Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Straddling The Line Between Genres

My guest is Fiction author, Pat Bertram. She has written several books that don't fit neatly into genre but straddle the lines. Pat's not the only author out there writing that way. I've read several books of late that are thriller with an element of paranormal, romances with more of a thriller than suspense element, action/suspense/ with a strong element of romance. Personally, I see nothing wrong with adding those elements.

What about promoting these kinds of stories? Pat discusses what it means to her as an author and the fact that her books are single title and not part of a series.

All the books about writing I ever read stressed the importance of genre. The books recommended choosing a readily recognizable genre and sticking to it. Apparently, readers like to know what kind of book they are reading and don’t take well to authors who hop from one genre to another (and if readers do accept it, agents and editors sure don’t). The books also suggested developing a series character in that specific genre, one who is so compelling people will be waiting for the next book. And readers who come late to the series go back to read earlier books, so sales take on a life of their own, each book helping to sell the others.

Seems simple enough, but I ignored the advice. Each of my books is a stand-alone novel without a series character, and each straddles a shadowy line between genres. Since I didn’t create a series that helps promote my oeuvre, and me; I have to start over each time a new book of mine is published, promoting each book individually, finding a new readership.

I’ve experienced all the setbacks that bedevil authors -- too little support, too many rejections, too much time dedicated to writing-related activities, such as editing and promotion, and not enough time dedicated to writing. But the most disheartening of all is the difficulty of generating momentum with non-genre, non-series books.

And yet . . .

We can only write what we are compelled to write. We each have a vision, and we must be true to that vision, true to ourselves, true to our stories.

Diane Arbus, noted American photographer, said, “I really believe there are things nobody would see if I didn't photograph them.” And so it is true with writers. We see things, either in the world or in the world of our imagination, that nobody would see if we didn’t photograph them with our words.

Each of my books shows a particular vision of the world, as I know it. A Spark of Heavenly Fire shows the horror of an all-too-possible pandemic, the even more horrific steps the government is ready to take, and the various ways, both heroic and craven, people might react to such an eventuality. More Deaths Than One shows the unthinkable results of mind control experiments, experiments that have actually been perpetrated without our knowledge. Daughter Am I is a more light-hearted romp, a treasure-hunting tale of finding oneself in a most unlikely way. And Light Bringer, my newest novel, hints at a world where the Sumerian myth of a tenth planet -- a planet of doom -- is fact.

The disheartening aspects of writing without the scaffolding of a genre are more than offset by the joy of having created four unique visions of the world, dozens of characters who would not have life without me, vivid word pictures that exist only in my books. Like my lake of flowers from Light Bringer:

Becka kept running, needing no footpath to lead her to their destination. She could feel the music tugging at her, guiding her, singing her forward.

At first a faint red trumpeting, the music swelled into a full orchestra: orange church bells, yellow bugles, green violins, blue flutes, indigo cellos, violet woodwinds.

Beneath it all, she could hear the grasses murmuring, “Hurry, hurry.”

And then there it was, spread out before her in a shallow thirty-foot bowl. A lake of flowers— chrysanthemums and tulips, daisies and daffodils, lilies and columbines and fuchsia—all blooming brightly, all singing their song of welcome.

  • Readers: do you prefer series or stand-alone books?
  • Writers: what things would people be deprived of seeing if you didn’t photograph them with your words?
Light Bringer Blurb:

Becka Johnson had been abandoned on the doorstep of a remote cabin in Chalcedony, Colorado when she was a baby. Now, thirty-seven years later, she has returned to Chalcedony to discover her identity, but she only finds more questions. Who has been looking for her all those years? Why are those same people interested in fellow newcomer Philip Hansen? Who is Philip, and why does her body sing in harmony with his? And what do either of them have to do with a shadow corporation that once operated a secret underground installation in the area? Excerpt

Pat Bertram is a native of Colorado.

When the traditional publishers stopped publishing her favorite type of book -- character and story driven novels that can't easily be slotted into a genre -- she decided to write her own.

Light Bringer is Bertram's fourth novel. Light Bringer, Daughter Am I, More Deaths Than One, and A Spark of Heavenly Fire, are all available from Second Wind Publishing.  You can also find Pat: Website, Blog, Facebook



~Sia McKye~ said...

Welcome back to Over Coffee, Pat. This sounds like a good book.

Personally, I like a bit of a blending on genres. I agree, you write the story that moves you.

Olivia Cunning said...

