On Genre

Opinion Editorial 2 Comments

I was recently talking to one of my writer

Warning! May or may not contain Overt Feminism

Warning! May or may not contain Overt Feminism

friends about writing, different genres and the trials of marketing.  He commented on the fact that I had taken a break from writing and that he was pleased that I was coming back with my new Sci Fi serial, which will shortly be released on Kindle.  I admitted that I had become a bit disillusioned after publishing The Book of Abisan, at the lack of response to the work.  I am my biggest critic, and I know that this book is some of my best work, and I can’t seem to get people to read it.  He went on to tell me that he enjoyed the story, and he has given me permission to quote him as he went on to say:

The only crit I could find was that it had an overtly feminist angle. I like that, I grew up in a feminist household, but it may have limited the readership.

I had deliberately created strong female characters as I feel that the Fantasy Genre as a whole is incredibly male dominated, and at first I felt quite pleased that this was the only criticism he could come up with.  After having time to mull it over I thought, ‘how is that actually a criticism’?

People aren’t put off from reading Lord of the Rings because Sam and Frodo have “bromance” which makes it hard for women to understand, do they?

Female authors are breaking through into the Genre, after all, The Hunger Games was written by a female author, and featured a very strong female lead.  The thing that ruined the series for me though, was the ending.  I had been unable to put it down, took the trilogy on holiday and finished it in a week.  But why did she have to conform?  Why did she have to choose one of her men to be with at the end?  It was never a question of will they won’t they, just which man will she choose?  I felt a sense of disappointment that after fighting for her life on multiple occasions, leading a revolution and instating a coup, in the end all she wanted was to get married and have children.  Surely there had to be a different kind of ending?

I suppose that’s the problem with endings.  If you enjoy it then you don’t want it to end, so any ending is disappointing, but somehow I expected more.

The problem with genre is it’s all about ticking boxes.  You are forced to choose a special pigeon hole to put your writing into.  You call it “Fantasy” and people say, “oh, I don’t read fantasy, I don’t like it”.  So you’ve read one book, probably not all the way through, and therefore you know you won’t like mine?  Heaven forbid that you label your work “Feminist”, then you’re putting it into a niche that no-one will touch with a barge pole.  Even women are afraid to be labelled feminist today, forgetting that what feminism means is equality.  No matter how we like to pretend we live in an advanced society we still aren’t equal, no matter how you paint it, and the only way we will change this is if people start speaking out for equality.  Equality for everyone or no-one is truly free.

It is for this reason that I try to avoid staying within one genre when I write, and probably why I find it so hard to market.  Because when you pick one you instantly shut yourself off to all the people who like other genres.  One reviewer said of The Book of Abisan

I found this book to be rather more like a crime thriller with some sorcery thrown in for good measure rather than out and out fantasy.

I think that if in general we stopped trying to label things and just took everything on face value, deciding whether we liked things on an individual basis the world would be a happier place.

When I was promoting A Reason To Stay on a writing forum I was bombarded by comments telling me that “Chick Lit” was not their cup of tea, so no offence, but they weren’t going to read it.  Well, I took offence, not because they didn’t want to read my book, but by the term “Chick Lit”.  It is incredibly patronising and automatically belittles whatever you’ve written into some sort of “only suitable for women, as their brains are not as big as those of men”.  It also puts men off from reading it.  Society is still so interested in putting people into niches (not just books, everyone needs a label, man/woman/gay/straight/him/her) that a man who chooses to read “chick lit” must have something wrong with him, surely?!

A Reason to Stay is comedy.  Men like it, women like it and a number of dogs on Twitter like it:

Unfortunately we are not going to see a miraculous change any time soon.  People will still look to label each other, and still want to put books, films and TV shows into categories, it’s just easier.

You can be the change though, try not asking someone a personal question just because you’re curious, instead think “is it relevant, actually?” And pick a genre that you wouldn’t normally read.  Go on, give it a go!!

You can find C H Clepitt on Facebook.

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2 Comments

  1. Amadeus Ivan June 12, 2015 at 7:47 pm

    Soo true about the Hungergames. The ending was indeed not as expected. You are right people always look for certain genres. I do the same. But having a mix can be very good too and sometimes those books are unexpected very good. I love your books as they are indeed a mix of genres. Maybe its time to look further then the 1 genre you like very much.

  2. Amy June 26, 2015 at 11:10 am

    I agree that too many people are dismissive of genre and anything written by anyone deemed a “minority” automatically becomes representative of that entire minority. While “chick-lit” is indeed a sexist term, A Reason to Stay does not even fall into the category deemed “chick-lit”, so the point here is not even about it being a sexist term, it is about a reader assuming that because you are female, and you have not specified another genre, it must be chick-lit. I can see your point about the Hunger Games. However, I did empathise in that being what Katniss wanted after *SPOILER ALERT* what she went through in losing the only person she had ever loved. I saw it as a bittersweet, giving-up acceptance, a rejection of the significance society was heaping upon her, which was never what she actually wanted. It is anti-climactic yes, but perhaps there is a point there about the anti-climactic nature of social revolution, even when it is achieved?
    I think that there is plenty of room for feminism in fantasy as fantasy nerds are often intelligent people who enjoy seeing things differently and fantasy is sno stranger for political connotations. Unfortunately, there is also a lot of sexism in the nerd community too, for which you need only look to the responses to the female ghostbusters.
    While there are expectations placed on genre, unfortunately that is how marketing works. What we need to work towards is achieving a balance because as you rightly say, we do pigeonhole ourselves subconsciously. I like fantasy generally so I would read a book labelled fantasy but would probably not read a book labelled crime. As that review goes, it is up to you how to take it. There are markets for crime and fantasy and the people who like them have learned to expect different things. Yes, they should educate their palates further (we are all guilty of this) but I do also think that there is an element of catering to audience expectations a little in creative professions because whether we like it or not, it is an industry and there is always going to be an element of engaging with the industry on the pathway to success. It is often a balance of what your audience are going to want and what you would like to show them.

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