Last year I released a book, if you’ve been visiting this website for more than a post or two you’ve prolly heard me squee over it, and I was fortunate enough to get a mention of Desert Rains on Book View Cafe by Sherwood Smith. Being part of her round up was thrilling, but in the comments I found some interesting and disturbing ideas.
Desert Rains is unapologetically a genre mash up. It brings in elements of the classic Western and elements of Science Fiction and wraps both of those around a romance. This wasn’t something I really planned to do, but when I came up with the outline all of these pieces were already in place. I tend to compare it to the television show Firefly but with more kissing and a smaller cast. It was fun to write and went very quickly, but as it has made its way out into the world I’ve found it to be much more divisive than I ever thought it would be, and this is reflected in those Book View comments.
Some people really love the cross over of genres, and the way those things come together. Others get down right irritable at the thought of a Western with Science Fiction elements or Fantasy contaminated with Romance. And often these opinions are formed without even reading the book! So it always reminds me of the commercials about how a peanut butter cup was created and that some people are purists and want chocolate alone and others are willing to try mixing it up.
I don’t mind either position, but one thing I did mind was the assumption that, as the author, I didn’t know what I was doing or had chosen to mix genres only so that I could expand the keywords or categories the book shows up in. I found this a boggling position, particularly as the commenter had only read the first three pages of the book. I don’t mind that the commenter was a genre purist (even though it’s always ironic to be tagged as not being geek enough) but I do mind the ‘just to sell’ aspect of the comment.
Very rarely do authors sit down and go, what can I add to this story in order to make choosing keywords even harder and sales to a traditional publishing house nearly impossible? Because those are the kinds of things that crossing genre does. The JOY of self publishing is that there is finally a place for these stories on the margins, but they still don’t fit into the standard boxes and if all the author is interested in is sales, they should either conform to the boxes or go so far outside of them that they can capture a niche no one else does.
The other interesting challenge all of this brings up is the struggles any author goes through to get the ratio of genre elements right for their particular book. In my case I did all the SF research to figure out why the planets functioned the way they did, water cycles and planet travel times, etc, etc. It was all interesting and fun, but when I really got going on crafting the story it became obvious that it wasn’t a story ABOUT those SF elements. It was a story about the people who lived in those elements and to them much of the ‘gee wiz’ that I’d studied up on was just part of every day life and not something they were going to spend a lot of time on. So I decided to stick with the character story and let the SF elements be what they were. For me it was the right choice for the book and the tone it sets for the series, but I’ve had complaints about not enough romance, not enough SF, and not enough Western… You just can’t make everyone happy all the time.
Fortunately, I still like a little peanut butter in my chocolate.