Thursday, May 2, 2013

Categorizing Categoricals (themes, genres, age groups....)

I've realized (or perhaps known for a long time) that many of my novels (not necessarily the stories) are hung on a framework of restaurants and road trips. My recent delight in Google Street View has fostered this, as one must imagine, but even before Street View, I did this. I think part of it has to do with the impression that characters undergoing physical motion are getting somewhere. No pun intended. The characters drive somewhere, the plot moves. Certain things happen at certain landmarks. Read American Gods; Neil Gaiman does it. Read Neverwhere; he does it again. Read The Sun Also Rises, and Hemingway does it too. Characters in motion are learning and growing and speaking in motion, and so the plot carries itself along. Most books don't take place in one room. Even As I Lay Dying involved travel, motion, momentum. The Grapes of Wrath.

I say "my novels" in as grand a way as possible, of course. They live on my hard drive. Not a single other living soul has read them. I'm working to change that, obviously (it's always after something, though. After I finish this next draft. After I finish the query), but that's how it currently stands. I've even been researching agents who seem to be looking for what I offer! Genre wise, I mean. Not riveting descriptions of snarky conversation over coffee in a Southern roadside diner.

My short stories are less restaurant and road trip themed; I'm not sure I could attribute any one label to them. They aren't "literary" either, though that term for me has become so elastic I'm not sure it would hold my pants up. What is literary? What is genre? What the fuck does it matter? I mean, some things are so genre it hurts, and they've become a parody of themselves. You can look at a cover image and know how things are going to go, whether virtue is going to be chastely lost on page 120 after the gloves are taken off, or whether the main female character will be a badass, or whether the main male character will be somewhat bumbling but good-hearted. My short stories are not really O. Henry Award or Pushcart Prize contenders; it would be cool if maybe one of them made it into something like The Best American Nonrequired reading (Which tend to be awesome and interesting yearly collections; I especially like the year that had "The Death of Mustango Salvaje", which was about a female bullfighter. 2005? David Eggers may have been the editor). I like trying to think of story as character driven; perhaps my time as a tabletop role playing gamer has fostered this. Perhaps not. I once won second place in the Dungeons and Dragons "competition" at a gaming convention. I got a Hellboy t-shirt (it's when the first movie came out).

Which then brings me to the age categories for the novels. Children's (nope), MG (middle grade; nope), YA (Young Adult, which I guess my Steampunk offerings would probably fall under. They're full of plucky heroines, friendship, and fairly clean), the Learn to Howl Books (this is a toughie. I think they're Adult, though the narrator, Allie, is young. Like 17 young. But, the narrator in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time is very young, and so was Scout Finch, and so is Huckleberry Finn, and Alan Bradley's main character, and those are "adult" books. But I keep hearing this term "New Adult" bandied about. Do we need that? What makes one thing one way and another not?").

Does genre affect classification? The Alan Bradley books (the first is The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie) are Mysteries. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is typically shelved in the Adult Fiction section (that I know of), and is certainly viewed as literary. The Chronicles of Narnia typically involve children, and my library has them in the Juvenile section (MG, I'd guess, in publisher speak). I'm trying to think of science fiction novels with younger characters. Orphans of Chaos by John C. Wright starts out at a boarding school, and revolves around known world mythologies; shelved in the adult section (in my library system). Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children; mostly adult, though some libraries in the system have it in YA.

Is it something worth fighting over? Is there any kind of "stigma" attached to being a "Young Adult Author" who then writes grown up books? An adult author who switches to YA? In the eyes of a lot of the reading public I interact with, there seems to be. There are people who were excited for a new John Grisham......until they realized it was YA. People who didn't read Harry Potter for its age designation (and, presumably, the fact that it was about magic) are clamoring for The Casual Vacancy. 

Frankly, I feel that "real" readers read across the genres, the ages, ignore the foiled covers, sink their teeth into the wordy worlds nestled in the pages. But sometimes I'm put off by a cover, or a blurb. I don't really read mysteries (though I will read thrillers, and there's some overlap there). I'll still read picture books (This is Not My Hat is one of the best that's come out recently, as its Caldecott win attests), Jay Asher's YA Thirteen Reasons Why, The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron (Juvenile), etc. etc. Good books are good books, across age and across genre.


  1. Heh, funny you should mention this. I'm about a third through my major WIP now (and I have a little project on the side to keep me busy), and I think I've pretty much decided that my next big project will be...*drumroll*...YA. Quite the jump from erotic romance. (I think I'm going to need a different name....) Now I have to worry about whether it's true YA, MG, or the new "new adult"!

    You have your road trips and restaurants, I have...trees. My first three books all featured a significant tree, somehow. I'm still trying to work out the symbolism there!

    1. The New Adult thing really kind of snuck up on me. I've only seen it mentioned on Absolute Write!

      Hmmm, a significant tree. That's pretty cool, really. And there certainly are significant trees!