Those of you who know me or have followed this blog for some time know that my writing journey has been a bit haphazard. I have written my entire life, mostly short stories. But in college, I had a growing interest in film and theater which led me to an MFA in Screenwriting. I wrote a lot of terrible screenplays I never tried to sell, began working in television production (I hated it) and somehow fell into children’s media, which allows me to write for children, a roundabout way of using my degree. Despite all of this interest and education in media, I had a nagging desire to write a novel, which led to writing Spared.
Spared was a natural story for me to tell, for a lot of reasons. At the time I read, almost exclusively, literary fiction (both adult and young adult) and I decided to write a novel about two sisters, which I later learned should be marketed as women’s fiction. So I figured I was a women’s fiction writer. (I use all of these terms loosely, of course, since I am not yet published.)
Once I finished Spared, however, I began writing a young adult novel. Again, the label of young adult was dictated only by the market. I had a sixteen year old protagonist. And that was that. In the same way that I thought I was a short story writer and got into screenwriting, and then decided to write a novel, while writing at my job for preschoolers, which made me a literary fiction writer who ‘became’ a women’s fiction writer, I underwent another transformation (yeah, I’m getting dizzy too) I became a young adult writer. Bing, bang, boom.
Here’s the thing. Both novels deal with young women and explore difficult topics (in fact, so did all of the screenplays). The style is the same. I would never write ‘down’ to a young adult audience, just like I would never write ‘up’ for an adult one. And since both novels are based in reality, the characters drive the story, so the things that happen to them are appropriate for their age and, therefore, my audience.
In this business, it seems that we are forced to label ourselves instantaneously. You write and publish a romance novel and, bam, you’re a romance writer. But I think there is a danger in that. How do you grow as a writer once you’ve slapped the label? And, once you’re published in a particular genre how do you push yourself outside of it? How do you tell the story you wish to tell if it doesn’t suit what you know? Do you stay afraid of it and toss the idea aside…or pony up?
For a while, I was a little nervous about getting into young adult literature. It wasn’t something I set out to do and I thought I wasn’t qualified because I’d never done it before. But I’m glad I pushed out of my comfort zone. I’m glad I told the story that came to me and I didn’t just tuck it aside because it didn’t quite fit.
I have the sense that the publishing industry does not look positively at genre hopping. Maybe a teacher would encourage an aspiring writer like me to explore. But I’m not sure an agent would want to take you on if you admitted to hopping around a lot. They might question your maturity as a writer. Or if you were an established writer, there would probably be a lot of suits in a conference room, trying to figure out how to approach this lapse in sanity (I assume a pseudonym would be the answer?) Still, I can’t help but think how exciting it would be if my favorite authors took on something entirely different. I’d love to see Jhumpa Lahiri take on science fiction or something crazy like that. I mean, why the heck not? If you love the way an author tells a story, what difference does it make if a literary author takes their characters to outer space?
How do you feel about genre hopping? Too risky? Or exciting? Would you encourage or discourage another writer to genre hop? Would it make a difference if they were published or not?