First off, I actually don’t like talking about genre. I hate the idea that every book needs to be labelled and set into the appropriate box. It drives me nuts when people say things like “Oh, I don’t read romance,” or “I hate fantasy, ew,” because that’s a generalisation based purely on the stereotypical idea of what a ‘romance’ is, or what a ‘fantasy’ is. A book’s worth should be judged on story content and writing quality, nothing less.
Now that I’ve got that rant out of the way, let’s take a deep breath and consider why genre is important. For the very reasons that I dislike it, actually; it helps you choose what to read. You like this book with unicorns? You’ll like other books with unicorns! Here’s a shelf labelled ‘fantasy’ where you will find all the unicorn books. You are a unicorn? Excellent, here’s a rainbow sundae and a sparkly frappuccino to go with that shiny new book in your hand.
For me, the problem with genre is not genre itself, but how hung up we are on working out where everyone fits.
Your book has a love story? It’s a romance!
Your book has a dragon in it? It’s a fantasy!
Your book has a vampire in it? It’s a paranormal!
Your book has a spaceship in it, powered by a blend of reconstituted orange juice and the toe-jam of the elusive kattunga yeti found only on the midnight planet of Algernon IV? Congratulations, it’s a sci-fi!
But what if my book is about a dragon who falls in love with a vampire, and steals a spaceship to escape into the greater unknown?
Er… it’s a… umm… romantic paranormal space fantasy with a weird yeti toe jam issue?
Yeah, there’s totally a spot in the book shop for that.
That’s where umbrella genres come in, closely followed by sub-genres. Umbrella genres are exactly what they sound like; a general topic with a bunch of smaller (wait for it, sub-genres) underneath. I write what’s known as speculative fiction; the umbrella term for anything ‘make believe.’ This includes, but is not limited to, paranormal, fantasy, sci-fi, and their myriad of sub-genres. Having an umbrella genre allows me to have my dragon and my vampire in the same book without having to worry tooooooooo much about exactly where it fits.
Romance, as a genre, is both an umbrella and a stand alone. You can have paranormal romance, regency romance, contemporary romance, fantasy romance, and so on and so forth – the tenets of romance are, quite simply, a book which has a love story in it. Think about that for a moment – really think about it. By that token alone, romance is everywhere. Popular movies and TV shows with strong love stories? Romance. Star Wars. Die Hard. The Fifth Element. Iron Man. The Big Bang Theory. I could go on, but I’m sure you’re getting the point; not things you’d label ‘romance’ and yet, by the very view that they have an interest in two (or more) characters living out their love stories as part of, or in addition to, the overall plot, they’re romance.
According to the Romance Writers of Australia, there are several myths associated with the genre (Find the list here, along with more information about romance as a genre in and of itself) but for me, the one I come across most is that romance is an eye-batting, shirt rending, phallus waving festival of soppiness.
Funnily enough, it isn’t.
Well, don’t get me wrong, some of them are like that, (and that’s totally fine) but the umbrella of romance covers a host of different levels of life, adventure, mystery and, yes, I’m going to say it, magic. When I started Sorcery and Stardust, I thought it was tricky enough that I was already mashing several genres together. A sorceress (fantasy), who hangs out with a magic deer (fantasy) in their spaceship (sci-fi) and then rescues a ye olde knight in shining armour (historical? Regency? Medieval? Probably still fantasy, I don’t know anymore) who is actually an alien (sci-fi). But then isn’t the sorceress (fantasy) an alien too, because her home planet isn’t earth? (Sci-fi) They go on a quest (fantasy), enjoy some happy video calls with her brother (Contemporary? Oh wait, it’s a hologram, so… sci-fi) and hang on, there’s a couple of vampires in there too (paranormal), and some werewolf-ish creatures (also paranormal) and gods above us, what have I done? Now, imagine my expression when mum, half way through my first draft, said to me, “You realise this is a romance novel.”
WHY, MUM? WHY DO YOU DO THIS TO ME?
Thing is, she’s right. There’s a love story. Through the series, there’ll be several love stories. There’ll also be mystery, murder, suspense, betrayal, comedy, sex, the smashing of plates and the stealing of cake – because I’m trying to depict my characters accurately. Life is a combination of all those things, and more (okay, sometimes less, but I like to aim high). My mission as an author is to present a snapshot of my character’s lives, warts and all. Anxiety, betrayal, hatred of the colour brown, the inability to make mashed potato – Whatever it is, if it’s their life, I want it in there. Whether I realised it or not at the time, romance is a massive part of life. It’s a part of being ‘human,’ no matter your race, or species. (Just ask Flare, when the time comes.)
So… I do have a romantic paranormal space fantasy. Yeah. Thank goodness there’s such an umbrella genre as speculative fiction! Or, romantic speculative fiction, to be more accurate. My point is that you should never judge a book by it’s genre, because you never know what you might be missing. Try dipping your toe into something different. Allow yourself to experience a little walk on the wild side.
Oh, and if you know where I can get more yeti toe-jam, let me know; my spaceship needs refuelling.