Multiple Genre Obsession


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I’ve become a bit obsessed with the idea of writing (and reading) in a variety of genres, especially those new to me. For the past week I’ve been trying to figure out how to sum it all up—how to write a post about my new writing obsession. Then today, just when I gave up and decided to write a post about something else, I read Henry Denker’s obituary in the New York Times.

If you’re like me, maybe you don’t know who Henry Denker was (I’m a little sad and a little embarrassed that this is the case, by the way.). The headline grabbed me: Henry Denker, Author in Many Genres, Dies at 99. But if that hadn’t pulled me in, this quote would have:

“A writer should be active in several forms of his trade. Writing is a business and should be practiced as such. On days when you think you can’t possibly write a line you do it anyhow.”

When I read that, I knew I would’ve liked Henry. And the more I read, the more I liked him: Henry had a prolific career, during which he wrote plays, radio scripts, television movies, novels (over 30!), and more. And his writing sounds fascinating and important—I will definitely be checking it out.

But what really struck me about Henry Denker was his versatility as a writer and his interest in writing a variety of genres. Henry Denker and I, we’re cut from the same cloth in this way, because although right now my heart lies with women’s fiction, I’ve also written short stories, picture books, and middle grade novels; I’ve dabbled in ghost stories, romance, and humor. (This doesn’t begin to sum up my nonfiction writing experience, but that’s a horse of another color.)

My current WIP is a modern-cozy mystery. I’m also in the planning stages of a dark romantic-suspenseful women’s fiction novel. But in truth I’m fascinated with writing in other genres, many genres. And I confess the more I read, the more interested I am in writing an even wider variety of fiction.

A few weeks ago I read two books that gave me pause to think….what if? Would I want to try to write something like one of thesebooks, way outside anything I’ve written before?

One was a romance: The Bro-Magnet (A Nice Guy Romance Novel)by Lauren Baratz-Logsted. This novel is told from the male POV. One of the reasons I find this so fascinating is that one of my WIPs has three main characters and two are male, and I’ve been thinking of writing from each character’s POV. This novel made me think outside the box, and I like that. It was a unique and different novel, which I also like. And it was a fast and funny read, too.

The other book was Drawn, by Marie Lamba. I’ll be honest. I started this novel because a sample chapter was available free on Amazon for Kindle. I read the sample chapter and was hooked: it’s about a young woman who moves to England and starts sketching drawings of a “hot ghost” from the 1400s. Yes, this novel is a paranormal YA novel, and it’s only the second YA book I’ve ever read. I rarely even consider reading paranormal books, but I LOVED this book. It absolutely captivated me, and it actually made me think about writing a paranormal and/or a YA novel. I highly recommend it.

Because here’s the thing. As I read in a wider circle, I’ve realized I like writing a variety of fiction. And these two books—and now Henry Denker—made me think that maybe I might expand my “genre writing circle” even more. It also made me realize once again, how much I love writing about almost anythingreally everything.

And then it made me wonder… how many other writers out there are like Henry and me? I’m so curious how other writers—how you—feel about cross genre writing. Are you tempted to write in a variety of genres? And if so, have you written in multiple genres? Or are you true blue to just one? I’m so interested to hear!

Cheers,

Julia

Comments

  1. Love the quote…he was a writer after my own heart. And prolific too…sheesh! When did he find time?

    Sorry to say I too haven’t heard of him before this post. But now I will watch for his name.

    I do write in several genres, mainly historical, horror, humor and metaphysical. Weird, I know. Maybe someday I’ll figure out a way to combine them all!

    • When I was researching this post, I found several posts and articles about “cross-genre” writing — writers who did combine all the genres they were interested in. So, I’ll look forward to reading your historical-metaphysical-humorous horror novel, Cynthia! Can’t wait!!

  2. He’s new to me, too. But I love the idea of being able to follow my interests with my writing instead of sticking to a “brand.” I’ll read anything, so why shouldn’t I try writing anything, too? So far my work has been limited to women’s fiction and short story, but I’m inspired to let myself try new things. Thanks!

    • I’m glad you mentioned the branding issue, Shary! Because I, like you, have read that it’s an important thing especially when starting out as a writer — so I’ve often wondered if I’m shooting myself a little in the foot for being so “all over the place.” Then again, I suppose I need to write what interests me… and be inspired to try new things!

