07 April 2012

Waiter, There's a Romance in my Fantasy...Doing the Time Warp

Long ago (well, it was a different millennium) in a galaxy not that far away I launched Crescent Blues, a weekly nonfiction electronic magazine dedicated to the proposition that all genres are created equal. 
The notion didn’t seem terribly radical.  After all, I’d hung around bookstores (I told you it was long ago).  I spied with my own little eyes (not Google Glass, oh no) that while people might head to one genre-specific section the minute they arrived at the store, they invariably moseyed elsewhere before hauling their stash to the cash register.  Books and magazines were—and remain—impulse buys, and like potato chips, nobody could read just one.

Mainstream readers shopped mystery.  Mystery readers (ahem) probed science fiction.  SF readers checked out the jacket copy on the fantasy next shelf or explored the thin slice of retail space remaining for westerns.  Fantasy readers wandered into the horror aisle or hung out in the romance section, and romance readers read everything.  In quantity.

Crescent Blues page views reflected my observations.  Readers would come for an interview with a specific writer or media personality and wander deeper into the site.  Their page trails formed an electronic version of “If you like this writer, try that” one that seldom ever remained in genre for long.  

A lot has changed in merchandising and marketing of narrative nonfiction and fiction since then, but the pattern hasn’t changed.  People continue to read across genre.  Not only that, some of the intervening years’ most famous and popular books and series straddle genre lines.  The fantasy of Harry Potter is wrapped around a mystery core.  For the Twilight series, fantasy adds the spice to a very traditional sweet romance.  Charlaine Harris addresses mainstream themes of prejudice in America's so-called melting pot in her Sookie Stackhouse series.  Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series uses mystery as a framework to explore—and denounce—violence against women.  George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones is as more about Realpolitik than fantasy dragons.  Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games series mixed reality TV and the Iraq War with dystopian SF.  And that doesn’t even address mash-ups like Pride and Prejudice with Zombies or Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter.

This shouldn’t surprise anyone.  If the notion of blending genres unsettles you, think about it another way: How many of your favorite dishes contain just one ingredient?  I agree, there’s nothing like the flavor of a ripe tomato fresh off the vine or a handful of blackberries you picked yourself.  But even those flavors are complex—sweet yet salty and acidic, and sweet and tart.  But consider, a steak has no flavor if you cook it without salt.  And what about those of us who salivate at the thought of some childhood favorite—Mom’s spaghetti sauce (the ONLY thing my mom could cook) or a favorite aunt’s lemon meringue pie.  They’re a riot of flavors, which by some miracle of talent and art come together just right.

It’s something to think about the next time you hear someone say they don’t like this kind of story or that kind of movie.  They’re only fooling themselves.  They wouldn’t know what to do if someone tried to take the romance out of Castle or the fantasy out of Desperate Housewives.

On a purely promo note, I’ll be thinking about it a lot during the next week.  My first panel at RavenCon, April 14, will be “Space Cowboys and Fantasy Noir”, featuring con guest of honor Glen Cook.  To quote the program, “From Shadowrun to Garret Files to Priest, mixing genres can result in some interesting stories.  What genres mix well?”

To which I plan to reply: All of them.

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