Even though I’ve been out of it this last week (sorry about that), I’ve been thinking a lot about Nora’s and Rachel’s posts on the boom in urban fantasy and the benefits of Twilight’s or Harry Potter’s popularity.
Spiral Hunt is pretty solidly urban fantasy. And, if I think about how it got started, there’s a very good case to be made that I was chasing a new boom in the genre. I remember reading a few of the urban fantasy novels that were out a while back and thinking “huh, that was fun, I wonder if I can do something similar.” Eventually, the setting and the characters came together, but I wonder if I’d have written it without that first reaction.
Did I write it hoping to cash in on a new fad? No — not consciously, at least. But that doesn’t make a difference once the book’s out, and if interest in urban fantasy suddenly dwindles, those intentions won’t matter.
However, when I write short stories, I write in a number of different subgenres, and I don’t think I can bring myself to settle down in just one. I like writing high secondary-world fantasy, pseudo-science fiction, historical fantasy, fairy tales . . . and often, I’ll be interested in these styles because I’ve been reading a lot of them lately. The boom triggers interest, which triggers an idea, which shapes the story, etc., etc. And not all of those subgenres are the kind that stay popular for a long time.
So how do I know that when I’m dabbling in a new subgenre whether it’ll be worth it when I’m done? Will the steampunk story be finished only after steampunk has burnt itself out? At what point — if there is one –do I become an urban fantasy author and stop being a writer in many different genres (and if that happens, how easy is it to change?)?
(This is also something that I notice now more than usual, because I’ve hit the dark night of the revision again, and there’s a substantial part of my brain that wants to be working on something other than this novel. ANYTHING. And that’s when all those other, shiny subgenres start looking awfully fun to play in . . .)
If I look at it as a writer, the basic answer — just write — is helpful for the matters at hand, but as Nora pointed out, I do have to think about the greater implications. If I think about it as a reader, though, a whole new array of questions comes up. When I’m reading a book by an author I’m familiar with, I’ll inevitably have a preconception of what sort of book it’ll be. And sometimes that gets in the way — sometimes even before I pick up the new book. (“What? Author X has written a military science fiction epic? But he writes fluffy fantasy! Is this just going to be unicorns in space?” and so on. No, I didn’t say this was a rational reaction.)
The thing is, at some point I can’t let myself worry about this. How an author perceives the genre of their work may be completely at odds with how either the reader or the publisher sees it. I might convince myself that I’m writing a noir pastiche, only to find that it’s read as high fantasy, or attempt to set a contemporary fantasy in a trailer park and discover later on that I’ve written horror. If my track record of judging my own work’s genre is anything to go by, then I shouldn’t worry about whether my maneating squid story will be too late for the SquidLit Manifesto, because chances are it’s actually a period romance.
I’m afraid this is a pretty disjointed post, but what I’m getting at (I think) is this: how much does an author’s prior work influence how you read their new work? I know it’s possible to compartmentalize — I can’t think of The Curse of Chalion in the same headspace as Shards of Honor, much as I like both, and the same goes for “Sandkings” and A Game of Thrones. But I also know that it does have an effect on how I buy books.
And is it possible to keep steampunk alive at least till I finish the girl-and-her-stamping-press story?