Hi, Pat. I've written just about every genre imaginable, so I completely understand not sticking to one genre. Now that I'm published, I have to focus on one particular subgenre. Sometimes I miss writing whatever I want. I guess that's where pen names come in. So I'll write what my readers want (which also makes me happy--I love the subgenre I'm currently writing in). And when I find some free time (ha ha ha!), I'll keep branching out and trying new things even if those works are never published.

I love the quote: I really believe there are things nobody would see if I didn't photograph them.

I think I show readers a behind the scenes part of the rock 'n' roll world that they'll probably never experience first hand. Reading my books gives them that experience. They can live that fantasy.

Great post, Pat!

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for having me over "Over Coffee," Sia. The whole concept of genre and nothing but genre took me by surprise when I started the whole querying process for my books. I knew of genres, of course, but I always prefered books that adhered to their own vision, not the strictures of genre. I suppose the major publishers discovered the same thing I did -- it's easier to sell (or at least define) books with a recognizable genre.

Olivia, it stunned me, when I studied what various agents wanted, to discover that they penalized writers who either straddled genres or wrote in various genres. Why shouldn't you as a writer write in as many genres as you want? Well, of course, Olivia isnow branded, but as you say, that's where pen names come in.

Helen Ginger said...

Writers have unique stories. If they didn't write them, then no one would ever know those stories and characters. I think, often, writers write a stand-alone, only to decide that the protagonist would be a series character.

Kat Sheridan said...

Pat, I love the concepts of your books and have enjoyed reading them. I've added Light Bringer to my to-buy list. The snippet you provided sounds wonderful, as does the whole concept! I don't really care about genre--give me a story I can immerse myself in, and I'm happy. I write in what is (thankfully) a genre mashup--romantic suspense, although the current fashion for that subgenre appears to be contemporary, and I write historical. Ah well, I write what I love! And I definitely prefer single title to series.

Jo said...

Only trouble is, where do book stores and libraries slot a multi genre book? I have no problems with them at all, but I can see the business side having a few problems. To me a good story is a good story, nuff said.

Anonymous said...

Kat, in the end, that is the only thing we can write -- the books we love, otherwise what is the point? A writer spends so much time with a book -- in the conception, writing, rewriting, editing, querying, copyediting, promotion -- that if you don't have some fondness for the story, you end up hating it. Colleen McCollough ended up despising The Thorn Birds, though she retained a fondness for Tim. There is a moral there, but I have no idea what it is.

Jo, I do understand the problem bookstores have in slotting multi-genre books, and that is the very reason editors and publishers stick with the recognizable genres. Most libraries, on the other hand, have sections for genre, but the bulk of their books are shelved simply as fiction.

~Sia McKye~ said...

I'm sure that's part of the problem, Jo. How to find them. Libraries, or at least here, have a shelf or two of newly released books. Most of these books I've read lean more in one genre and usually that's how they're placed on the shelf.

I'll admit I have an advantage that many don't. I feature authors and I do reviews. I also read other book blogs.

Anonymous said...

Helen, good point. And often, even if the author doesn't decide to expand the stand-alone into a series, their editor or publisher will.

Anonymous said...

Pat, you and I share the tendency not to stick to a particular genre in our writing. There's plenty of good fiction published which is mainstream or literary, hence ending up in the main fiction racks of bookstores and libraries. I suppose slice and dice genres are easier to market, but it doesn't result in better books. And I'm not too fond of book series from the reader standpoint; it's rare that a concept or MC is so compelling that we want to read that fifth rendition of a similar theme. I applaud the John McDonalds of the world who can pull it off, but they're the exception in my experience.

Josh Hoyt said...

Looks like a fun blog I'm excited to follow.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Thank you Josh. Glad you like it. :-)

Anonymous said...

James, I'm so glad you stopped by. I always enjoy getting your take on things. I've noticed that now when I go looking for books to read, as soon I see "another (insert series character name here) book" I immediately put it back on the shelf.

Sun Singer said...

This is a wonderful novel, Pat. Personally, I don't like the genre concept at all. There used to be only a few of them; now, every conceivable way of categorizing novels have become a genre, even "Literary Fiction." Sigh. It's refreshing to read books that haven't been hamstrung by the rules various genre police impose of the genres.


Sun Singer said...

P.S. You can tell I'm typing too fast when I spell my name wrong. :-(


Talli Roland said...

It's so great to see a writer who is taking risks and just going with what they love to write! Well done!