Is cross-genre writing like cross-dressing? Yes! The benefits and attraction of cross-genre writing for readers and writers


dystopia manThe trouble with categories for books? Like categories of humans, as soon as you slap a label on a book, you limit it. People tend to avoid it unless it’s a genre they read. Of course many books, like people, don’t fit neatly into a pigeonhole. A major category, and one that some readers are uncomfortable with, even avoid, is literary. They assume the language will challenge them, the plot won’t flow.

You deny yourself a great deal of reading pleasure if you avoid literary work. On the flip side, you deny yourself a great deal of reading pleasure if you avoid genre work because you approach it with preconceptions. I’ve found some of my favorite novels are cross-genre, frequently sci fi or speculative with literary. Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is an example.

You increase your reading pleasure when you sample cross-genre writing, a hybrid of themes and elements from two or more genres. Often stimulating, it presents opportunities for creativity in writing as well as discussions among readers.

A new-ish, genre-leaping novel is Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel. This 2014 work shouldered its way into notice via a list of awards as long as my arm, including the Arthur C. Clarke Award, finalist for a National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award, 10 Best Books of the Year by the Washinton Post and others.

At this point, dystopian novels are as common as situational comedies on television. For many of us, our vision of the future looms grim, which might account for the popularity of the genre. I still enjoy a number of them, but a book has to possess outstanding writing for me to rave on about it.

This one succeeded not because it was more violent, bloody, action-packed, sexy, or even original. Mandel’s writing style appeals to me. She juggles numerous characters, leaps back and forth in time, switches voices, and encourages speculation from her readers about what has happened and might occur. No space aliens, nothing outside the realm of possibility. A new virus spreads rapidly over the world, killing 99% of the population. The remainders group together in new ways, intent on sheer survival, most of those the book follows eventually tied together in some manner. Mandel’s language is clear yet evocative; her control over her material, stunning. I ended the novel depressed over the world it created but in awe of the journey.

Readers and writers thrive on outstanding writing. It can be traditional or innovative in approach, of a genre or genre-crossed. Don’t miss this one.


Symbols in fluxAre you a cowboy? A spy? A sexy lover? A  child at heart? Somewhat intellectual? If so, you probably read in a genre like children’s books, westerns, mystery, romance, or literary.  Publishing is defined by specialized categories of book, which also identify readers by age, gender, interest, locale. These seem to become more targeted by the week. The process helps greatly in marketing books to try to insure readership.

No longer are these groups simple and innocuous. Sub-genre succeeds sub-genre. I’m not sure I even know what some of these mean. For example, urban romance fantasy. Is this several dragons who live in a large city off-world and become enamored of one another, or an historical period piece in which Cleopatra and her lover Marie Antoinette battle the evils of Czar Peter the Great in St. Petersburg? Or both?

My publications are classified as clean or sweet romance. Devoid of overt sex, this category can incorporate a great deal of passion, depending upon author, plot, and publisher. I prefer to think of them as “women’s fiction,” a bit closer to my approach, because the journey of the main characters is to succeed in meeting life’s challenges, not simply discover love. Of course, being a writer and always ready to split hairs or argue until I’m blue in the face, I don’t like to assign labels at all.

Which brings me to authors who defy categorization and leap-frog genres: Michael Chabon, Margaret Atwood, Doris Lessing, P.D. James, among others. I’m sure their publishers would prefer they didn’t. It makes marketing their work more difficult. But these are big names, and they can do as they please. Successfully.

A  challenge for newbies, especially in more structured, dare I say rigid?, genres. Publishers, bloggers, book sellers want to know the type in a 30-second elevator speech. For example, when I sent my first novel to an online reviewer, she declined it despite its HEA ending because she felt it was chick lit.

But this blog ISN’T about genres. It’s about excellent writing. Even if a book is a particular genre (i.e., waddles like a duck), I think good writing should be possible in any genre. I’ve just finished a book that explained an area of writing that I’ve never heeded. When discussions centered on symbolism, I poo-pooed the theories. Who knew or cared if a rope meant characters were tied together, or if waves crashing on a cliff substituted for sexual fervor?

A major shift in my attitude occurred with How to Read Literature Like a Professor.” Author Thomas Foster hand-led me through weather, violence, flying, seasons, and other topics serving as symbols for life’s issues, such as love, freedom, and depression. Giving examples from classics and popular books, he showed how use of symbolism gives added depth and enhances the reader’s understanding and appreciation.

Hmmm. As I thought back over my own work, I realized it contains a fair number of sequences that can serve as symbols. A storm in the middle of a confrontational camping trip. Seeking shelter with a potential partner during a snowstorm. A wildfire engulfing adversaries. Did I intend these as symbols? Not at the time, but unconsciously I must have absorbed cultural cues. Henceforward, I’ll incorporate these deliberately. I’ll have more fun, and perhaps my readers will, too.

So if you read about a telephone in my future writings, don’t assume it’s just a chat. It might represent confusion, ambition, or, who knows?, sex. A duck can always morph into a swan