Okay, who here has read J.K. Rowling’s latest, The Casual Vacancy? I have a copy but I haven’t had time to read it yet. But I did read an article about it yesterday. The article more or less said that it sucked and J.K. Rowling never should have attempted to write regular adult fiction.
Frankly, I think statements like that are a little bit of a slap in the face to one of the greatest authors of our time. And the friend who loaned me her copy of The Casual Vacancy said that she loved it, no matter how different it was from Harry Potter. But this does bring up a valid question that has been rolling around in my writer’s brain for a while….
I have been told several times that once you stake your claim in the writing world as an author in a certain genre, you really shouldn’t attempt to write outside of that genre. The reason given was that it upsets the readers who love what you’ve written in the genre of their choice. My instant reaction is to balk at that suggestion. But then came The Casual Vacancy. It seems as though readers have done exactly what those nay-sayers of genre crossing said they would do. They rejected Rowling’s non-YA fantasy novel.
But wait a minute. Several authors out there have made successful transitions from one genre to another, right? I mean, the one that comes immediately to my mind is Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb. I’ve read a few of Roberts’ historical and contemporary romances, but I’ve never read anything by J.D. Robb. I know they’re the same person, but in that tricky place known as my mind they are two distinct authors. And this might just be the point. Would I have gotten upset if I’d expected to read a romance and instead cracked open a thriller? … Actually, I probably would have. But I wouldn’t have held it against the esteemed Ms. Roberts.
Ah, but there’s another angle to this whole sticky equation that has been weighing on my mind lately. How specific should you be with the genres that you write and when is it time to use a pseudonym for crossing genre lines?
Here’s my problem. I write historical romance as myself, Merry Farmer. I chose not to go with a pseudonym because, vain as I am, I wanted to see MY name in print. But I can already see a certain amount of writing on the wall with some other name tagged to it. I’ve got this m/m erotica-ish story, for example, and if I ever publish that you’d better believe I would do it under a different name. The folks in my hometown do not need to know that my imagination goes there! On the other hand, I have a really fabulous sci-fi series in the works. I’ve already written first drafts of the first two books in the series. In theory I could buckle down and have them near publishable early next year. But they’re not romance. So in the interest of not annoying readers should I publish those novels under a different name?
This is where strategy comes into play. My ego would love to see my name on all of my books, of course it would. But sci-fi/fantasy is a tricky business. There seems to be a trend towards initialed authors in that world: J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, George R.R. Martin. There also seems to be a slight bias towards male or gender-neutral authors as well, possibly because of the perception that more men than women read the genre. That being the case, maybe it is a good idea to go with a gender-neutral, initialed pseudonym when crossing genre lines from romance to sci-fi.
So would The Casual Vacancy have been more successful if the name printed on the cover under the title was something other than J.K. Rowling? Even if everyone knew J.K. Rowling wrote it? Granted, it hasn’t exactly been unsuccessful. The author name itself probably sold more copies of the book than any other name could have. But according to the article I read, the backlash has been so severe that Rowling has announced she’s going back to kids books for now. Hmm.Of course, there’s one other aspect to this discussion that’s been on my mind too. Sure, as authors we can cross genre lines … or can we? Are we just better at telling one sort of a story than another?
Like I said, I write historical romance. And sci-fi. There are actually a lot of similarities between historical romance and sci-fi. Both involve worlds that are far removed from the everyday. Both hinge on transporting the reader to an environment that they may be unfamiliar with and sticking to social rules that are different from the world we live in. That I can do. But in the last few weeks I started writing a contemporary romance. It’s got a great premise and by some miracle I was able to write a synopsis of the entire plot before I started. But at 20k words I got stuck. I have no idea how to get unstuck. Which begs the question, should I be attempting to write contemporary romance? Do I have it in me?
Ultimately, when it comes to crossing genre lines as an author, pseudonym or no pseudonym, it all comes down to what kind of stories you have in you. I know I don’t have paranormal or horror stories in me. I’m pretty sure that Michael Crichton didn’t have any historical romances in him. But evidently Richard Adams had both anthropomorphic stories about rabbits and romantic fantasy in him. But there was still a thread of the otherworldly connecting Watership Down and Maia.
So what do you think? Should authors cross genre lines? Should they use a pseudonym when they do? Or are there too many people biting off more than they can chew who should stick to what they do best?