Long before I became a published writer I was an avid reader. And like many avid readers my tastes were eclectic. One summer I remember reading Nancy Drew, The Hobbit, Victoria Holt and Moby Dick. It didn’t occur to me that the books were a variety of genres. I just knew that one week I was in the mood for a mystery and the next I wanted something with adventure.
Things changed when I decided to make my living as a writer. I thought (rightly or wrongly) that there were rules that had to be followed. A reader of traditional regencies had different expectations than those who read historicals. Gothics, for goodness sakes, had to have atmosphere. High fantasy fans didn’t want sci-fi elements slipping in, and westerns didn’t have aliens.
I suppose that’s why I was so fascinated when I picked up my first paranormal romance. Suddenly there was a mixture of romance and horror and adventure. I didn’t have to be in the mood for one thing or another. And so when I sat down to write my first paranormal I deliberately threw the rules out of the window. I could mix romance and magic and a kick-ass heroine with a hint of mystery and a whole plethora of sexy monsters. I could world-build to my heart’s content and never worry about those pesky “expectations.”
What a wonderful thing to be naïve. Even though I was already a published author I didn’t consider the fact that sales department had to be able to market the book to wholesalers, and that bookstores had to shelve the book so customers could browse for it among similar books, and that I would have to be able to give out a snappy explanation to encourage wary readers to give it a try. And, of course, once the book hit the shelves, it took on a life of its own.
Savvy fans of the newest trends were already sorting their favorite books into separate niches. There were paranormals, romantic fantasies, urban fantasies, steampunk, elf punk…the list was endless. My own books tended to end up in the paranormal section or the romance section depending on the bookstore. But just as I was accepting that my story wasn’t a mishmash of genres, but a genre in itself, I started getting emails from readers wondering if my parnamoral was dark or light.
Hmmm. That was a toughie. I understood the question…sort of. There is absolutely a different vibe to J.R. Ward’s stories compared to Kerrelyn Sparks. And then there is the wonderful, wacky world of MaryJanice Davidson, which has little in common with Christine Feehan. But for many of us, the variations are more subtle. I do have a large dose of humor in my books (or at least what passes for humor in my opinion), as well as an emphasis on the romance, but there’s also some fighting, a splash of blood and a dollop of gore. So where did that leave me?
Light or dark?
It’s a question that I’ve decided to leave to my readers (and the poor sales department at my publishing house)! And just as importantly, I’ve accepted that while I might have changed from one genre to another, the rules today are out the window. Because of those daring authors willing to break the mold I can write zombies fighting the battle at the OK Corral or a regency with a werewolf. Perhaps there are purists who disdain the crossover between genres; and that’s all right. There are a number of fantastic authors who continue to write the more traditional books. Many of whom I consume as fast as they can put the books out. But for those who have been waiting for the odd, the unexpected, and unusual, the recent trend has offered a welcome variety and has perhaps enticed people who haven’t picked up a book since school to give reading another try.
So, whether or not the boundaries between genres might be blurring, or whether they’re simply being realigned, there’s no denying the opportunity for writers and readers to discover a whole new world! And that can’t be bad.
Alexandra Ivy is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Guardians of Eternity series. She graduated from Truman University with a degree in theatre before deciding she preferred to bring her characters to life on paper rather than stage. She currently lives in Missouri with her extraordinarily patient husband and two sons. Her latest novel, Beyond the Darkness, is the sixth title in her series, and is available now in print and ebook edition.