A few years ago, when I wrote Phoenix, I wrote the story without a thought to the genre it would fit in. I know, how silly of me. I was young, naive, and totally enamored with the story I was telling.
When I started my journey towards finding a home for Phoenix, I was dumbstruck by how many literary agents say on their Web sites that they want no “genre-mixing.” Why? Hollywood does it all the time (the best example of the summer is Cowboys vs. Aliens, then again, it could be pure crap, I haven’t seen it yet).
To give you some background, Phoenix has a strong female main character (women’s fiction) who finds herself in a few life or death situations (thriller), tries to solve a cold case murder (mystery) and finds herself falling in love (romance, but without the happy ending).
Before I started querying a year ago, I studied agent Web sites until I was cross-eyed. This one was interested in thrillers, but no mysteries. That one likes mysteries, but only the pure, definitive kind. And, there are those that want women’s fiction, but I don’t think that genre looks for crosses with thrillers and mysteries. Then, I stumbled upon romantic suspense, but your hero and heroine have to get together early in the story and then live happily ever after – doesn’t happen in Phoenix.
The closest I have come to getting an agent is from my “thriller” phase – meaning the few months when I pitched Phoenix as a thriller. She read the entire MS and gave me some great feedback, but ultimately did not offer representation because she didn’t think she could sell it as a pure thriller. Fair enough, because it’s not on the same level as a Bourne novel.
It makes me wonder if the lack of editors looking for stories that blur genre boundaries is a symptom of the troubled publishing industry or one of the causes (if that’s the case, a small one I’m sure). It is often said there is no such thing as an original story idea. I’m sure in many cases that’s true – boy meets girl, good fights evil, man overcomes adversity, woman hunts bad guy. Are those who blend genres – either intentionally or just in their storytelling – part of the evolution of an art form that’s been around since Biblical times?
Visual art might be an easier to understand example of my thought process. Early man created fairly simple cave drawings, but as our society grew and evolved, the complexity of the art changed to the breathtaking visuals of Michelangelo, Van Gogh and El Greco to name a few. As we entered the industrial age, our art changed once again with Picasso and Dali bending our perceptions. And now, in the digital age, we find mixed medium works that blend paint with sculpture and video. If the art world can blend genres, why can’t the literary world?
I’m sure there are examples of genre-bending novels that have seen success – I just can’t think of one right now. I don’t mean the books that break out of their usual audience for wider appeal, I mean novels that blend several elements together. Anyone? Buller? Buller?
I find myself envious of my friends who know exactly what genre they fit into. I feel like the geeky pre-teen who doesn’t fit into any social group and sits on the sidelines during the pep rally sucking on her braces.
So, what’s a girl with a genre-bending novel to do? I can slap some lipstick on it, shave off the 5 o’clock shadow and stick it in fishnets, but that does mean someone out there is looking for a lip-stick smacking, female-driven mystery/thriller with a dash of romance?