I’m always impressed by how specific writers in certain genre and non-fiction can be with pinpointing their sub-genres: paranormal romance, slipstream mystery, speculative post-cyberpunk, satirical basketweaving history. For me though, this is an area that I’ve always struggled with. As I get closer and closer to finishing Community Klepto, I’ve been challenged by people both inside and outside the literary community to be more specific about how I classify my own genre; trouble is, the genres I’ve always considered myself to most closely identify with aren’t at all specific
Thanks to the infallibility of Wikipedia, I can actually give a definition of what this means for people who don’t know what this means, which is most people. Now when people ask me “What type of books do you write?” and react with confused puppy dog faces when I say “literary fiction,” I can tell them that I write:
“…fictional works that possess commonly held qualities to readers outside genre fiction. Literary fiction has been defined as any fiction that attempts to engage with one or more truths or questions, hence relevant to a broad scope of humanity as a form of expression.”
Clear as mud, right? And sadly, those who do know what literary fiction is typically have a negative opinion of it. They see it as plotless drivel that only university professors to teach grad students to write more literary fiction could appreciate.
In the past when I’ve described my work as “women’s fiction,” I’ve been met with “Oh, so romance?” Why, if a book is written with strong female characters and a female audience in mind, do people jump to the conclusion that it’s a romance novel capable of hosting a male Fabio and a scantily clad lady in a heaving bodice on the cover? It’s not as though all women read nothing but stories about sexual tension and romantic entanglements. Nothing I write could be further from this; for one thing, I have far too immature a sense of humor to write sexytime scenes.
Still, this seems like such a broad label to apply to works that can be so different in nature. At least I have Wikipedia to back me up on this one:
“These stories may have romance. Or they may not. They could be contemporary. Or historical. But what binds them together is the focus on a woman’s emotional journey.”
Again, a genre I feel fits my work but is so vague it’s useless in classifying it. Any work of fiction that’s happening in contemporary times could be classified as “contemporary fiction,” even if it’s got a woman in a heaving bodice frenching a cyborg on the cover.
True or not, I don’t know that any reader ever sets out to pick out something with the contemporary fiction label on it.
My latest book is meant to be a humor work that riffs on the tropes people find at the gym, but it’s told through a literary lens with elevated prose. You know, fart jokes told by painfully introspective fuddy-duddies. Humor can be smart and raunchy at the same time, right?
But is this a genre that’s specific enough for readers, something they actually seek out? Will they stop reading if they’re not bursting at the seams with laughter after the first page?
If none of my female characters have their storylines driven by male love interests or shopping for designer clothes, can my work still be considered part of this genre? After all, my books do fit the bill according to our friend Wikipedia:
“Chick lit is genre fiction which addresses issues of modern womanhood, often humorously and lightheartedly.”
My problem with labeling my work this way is that I don’t see shoe shopping as a real issue of modern womanhood (although I do have a $10 credit at DSW burning a hole in my pocket).
Maybe I could just create my own hybrid genre label from a combination of all of these. Does Contempowomen’s Lithumor sound like something you’d go looking for in a bookstore?