Sometimes You Aim For The Stars, Sometimes You Explore Your Own Neighborhood

November 3rd, 2004 · No Comments
by Booksquare

Sarah Weinman has posted an excellent rumination on the idea of transcending genre (we’re quite jealous, but are too much of a lady to admit it). To some, the mere idea of squeezing beyond the strictures of a particular genre invites horror — it implies there’s something lesser in genre fiction or perhaps suggests that an author is slumming until something better comes along.

But that assumes that all books are created equal, and that just isn’t so. In other words, genre transcending isn’t just a marketing term or a straw man; it actually happens. But I’ve come to the conclusion that people are asking the wrong questions and arriving at the wrong answers. It’s not about genre vs. “something extra,” only about talent and scope. And some writers have the ability to reach for great heights, and some simply do not.

This is something we’ve struggled with for the past several years. Last summer, we admitted something we hated to put into writing: we will never be published by Harlequin. This seems like a rather odd goal, but we can assure you that this was a long-time dream. Our realization that we wouldn’t fit into the Harlequin world didn’t come because we lacked talent or ideas. If we had to lay blame, it would be on our lack of discipline. We had the “category” concept down, but we couldn’t or wouldn’t fit our vision into the lines. Instead of crayons, we were using colored pencils.

We’ve also acknowledged that our voice and style isn’t quite literary. We will never be Gabriel Garcia Marquez (for which, we presume, he’s eternally thankful, what with already occupying his body and all). We’re not chicklit, either. We’re not women’s fiction. We are, to be honest, quite uncertain where we fall in the literary pantheon. That we don’t quite fit anywhere shouldn’t surprise us — it is, after all, the story of our life. We’ve discovered we’re not alone in this regard.

It’s not so bad, not fitting neatly into a slot. Once you realize you’re odd, you can either embrace it or change it. We’re too old to change (we are also too lazy; fitting in can be a lot of work, especially when it’s not your natural inclination). Our stories have grown in complexity (or rather, we’re allowing the complexity that always existed run wild and free), and as we allow this to happen, we sometimes stop and wonder what has come over us. As Sarah says:

I’ve just described two writers doing very different things, and reasonably comfortable with their powers. But occasionally, the fit isn’t so snug, and the writer’s trying to rein in their voice in genre trappings when it’s just bursting to get out. Or the converse, where a writer goes for a bigger, broader novel and discovers that he or she simply doesn’t have the ability to handle bigger questions in the same way they did smaller ones. And then there are those that simply ask the wrong questions but don’t realize it until the book is finished, and then it’s too late to go back and change it.

We suspect we’ll continue to overreach for a long time. Maybe this will lead us back to where we started, but we’ll go only if we can play by our own rules. This probably won’t happen, and that’s okay, too. The hardest part was letting go. If there’s one thing we’ve learned in life, it’s that even the ones who use colored pencils eventually find a like-minded soul. We just need to, well, get back in the writing groove…which, astute readers will note, is something we’re clearly avoiding by writing about writing.

Or, as we prefer to describe it, warming up our fingers and brain.

File Under: Square Pegs