Thursday, November 29, 2012

Genre-fication


“Don't classify me, read me. I'm a writer, not a genre.”  -- Carlos Fuentes



I'm fairly new at this writing thing. But, even so---in such a short time---I've got a past. What I call fondly the good ol' days.

With a smile in my heart, I cling to memories of my beginnings as a writer. Everybody starts out differently. For me, it began as fantasy stories shared with a friend, all involving Rudolph Valentino. My friend and I were hopeless Valentino fans and we blissfully lost ourselves in writing scenarios in which we, of course, were his lovers. We'd write installments and trade them.

The one night I dreamed of Russell Crowe and Valentino got tossed to the side of the road in favor of swarthy Maximus in my new Gladiator fantasy.

Then...then...I had this relentless drive to actually...write. A real story, as in submitting it. It was going to be shocking, it was going to be a best seller. I was going to be famous.

So I took off on a new journey with a new destination...fame.

A Mafia story, it was. Funny thing, though, as illustrious and famed as I planned to be, I still wrote for fun. What more could there BE to this writing gig, after all? One simply wrote a story, thumbed through a list of agents then simply plunked the manuscript into the mail. I'd like this to be published, please. The lucky agent, all a-flutter at the most magnificent manuscript they'd ever received, would hasten to find me a publishing house and there it would be. In like Flynn. I would soon be famous.

Please. Are you going to make me humiliate myself by telling you the outcome to THAT dream?

The thing was, it was so much fun. I was so new, so green. So full of hope. I was doing something I loved, and----joy of joys---it would make me money and make me famous. But, bottom line. God, how I loved it.

My first serious stab at writing was a Mafia story. It was, at first glance, what is known in the publishing world as a 'hetero' romance or a male/female romance, a story between a man and a woman.

I tossed in a gay couple as secondary characters. The genre bible said, this still falls into male/female romance. Whew. So I know still had that genre thing on track, that gave me a good insight into where I could publish. Which publishers accepted what.

Oh, but one thing. It is still male/female romance UNLESS the gay couple have on-screen sex.

Uh-oh. Okay, so they DO have sex on the page. So, does that mean...?

Oh, that's different. You've now ventured over into mainstream. It can no longer be a hetero romance if there is an other-than-heterosexual sex scene or scenes in the story.

Very well, so I'll start looking for a publisher who...

Now you COULD take the gay characters out of the story.

Nah, I really like these guys, couldn't I just...?

Not in this story, and still call it a hetero romance. Now, you could perhaps put them in their own story? THEN that would be classified as male/male romance. Another division.

But they belong in the story.

Then no sex from them, and everything will fine. Unless, of course, you go mainstream.

So, that story was shelved for a while. I did try to extract the gay characters and give them their own vehicle. But you know how characters are. The boys had none of that. So, hell. Nobody gets a story. Right?

Mainstream, remember?

No, this is too much of a headache. I'll just come back to them later.

On to another story. My first published story (under my C. Zampa pen name), CANDY G. Piece of cake. Two men in a two-man romance. Male/male romance. That was easy! Gender-ising, that is.

But here I am again. My current story is just the opposite. A story of two gay men with a woman in the mix, a woman who has a huge point of view in the story. She's the soon-to-be ex-wife of one of the characters.

This time, it's the woman's presence raising the flags.

She is allowed, but no sex scenes including her.

Yes, very well. I can manage that. The sex between her and her husband isn't crucial to the story anyway. Or is it? I must decide IF it's important, based on genre guidelines, not by on how important the sexual changes are in the relationship.

So it is still a male/male romance.

At this point, I'm torn.

The bottom line? Life is not compartmentalized by genres. Real life drama is a big mix of everything. Straight people and gay people interact in real life. Gay men are parts of the lives of straight couples, and they all have sex lives.
But, to keep in perfect genre-fication, we have to pretend that one of the genders does not really have sex. Well, I take that back. They can have it, just don't tell about it. It'll just be their little secret.

And I understand, before you say it. Readers are selective. They don't want the two mixed.

Silly as it is, I have friends who write male/male fiction who act like they'll get cooties if they look at pictures of straight couples kissing. And, vice versa,  author  who do the same if male/male pictures are posted. Genre, baby, genre. (In truth, it's bias and prejudice, but that's another, much bigger issue). Never the twain shall meet. So I DO know about reader selectiveness.

For me, personally, sex is just sex. If it fits a character---any character---in the book, it belongs. It doesn't turn me off, doesn't offend me. But others might not feel the same, and they are completely right in their own feelings. That's the beautiful part of human nature. We are all different, and it should be okay that way.

And I'm not complaining about the fact that it IS what it is. These guidelines are for specific reasons, and I understand them completely, and I adhere to them.

But...But...

I just DO miss the early days when I was just writing my heart away, beautiful, no-genre writing, everybody all in the same story---gay, straight. Everybody had their place in my book. It was so simple, so pure. And fun.

And I miss that. I don't resent the way it is. I just miss the absence of inhibition in my writing from those good old days. When I could just write without having to aim my writing to a genre, but to the heart of the story, whatever that heart might be.

