Genre Hacking

magic-realismWhat is genre hacking? Breaking the rules of a given literary or artistic genre while conspicuously using the distinctive elements of that genre.

The genre I’m interested in working in: isn’t really a mainstream bookstore shelf genre (which is an outdated way of classifying literature, and publishing companies will hopefully come to realize this, when the last of the big box stores is dead) – it’s not “horror” per se. The work I’m interested in is: Slipstream, Magic Realism, New Weird, and New Wave Fabulism – it’s sometimes also called Interstitial Fiction. This is the punk rock of literature – indeed some of it has roots in Punk Lit.

Examples: I like fantasy but not Conan or Harry Potter – urban fantasy. I like sci-fi but not space ships – to me, the future is just one setting and science is an element not the point. I like horror, but not so much werewolves and goblins – meaningful horror – the horrible. 

People breaking these genre boundaries and cliches right now include China Miéville (considered very hot at the moment), Neil Gaiman (e.g. Neverwhere), and Stephen King (e.g. Hearts in Atlantis and The Long Walk), as well as a host of other names we all know but who get pigeonholed into a particular shelf space. New authors too: Erin Morgenstern’s new book “The Night Circus” is a nice genre-straddler and, because there are kids in it, her work got saddled with the “young adult fiction” moniker, which is silly. Nothing wrong with YAF, but her stuff isn’t that.

What it Means: I think these boundary pushing literary efforts are the re-emergence of literature as an attempt to understand the human condition beyond the constraints of the previous generation’s marketing categories, academic pretensions, and mannered nostalgia for Victorian classism. In short, it’s a new renaissance, gently thumbing its nose at the “real” literature vs. genre lit dichotomy as well as at the genre vs. genre fences that keep everything neatly in its own box.

Seriously – where would you put Kafka if we didn’t have a shelf for classic lit? I’d accept Absurdism or Surrealist Lit, but not trying to jam him into “horror” because of an insect, unless you’re willing to broaden the horror category to include a lot of other interesting things that currently aren’t there (eg. Steppenwolf?). What about The Trial? The Castle? They convey the horrible, all right. Either expand the categories to be more inclusive, or we’ll need new ones to be more accurate.

All this said: I’m delightfully inconsistent. And I’m aware that, to sell anything, even Amazon cares about genre. So until the industry fully fleshes out more of them, I will strive to exploit the generalities inherent in any category and label my stuff to fit one of them, at the appropriate time. See: Hacking Horror. It’s a bit like calling both pot brownies and those little girls in beige uniforms that knock on the door and sell brownies “brownies”, but I’ll go along if they will.

ref: Genre Hacking

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