Sunday, April 10, 2011

Successful Cross-Genre Writing

I'm happy to have Lorina Stephens visiting with us today to discuss cross-genre writing. She is an author, editor, and publisher. Her publishing house, Five Rivers Chapmanry, is an independent micro-publisher of fiction and non-fiction, giving voice to new and established Canadian authors. Five Rivers is committed to bringing publishing back to uncompromising personal editors where it belongs, rather than focus-group marketing. 

In the previous century, as publishers gained control of sales and marketing, greater restrictions were placed upon the creative freedom of a writer. If your last hit was an historical naval fiction, your next work had better closely follow that subject. Or if you wrote hard science fiction, don’t blur the borders by writing an epic high fantasy. And worse, don’t, under any circumstances, write a book that might further muddy the waters by being a bit historical and a bit fantasy. Retailers have to know exactly where to shelve those books.

Introduce to that established publishing model the evolution of the past decade. It’s now ridiculously easy for any writer to create, publish, distribute and market their work. And because much of that independently published work rarely occupies shelf space beside the latest releases from the Big Six, the restrictions of how to categorize that work fall away.

And thus the growth of cross-genre writing.

As a writer, the concept of blurring the lines of categorization isn’t something new; first and foremost I want to tell a good story. Both of my novels, Shadow Song, and From Mountains of Ice, cross the boundaries of categories, both sitting between historical and fantasy fiction.

As a publisher, I look to cross-genre writing favourably, as it’s often from such creative minds that a new, fresh lens appears on a familiar topic.

But how to write cross-genre successfully? I’m not for a moment going to propose a ‘how-to’ lesson, partly because I don’t subscribe to formulae for good writing, and one of the reasons I personally abhor how-to books, whether they be on painting or finding your inner goddess.

What I look for, as a publisher, in a cross-genre novel is a seamless transition between the credible and incredible, and as a result an easy flow that shuts off a reader’s disbelief. I am particularly keen about blurring the lines between cultural, historical and fantasy fiction.

If you’re writing about a pseudo-historical place or era, getting your details accurate is vitally important. If your character is in period dress, be sure you understand all the restrictions and ramifications of that dress, from a man’s footed hose and points, to a woman’s chemise and corset. Domestic technologies, forms of currency, pre-existing economic and political groups and alignments – all of these factors require research in order for your story to have the ring of truth. Do that, and then when you introduce some sort of time-travel or psychic ability, there will be a richness and veracity to what you’ve created that will render your reader helpless to your story-telling ability, and turn that cynical and tired acquisition editor into a believer and business partner.

Of course, while infusing your work with this minute detail, it’s important to remember your characters are the vehicle and voice for your story, and so stopping the action to give an inventory of goods isn’t wise. Whatever you’re describing should be part of the tight focus of your character and necessary to the advancement of the plot, a fact true not just of cross-genre writing, but any good writing.

Recommended reading for excellent cross-genre writing:
The Blind Assassin, Margaret Atwood
The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie
Lions of Al-Rassan, Guy Gavriel Kay
The Winter King, Bernard Cornwell

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