Crossing the Line

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Do You Cross The Line? By Alex Beecroft

Here’s a topic that’s on my mind at the moment – crossovers and crossing genres. As an author I hold my hands up and confess to being a serial monogamistas far as inspiration goes. That means, if I’m fired by enthusiasm for the 18th Century, I’ll spend five or more years writing stories set in the 18th Century. And that’s great, isn’t it, because people will get used to the idea that if you pick up an Alex Beecroft book, it’ll be set somewhere around the 1750s and will probably involve sailing ships. I’ve got this branding thing sorted.

The trouble is that eventually my happy little butterfly of a writer’s mind decides its got all the juice out of the celandine of historical fiction, and flits off to the bluebell of fantasy instead, where it hopes to suck up enough sugar to last another half decade. But butterflies are flighty things, and who knows how long that will last before it’s off to the daisy of contemporaries or the purple flowering loosestrife of gothic murder mystery? And as if that wasn’t bad enough, who knows when it will cycle round to historical again and set in for a five book series set in the stone age?

From my point of view as an author, I love the fact that I can write about what takes my fancy at any time, and I’m rather pleased to know that if one obsession peters out, I can find another one. It’s much preferable, from my POV, for me to be writing from love and enthusiasm than it would be if I felt compelled to write more of the same over and over because that was what was expected of me. I think that writing something simply because I felt I ought to would make my life not worth living, and it would also lead to the slow but inevitable descent of my stories into lifeless rubbish.

At the risk of being a little controversial, I can’t help feeling sometimes that that’s what happened to the later volumes of Harry Potter, or the Anita Blake novels – the authors got fed up of churning the same thing out and lost interest, and it showed.

But I can’t help wondering what readers think of that. I, for example, know that I will read anything at all written by Ursula LeGuin, no matter what the genre, but I will only read CJ Cherryh’s Science Fiction and not her fantasy.  What about you? Will you follow an author whose work you enjoy across genres? Or do you think “oh, I wish she would stop messing about with werewolf cop romps in Barbados, and get back to her 12th Century gardening detective novels.” Does the butterfly author risk losing everything every time they try something new?

And since I’m talking about crossing lines, lets talk about crossovers too. Here I’m on even more personal territory. I’ve realised that while I love historical romance and I love fantasy and mystery, what I’d like most would be to write historical fantasy romance. Maybe even historical fantasy mystery romance. The book I had most of a blast writing was The Wages of Sin – a historical ghost story murder mystery m/m romance.

Even my new Fantasy novels, Under the Hill: Bomber’s Moon and Under the Hill: Dogfighters have a strong streak of World War II in amongst the elves and the contemporary romance. I’m trying to have my cake and eat it – trying to amalgamate all the genres I like into every story.

But again – lots of doubts. Does, say, a historical fantasy appeal to both historical and fantasy fans, or does the presence of fantasy put off the historical fans, and the presence of history put off the fantasy ones, so it ends up appealing to neither?

These are the questions that are keeping me up recently, and I don’t have any answers. What do you think? Is it a good thing if authors jump genres? Should they change pseudonym if they do to avoid confusion? Is it a good thing to amalgamate genres, or should the genres be like noble gasses and resolutely refuse to be made into compounds? And if you like the idea of crossovers, what would you like to see crossed over with what, and why?

*************

Alex Beecroft was born in Northern Ireland during the Troubles and grew up in the wild countryside of the English Peak District. She studied English and Philosophy before accepting employment with the Crown Court where she worked for a number of years. Now a stay-at-home mum and full time author, Alex lives with her husband and two daughters in a little village near Cambridge and tries to avoid being mistaken for a tourist.

Alex is only intermittently present in the real world.She has lead a Saxon shield wall into battle, toiled as a Georgian kitchen maid, and recently taken up an 800 year old form of English folk dance, but she still hasn’t learned to operate a mobile phone.

You can find me at http://alexbeecroft.com or http://alex-beecroft.livejournal.com I talk more on LJ

 

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23 responses

  1. I always have a bit of trepidation when I follow an author across genres. Sometimes it’s justified, but usually it’s not, so I’ll generally give it a try.

