Searching for a Genre

You’ve caught me in a moment of writing journey reflection, but I promise to move forward and step through the looking glass before the end. The weather here has climbed well above freezing and, inspired and determined to improve my health over last year’s downward spiral, I’ve resumed walking. It isn’t spring, but instead a winter warm spell, but it feels great. There’s nothing quite like the sun on my face to churn lethargic thoughts.

As I stated at the outset, this is about writing, and from that standpoint last year was an upward spiral. I won’t complain about that! Even more than my ongoing learning curve, I’m focused on searching for the sub-genre that suits me best, a problem that’s haunted me for many years.

Briefly, to start, the learning curve looks like this:

2000 – 2004
Too ignorant to know any better, which might have been for the best, I charged forth to write the great fantasy novel. Word count? LOTR was really long so their was no ceiling, or so I thought. I was determined to redefine epic and so threw in everything. Character arcs abounded. The twists twisted until even I didn’t understand them. It was huge, sprawling, and eventually totaled 975,000 words. I’m serious.

Photo: CA Hawthorne

The history. Photo: CA Hawthorne

I even wrote two other, far shorter novels that were equally messy, but were more heartfelt. I also learned a lot about world building and map making and—most important—became more aware of how much I didn’t know.

2005 – 2012
The lost years. In short, my personal life fell apart, culminating with a horrific illness that has influenced my life since. I could easily call 2010 the lost year, for I remember little outside hospital stays and medications that scattered brain cells. I began writing poetry again in 2011.

2013 – 2015
I revisited my fictional world in 2013, my initial efforts focused on fixing what I’d already written, but I recognized I was a different writer than I was a dozen years before. I also started my WP blog. The following year came the website, publishing a poetry book, and participating in NaNoWriMo. Last year I returned to NaNo and dedicated myself to better learn my craft (Deep 3rd, structure, etc.).

When I began writing I wanted to stretch the typical fantasy genre boundaries. Early on, I accomplished that to a degree, though I’d still label that first novel as High Fantasy. Even so, and even then, I sensed the fit wasn’t exactly right.

During my lost years, and even before, much changed in fantasy as new sub-genres were born, but the larger issue was finding myself. As stated, I began with High Fantasy, though I’d convinced myself I should embrace elements of Dark Fantasy, which had more to do with outside influences playing havoc with my outlook on life. Further complicating my search was my lifelong tendency to straddle fences, a tendency to see the merit in varying viewpoints and approaches.

Too, a part of me resisted finding a label at all. In real life no one wants to be labeled or stereotyped. My resistance declined, though, as time passed and I realized the label was important if the correct audience was to find my stories. In a sense, the explosion of sub-genres made finding my home more important so as to avoid becoming lost. No one wants to hear a lengthy, wandering explanation. “Well, you see, there’s a little of this and some of that and you can also find…”

Ontyre Map: CA Hawthorne

2015 Ontyre Map: CA Hawthorne

I looked at what I had. The fantasy world’s map remained, for there was no need to change it. Too, the magic system still worked. For the most part the peoples and creatures populating the world were also fine. Whew! That’s a tremendous head start.

As was the case before, the focus in the novels is upon Carrdia, the last significant human civilization. Great technologies existed during the Old Emprensen Empire, but were lost when it collapsed. Fifty years before, on the brink of recapturing a portion of that technological greatness, Carrdia was thrust back into a Dark Ages when those who came to power outlawed the magic necessary to power technology. The novels are about the efforts to end the Dark Ages, both technologically and socially.

H’m, so Steampunk then? Not so fast. Steampunk fits, but only in a broad sense, for the social changes mean more to me than mechanical devices. Yes, I embrace the clothing styles and technology, especially firearms and airships, but not steam because it violates my world’s magic. Too, again, I’m not as enamored of the intricacies of technology as some. At the same time, I embrace a society where women’s voices and prospects are expanding and a country in upheaval as it attempts to find its way through profound societal and technological changes. Add to all that external forces wishing bring the country to its knees and that’s where I want to be: stories about hope, about people coming together to solve and improve rather then tear down.

