Continuing the popular panel discussions, today I've asked authors if what they read is in the same genre as they write. Browse through the answers, you'll be surprised at some of them.
Yes -- all of them! I'm currently writing in a kind of hybrid genre: Paranormal sci-fi fantasy romance. Argh, much? Each of those genres offers an element I have to have in my stories. Paranormal makes me think about weirdness that might exist in the reality of my day-to-day life. Science fiction lets me speculate about how science can lead to fantastic breakthroughs -- at one point, the internet was a science fantasy; now it's fact. With fantasy, there are no limits to worlds and beings I can visit and bring my readers with me. And romance? Who doesn't want a happily ever after? You? (Meanie) Someday I want to write a disciplined novel limited to one genre. But to echo St. Augustine on continence, I say "but not today."
My books are in two very different genres - mystery and historical romance - and, yes, I like to read both. Those aren't the only genres I like and read, but they are primary. I will confess, though, that my first romance was written very much in rebellion against some of the things I saw in many historical romances that I disliked, for example, "heroes" who were abusive, and weak, IQ-challenged "heroines" who fell in love with these abusive men. Yes, I want strong romance heroes, but no one has ever convinced me that abusing women is a sign of strength in a man.
For my mystery, the motivation was exactly the opposite. I am a big fan of the dog mysteries of Susan Conant and Laurien Berenson and wished there were more mysteries like that available. Also, it surprised me that none of the authors writing mysteries had focused on the dog rescue world. That struck me as a hole in the cozy mystery genre that needed to be filled.
Perhaps there are many successful authors writing in genres they don't like or read for pleasure because some market analysis has told them they should concentrate their energies in that area. However, I cannot imagine writing stories that I wouldn't read for pleasure myself. A 9 to 5 job would be less stressful.
I love reading the thriller genre, and have been a fan most of my life. We're all probably anchored to Ian Fleming's James Bond books, and owe him a debt for cementing the genre in popular fiction. Then Ludlum added more twists and complexity to both plot and characters. We also have people whose primary activity wasn't writing who have done very well with the genre. Both William Buckley and Richard Nixon's plumber John Ehrlichman wrote some good thrillers. Today we have a number of very good writers in the genre. David Balducci, Brad Thor, and Vince Flynn are all producing good work.
One of the more interesting things about thrillers is how they track the current international political situation. We have always had generalized villians who are out to destroy the world, but we also have seen thrillers move from featuring Soviets as the antagonists to featuring Islamic Jihadis as the bad guys. I find it quite interesting to see how different authors portray both the Jihadis actions and the reactions of the different American political factions. In some ways, I wonder if these books are a bellwether for the direction of popular opinion.
Author Website: www.obrienterrence.com
Fantasy is my primary genre. I write YA-compatible fantasy, and I read it wherever I can find it. While there is always the comfort of the familiar in reading a fantasy book, sometimes I need to cleanse my reader's palate with a non-fantasy book in order to be able to appreciate better the subtleties of my chosen genre. As far as writing goes, I'm starting a murder-mystery series after I release my next novel in February, combining my love of whodunits with my love of geocaching. Switching between that and my two WIP fantasy series will definitely keep things from getting old.
Reading the familiar isn't always relaxing, though. As a writer, I can't help but consider the nuts and bolts of every book I read, fantasy or otherwise. However, I consider this a good thing. It allows me to see what works and what doesn't for my reader side, so that my writer side can continue to grow and improve with time, while firming and perfecting my own voice. I understand that the U.S. Treasury agents who work in the counterfeiting department gain their expertise by studying genuine paper bills only, and never look at a counterfeit, lest they become confused during training. Fiction writing isn't quite so precise, but there's something to be said for knowing the tools of one's craft.
One of the things I’ve learned since becoming a published author, which frankly really surprised me, was how much most readers seem to care about genre. When I’m considering what book to read next, my big question is: “What’s amazing?” I’ll read a fantasy novel, or a sci-fi novel, or classic literature, or non-fiction, or really anything at all if it’s amazing.
Lately I’ve been reading Elita Daniels’ fantasy novel Tree of Life, the horror of Chuck Hogan and Guillermo Del Toro’s The Strain series, a non-fiction book about prehistoric cave-paintings called The Mind in the Cave by David Lewis-Williams. I’ve been using Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist and Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men to teach my students English.
Frankly, I think one of the difficulties that I ran into with my own first book, The White Hairs, is that it is difficult to classify. It doesn’t have elves or dwarves so it must not be fantasy. It doesn’t have aliens or space-ships so it must not be science fiction. It isn’t really an action novel. It’s written for adults, but in a younger “fable” style. I’m incredibly proud of the work, but I understand now why the sales were as limited as they were. It didn’t fit into any of the popular boxes. I had a great critical reaction from the people who read it, but most people simply weren’t interested.
My new novel Luminous and Ominous is a high-action apocalyptic sci-fi/horror novel. I expect it to have a much easier time appealing to a larger number of people. My next novel might be in the same genre, or I might release a fantasy novel. Genre isn’t what excites me. I’ll follow an idea that really moves me wherever it goes.
More than once I’ve heard established writers tell their audience that when they write, they are telling themselves a story. If this is true, then it would follow that we write the books we would like most to read. When I began to format my print books for the Kindle I had to re-read them and to my surprise, I liked them a lot. They were books I would have chosen to read. Most of them are contemporary women’s fiction and I like to read contemporary fiction.
However, I am a big fan of genres that I have not attempted (yet). I love the Sue Grafton detective series, featuring her cranky heroine, Kinsey Milhone. I am a big fan of Anne Tyler who writes literary fiction that focuses on larger issues: marriage, children and the earned quirkiness of aging men and women. In the same category is Elizabeth Strout who wrote the wonderful Olive Kitteridge. I am also a sucker for and admire the mind candy appeal of pop culture books like those of Patterson and Evanovich. I seldom read historical fiction although I wrote a historical saga and I love my historical saga. I like biographies
Bottom line, I think what I love to read has more to do with my connection to the mind of the author than to genre. If I trust the author and he/she can tap some inner compatibility I didn’t know was there, I will follow him/her into space or a time warp or a black hole.