  3. I’m afraid I’m one of those fuddy-duddies who feels most comfortable sticking to one thing. For me, personally, it’s simply a focus issue. Even when I’m writing freelance articles, I have a hard time transitioning from non-fiction to fiction because they are so totally different and call upon different skill sets.

    I HAVE, however, recently branched out in my READING habits (reading historical fiction and a novel with fantasy elements in it). Still, though, I’m not sure I’d be comfortable attempting to write a foreign genre. I have a hard enough time studying the craft of the genres I am most interested in already (literary fiction and upmarket women’s fiction). To add more might make my head explode!

    But I say KUDOS to you, Cynthia – and, of course, Henry Denker. I absolutely admire writers who can pull it off!

    • Hardly a fuddy duddy! I think you “dabble” in all kinds of writing within your genre(s). The elements of nature and setting that you experiment with and include are perhaps another way of looking at women’s fiction or literary fiction — perhaps the genre of eco-system fiction? And you are perfecting the craft! (Still, whatever you do, don’t do anything to make your head explode! 😉

  4. E.J. Wesley says:

    I think, in general, the direction the publishing and writing business is headed makes it okay to be interested in multiple genres. To be clear, it’s always ben ‘okay’, just not necessarily professionally doable. I just think there’s a lot more flexibility now in terms what you can do with your writing career/goals.

    I love the idea of being multifaceted as a writer and reader, because I tend to be all over the map personally. I love music, sports, art, etc. and do a little of all of it. I dedicate most of my time to writing, because it’s something I truly want be good at. The rest I just enjoy. If that makes sense?

    We should start the, “I write what I want!” club! :)

    • I love the idea of the “I write what I want!” club!! And yes, it makes perfect sense when you say you’re “all over the map,” E.J., because I’m very much the same way! And I’m with you, I think the flexibility is a real possibility these days with the way the business is heading.

  5. Lisa says:

    That’s been part of my struggle all along. I want to write everything, just like I love to read everything. Aaaaaahhhh!

  6. Ann says:

    While I stick mostly to romance books, I am happy to read about whatever catches my attention. One of my favorite authors (Suzanne Brockmann) writes frequently from more than one POV and very frequently from a male POV. I love how her language and speech patterns change so you instantly know who is doing the thinking and talking…..

    • I will definitely need to check out Suzanne Brockmann! I am so interested in writing from the male POV for my next WIP, but I’m just not sure I can possibly do it. It will help to have another author to check out to see how she handles it! Thanks, Ann!

  7. Emma Pass says:

    I tried just about every genre going when I first decided to take my writing seriously, but nothing fit. Then I discovered YA, and that was it! Right from the start, I knew this was the genre for me… then it was just a question of finding out which genre *within* that genre I was best suited to writing in. Whew!

    • I love that you knew it was the right genre for you! (And I can’t wait to read your book!) So exciting! Are there ever times you consider writing outside that genre?

    • Emma Pass says:

      Aw, thank you! I have thought about writing for younger children, but none of my stories seem to fit so far. And writing for adults – definitely not! :)

  8. Erika Marks says:

    Julia, what a fascinating post–and a fascinating man! As you’ve heard me say many times, I spent years trying EVERY genre in the book, I swear, so it’s been a very joyful experience for me to feel as if I’ve finally settled in to the genre I write in (women’s fiction) but that said, I still read widely and still love to think about plots in other genres.

    • Glad to find another Henry Denker fan! I agree, he sounds utterly fascinating! I forgot when I wrote this that you said before that you’ve written every genre in the book — so interesting that now you’ve settled into just one you feel comfortable in. Do you think you’d ever experiment again? Here’s to being comfortable in our writing skin!

  9. My new novel, “Hens and Chickens” (White Wave, Aug. 2012), actually combines two writing forms: the novel and two pastoral messages that I’ve delivered in UU Churches. I wanted to try something different and definitely outside the box. I think it works but the proof is in the pudding and we’ll see how readers like it this August!

    • Your novel sounds like a fascinating combination! I love that you thought outside the box — and that you are crossing genres. Very cool. Thank you so much for your visit to my blog and especially for your comment!

  10. I love it all too, Julia — a dash of humor, mystery, romance — but perhaps all these can be incorporated into one novel? I don’t know. I am still learning right there along with ya! But what fun it is!