Was there a place for me within Steampunk? At first I didn’t think so, but then I read The Diabolical Miss Hyde by Viola Carr and I reconsidered. Other accomplished authors, like Kate Elliot, Shelley Adina, and, of course, Lindsay Buroker have also made me think the genre might work, keeping in mind some of their works are Historical Fantasy. Still, that’s a heartening thought.

Since last November I’ve written more than a dozen short stories taking place during different Old Empire time periods so as to further explore the new world I’m envisioning and that’s further driven my excitement. It’s spring and I’m in a good place!

13 Replies to “Searching for a Genre”

  1. Pingback: Searching for a Genre | Christina Anne Hawthorne

  2. That map is AMAZING. Love it. I also love your approach, how you looked at your old work, took what you needed, and then rediscovered the world through the short stories you wrote. I’d say genres be damned. Who cares about the genre when a brilliant story is unleashed?

    • Great comment! I really find myself squirming when I face the genre topic because I’m someone who doesn’t care for labels. At the same time, there’s the discoverability issue, though you make an excellent point that a great story can transcend its genre and in some cases create a new one (that is, after all, where Steampunk came from). That’s a point I should have made. Thanks for making it. One important aspect is that I’ve ceased to try and write High Fantasy and have instead found a genre that better suits what I already do (as you also noted). I guess that’s also growth.

      • Oh totally agree, labels are irrelevant. And the thing I love about writing is that we evolve as writers when we are not attached to labels and let our creativity take us where it wants instead of where we think it should go. Years ago I wanted to write about elves and dwarves and whatnot, high fantasy, space opera, stuff like that. Perhaps it was the books that had caught my imagination. But then when I started writing, my fantasy went elsewhere, and I never wrote anything about elves and dwarves (unless it was fanfiction). I was learning, and I still am learning (and will continue probably forever) but my stories together with my characters moved to directions I never had imagined. I think you are absolutely correct, it’s growth. Additionally, abandoning the old stories while salvaging what we can is showing maturity. In my case, all I could salvage was the intentions and the reminder to forget labels, but even that is precious. As Leiah said, you are not alone Christina. Write the story you are passionate about and the rest will come naturally.

        • I agree with all you’ve said here. As much as I wanted to stretch the fantasy shackles I still managed to trap myself in those of my own making. The turning point was NaNo, 2014. I wrote a book unlike any I’d written (a mystery). It was terrible, but I loved every fresh, creative minute. The old passion had resurfaced.

  3. I agree with Aura. Genre be damned! That is self-limiting. You are more creative than to simply plop a book into a particular genre and call it good. Your thought process shows that you are working on something special – something that isn’t limited by a check box.

    The best books, to me, are the ones that stretch beyond self limiting boundaries. Blends of paranormal, supernatural, suspense, thriller, horror and sometimes romance are books that keep me reading into the night. Yes, sometimes the “self limiting” books are just what I need to relax and not have to think about what I am reading, and I have “go-to” authors for that sort of reading. But when I really want to Read, to immerse myself in the story, characters, and landscape, give me a blend every day!

    • Another comment I treasure. This post was worth the efforts for the comments alone. I couldn’t agree more, as it happens, and despite my insecurities. Strict genre books are a comfort like mediocre television when you’re on the couch running a high fever, but those books that possess the greatest depth do so because in a genre sense they possess the greatest breadth. Thank you so much for what amounts to profound encouragement and further evidence I’m not alone.

  4. Glad to hear your writing is going well, Christina. Fabulous map. If you know your audience then genre only becomes important if you are looking for an agent or to selling to a bookstore. But still you can pick a genre or tell them it’s a blend. That’s risky for some agents, but it’s what other agents are looking for– genre that pushed boundaries. I don’t really care how close something adheres to the genre boundaries as long as it makes me think. I wish you the best for your journey toward better health and hope we can reconnect soon!

    • It’s interesting, Laurie, that writers are striving to push the boundaries that many readers wanted pushed, but it’s too often those in-between who demand labels. Along with bookstores and agents are publishers and Amazon. It’s a marketing attitude centered around wanting to churn out lots of the same old same old. I’ll catch-up with you soon. 🙂

  5. Christina I really enjoyed seeing your writing journey, wow you have come a long way. I agree that genre can sometimes stifle the creativity. There are always those who break the rules and I believe you could do it and write an amazing book. Good luck no matter what you decide.

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