Sunday, 21 October 2012

The Genre of "Time After Time"

Those of you who have been following my work or posts for any time now, will probably know that I'm not a fan of genre classifications for fiction. I feel it is diminishing to writer, reader and the book itself. The reader is smart enough to track down the books that they're interested in without being spoon fed categories. The writer shouldn't have to pigeonhole his or her own work to fit in with what their publisher's sales team demand. I understand bookshops have to have some notion of how to display and arrange books to aid customers in finding the authors and books they want. But there I feel bookshops could be a little more adventurous and make a themed treasure hunt of their store, so that maybe books are brought together by theme, whether notionally sci-fi, horror, true crime or literary fiction, if the theme is say Jack The Ripper. But that's for another debate really.

So why am I tagging "Time After Time" with not one, not two, not three, but different FOUR genres? Urban Science Fiction Comedy Romance. Can you call a book "Romance" if the main drive of it is murder? Well that in itself gives some indication as to why. I'm looking to subvert these genre classifications in part as much as honour them.

So let's start with Romance. It's true that the heart of the book is a series of seductions, but as hinted above, it's with dark motives of murder behind it. So possibly not the regular fare of Chick-Lit or Mills and Boon, though the seductions themselves do look at the dark arts of two people trying to get close to one another in microscopic detail. One man, one woman, the same initial meeting, and the myriad of different outcomes that can follow from that first encounter. Sort of "Sliding Doors" meets "The Time Traveller's Wife" meets "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus". Only where love clashes with murderous intent...

Sci-Fi is always pretty clearcut isn't it? Takes place either in the future or in alternate reality. Sometimes it's called Speculative Fiction. Well this novel has lots of alternate realities, but all of them predicated on the world of the present, to wit, a sink London council estate, all too recognisable within our current lives. There is some time travel back from a future world into the present, but the bulk of the plot is in the here and now. The technology on show is neither advanced, nor retro as in Steampunk (itself perhaps the genre sub-category that makes me froth the most, not because I don't like such works, but because I just find it insulting that fans couldn't find such books without a separate category being created for it that at the same time suggests no other books outside it could appeal to them. It makes fans more like a cult than fans of a genre. Okay, rant over). My novel does have some actual science concepts lightly explored, Quantum Physics, Parallel Universes, Schroedinger's Cat and Chaos Theory. But are these real life scientific metaphors, for that's what they are once they are separated out from their various mathematical proofs and transposed into words, sufficient to make a work Sci-Fi? There are plenty of non sci-fi books that resort to these metaphorical models within their pages because it suggests a way of seeing that the author is after supplying for the reader. I do wonder what the Sci-Fi community will make of my novel, whether they will count it as one of their own or spurn it...

Urban, I don't even know what the urban genre is. Books set in cities I guess, which mine resolutely is. But Urban always seems to be a prefix of other genres, YA, Fantasy, Paranormal, Horror, Supernatural, Steampunk, Speculative, Thriller, Mystery and even those without it in the name like the New Weird. Well mine is just, well you know, urban. Set within the environs of a built up area. And that's it. Though lots of weird stuff happens within the urban setting, it's all drawn from everyday urban living. The urban setting isn't a jumping off point into whole other worlds. Nor is it distorted by the goings on, rather the opposite, it's very robustly urban landscape shapes much of the human action that transpires within its architecture. But it's not quite that other genre version of Urban Realism either. Since this is a work of fiction and one that's playing with the trope of urbanism.

Comedy is not really a genre of fiction itself, but I proudly claim that this book is funny. I'd also claim it is Literary, but usually the critics that be refuse to bracket Literary together with comedy these days, despite the august examples of Flann O'Brien, Kingsley Amis and Samuel Beckett. But these days comedy books seem to be market s bathroom reading and light and disposable. Which is a pity, because there's a huge difference between a stand-up comic making an audience of people laugh out loud in an auditorium, armed with gesture, expression and comic physical movement and an author extracting a voluble guffaw from the reader purely by the words printed on the page. I don't know if this novel is laugh out loud, but hopefully it's at least sputter your cup of tea while you're drinking it funny.

I have always described myself, a tad reluctantly it has to be said, as a Literary Fiction writer. But I've always felt that label simply swept up all the works of literature that don't fir neatly into other categories. Jane Austen wasn't writing Chick-Lit, DH Lawrence wasn't writing Erotica, Ernest Hemingway wasn't writing LadLit or Action and GK Chesterton wasn't writing Police Procedurals or Detective Thrillers (or even Theological Detective Thrillers). They were just writing FICTION!

"Time After Time" is consciously my most mainstream commercial book to date. It doesn't paint word portraits like many literary novels. It doesn't have huge swathes of description also favoured of the literary genre. But it does possess quite a radical narrative structure, because it deals with time hopping and alternate versions of reality. So that will probably get me kicked out of the Literary Fiction club too.

Sob, will no fiction genre offer me a home for this book?


James Everington said...

Yeah, I'm not a fan of overly rigid genre classifications either. So many of the best books don't fit into the boxes people try and force them into.

Love the cover, too.

Sam Pennington said...

I'm with you on this one! My latest effort doesn't particularly fit into any one category either, so I keep putting off writing that 'dear editor' letter (going to have a little stab at the traditional publishing process) because I still don't know how I'm going to classify it.

Even more brainless... my local library has taken to putting little classification stickers on the spines of all their books. Even though I want to ignore their system, I can't help but find myself by-passing those genres I don't normally read, rejecting books I may very well enjoy because they've got a little pink heart or a twee little castle, or a cute dagger. Gah!!!

Sulci Collective said...

Thanks Sam, I share your pain re the library thing!

But I think you're likely to have to play the game re your own work. Conventional publishing demand to know how they're going to label your book in order to place and sell it. If you were asked to do a 10 second pitch, it would have to include genre. Somehow they calculate sales forecasts directly from the perceived readership for each genre... I wish you luck with your submission.



Katherine Hajer said...

Absolutely! I have spent more than a couple of hours in bookstores, working with staff to track down a book which their inventory system says in store, only it's hard to find because it's been mis-filed under the wrong genre. Sometimes it's because the author wrote outside of their usual pigeonhole. Sometimes it's because the title was misinterpreted (like someone putting How to Make an American Quilt in the Arts & Crafts section, just as a random example).