    I really liked Nicola Griffith’s SF novels but, for a long time, I put off reading her thriller-mystery Aud series because that’s not a genre I like to read. Fortunately someone loaned me the first book. That series turned out to be so incredibly excellently awesome that I wanted to kick myself for having waited so long!

    • Yes, I find it varies by author. But I guess that even occurs within genres – ie I like Barbara Hambley’s Windrose series of High Fantasy novels, but I don’t like her Benjamin January books, even though they are Fantasy too, and I would have expected to like historical fantasy more. The moral is probably to try all the books of an author you like, regardless of genre, and find out in each individual case which things of theirs you like and which you don’t.

  2. My muse is terribly flighty. I write erotica, science fiction, fantasy, and romance, with varying degrees of each mixing together in each book. (And then there’s the Daron web serial which is not ANY of those things, and is a real-world “historical” 1980s coming out story. It’s got sex but isn’t erotica, has a love story but isn’t a romance…) The Magic U books have romance, mystery, erotica, and fantasy all mixed together. I see that as a strength even if bookstores don’t quite know where to shelve them. I hope you find that both war fiction buffs AND fantasy readers enjoy UNDER THE HILL and not that both avoid it thinking it’s not for them.

    I think it’s also important for readers to realize that every book a writer writes even WITHIN the same genre isn’t the “same” book, anyway, though. Maybe you connect with one protagonist better than another. Maybe the style the book wants to be told in is more accessible to some readers than others and is different from the style of another book.

    Aside: yay, you’re writing fantasy now! :-)

    • I think that’s right. People are very big on ‘branding’ with the idea that your market always knows what to expect from you, but the truth is that an author is not like a fast-food chain. You can’t guarantee that the next thing you write will be anything like the last thing. Yes, there will be similar themes and a similar writing style, but those apply throughout genres. People who read your stuff for the themes and style will be happy to read all of it, and people who read it for the genre will stick to the genre they like. And as you say even then there’s no guarantee that one book will be anything like another.

      *g* Fantasy is really my default, but historical shares the element of alien worlds with strange worldviews and sometimes it feels like it’s just the same thing :) Thank you!

  3. I have to admit, I’m probably a bit of both. I have my thematic enthusiasms (woodland realms, fairies etc.), which I guess is my ‘brand,’ but as for time period, I have so many enthusiasms that my first five novels have covered a spectrum from 43 BC to present day London, taking in Medieval, Tudor and the C19 on the way :) And after the long haul of writing Bound to the Beast, I didn’t want to touch Tudor (or even read other Tudor set novels, which I love!!) for several months!!!

    For my little opinion’s worth, I honestly don’t think jumping about matters (at least, I hope not) because there will be other things that create your brand – your style, the kind of relationships you like to examine, and the ‘kinds’ of worlds you build. But I guess I would say that ;)

    Fantastic first post, btw! And sorry for silence – still struggling with jetlag!!!

    • Thanks, Kay! I thought I ought to do a first post about who we were and what we were all about, but then I thought “well, I don’t really know what we’ll end up being about. Let’s just launch in and figure it out as we go along.”

      Fantasy’s an interesting genre because you can combine it with anything and everything else and IMO it only makes it better. But it’s also an overriding genre – anything you combine it with becomes Fantasy, even if there’s only a little bit of the fantastic to a whole load of historical/Gothic/whatever. By which I mean that if you combine historical and fantasy the resulting book no longer qualifies as a historical. Which is odd, and a little unfair I think.

      You do get overkill on eras! I know, I’d find it difficult to face another Age of Sail story for a while now. So many eras to explore, why would you want to stick on a single one?

      • *g*! I think you did a splendid job to launch us off.

