Monday, November 21, 2011

Genre-ally Speaking. Or not.

I should have started my list of “Things I Never Thought I’d Hear Myself Say” over twenty years ago when I told my youngest child not to bite the family dog on its leg.
Since then, I’ve accumulated a number of noteworthies ranging from, “I know a Category 5 hurricane is about to slam New Orleans, but I don’t really need to evacuate,” to “Someone who tweeted me just added me to her Google + circle, and I can’t find her on Facebook.”
My latest? “I’m leaving my new-ish house in the suburbs to move into one 150+ years old in New Orleans.”  I’d like to add to that one something along the lines of, “I’m exhilarated unpacking all these boxes of clutter from hell,” but it’s not happening.
If I hadn’t just finished a six-hour drive and then arrived home to be informed  the grandfather clock needed relocating, which required moving the clock’s internal organs, the dining room table, six boxes, and, “Oh, by the way, could you put two ice chests in the car and pick up the food we left in the refrigerator and freezer after your one hour drive to your doctor appointment followed by your turkey day grocery shopping?” …I might have composed a sexy segue way to tying all this to genre. 
But, I didn’t. So, here’s the thing:
I’ve experienced similar moments of thinking I had defined my universe, my genre palate  as a reader, only to discover I could easily acquire a taste for the unfamiliar if the presentation was irresistible.  
I never thought I’d hear myself say I enjoyed nonfiction until I read Bill Bryson, Anne Lamott, Francine Prose, and Sarah Vowel.
I never thought I’d hear myself say I enjoyed dystopian novels until Margaret Atwood and, recently, Suzanne Collins,
 I never thought I’d hear myself say I enjoyed historical fiction until Philippa Gregory, and Havah by Tosca Lee.
And, of course, I’m naming just a few authors, but you’re savvy women, you get it…

But as a writer, I’m finding that, instead of developing a genre-palate, I’m being tube-fed.  In some cases. force-fed.
If men read my novels that are categorized as women’s fiction, can I start calling them cross-gender fiction? If a contemporary fiction features a married couple, it isn’t a contemporary romance.  What’s the message there?
I recently pitched a novel as being contemporary fiction with romance elements. Seriously.
What about dystopian romance? Historical paranormals? (erotic inspirationals are entirely off the shelf.)
And can we wave the white bonnet of surrender and recognize that Amish fiction is a category unto itself? Actually, at the speed of which those novels disappear from shelves, I wouldn’t mind sprinkling a few bonnet-covered characters on my covers.
Genre provides order, definition, and perhaps, for some, a firewall of protection.  But it also confines us to certain literary “neighborhoods.”   Even though they feature atypical Christian protagonists and subject matter, my novels are shelved in the Christian Fiction section. Not a great deal of non-denominational traffic in that aisle.
Perhaps it’s time to have a genre neighborhood block party, meet a new family. Or two. We don’t have to move in with them.  Just open our doors.

Christa Allan is the author of Walking on Broken Glass, The Edge of Grace, and Love Finds You in New Orleans (2012). You can find her at, Facebook, and Twitter. When she's not frantically meeting deadlines and emptying boxes, she teaches high school English. Christa and her husband recently moved to New Orleans to live in a home older than their combined ages. Their three neurotic cats are adjusting.


  1. I'm all for a block party! I hang out in all the aisles of the bookstore. And lately, I've started branching out of the same genre I normally read. I'm finding it's nice. Really, really nice.

  2. Erotic inspirationals... Now there's something to ponder! Great post, Christa! Much luck with your new old house. I live an in antique, and as long as it's not leaking, I love it!

  3. Ooh, Christa, I love this (and, um, I'm jealous about your new house and location!). I'm a big fan of variety and trying new things and books help me do that.

  4. Christa, I love this! You are so right-- genres can be so helpful, but also so confining. Bring on the block party!!

  5. I'm with ya! I write clean fiction aimed at the general market. Will anyone read a good story without the trash? Here's hoping...maybe it's a new genre. Let's call it, "shiny lit."

  6. I have found that as soon as I say, "I'll never do that," well, that's exactly what I do next. And I'm fighting this whole putting me in a genre box for sometime - no wonder I find myself going Indie - even the small publishers are too restrictive or even more restrictive. Refreshing post! Thanks for sharing!

  7. Don't laugh. I know of an author who is in the process of releasing her first erotic Christian novel. Guess it just requires someone to break out of the box.

    Recently, I realized how boxed in my reading has become. I used to consider myself widely read. Not so much anymore, although I read a lot of very good, even some great, fiction. But there's so much left on the shelves because it's categorized or placed in proximity to what I'm reading. And that's a shame.

  8. Christa, best of luck with the move! A 150-year-old house in New Orleans sounds amazing! I hope you'll write a post about it sometime down the line. I'm envisioning gorgeous old fixtures and high ceilings and original hardwood floors. Sigh. As for genres, having been in the mystery world where there's such a caste system for books, I wish we could just do away with all the sub-categorizing. But it's like everything else, driven by marketing and sales. So I think we're all stuck with it. I guess that's why everyone wants a "breakout book" that sheds the genre shackles and shows everyone, "Muhaha, you can't categorize me!" ;-)


  9. Enjoyed your post, Christa, and LOL about collecting those sayings you thought you'd never say ;). Also, congrats on the move!! Hope your first Thanksgiving there will be wonderful.

  10. I can totally relate to asking children not to bite the dog's leg. I think we should have the block party on your block because I'm dying to see your house! Great post!

  11. Note to self: Do not attempt to grocery shop the Monday before Thanksgiving. Apparently, everyone in the state is eating broccoli and/or spinach on Thursday.

    Just now getting to my cyber-life, so I want to thank all of you for dropping by today. And Patricia, you must must must, dish the info on that Christian erotica. So the terms aren't mutually exclusive after all?

    I'll try to mesh the buying of the old house story with the next blog post. And I've considered that it would be a great place for a writer's retreat----

  12. The house sounds fantastic. I'm jealous because I love old houses and in New Orleans... What a great place for a block party.

  13. I agree, where do you stop in categorising books? I suppose every little helps when you're trying to pitch your story to the "right" market.

    Also, try not to worry about the 150 year old house, houses in England are generally that age and over and other than the creaks and moans they're good solid houses. Just be warned that the cats will disappear into strange nooks and crannies that you never knew existed.