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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

What's My Genre, Again?


When I started writing “A Soul to Steal,” I didn’t think very hard about how I was going to market it. It crossed my mind, sure, and I even went so far as to picture the cover in my mind—the Headless Horseman racing down a moonlit path.
But I didn’t really consider who the audience was, and at the time, I didn’t even know book bloggers existed, much less that they generally divided themselves into certain categories. I was just trying to finish a novel, which felt like a feat in and of itself.
As a result, I now have a novel I have trouble describing to people because it doesn’t break down into any conventional format. It is part mystery, part suspense-thriller, part paranormal romance, and a little bit of horror—with an underlying subplot about the nature of community journalism.
This has become quite a problem for me. When I published the novel, friends would ask, “What kind of novel is it?” At first I answered “horror,” because the book has the Headless Horseman on the cover and I thought that was the right answer. Some friends were happy with that, but others cringed. “Oh,” they said. “I don’t really like horror. I can’t stand gore.”
I would then rush to explain that the novel is just a tiny bit horror and contains no gore of any sort. I hate gore: I don’t find it interesting as a reader or a writer. Somehow, it feels cheap. Still, my overall point was this: my novel isn’t really horror.
Then I tried calling it a “paranormal romance,” because it has a heavy romantic and paranormal element to it. The novel is about two characters that must learn to trust each other to destroy the fears haunting both of them. But it didn’t feel quite right to call it a paranormal romance, given that a lot of books technically in that genre are fundamentally different than mine. There are no vampires, werewolves or angels, and my novel doesn’t feel like the next “Twilight.”
Adding to my difficulty is that the book has a huge mystery element to it. A notorious serial killer named Lord Halloween has returned to Leesburg, Virginia, and the police are desperately trying to find his identity. Local journalists Quinn and Kate are also investigating the trail and the answer isn’t revealed until the final few chapters.
But could I call the book a mystery? I tend to think of mysteries as Agatha Christie novels or the Nevada Barr books starring Anna Pigeon. Importantly, none of those books have elements of the supernatural in them—and mine definitely does.
When I queried book bloggers, the situation got even worse. Some wanted paranormal romances but hated mystery-thrillers. Others liked urban fantasy but not horror, something I didn’t even think was possible.
All this had me wondering: what the hell is my book? Is it a mystery-paranormal romance, a supernatural thriller, or a horror-lite with a side of suspense and a bit of bacon?
It wasn’t until the first reviews started rolling in that I finally figured it out. What kind of novel did I write? The one consistent thing I heard from my friends and others who read the novel was this: “I couldn’t put it down.” One told me she had no time to read my novel, but then proceeded to start it at 3 p.m. and read it straight through until the next day. Once she started, she was hooked.
I ran into similar reactions from many others. “A Soul to Steal” clocks in at around 450 pages—and took me years to write—but readers started blowing through the novel within a few days.
Once readers got over any preconceptions they had about whether it was a horror, suspense or paranormal romance, they found it didn’t matter. They just wanted to see how things turned out.
Now that’s the answer I give to the question, “What kind of book is it?”
“It’s a page-turner,” I say with a smile.


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