        Yes, it’s interesting how if you even touch on fantasy, you find yourself eschewed my much of the ‘historical’ genre. That’s fair enough in it’s way, but as a reader of historical, I don’t let it bother me…and the opposite isn’t true. Using ‘real’ history in fantasy doesn’t chuck you out of the fantasy genre. Thank goodness, or we wouldn’t belong anywhere!! I love fantasy that has its origins in the real world and crosses over realms.

  4. I think our recent novel, Hawaiian Gothic, has caught a lot of flack for crossing genres so much! But from a writer perspective, it’s important to keep taking risks. Sometimes they pay off, and sometimes they don’t, and it varies so much reader by reader.

    I know what you mean about Cherryh’s fantasy. Some of it I’ve found awful and boring—I gave up on the Fortress series—but when it’s good, it’s AMAZING (I like the Ealdwood saga and the Morgaine saga and Faery in Shadow). It’s definitely more variable than her science fiction!

    Personally, I LOVE genre-crossing stuff and actively seek it out. But I won’t follow a writer into a genre I actively dislike. Spy thrillers, for example, are a no-go zone for me.

    • I wonder if the crossover is a thing whose time has come – what with the vampire-novel-cum-romance being so popular, and “Cowboys and Aliens”/”Abraham Lincoln, vampire hunter” at the cinema, and everyone bringing out Pride and Prejudice and [some kind of humourously spec-fic element.] Possibly everything’s been done in the mainstream of each genre and it’s only at the edges where you can stake out a claim to something new?

      Ah, I must try Faery in Shadow. I am ashamed to say that I only tried two of her fantasy novels, can’t even remember now which ones they were, and decided not to read any more on the strength of them. Perhaps I should give her another go!

      Yes, it would have to be a spectacular author to tempt me into ‘chick fic’ :)

  5. I put my trust in my favourite authors. Sometimes I like things a little less but I don’t think I’ve ever been bitterly disappointed. The HUGE problem is – from my POV anyway – that I only have a limited amount of time in which I can read new stuff. I read a lot of text books, I read books for review and I beta read for friends. Then factor in reading the books of people I’d like to interview, reading the latest releases of my especial favourites and re-reading old favourites because I feel like I need it – well, I don’t experiment much. I feel bad about that.

    • I know what you mean about having time to read! Most of my reading time tends to go on research too. Non fiction is so good for inspiration and so essential for basic information that fiction often doesn’t stand a chance. And now that I write myself I find I’m very unforgiving as a reader, so there are many books I start and don’t get past the first chapter. That’s very discouraging. OTOH I have just discovered a new (to me) writer in Neil Stephenson, whose “Anathem” is brilliant, so I can at least catch up with his back catalogue now :)

      • Hmm, reading or writing. One has to do one in order to be able to do the other but – well, until we can arrange to stay awake 24/7 there have to be limits.

        I tried Neal Stephenson and didn’t get on with him, But it was a charity shop book and the second of a series. I should get the first and give him another go. I’m very impressed with China Mieville. I’ve not long finished The Scar – couldn;t put it down.

        Honestly with all the fabulous books that are already out there waiting to be read it’s astonishing any of us get anything written at all.

        • Oh, I really liked The Scar too, though I found that the next book of his I tried was too depressing and nihilistic for my tastes. He’s a wonderful writer, and very imaginative, but he’s a bit too bleak for me.

          The reading thing for me is not helped by the fact that when I have a bit of time I tend to read fanfic, which is short and convenient, rather than tackling a new novel. I must fix that I think. I’m missing out on all kinds of new stuff that way.

          • I made a decision 2 years ago to abandon reading and writing fan fic, and the RPGs derived from it, because while fanficcing and RPing I don’t write anything else. It’s jolly lonely in comparison :( so I hope it’ll be worth it.

          • That’s very wise. I’ve recently decided I need to do something like that too, or else I won’t get anything else done.

  6. Personally, I can’t swear I’ll follow an author into a genre I just don’t like, but I love stuff that falls between genres. What’s the point in boundaries if we can’t push them? *g*

    • LOL! Very true :) And after all fantasy lives in the liminal places to start with. It’s quite possible that exploring the boundaries is its job.

