I am in one of those existential moods. The mood where your brain can’t decide whether it’s cynical, or optimistic or both. Maybe it’s because I’ve gotten into some pretty weird books lately. Anyway, I’ve been thinking about life in general. Being a writer, I guess that’s my job. Today I’m stuck on “categories”. Why must we be so organized? In many ways, classifications keep life bearable. It is only human nature to categorize things, as some famous dead philosopher once said. And although they keep us sane, they are ultimately unnatural, cold, lifeless things. Written in every language of the world, on billboards, bullet lists and job applications. We are surrounded by them. Especially in this age; the very definition of digital is “on or off”. Ones and zeros. They’re in our poetry, offering simple comparisons to cut down on words. (After all, poetry is just like a novel stripped down to bare bones, right? Right?)
How many of these do you see a day? How often do you use them? When you stop to think about them, they really are quite terrible, aren’t they? We do not live in binary code. We only think we do. Every day is filled with ‘meh.’ It’s filled with discomfort, but not quite pain. Steps upward, but not a landslide victory. Just admit it. The queer community has it right and the rest of us have it wrong; life is a beautiful fucking rainbow of diversity and you might as well embrace it. Putting people into categories isn’t going to do anyone any good, unless for police identification.
I do not consider myself a part of that sexual or emotional binary. I don’t believe in it. I do not believe love between human beings should always ultimately boil down to sex parts. Now, don’t get me wrong; I’m not wailing into the heavens “you are Bi, you just won’t admit it”. I am wailing into the heavens for you to stop glorifying the binary. Think of people as spectrums, each creating a band in the rainbow of life. (Sorry for the horrible metaphor.) Now, some people fit perfectly at one end of the spectrum or the other. Others don’t. They float around, shifting colours with the light. A square in the round hole.
The same principle applies to pretty much everything, doesn’t it? While some things are definitely bad and some things are definitely good, the space in between is much larger.
At this point you may be wondering: Myra, how does this apply to writing? This preaching seems most unlike you. Which brings me to my least favourite word: genre. Picking a genre. With blogging, we have the luxury of adding multiple tags and categories. The novel, however, is still tied to classification–forcibly so. Readers find something they like and latch onto it, arms wrapping so close that they can’t see anything beyond it. And writers find their niche of readers and write exactly what they know these readers will like. What the genre entails. What is expected. The formula of genre.
The first thing that comes to mind when I say “genre” is the relatively new “supernatural romance”–a primarily YA phenomenon, which I hate with the fire of a thousand Hells. (It’s like putting spooky font on a Harlequin and calling it progressive.)
I will demonstrate the hideousness of genre.
Mass produced dimestore novels. They distinctly fit into ‘science fiction’. The covers are filled with large aliased type that has the author’s name larger than the title, hovering over a 50s-styled drawing with a Martian landscape. An astronaut in a kitschy (but familiar) spacesuit dramatically poses in front of what we are supposed to perceive as shocking. I believe you have seen this book. If you haven’t, the image is sure as hell in your head now. When it comes to dimestore fiction, you can read books by their cover. I know the novel I am writing now is a fantasy, but it does not end at the definition. I will not bow down to cult like readers. I know the story I want to write, and it sure as hell does not meet the strict dimestore fantasy checklist. And I have other stories in mind that don’t really fit into any genre at all. Some stories even start out as one genre and morph into another; like Silence of the lambs which starts out a horror but ends in a thriller or The Devil’s Arithmetic, which starts as a YA-styled fantasy and ends up more like historical fiction.
Don’t get me wrong. Some books do fit into one genre perfectly, and they flourish there. *hack* *cough*Tolkein*cough**hack*. But those days are running thin. Genre just isn’t enough anymore. I want more. After reading a spy thriller, I’m left with ‘so what?’ What did this book change? Anything? Did it stir the genre in any way? Did it make me question something in my own life? If the answer is no, chances are I’m not reading that author again. Sorry. Maybe it’s just the four years of reading postmodern literary fiction that’s talking. In order for me to be entertained these days, my standards are higher.
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is most definitely science fiction, but it’s so much more. Like it or not, we can all agree that Harry Potter is not just a fantasy. Or just a book series. Hence the themepark.
But we need classifications. To keep us sane. For convenience–for speed. We don’t want a long explanation of what that chick from the party last night looked like. “Pretty” is all we need. Our brains fill in the rest. Just like my brain filled in what a typical science fiction romp would look like. That is the magic of writing.
I believe the greatest novels have a little of every genre. Because that’s what life has. Writing is like a huge, fabulous gay rainbow where all the genres morph into one another. To constrain it to a single genre is just cruel. I want to write all the things.
Except for supernatural romance.
So do not let the genre scare you. Write away. As Captain Barbossa said, “the code is more what you’d call “guidelines” than actual rules.” Sorry I missed talk like a pirate day.
On a sidenote, I’m bisexual. I doubt this is news. Even my friends guessed that before I did. My girl crush on Ellen Page totes makes sense now.
And now a song sang by puppets.
I promise to never make cheesy metaphors again. Maybe.