“My favorite genre is Beautifully Written Books of Any Genre. Could we make that a genre?”  - Kristin Cashore









14 comments:

Lloyd Meeker said...

Stimulating post, Vastine! Donald Maass, in his new book Writing 21st Century Fiction denounces genre vs literary arguments (and by inference genre A vs genre B arguments) in favor of what he calls "high impact fiction", which he defines as "great stories beautifully written". That's it. Those are the 21st century criteria.

I think he's right. An author's job is not to write in a genre, even if he writes nothing but mysteries. An author's job is to tell a great story through beautiful writing.

I also have a belief: that if publishers insist on inflexible genre rules, they will discover that those authors who are dedicated to telling a great story through beautiful writing will find a different publisher -- or self-publish. It's taking a while for publishers to realize that not only the ground rules of novel-writing are changing, but the playing field is also changing. Flexibility = survival, I think.

tinnean said...

I find this really interesting, especially since I'm in the process of writing a story where the lead female character has a relationship with another woman at the start of the book, falls in love with a man who happens to be her "one",and... Well, at this point, the end is up in the air. I kind of/sort of plan for her to wind up with another man, but friends suggest I go full circle and bring her back to the woman at the start.

Does that make this f/f? f/m?

Fortunately, I found a publisher who's willing to take a look at it.

But I have to confess that you're a better person than I am, because I resent the hell out of being confined to a genre. ::sigh::

Jaime Samms said...

I'm with you, Tinnean. I resent people pigeon holing me in life, or pigeon holing my writing. I am what I am and I write what I write. My feeling is that as long as we *do* adhere to these arbitrary rules, and, as you pointed out and sort of skipped over, Vast, prejudices, they will remain. If it's equality for all and equal billing for the love in your stories you're after, then how do you attain that by agreeing to sensor yourself? Answer? You don't. If you agree to removing the sex to appease some nefarious, ethereal reading public, you essentially agree with their prejudices and admit that hetero love and gay love are not on equal footing. You tell them it's okay to put up barriers, and I *know* you don't believe that.

I'm one to talk, I know. I've never written a hetero story in my life. I don't read a lot of them, either. But other people do, and should, and I will as vocally defend another writer's right to include it in their gay love story as I have ever defended the right for a gay couple to be portrayed fairly and equitably in the hetero word.

So there. :)

Vastine Bondurant said...

Thank you, Lloyd, for sharing that! What a lovely thought. I long for the day when it just...is. A story just can...BE.

Vastine Bondurant said...

Oh, Tinnean, do the story of your heart! YOUR heart!
And I'm elated you found a publisher for it!

Vastine Bondurant said...

My lovely friend Jaime! Exactly what I said in the blog, all of it.

I just...can't. If I take a long, long look and see it's really not helping the story, THEN and only then can I see ditching something vital for the sake of keeping in genre.

((hugs))

Sarah Ballance said...

It's disheartening to see how much compartmentalizing there is. I think I'd prefer to keep my money over spending it with a publisher who practices discrimination from EITHER side of the proverbial fence.

Vastine Bondurant said...

Hey, Sarah!
Yep, and you hit it on the head. And it IS on both sides of the proverbial fence. That small gray area that isn't allowed to play on either side.

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

Haha, boy can you tell I live in the bush. I had to look up hetero, just in case I had it wrong. LOL. And I'm still not sure what genre I write in. My publisher classifies my latest book at Literary. Haha, like I could write literary!

Okay, while we're discussing it, I might as well admit I don't write sex scenes per se. Someone I admire once said TEASE. So that's what I try to do. My Italian neighbour told me years ago that the most tantalizing creatures are those with clothes on. Never forgot that.

Great post, Miss Vastine! As usual!

Vastine Bondurant said...

Ah, my dear, dear friend Joylene! You ARE indeed literary! Can't fool ME, as I've read your work!

And I LOVE, LOVE that thought---teasing! Your friend was right.

Remember Gypsy Rose Lee? Only stripper who ever didn't strip! Just teased them, and the audience loved that!

((((Hugs and love to you)))))

Nikolaos said...

I was told that gay men won't read stories with het sex in them. But my characters somehow demanded it. In one tale, a straight bloke falls in love with a man ... and his wife. They told me how the story was going to develop. It just seemed right that it happened like that.

But it does make it hard to publish. That's one of the reasons I've given up. My writing doesn't fit in anywhere!

Kage Alan said...

Loved this! It's actually a good thing we go through the period of being green with hope since it gets us through the ugly period of finding that publisher. Paying our dues absolutely helps us appreciate what we accomplish.

Nicely done. And it brought back many fond memories. =)

Vastine Bondurant said...

Nikolaos...the characters are the ones who dictate the story, you're absolutely right.

And you DO fit in somewhere! Please don't give up the pursuit of it because of that. There is a place, and you'll find it!

Vastine Bondurant said...

Hey, Kage!

I never thought of it that way! But it DOES sort of ease us into the reality, doesn't it? And, hopefully, we maintain a smidgen of the innocence. LOL.