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Saturday, June 29, 2013

ALA 2013: Beyond Genre: Exploring the Perception, Uses, and Misuses of Genre by Readers, Writers, and Librarians

Beyond Genre: Exploring the Perception, Uses, and Misuses of Genre by Readers, Writers, and Librarians

Speaker: Laura Lippman, Author, Harper Collins
Speaker: Margaret Dilloway, Author, Penguin
Speaker: Naomi Novik, Author, Random House

Report: Direct link to handouts.

We began with a short statement on genre by each author. Notes follow.

Laura Lippman:

  • I identify as a crime novelist, but 20 years ago I started as an author when I met an editor who asked if I wanted to write erotica.  $1,500 offer for a story for a collection of women writing erotica for women.  Was a reporter still.
  • Editor told her that women writers needed the mask of genre to get started.  Women felt less presumptuous if sat down to write a "western" or "crime novel" rather than thinking I am going to sit down and write the great American novel.
  • I put on the mask of genre and never took it off.
  • When we think about all fiction that the more helpful image is to think about a map of a large but not very well charted world.  There are regions.  Yes there is a literary fiction area, but it is for books that we can't fit anywhere else.
  • These regions are all over the place and they don't have very well charted boundaries.
  • Best work is on the boundaries.
  • I am not that person who says, "I don't read ______." I read anything.
  • You can go from genre to literary, but you can also be a literary writer and move to genre.
  • Hate the concept of guilty pleasure.  Where's the guilt?  That line got applause. Only guilty because of someone else's perceived hierarchy. At the very least we should not feel guilty about things we love, and NEVER feel guilty about reading anything.
  • Genres are helpful to group books, but NOT if we are using them to condescend.
  • If there is a genre formula, I would like to see it.  That would help.
  • What does it mean to be a great popular novelist [a la Dickens back in the day]? Is that a genre on its own.
  • Nick Hornby has a column in McSweeny's where he talks about what he is reading.  Worth taking a look
  • It is not the form [genre] that has the limit; it is the writer who has the limit.  For example, I have to murder someone in every book.
Margaret Dilloway
  • So many classifications under the genres that it makes it hard to place a novel.
  • I did not sit down and try to write women's fiction.  I didn't try to tick off the boxes.  I just sat down to write a book.  Then someone told me it was women's fiction and my editor sometimes suggest that I beef up certain areas to fit there better.
  • I often have people tell me that I write "literary" women's fiction.  She has been told her work is between commercial and literary and we don't know where to put it.
  • I am trying to put my square peg in a round hole.  My characters are women and my topics are more domestic because that is what I know.
  • Future of genre.  It can't be like biology, where you keep classifying more and more specifically until you have a sub-sub-sub genre with only one author in it.
  • I like seeing all of the genre crossover.  Shine, Shine, Shine is a great example.  It is classified as women's fiction but it is about an astronaut and his wife. Husband calls it "Sci-Cry."
  • If a book gives me something I want and then maybe something from a different genre-- that's what I like as a reader.  Makes the book more appealing to me.  It's like a nice surprise.
Naomi Novik
  • These days, as a reader, I have a 2 year old daughter, so I have very little time.  I save time by not picking my books myself; I get recommendation from friends. Find someone whose taste you like and go with that.
  • Genre is solving a problem of abundance.  There are so many books, you need to be able to sort them somehow. 
  • Genre helps us have more hits than misses.
  • I find genre useful as a reader, even with all of the problems.  Of course it does limit you as well if you never go to the other shelves. You are closing yourself off as well.
  • I am a huge fan fiction reader and writer. 
  • People use tagging to assign genre now. There are people who have to condense the variations of spelling and names to make unified. Can get more specific.
  • Tagging explores genre because it takes the highest level away.  So you stop using things like Romance or Mystery.  They are too broad now.  You can get more specific now.
  • Problem with categorizing books is that books are full of ideas and you can't classify ideas.  BUt you have a limited space, so you have to fit them in somewhere.
  • If mystery and science fiction share a border and now romance wants to share a border with them and women's fiction wants to share with all three, how do you do that in a library or book store.
  • electronically, a book can live in 10 difference places at once and you can access it that way. It can live in all 10 places at once with tags.
  • How I approach genre as a writer.  As a writer, I do like constraints. Constraints turn writing into a puzzle to be solved.  When I do research into the historical details and find that there is not a street where I want a fight to be, I have to figure out what to do.  I need to find a street to fit my scene.  I find that pleasurable, fitting it into the box I set up (historical).
  • What is not pleasurable when you write a book like mine, historical fantasy, and you can't find a place to put it where readers can find it.
Moderated Discussion: Questions from audience.  Authors initials on their responses.

Q: We have heated debates about how many genre sections to have. Now there is a move toward having no genre sections. The idea is that it will move people who only read one genre to find more books they would enjoy.  There are passionate people on both sides. How to we honor their genre loyalty and help them find more options?

A: LL-- I use my local public library and I can't tell you if there are genre sections.  I like the idea of a free for all. I would be fine with all fiction shelved together, but with smaller curated sections. [Becky: this would be displays]. I love staff suggestions.  Any of us would like any curated smaller sections even if we didn't know why books were put together; just that they were put together thoughtfully.  I need guidance; but may be better if those sections moved away from genre and more toward staff picks.

NN-- Only problem with that is if it crosses with status.  If someone on staff won't put a certain genre there because they are embarrassed, that's a problem.  Staff have to put themselves out there when they say "this book is good, I think you should read it" on a staff picks.

MD: I think it would drive people mad to not be able to find their preferred section.  It could also make it hard to find new authors. They would get lost. My library has sections, and I find myself looking for a book and didn't even know that it was science fiction.

See the BPL's staff picks blog, Browser's Corner here.

Q: Did you write the story you wanted to write and then let the genre fall where it may. Do you deliberately write mash-ups

A: NN-- I write dragons in Napoleonic Wars.  [giggles].  Did I deliberately mash it up? I was writing Napoleonic Wars and thought "Dragons would be great here."

MD-- I let the cards fall where they may.  I don't set out to write genre.  Right now I am writing historical because it was the story that was calling to me. As I get further along, I guess I have to consider genre in advance.  But all my stories are about women, so I am women's fiction, but maybe the sub-genre changes.

LL-- I started with traditional who dunnits.  But now I am trying to see how quiet and character driven my suspense can be while still bring crime.  I think they may be morphing more into women's novels as a result.  I am interested to see how far I can push it until people notice. Much more navel gazing at this point.  I am mashing it up but not deliberately.

Q: I gave my mom Temeraire  book because I knew she would fall in lvoe with the characters, but at first she was turned off by the dragons. How can we, authors and librarians, work together to explore the market better?

A: NN-- We don't know what the market will be like. Publisher consolidation, ebooks. The more publishing becomes a business, the less it is about sharing authors.  My husband works for Hard Case Crimes.  Stephen King's Joyland pays for them to find new authors and publish everything else.  But what about a world where only King type books are published?

LL-- Self publishing gets right that it finds readers for quirky books. Then publishers take notice and sign more authors like that.

There were a few more questions, but I had to leave for Book Buzz Theater with Random House.

1 comment:

Lindy said...

Becky, thanks for sharing your notes with those of us who couldn't be there.