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Wednesday, March 2, 2016

GUEST POST: What is Genre, Anyway? by Duncan McGeary

I have to say, I've always been a little confused by the whole genre thing. I don't tend to write for a genre, I write a book and then try to find a genre it might fit into.

This goes back to my earliest reading. I grew up on house full of books (so full of books that when they were passed down to me, my wife and I opened a used bookstore, The Bookmark in Bend, Oregon.) Throughout my childhood I browsed through this vast library and picked books to read at random.

In hindsight, I read genre, but I also read classics. I read fiction and non-fiction. I read old books and new books, mysteries, thrillers, potboilers, and anything else that fell into my hands. Because I had three sisters I read books that might ordinarily be targeted for girls.

In other words, I read anything that struck my fancy. Admittedly, I did read an awful lot of fantasy and science fiction. And when I read Lord of the Rings, I was lost. Fantasy became my go-to read.

Hard to remember now, but in the early 60's there really wasn't that much 'modern' fantasy. So I set out to write one, around 1974 or so, which I entitled Star Axe. By the time I finished writing it, six years later, fantasy was an established genre.

I considered Star Axe to be 'heroic fantasy' but the publisher who accepted it, Tower Books, was looking for Sword and Sorcery.

Fine, I didn't have a problem with that. There were swords and there was sorcery in the book. The cover showed a heroically muscled fellow, but it was also a great cover, so I didn't mind.

So that was my first experience with the malleability of genres as a writer.

I bought a comic book store (Pegasus Books,in Bend, Oregon) around the time my fantasy novels were published, and didn't write again for 30 years.

But the issue of genre also came up as a retailer. I considered everything to be "story" and I didn't feel bound by artificial labeling and I filled my bookstore with every kind of book. The only real distinction was whether I liked the book or not.

So why is one book a graphic novel and another an illustrated children's story? Beats me.

When I finally found time to write again (never own a bookstore is you think you're going to have time to write...) I just wrote whatever I wanted.

As it turned out, the horror genre seems to be the genre most open to innovation, the least constricted by formula. I dove into this world happily, since the genre met my own inclinations. But this is a happy accident as much as anything.

Because, I really can't be bothered with the restrictions of genre. Genre might be handy as a label, but I'm not going to let it dictate what I write.

So, what is genre anyway?

I still have no idea.


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GUEST AUTHOR INFO: Duncan McGeary has owned Pegasus Books in downtown Bend, Oregon for the last 30 years. He met his wife, Linda, in a local writer's group, and they've been side-by-side writers ever since. He's the author of several fantasies, Star Axe, Snowcastles, and Icetowers (published by Tower Books), as well as two historical horror novels, Led to the Slaughter: The Donner Party Werewolves and The Dead Spend No Gold: Bigfoot and the California Gold Rush, as well as the Vampire Evolution Trilogy: Death of an Immortal; Rule of Vampire; and Blood of Gold, all published by Books of the Dead Press.


Kat Paton said...

I can totally relate to this! People often ask me what my favourite genre is, but I don't really have one. Sure, I read a lot of YA, but I don't read YA books just because they are YA. If a book interests me, I'll read it, regardless of its labelled genre. I feel that many books are a bit too much of many things to truly belong in one category anyway.

Aderyn Wood said...

Like you I find Genre to be an after thought. I prefer to write the story first and then try to squeeze it in to a genre. Author John Banville once said that his ideal bookstore “would have no sections, just alphabetical, and not fiction, but all the books next to each other. You would discover things.”


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