  7. I don’t have as much time to read for fun now that I’m writing. Library books are a great way for me to get a taste of authors new to me in many fields: fantasy, science fiction, historical, mystery, even non-fiction.

    I’ve followed many of my favorite authors across genres. I’ll read anything from Patricia McKillip, Robin McKinley, and Terry Pratchett, for example. I approach other favorite authors with some caution because I already know I don’t love all their genres. Glen Cook’s ‘Garret’ series, yes. His darker, grittier war fiction, no. Tanith Lee can be either transcendent for me (The Unicorn and Piratica books, yay! I wish she’d finish the Flat Earth sequence for TaLeKa Books, so I can buy it!) or so existentially grim I want to slit my wrists after reading (one Scarabae book was enough, thanks.) Even Andre Norton, whose work I generally love, wrote some books that I stopped reading around the second chapter.

    Even so, it’s magical when I find a new author who crosses genres flawlessly. I want more Scott Lynch. I want more Galen Beckett. I really want to see what Lynn Flewelling is going to write after she finishes the next Nightrunner book.

    • I find that too – I mean that it’s hard to find time to read when you’re trying to write full time. I like the idea of going to my local library and just reading my way through the SF/F novels, but I’m also a big convert to ebooks and no longer enjoy having to cart around something as impractical as a paper book.

      *g* Andre Norton is brilliant, and entirely to blame for my overuse of the word ‘that’, which I absorbed from her in my youth. I wish I’d managed to get some of her imagination too.

      Heh, I’m not a big fan of grim or dark either. That’s the reason I haven’t been able to get into the Song of Ice and Fire books.

  8. Hi, Alex! What a thoughtful post. I love the analogies you make between genres and flowers, particularly your vocabulary of them. Very poetic.

    For me, it depends on an author as to whether I’ll cross genres with them. Like you, I’ll read anything of Ursula LeGuin’s because I admire her writing, end of story. Same with Steve Brust. I haven’t tried Lois McMaster Bujold’s Chalion series, mostly because I wasn’t interested in epic fantasy at the time I picked up and devoured all of her Miles Vorkosigan series. With Hamilton, I loved the earlier Anita Blake (I agree, the later stuff is progressively less attractive to me); however, the Gentry series wasn’t to my taste.

    I don’t think that’s a genre thing, at least in my case; it’s more a storytelling and voice thing. There’s something I fall in love with in the author’s voice and the more stories I read from them, the more varied their voice, the more I fall in love with it. That was certainly the case with Brust and LeGuin.

    I think there are readers who, like me, will cross genres. I think, and have met and watched in the business, that there are readers who aren’t, and who want the exact same thing as they’ve read before from an author. The problem is, that in catering to those elements, the writer cannibalises what made them write stories in the first place and the stories they churn out become trite reflections of original brilliance.

    It takes risk to change in the marketplace. I’ve been told by more experienced authors than I to write a specific thing for at least a year in order to establish a brand. Beyond that, I think it’s important to be willing to make changes. I make no bones about being multi-genre. I teach it in my classes, I post it on my blogs, and my tagline is “Explore the worlds of A. Catherine Noon. It is my hope that will clue readers in to the fact that I’m not in one genre only but am a speculative fiction author. Some will take that journey with me and others will not. I’m grateful to them all for reading my books and giving me a try, but I must write where Story takes me. That’s my job as a writer.

    • I’m wondering if perhaps all authors (or at least most authors) are multi-genre, but that many of them have different pen names for each. That would be a good way of keeping your ‘brand’ unmuddled but still having the freedom to write what you want. It has the disadvantage, though, that readers who *want* to follow you across genres would find it much more difficult, and you end up starting from scratch multiple times.

      I used to read by genre – which meant that I would only read SF/F and not follow an author out of that. But now I’m a bit older and have realised how variable the quality of published books is, I know that following an author is at least a good way to ensure you will get something of a standard and style you enjoy. It’s always best if the author you like writes in the genre you like, but these days I’m more willing to prioritise a good writer over a favourite genre.