    • No question, the WIP I just finished incorporated all those things! I still am intrigued with the genres for YA and middle grade readers as well as shorter (or maybe series) writing! No matter, I agree–it’s all fun!

  11. Eeee, this post has got my mind popping with energy and ideas!

    Yes, I feel the same. I don’t want to stick to just one genre or form of writing. I’ve dabbled in various things already, and I’m in the process of shifting to a couple of new genres here lately.

    Thanks for sharing with us what you discovered about Henry Denker. I’m going to look him up on Amazon and no doubt fill my Wish List with books of his I want to read!

    Ah, so much to read and write … so little time. I need 64 hours in the day for my writing life!!

    • As you say, so much to read and write!! Doesn’t Henry Denker sound amazing? What a great role model. Here’s to more writing time in a day, I agree! Glad you feel the same and enjoyed reading about Henry!

  12. Nina B says:

    I think it’s SO important to read across genres, and even try writing in different ones too if you feel those different storytelling voices pulling you in different directions. I don’t know if you follow my friend Anne Greenwood Brown on Twitter, but her story is inspiring. She wrote a few women’s fiction manuscripts and went back and forth with some agents on one or two of them but she did not land an agent. Then she finished a middle grade novel with a male POV. She DID get an agent with that one, but the agent was unable to sell the manuscript. She then showed that agent her YA paranormal manuscript, which sold quickly in auction. THe first in the series comes out in a few weeks! Anyway, it’s a perfect example of what you’re discussing here!

    • I’ve actually been following (with anticipation!) your friend Anne Greenwood Brown’s book — it sounds so interesting! What I didn’t know was the trajectory of her career, so I’m very glad you shared it. Very inspiring and encouraging. Thanks for letting me know, Nina, because now I’m even more excited to read the first in her series when it comes out! As for reading across genres, now that I’ve started I’m sold, and as you say, it’s so important!

  13. Oh definitely a cross genre person. I would have like Henry too, and I hadn’t heard of him either. I love writing across genres and, for me, that is what being a writer is about. It’s about learning the craft of words and bending it to your audience. I love writing poetry, as you know, but also children’s books for all ages, and the adult novel that I am currently co-writing. They all satisfy a need in me and challenge me in different ways. Again, something similar between us Julia!

    • Yes, we’re definitely similar in this way — and I love your description: “It’s about learning the craft of words and bending it to your audience.” Exactly!

  14. CMSmith says:

    I recently read a post about writing from the male POV. It was pretty good. Don’t you wish there were more hours in a day, like a lot more?

  15. I’d love to write a variety of stories (travel, sports, features, profiles, memoir, food pieces), but all in the nonfiction genre. I’ve never been a strong fiction writer, so I can’t see myself going that route. But it seems to me that our writing can only improve by crossing genres, stretching ourselves, etc. It keeps things fresh too!

    • I love what you say: that our writing can only improve by crossing genres and stretching ourselves! That’s exactly how I’ve been feeling lately. And, as you say, it keeps things fresh. I would say the same can be said for nonfiction too — when I was a technical writer, I loved writing creative nonfiction essays, too!

  16. I love this post, and love that you shared such a prolific writer! I’ll have to check out Henry Denker’s work; it takes true talent to be so versatile and learn a skill so thoroughly. Although I’ve been trying very hard to read different genres lately, I have to admit I don’t necessarily write in different genres (Nonfiction aside. In that case, I’ve written about practically anything). Genre’s a tricky thing, though–most of my fiction would be considered “literary” but I’m not sure that describes the genre so much as it does the style and voice. So maybe I do write in different genres and just haven’t noticed it :)

    I remember you mentioning in previous posts how you were juggling several different WIPs, and what struck me was how different they all were. Which one is the one you’re querying at the moment?

    • Thanks, Natalia — and doesn’t Henry Denker sound amazing? I agree genre is a tricky thing, and you make such a great point, that literary fiction can encompass so much that it’s hard to discern what is voice vs. style vs. genre. I mean who really decides these things? It’s like the “what is women’s fiction” genre question. Fiction about women? For women? By women? In any event, the novel I’m querying now is women’s fiction.

  17. I would just like to finish one piece of writing, Julia! I don’t care what genre it’s in. I like reading many genres, so I think I would like to write in more than one. I have written and had published in Highlights for Children a children’s story, and my WIP ( that’s really not in progress) is an adult political novel. I’m at the “whatever made you think you could write” stage, and I can’t even think of a new blog topic. You are so talented and prolific. Good for you!

