Genre Woes

Today’s displacement activity is obsessing about genre. Again.

I should be writing or querying. Instead I’m obsessing about which genre I should be describing my completed novel as.

I know that the books that it most closely resembles are usually described as urban fantasy or contemporary urban fantasy. Except for when they’re magical realism but there’s at least two contradictory definitions for that. The urban fantasy thing isn’t quite right because the magic in my books is too subtle and I also have some weird science. There’s some alternative history but it’s not alternative history because it’s set in the present. There’s some advanced technology but not enough to make it science fiction. It’s quite dark but I don’t think it’s dark enough to call it horror.

The opening paragraph of a query letter should tell the agent you’re querying what genre the work is. How do I describe my weird, dark, slightly magical, detective thriller so that the right agent will actually read it?

None of which solves the problem of finding the right agent in the first place. They say that if you think an agent is right for your novel you should query them regardless of their stated genre preferences. Ok. I could do that. How would I find that out? I only have so many hours in the day. I’m not stalking every agent in the English speaking world until one of them expresses a fondness for ghosts and detectives and demons and magic and artificial intelligence all in the same book.

So, obviously, I should employ the scattergun approach and just query every agent in the English speaking world because I’ll eventually find the right agent that way. Right? Except you’re supposed to tailor the query to the agent. And tell the agent what genre you’re querying.

Why can’t I just be a sensible writer and write in a sensible genre?

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Terry Pratchett is dead and that is not ok.

I never really met Sir Terry.  I got a book signed by him in person and I  once unintentionally pissed him off on alt.fan.pratchett but that’s not really meeting the man.  I certainly didn’t know him.  And yet today I grieve.

I’m grieving for the man who taught me that writer’s block is not actually a thing.  I’m grieving for the man who taught me that genre fiction can be literature and still be genre fiction.  I’m grieving for the man who changed the way I look at libraries, and little shops, and witches, and snowmen, and fantasy tropes, and magic, and gods, and growing up, and time, and Death.

I’m not just grieving for Sir Terry.  I’m grieving for the Patrician, and Granny Wetherwax, and Nanny Ogg and Magrat Garlick, and Agnes Nitt, and Tiffany Aching, and His Grace Commander Sir Samuel Vines, and Lady Sybil, and Nobby Nobbs, and CMOT Dibbler, and Captain Carrot, and Angua, and Rincewind.  I’m grieving for all the stories untold.  I’m grieving for all the lessons unlearned.

I don’t know how to make this horrible thing ok but I think we can all learn from his examples. We who write can commit to writing better an writing more.  We can donate to research to beat Alzheimer’s.  Sir Terry did say he wanted Alzheimer’s to be sorry it caught him and we should make that happen.

Lastly I want to leave you with one of my favourite memories about Sir Terry.  Years ago one of his books (Interesting Times, I think) was featured on a very posh show on BBC Two (Newsnight Review).  Most of the panel said about what you’d expect.  Then the  poet, writer, columnist and critic Tom Paulin exploded with irritation and said “The man’s a complete amateur.  He doesn’t even write in chapters.”

This wasn’t in the early days of Terry’s career.  He was already a respected and beloved figure on the fantasy scene and was being accused by many mainstream critics of actual literature.  How did Sire Terry respond to this criticism?  He put it on the book.  It’s right there with the quotes from the great and the good about how wonderful it is.  That’s how you deal with the haters