I was reading a blog of a talented author when I cam across a post that really got me thinking, I won’t mention the writer’s name as you’ll see from what I copied and pasted below; the project is intended to see how far this chain can go without tagging anyone. I found it very interesting and wanted to try the questions myself, I hope some of you will have a stab too. Here’s the original post minus his answers (I’ll put my answers in their place):
So, I’ve been thinking and talking about genre. That led me to this post where I’m going to ask a few questions and answer then. Other authors or readers can join in the fun within the comments or on their own blog. Maybe we can turn this into an optional chain post where nobody is tagged. Totally volunteer, but I’m curious about people’s opinions:
1. What made you choose the genre that you write in? If not working within a genre, why did you go that route?
2. What do you think are the strengths and weaknesses of working within a genre?
3. Do you think genres crossover a lot more often than we realize?
4. Would you try another genre or are you locked into your area as a specialist? Do you believe this hurts you as an author?
5. Would you write within a genre that you don’t like, but is currently popular in order to get your foot in the door of the business?
If you do decide to answer these yourself, please let me know, as I would be interested to here your thoughts, read your post and let the author of the original post know (as I know they’d want to see where this goes). Here’s my answers:
1. Most people know I am a poet by heart but I also write fantasy fiction and finished my first novel in that genre last year. I was fortunate to have parents and grandparents that read to me from a very early age and this mostly consisted of fairytales, progressing to the Narnia books, Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain chronicles (The Book of Three and The Black Cauldron were the first books I re-read and I have delightful memories of my father doing excellent voices for the charaters, especially when Gurgi wanted ‘munchings and scrunchings’).
My father had a love of fantasy fiction and had a great many books in the genre (which I coveted like Golum did the One Ring), when he and my grandmother realized I had taken an intrest in this, they would talk excitedly about the magnificent worlds within the pages, making me more excited myself and desperate to devour every magical tome. I quickly fell in love with the Dragonlance books and felt a certain naughty and truly magical experience every time I looked at maps of Middle Earth (which later prompted me to draw my own maps).
I began to imagine my own characters in my own world, slowly building a place that evolved in to what I now call Cyralost. My family encouraged my reading and the little writing I did from an early age, I only wish I had kept it all! When other children were spending their pocket money and birthday cash on sweets and sports or such, I saved for books, dungeons & dragons stuff (I love stuff) or music, pens and paper. I had an active childhood, did all the usual stuff like camping, exploring etc, but I was a willful boy with issues pertaining to authority so got grounded a lot – but I loved being sent to my room because that’s where the books, records and writing stuff was!
For me, fantasy was the only thing I was truly interested in and felt a natural course to pursue when writing. I didn’t really think about genre or writing anything else, just wanting to escape in to my little world at the time. As I got older, I started writing poetry, the usual, terrible, angry teen – ‘why me’ and ‘I hate everything’ dribble. Occasionally, something fairly impressive came out of this and was recognized by others, who encouraged me to continue.
I visited my mythological world from time to time over the years and retained my love and fascination with all things fantasy but read more widely (mostly fantasy, but more classics, anything anyone lent me, a lot of poetry and non-fiction, learning more about mythology and slowly realizing where a lot of fantasy originated) and truly fell in love with poetry.
A long break from writing came from life’s usual crap and a young man’s obsession with girls and an addiction to alcohol (which I am battling, now seven years sober). When I returned to writing (a tale for another time as I have gone on far too long now), I was pissed at myself for having wasted so much time and realized that fantasy was the one addiction I could really abuse. I threw myself in to Cyralost and have now written one novel, several pieces of flash fiction, a few short stories and poems and a ton of appendices within my fantasy world.
I’ll try and answer the next questions more concisely!
2. Every genre has its own strengths and weaknesses and these all depend on the (rarely spoken of) ‘rules’ that are genre-specific. With fantasy, you have to make your own rules to make your world believable(for example, a magic system that everyone sticks to). If magic gets you out of every scrape, the non magic-wielding characters become pointless. I think ‘the rules’ is too big a topic to tackle here but invite anyone to share their thoughts and suggest you read what Terry Pratchett has to say about the matter in his article in The Writers & Artists Yearbook.
The main strengths of writing in the fantasy genre are that almost anything is possible, your only barrier is the limit of your imagination and there is an incredible wealth of mythology in our own world to draw from for inspiration and a huge fanbase for the genre who are happy to share their thoughts, ideas and excitement of the subject. I love talking about fantasy and invite anyone to do so!
3. Genres most certainly cross-over a great deal, probably more than we realize. The vampire/werewolf craze that hit recently showed the lycanthropes and undead with far more magic and depth than their original mythological counterparts, horror and erotica has seeped in to fantasy fiction and all of the above in to sci-fi. Romance becomes necessary in all genres to give characters depth, Sci-Fi has now invaded westerns (cowboys vs aliens) and war movies (battle los angles) and the possibilities are truly endless. Cross-overs are what they are, whether intentional or not, they are everywhere and up to the reader or viewer to make of it what they will.
4. I have tried other genres but my love remains with fantasy. The popular view of successful writers is to stick with what you know. I believe you should write what you are passionate about and share C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien’s thought on wanting to write a book that I would personally like to read. I am enjoying writing this, write in a diary, have lots of projects on the go (exploring ecology, etymology and world-building), I love to write poetry and occasionally try other things (which I think broaden my writing abilities and present challenges). I stick with fantasy for the most part because I am happiest when in my own world and exploring it, I am obsessed with emptying my imagination on to the page as much as possible to leave as much of a legacy for Cyralost as I can and despair at the thought that no one might want to continue my fantasy chronicles when I am gone so pray one of my children or a friend will share my love for it! I don’t know what qualifies one to become a specialist in any one genre but I am widely read in my subject (I have over a thousand books in my personal library and two thirds are fantasy fiction and/or fantasy or mythology related) and my passion for fantasy borders on an obsessive compulsive disorder to read and right more of it. Do I think that not trying other genres hurts an author? Not really, but it also wouldn’t hurt to give something else a try, you’ll always come back to your first love.
5. The last question made me smile and was actually very easy to answer. I realize the opportunities that arise from writing something in a genre one doesn’t like to get a foot in the door with publishers when that genre is particularly popular at the time, like erotica because 50 shades was a hit or teen vampire stuff because of twilight. However, I can’t write something I don’t want to, it wouldn’t be believable. I think writing something you are passionate about is more compelling, the writing will be better. Those who are enthusiastic about their genre give their books a real personality. Yes, the dream is to be able to make money enough from writing to be able to write for a living but if I wrote just to make money, I wouldn’t enjoy it and it would be just another job I hate. I never want to think of writing as work. I love writing, LOVE it! And I guess my final thought on the matter is: I love the genre I write in.
Let me know how you get on, best wishes from Baldy
Additional: I welcome interviews and any questions you may have, especially about poetry or fantasy fiction, or writing in general.