Here’s what I’m finding as I read, write and pursue publication — fiction genres, those categories by which books are shelved in a bookstore, assigned to an editor or accepted by literary journals, aren’t nearly as concrete as I once thought they were.
It once seemed fairly simple to lump a piece of fiction into one of five or six standard categories: romance, horror, mystery, science fiction, children’s literature or thriller/suspense. Little did I know that within those basic divisions, there are dozens of possible sub-genres to navigate while deciding where exactly one’s fiction fits.
Take, for example, one of my favorite genres, science fiction. Did you know that, depending upon the publishing house, agent or literary journal editor, your simple piece of science fiction could be labeled steampunk, cyberpunk, spy-fi, children’s fantasy, urban fantasy or one of at least a dozen other styles of writing that sit side-by-side under the science fiction umbrella?
Or consider the number of ways your dark tale might be classed if submitted in the genre ‘Horror’. Is it magical realism, gothic or fabulist? Would it appeal most to readers of supernatural menace, technology or young adult horror? How’s a writer to know?
That’s where reading, reading and more reading comes in. Before we submit a piece of fiction, it’s up to us to read in two different ways. First, we can read publications for writers, Writer’s Digest, for example. Websites, books and blogs created to help the writer publish can point us in the right direction when deciding which genre (and sub-genre) best defines our work.
And then we can read the work of other writers. If we find a piece of fiction that seems to be in the same genre as ours, how is it presented by the publisher? There are always clues, in the author bio, endorsements by other writers or introductory notes from the literary journal publisher, as to what genre the story falls within. One more tip: the websites for journals, publishers and agents usually have examples of the type of work they publish and under what genre.
So there you have it, a little background about the way today’s fiction has been subdivided and where to look for answers when you’re ready to submit your work. Please add to this conversation by telling me your struggles, frustrations and triumphs in correctly categorizing your own fiction. If you’re a fiction reader rather than a writer, I would love to hear which genres keep you captivated.
Now, for a pre-announcement (is that a real thing?) I am pulling together three short stories that fall under the sub-genres of middle grade fiction, children’s fantasy and maybe even fabulism. I’ll be launching them in the next couple of weeks as an ebook, as well as offering readers the ability to order it in print. All good thoughts and prayers for a book that appeals to young readers (and older readers with eclectic tastes!)
A bit of flash fiction to wind down this post. Not what you’re used to seeing on this blog; the beta readers either loved it or texted me, “where did this come from??” Anxious to hear what you think.
Oh, my heaven. This bed is the next, best thing to body pastry. I’m wrapped in soft, fragrant comfort, layer after layer of it. All that is missing is the jam and butter. If the sun fails to rise, I’ll know I’ve died ecstatic.
That’s why I am here, to feel. Here at this place by the sea, I am soaking in the things I did not know I needed. It has taken me eighty years to come away. But I am here, now, and my senses are ready for whatever comes.
So much has come these past five weeks. Who knew I could walk the edge of a cliff, push pebbles into the sea with a shaking foot and then back away? How have I missed this sun, the clinging salt, the way a black rock beach would feel between old toes? I crave the sound of the waves that puts me to sleep and then returns to call me out. How did I sleep before I could hear it?
My eyes snap open, I think of home. There’s much I want to share with my friend, Annette. Fish tacos with slaw that tastes like honey and cumin, bought from a shining yellow trailer and eaten surrounded by strangers. Sea birds that loot and pillage with pirate eyes. She would run on the beach with me, laugh as we chased them. She’s the only one who knew why I had to run.
I’m not going to think about that now. I’m going to snuggle deeper in, close my eyes and think about the way the surfers looked today, balanced in the middle of a wave. And then I’m in the wave with them, and I’m flying down it, all the way into another dream. I hug the fragrant pillow against my cheek. It cools my face, curls around it in a splashing arc that pulls me under, sends me airborne and deposits me far from the shore.
Someone grabs my hand, pulls me from the waves. His hand is warm, his board beneath my feet is warm, the salty spray has healed me, made my old joints limber. I am laughing at the dolphins, breaking through the waves to steal a kiss.
My arms stretch out and I ride the curl once again, all the way to the end, to the place where I am new and the people I have lost swim out to greet me. Waves of love still the tide as I smile down at them, at peace, in love. Standing golden on the board, I close my eyes to the landlocked world that held me and know that I won’t open them again.
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