Friday, June 15, 2012

What Genre Do I Write, and Whom Do I Write For?

       A couple of things lately have set me thinking about these questions.  First, I joined WANAtribe (a new social network for writers, artists, and other creative people).  Naturally, I signed up for the Science Fiction/Fantasy/Steampunk tribe, and also for Science Fiction Romance and for Women's Fiction (since I've been trying to nudge female readers into trying my ""Termite Queen").  One of the discussion groups in the SF/F group was "What genre do you write?"  And I found my material doesn't fit cleanly anywhere.
       Here's what I wrote:  "I write a mixed genre, but some have called what I write literary science fiction, because that's my style. It's future history, laid in the 30th century following a melt-down and resurgence of civilization. My novel "The Termite Queen" has a significant love story, so I've joined the SFR tribe. And it has a first contact with an extraterrestrial intelligent lifeform evolved from termites. It's an off-world adventure and a psychological investigation. And it makes use of conlangs -- constructed languages. So how would you define what I write? And oh, yes, I'm getting ready to publish a retelling of Greek myth as it would take place among my termite people!"
       Now that may be confusing, but that's OK, because each writer needs to find her or his own voice.  "Termite Queen" has to be called science fiction because it has all the trappings of the genre -- laid in a futuristic setting, with interstellar travel, established relationships with intelligent extraterrestrial species, first contacts, off-world adventure -- the works.  But all that merely provides a milieu for a story with a universal impact, with psychological development and literary and mythic elements.  The love story that provides the framework for the plot could have taken place in any time and among any intelligent species that shares human characteristics.  The closest of any of my books to traditional SF is the novella "Monster Is in the Eye of the Beholder," and even that is more a psychological adventure than an action tale. ("Monster" is a good place to begin if you want to try my books, by the way.)   And then of course there is "The Labors of Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head," which shares an off-world setting with parts of TQ but can't be classified as anything but fantasy, since the action takes place entirely in an imaginary world and the cast of characters consists amost entirely of members of an alien intelligent species.
       So that brings up a question put to me by a friend the other day:  For whom do I write?  Who are my readers?  Who do I expect will be attracted to my books?
       I told this friend that fundamentally I wrote "Termite Queen" for myself.  I personally love the book, although I have no trouble acknowledging that it's too long.  So I guess I wrote it for other people who think like I do, who like the same kinds of things that I like, and whose educational background induced a love of poetry, symbolism, mythic implications, and psychological conflicts.  I'm convinced I'm not the only person out there who likes that sort of thing.  I may never acquire a huge following for TQ because it doesn't target a popular fanbase; I will never write about zombies, vampires, or werewolves -- that's just not my thing -- and I will never write steampunk.   I'm not denigrating those genres; I don't think any book should be belittled for being part of a particular genre.  It's the quality of the plot concept, the characters, and the writing that makes a book appealing and successful, not the framework in which it is couched.
       And I should perhaps add -- "The Termite Queen" is not a retelling of any myth or any other work of literature.   The series "Labors of Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head" is just that -- it retells some wonderful ancient Earth Tales in the setting of the termite culture.  But all that is still to come ...


  1. I'll have to check out that wanna tribe. Found you via the blog carnival. Nice blog.

  2. Thanks for commenting! It's rare that indie-published authors like myself attract the attention of a traditionally published writer - and a creative writing teacher to boot! I'll have to be on my best writing behavior whenever I have any contact with you! But seriously, I'd like to attract more notice within the academic community.