And since this blog is also my personal soapbox, I get to rant and air my literary challenges. You, lovely readers get to unfollow or applause. Today, I vigorously wave a flag to protest the inadequacy of genres. Their limitations are landmines. Let’s jump right in.
We authors are compelled to wave a banner on behalf of our literary children that shouts HERE I AM! And so, we shop at ‘Genres R Us’ and buy into descriptions that fall far short of our storytelling intentions. Warning: beyond this point on the treasure map for gold there be rabbit holes.
But the publishing gatekeepers with all the power have decreed, not unreasonably, that promotion and marketing must begin somewhere. Which means we now require a stunning dress or suit for the prom (metaphor for book launch). Sadly, there is only one store in town, and all its gowns and suits are seconds, badly designed, out of fashion, or half-sizes that are way too small with a warning label: may contain explosive literary repercussions.
I smiled indulgently, but I needed a cup of tea, so off I went to the kitchen where muses are apt to follow. My muse continued, a tad hysterically. “And, by the way,” it flapped. “No self-respecting book has to bomb! Respect being the operative word.”
THE ART OF RESHUFFLING GENRES
By my reasoning, the ‘outer limits of fiction’ refer to stories that inspire and entertain ‘above and beyond the call’. Which brings me to the ultimate confrontation with my muse. And so, I begged the question. Are my novels METAMYSTICAL, PARANATURAL, or SUPERPHYSICS? Because the words Metaphysical, Paranormal, and Supernatural have mostly defaulted to horror, erotic predatorial romance, dark magic, and dystopian fantasy, and none of these bears any resemblance to my books. My muse said any of the new genres I’d created were perfect! And then it chuckled with undisguised aMUSEment, and added: “GOOD LUCK!”
LET’S BACK UP FOR A MOMENT and DECODE THE INNOCENCE OF PREFIXES
I write on the fanciful side of fiction where historical documents, objects in museums, and portraits, speak. Where the spirits in ‘ghost stories’ inspire readers to live, and sentient buildings protect their inhabitants. But fantasy is the special purview of swords and sorcery so, I must search further. All the way to the Italian Renaissance and back on the Titanic!
MY MUSE & I… IN CONVERSATION
“Why are you sighing?” a voice said in my head. This time it, as it happened, it was not regular monkey mind ego. My conscious muse was still hanging out.
“Because musing makes me sigh,” I said.
“I can relate.”
“Isn’t the world in enough crisis?” I mused.
“Absolutely,” my muse replied.
“The state of SUPERPHYSICS eludes me. Where’s the love? I mean, why, in the name of entertainment, does the common human collective gravitate towards ‘death wish, negative thrill seeking-type-paranormals’. Stories populated with psychopaths, sociopaths, crooked powermongers, boogeymen, zombies, vampires, and serial killers. Stories that evoke fear. Stories featuring baseless cruelty, greed, forensic science, events perpetuated by frightening people, nightmarish visions, disasters, insanity, demonic possession, horror and monsters, screaming and gore, the terrors of war, murder, violence, firearms, criminal behavior, dystopian worlds, seedy gratuitous erotica, and cheap thrills… all uncommonly negative and unproductive themes for a positive post-pandemic world. Phew! Saving the planet anyone?”
This is how the rest of our conversation went. It began with me airing a problem that’s been bothering me about the higher forms of responsible storytelling. “What are newsletters for?” I asked.
“You’re a writer but your newsletters are not just about promoting your books. It’s about sharing ideas, being brave enough to share. It’s about being honest.”
“Didn’t I just say that?”
“Maybe between the lines.”
“Well, I’m a muse. Welcome to my side of the literary stream. That’s where we do our best work.”
“I’m afraid my readers will leave the building. It’s not like it’s a full house to begin with.”
“That, my dear one, is what the unsubscribe button is for. Contrary to popular belief, publishing is not a competition. You know, you didn’t use to be such a chicken. Stop whining. And you didn’t ask me the real question you wanted to ask, so I’ll just skip to the answer.”
“Go for it.”
“Storytelling is for raising the consciousness of the world. It’s art!”
“It’s a long process, and humans are in it for the long haul. Write your highest truth and move on… end of story!”
Books don’t always need a genre. The words ‘time travel’ do all the heavy lifting in any title that contains them. Time travel is most definitely supernatural, paranormal, and well-outside the realm of physics. ‘The Time Traveler’s Wife’ is an exceptional story I highly recommend. ‘The Lovely Bones’ is similarly ‘lovely’ in spite of its (creatively understated) horrific elements: a predatorial child killer, rape, and murder. The spirit of a murdered girl is unable to reach heaven until she brings her killer to justice and helps to heal her grieving family. It stands alone, unlabelled, and ‘stands out’ by virtue of its main theme – the celebration of the human spirit. The light of this poignant ‘love story’ would have surely dimmed under the weight of such genres as ‘thriller’ ‘murder mystery’, ‘horror’ or ‘paranormal’.
My smarty pants muse, then suggested three collective nouns for genres: a ‘CONUNDRUM of genres’ for books that cover multiple themes. An ‘INCOMMUNICADO of genres’ for complex indescribable books. And a ‘RABBLE of genres’ for books with confusing titles, rambling blurbs, and unrelated cover art.
which would specialize in tales of the extraordinary and extrasensory, time travel, parallel lives, reincarnation, alternate timelines and speculative histories, compassion, art, serendipity and synchronicity, the unexpected, the awe inspiring, the empowering, the fascinating, the surreal, the mystical, and true love that transcends death. Specifically, journeys into the hearts and minds of historical characters, long since passed, whose hopes and dreams survived to ‘live’ another day, and more often, another lifetime.
My muse mused for a second and cautioned me. “Underplay anything that could be misconstrued as ‘limits’ because to make an exceptional impression, a story must be free to rise ‘ABOVE’ the norm. The sheer numbers of books demand it so.”
Life gets “curiouser and curiouser” (as ‘Alice in Wonderland’ once mused). Humans begin their literary education through exposure to exceptional children’s books that adults often return to for comfort and insight. ‘Winnie the Pooh, anyone? Thank you, A.A. Milne and Lewis Carroll!
My muse and I are still collaborating on the fanciful NON-fantasy ‘Lisabetta trilogy’ (the Mona Lisa’s tormented state of mistaken identity, trapped in her portrait for 500 years). Our heart-to-heart concluded by reminiscing about our long in-depth sessions discussing Lisabetta’s childhood. “Remember the times we sat together in silence and wrote her worst fears?” my muse said.
I opened the manuscript to a random page and read aloud. “You mean like this?”
The revised edition of ‘LISABETTA – a stolen glance’ will be available in September here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07K6SBB78
Book 2 of the Lisabetta trilogy, ‘LISABETTA – a stolen smile’ is in the final editing stages, so its publication may have to wait for the end of October… say, Halloween?
Perfect timing for a story that celebrates the ‘outer limits’. But that’s life!
Restoring the environment, anyone?