My agent once told me it takes five books for readers to associate your name with your genre. That’s excellent, I thought. Until I took a wide look at the stories I’ve written and the ones I plan to write and quickly realized my books don’t fit into one – or even two – neatly described genres. (They’re not even all young adult novels, though I gravitate toward YA most often.) As an author, it’s obviously essential to have a platform. So what’s a writer to do? For me, I wanted to pin down the common elements within my stories. I always write romance. Always. That label is easy enough, but it’s not the only label that matters, and it doesn’t fully describe what you’ll find in my stories.
If you Google my latest release, To Whatever End, you’ll find it clearly and unanimously labeled three things: a YA novel, a romance, and a fantasy. The first two are obviously true, but the third? Well, of course it is a fantasy. It’s about a girl who’s cursed with seeing the end to all her relationships; it would be unfair to label it contemporary romance and call it a day. But is it truly a fantasy? Yes. And no.
When I set out to write this story, in my head, I labeled it magical realism. For me, the magic didn’t need to make sense. The characters didn’t need to question why it exists, they only needed to react to it. With magical realism, everything out of the ordinary just is, whereas most fantasies systematically lay out how everything works. There are rules, and an order to things. (Vampires either sparkle in the sunlight or they don’t, right?)
A quick Google search defines magical realism like this: a narrative genre characterized by its use of fantastic or mythic elements in otherwise realistic fiction. According to that definition, a story about a girl with a spectacularly crappy curse is magical realism just as much as it is fantasy. But the lines between magical realism and fantasy are blurry, and as a writer, it’s a hard line to walk.
Aside from the ever-present romance element, I’m a huge fan of “everyday magic”. Sometimes that magic takes the form of futuristic science (sexy cyborgs, anyone?), while other times it becomes a magical door leading to another world. Another phrase I attached to my author platform/tagline was “rule-breaking heroes”, which is simply characters not doing what they’re told – and having good reason to do so.
Steven King makes us think horror, Nora Roberts makes us think romance, and James Patterson makes us think thriller. What do I hope readers will think of when they hear my name years from now? In the end, it only matters that I tell an interesting romance. Everything else is fair game. So even though my debut is contemporary, my latest release is fantasy, and my third book is science fiction, they all share a few common threads. Romance. Rule-breaking heroes. And everyday magic.
Yes, the labels and genres are necessary for many reasons, but books (much like people) are so much more than the categories we place them in.
What element is most important to you when it comes to reading and writing? Is it romance, a fantasy world unlike our own, or a good thrill? Or is it something else entirely? Let me know! A random commenter will win a $10 Amazon gift card.