Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Genre isn't gender --difficult writing concepts

Today Author Melodie Campbell discusses an issue dear to my heart--fitting  one's novel into a genre slot.  First those darned editors and publishers demand that you be creative and original. "Ensure your work is unique," they say.  Then, when you're done and pitch it to them, they make you assign a genre.

"Is it mystery?" they ask.  "Suspense?"

"I only do Sci-Fi, isn't this Fantasy?"

"I won't get a government grant to help with publishing costs if this isn't Canadiana Literary Fiction.  Did you say it is Romance?"

*sigh*  Just what is an author supposed to do?

Master of the short story,  well-known columnist, and debut novelist, Melodie Campbell, has it all figured out...sort of.

 Take it away, Mel!

Bad Novel
When your Story decides to Switch Genres

A funny thing happened on the way to the mystery novel…it became a fantasy!

I was supposed to be writing a classic mystery, not a comic romantic fantasy like Rowena Through the Wall.  How did that happen?

For twenty years, I have been known as a writer of short mystery and suspense.  With over 30 short story publications and 5 awards for mystery fiction, my first novel had to be a mystery.  Everyone said so.  I started three of them.  Two weren’t bad.  But somehow I could never get up the energy to complete them.  Instead, I was tempted by the ‘lure of the virgin project’, usually a short story.

Then a strange thing happened.  I was sitting at my desk one day, totally overwhelmed with work and family and parental caregiving, and thought, if I could walk through that wall over there into another world, I would.  Rowena had her start that night.  If I couldn’t walk through that wall, dammit, she could! 

What I needed was to escape, not ‘plan’.  Mystery novels have a lot of planning to them.  I had enough of that at my day job.  Why not just start writing something that is a total escape to write?  Something Fun!

For a mystery writer, this is akin to walking off the job.  For the General Manager of Crime Writers of Canada, it feels like treason!  Write 80,000 words of romantic fantasy? 

The shocking thing is how easily it came.  This is when I concocted the writing theory of ‘worst thing’.  What’s the worst thing that could happen when Rowena walks through that wall?  Or the most embarrassing thing?  Or the funniest?  And when she comes back through the wall…wait a minute.  What if she can’t?

Finally I figured it out, and the discovery shocked me:  I was writing the kind of novel I wished someone else would write, so that I could read it.  A no-holds-barred adventure story…sexy, funny, and a wild ride of fantasy. 

I waited for the reaction.  It was strong and varied. “I’ve never read anything like it before, and I love it!” One reviewer said.  Uh oh, said I.  That may mean there isn’t a market for it.

Enter my smart publisher who said….”you know, with a little more romance, we could slide this into the paranormal romance market.”  Will I do it?  Yes!  Did it hurt?  A little.  For writers, our books are like surrogate babies.  We created them, after all.  And then after birth we pass them on to our publishers and editors to ‘raise’ them, and bring them to market.  I have to feel that my publisher knows more about the market out there than I do.  So we compromised on some things – to both our satisfaction. 

And I always kept in mind that the publisher is putting his/her own money into the production of my book.  Adjusting things to reach a larger market just makes sense.

Rowena didn’t care.  She’s off on adventure number two, Rowena and the Dark Lord.

Melodie Campbell’s book Rowena Through the Wall (Imajin Books) is available at and Smashwords.
Smashwords - Rowena Through the Wall
Follow Melodie at

View trailer and read opening scene at

Melodie Campbell got her start as a comedy writer, so it’s no surprise that editors have called her work ‘wacky’ and ‘laugh out loud funny’.  She has over 200 publications, including 100 humour columns, 30 short stories and one novel.  She has received five awards for fiction, and is the General Manager of Crime Writers of Canada.

Thank you for making genre clear for us, Melodie.  Now, to download Rowena and see if she ever makes it back through that wall....

Eileen Schuh, Author
Schrödinger's Cat

Sample or Purchase THE TRAZ, a "triple 5-star review" novel:
Amazon - THE TRAZ
Smashwords - THE TRAZ

THE TRAZ, a newly released YA novel, is as daring, raw, and spirited as the young heroine.  It’s exhilarating entertainment but it also contains a vital message for those on the cusp of maturity and for the adults who guide them.


Eileen Schuh: said...

Thanks for visiting, Melodie. Congratulations on your writing successes and may there be many more to come!

Jessie B Tyson said...

Totally enjoyed your post, Melodie. I was with you all the way! I'd bet a months wages you had so much fun writing it.

One day, I'll do one of these posts myself, when I figure out how to get a character interview with whoever might be interested in my soon to be pubbed debut novel. :))

Eileen Schuh: said...

Thanks for visiting, Jessie. Email me and we can talk about booking you in for a guest blog on Magic of the Muses.