    • I am *so* envious that you’ve been published in Highlights!! I submitted many stories to them! I’m sorry you’re at the “whatever made you think you could write” stage — I go through those stages frequently, but the more I write the shorter lived they are. Yesterday was a wallowing day, and I was sure I’d never write again, nor did I feel I had anything new to say, but I feel better today. For me, the antidote is writing more. You are very, very kind with your comments, thank you Susan!

  18. artistsroad says:

    What a great quote to launch an interesting conversation from. You know, I’ve been to so many writer conferences where editors at the dias say “Stick with one genre” and writers say “You’re telling me to stifle my creativity.” I read across genres, fiction and CNF, and I’m tempted to write across them as well. I will say that as I work to grow in my MFA, I’m pretty narrowly focused on CNF. But even there, I’m working on a memoir, writing personal essays, and also exploring biography. And I don’t see a future that doesn’t involve some fiction, of varying genres. So yes, we can apply some discipline at various times as we need to, for craft or marketing purposes, but I am with you and the late Henry Denker that we must allow yourselves to stretch.

    • Glad to find another Denker thinker — and I’m glad to hear you say that wrrting different genres helps us to stretch as writers! But I’m also glad you brought up the editorial POV, because I’ve heard that too, and it’s given me pause…so much so that I’ve thought about writing under a pseudonym (if I’m so lucky as to get published in multiple genres). Here’s to a wonderful future of stretching as writers!

  19. Barb Riley says:

    Well I’m just starting out, so I don’t have the history that you do with writing in multiple genres, but oh how I can relate to the temptation and interest in doing so. I know genre labels are necessary (although I can only think of them as necessary evils), but I hate the limitation of such one-dimensional experiences. Lately, like you, I’ve been reading new genres I wouldn’t normally read (lots of YA and even a couple of dystopian novels), and my writing inspiration is all the better for it. So perhaps my reading experience will trickle over into my writing experience… too soon to tell. I definitely agree with others here who’ve said that the new wave of publishing is, perhaps, putting and end to the necessity of sticking with one genre.

    Great & thought-provoking post! I’ve no doubt you will one day be published in multiple genres.

    *off to check out Henry’s article*

    • I love that you’ve been reading such a diversity of books — isn’t it so much fun?! And I think you’re right that the experience will trickle over into writing as well. I hope you’re right that someday I’ll be published in multiple genres (*fingers crossed*), but for now, I’d settle for one book published in any genre :) Thanks for your support and encouragement, Barb!!

  20. Lisa Ahn says:

    I like that quote a lot, though I was also recently sold on Jael McHenry’s WU post about not necessarily writing everyday.

    I’ve been reading across more genres lately, especially YA because there is really so much good YA out right now. I write mostly literary fiction, but of all different lengths, from flash to novel-length. I also write creative non-fiction and bi-monthly fables on my blog. I think nearly everything I write has a touch of magical realism too. I also like genre blending, though I’m sure that makes publication more complicated and gives agents headaches. I like to find inspiration in everything I read and use that to write in new directions.

    Great post and discussion!

    • So happy to meet another cross-genre reader, Lisa! And I agree, YA is burning hot right now, isn’t it. I am so tempted to try my hand. Like you, I’m also interested in and tempted to try genre blending — it’s just so fun to stretch in all directions with the writing, isn’t it? (p.s. Speaking of stretching, I’m trying for everyday writing, but I saw Jael’s post too, and it made me feel better that I don’t always manage daily writing!)

  21. I’m a writing adventurer too! I just love the challenge of trying new things. I’ve written children’s fiction and non fiction of all varieties, self-help for both children and adults, magazine articles and poems, and now of course, blogs. My latest work is a hybrid non-fiction/memoir/workbook, and whilst my agent tries to place that, I’m starting work on two more adults’ books, one autobiography and one a book of essays. My agent is very supportive – she says it’s a good idea in the modern market for authors not to put all their eggs in one basket.

    • I love that: “writing adventurer”! What a fabulous description. How wonderful that you have a supportive agent with such a positive outlook about the modern market! So happy you came to visit my blog and left a comment; I’m delighted to meet another multiple genre writer, Jenny!