We were all supposed to make noise and move around in whatever direction we wanted.
It was the last activity for an acting workshop I was attending in college, put on by a theater troupe who later would perform Shakespeare (Twelfth Night, if memory serves). Through the course of the afternoon we’d gone through various improv, blocking, and dialogue techniques. Now, in this last activity, we would just wander and react.
It was quite fun. At first, everyone was all over the place. People moved about, dodging and bumping into each other. There would be brief exchanges of words, some nonsensical, some with depth. There was a good bit of laughter.
Eventually, though, the most curious thing happened. Two people began moving in a similar direction. Then a couple more joined them. Then more and more.
Eventually, every person in the workshop was walking in a counterclockwise circle in the middle of the room, going around and around and around together.
Except for one person.
I was still wandering my own way—and had wound up in the middle of this stream of people. Only problem was, I was walking in the opposite direction as everyone else. I still wanted to move my own way. I still wanted to go in my direction. It just happened to be different from what everyone else was doing.
As soon as I could, I got out of the circle and kept doing my own thing.
I guess some things never change.
Don’t bend genre
I think about that afternoon a lot—how it felt to be doing something different from everyone else, and wondering why I was the only one. I think about it as a parent too, since early observations indicate my son and daughter will be walking their own directions too.
But I also think about it a lot as an author. Specifically, when I think about genre and book categories.
You know. You look online or go into a bookstore, and everything is categorized all prettily for you. There’s the romance and the horror, the fantasy and the westerns. Everything is tidied into stacks or web categories. You can whittle things down finer too. There’s sweet romance and paranormal romance, epic fantasy and urban fantasy, and even things more granular which I won’t even get to.
Then there’s poor buggers like me.
Thing is, so far my books don’t fit any tidy genre categories. The Rucksack Universe is categorized under fantasy. But just as Neil Gaiman has said, more or less, that he doesn’t necessarily see his books as fantasy but concedes they have to be put on the shelf somewhere, I figure that fantasy is about as good a fit as I’m likely to find.
But that doesn’t mean I play by the rules.
My books aren’t what come to mind when you think fantasy. If you envision swords and sorcery, wizards and kings, vampires and werewolves, and lots of scantily clad helpless women who need rescuing, well, you won’t find that in my stories. That makes it a challenge to attract readers and help them see that the Rucksack Universe is something they want to take a chance on.
The other day, Library Journal and their SELF-e program asked me for an author interview. It was a really cool bit of Q&A (should be out next month). I keep thinking about my answer to one question in particular.
They asked what I wished I had known about self-publishing when I was getting into this.
I thought and thought about that. Then it hit me.
I wish I had understood how hard it was going to be to categorize my books, and what impact that would have on how I appeal to potential readers. I’ve been a full-time, self-employed, independent writer and author since 2011, with books on the market since 2013. Yet in all that time, genre continues to bust my balls.
Now I understand why. It’s ridiculously simple, of course. Been staring me in the face all this time. Hell, not even that. It’s part of my DNA.
I don’t fit the box. I don’t tidy nicely into the category. I don’t walk in the circle or the same direction as the circle.
My stories are different. Thing is, the people who come to them, tell me that’s what they like. They like that they’re unlike other stories.
I appreciate the validation, and I’m going to keep on keepin on with my oddball stories of travelers, beer, and living and breathing legends myths. But how do I appeal to new readers and bring them to the series? When someone is browsing, say, the fantasy category, they may already have a set of genre expectations—but I get to turn those expectations on their head. It’s what I’ve always done. It’s who I am and who I choose to be. Expecting X from a story? Here’s a heaping of A with a pint of B—and you’re going to have a feckin good time.
After all, why bend genre when you can break it?
Appealing to new readers has been a challenge because I’ve been walking the same direction in the circle with everyone else.
Now I’ve stepped out.
Image: Stiller Beobachter