the other. Thrillers and crime fiction help with puzzle creation and solution, with tension and conflict. And literary or mainstream novels teach me about life and people so that my characters become real on the page.
NICOLE: Literary, I think, is also an exercise in language—by this I mean word choice, syntax, etc—and how it can be used intentionally to move story or shape character. Poetry touches on this, but practicing literary writing helps you apply these poetic devices to more conventional stories. I think literary also encourages exploration into less-conventional points of view, tenses, and so on, stretching your writing abilities even further. This is a nuance that can be helpful no matter what you’re writing.
TERRY: I think I’ve gone on long enough. Most people can see what I’m talking about. Each type of writing feeds all the others, just like life feeds my writing, and love feeds my writing. I think that touches on the most important thing about writing in multiple genres. Passion. I write what I feel passionate about at the time. I love writing, and many subjects get me to thinking and wanting to explore a subject, a character, a setting. My novel Ten Months in Wonderland is about the setting as much as the characters. Without the unusual setting, I would have no novel, the storyline would be ridiculous. These explorations are what’s important to me, this passion, this love of writing. May it be the same for everyone.

NICOLE: Another good point Dad touches on: who are you writing for? Everyone knows it’s hard to make a living writing, which means that to be a long-time writer, you have to really love it. Dad writes for himself. I write for myself. Which means, frankly, that I can do whatever I damn well please when it comes to exploring genres of all kinds. Yes, I keep in mind the cons when sending work out—because, even though I write for me, I still would like my work to be read, would like my passion to financially sustain itself—but I don’t allow the cons to limit my work. Because if I want to write a romantic literary space opera in verse, I will.
                                       Check back Oct 15 for Part IV!

Elena Hartwell

Author and developmental editor.