Friday, November 26, 2010

Genres - Helpful or Hurtful?

Genres tend to mystify me, and I'm not sure they're really doing much of a service to readers, labeling books in the simplest possible terms.

I write novels. I admit I didn't think much about genres when I started publishing - I thought about the target age of my readers, but not the genre of the book I was writing for them. Then, after Counterfeit Son was published, I got a phone call from my editor telling me it had been nominated for an Edgar Award.

Wonderful! But I had to ask her, what was an Edgar Award? She told me it was for Best Young Adult Mystery.

Wonderful! Except I hadn't thought of Counterfeit Son as being a mystery. It was a novel about coming to terms with exactly how much responsibility one person owed another person. I was honored to be nominated, but the nomination was something of a mystery to me.

Then I began thinking about my other books, and I realized that most of them were mysteries - I'd used techniques of mystery to tell the story I'd wanted to write. I was even more honored when Counterfeit Son won the Edgar Award for Best Young Adult Mystery. And the following year Ghost Soldier was nominated for the Edgar Award for Best Juvenile Mystery, another tremendous honor, even though I thought the book was more a novel about knowing when to hold onto family and when to let go, than a mystery.

So genres can benefit writers unexpectedly. But I think genres can also do writers a disservice sometimes. I've recently finished a novel about the need to protect words and books from being twisted and misrepresented. It takes place in our world, perhaps a few years in the future, and I thought of it as sort of a foray into science fiction, or speculative fiction (a term I prefer). But with the current interest in dystopian literature, it's being called dystopian. And editors have rather specific ideas about what they want to see as dystopian. So when they read my manuscript, thinking dystopian, they have problems with it not fitting neatly into the dystopian template they have in their mind.

Not so wonderful. I know genres can help readers find the sort of books they want, but I think that pigeon-holing can also cut readers off from books they might well enjoy if they came to those books without pre-formed expectations. What do you think? Do genres hinder more often than help, or vice versa?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Old Friends

This year I joined a Facebook Group in which all the members are trying to read 100 books in 2010. Every month we all post the titles of the books we read. This has been a fabulous source of recommendations for new books to read, and I'm thoroughly enjoying my participation. While I've discovered many new titles and authors this year, I also find myself returning to old friends, re-reading classics like The Outsiders, and Edward Eager's Magic books, and more modern classics like the Harry Potter books. And there's nothing that give me greater pleasure than receiving an e-mail from a reader who tells me he (or she) has read and re-read one of my books, like Ghost Cadet, and considers it an old friend.

I really love discovering new books which will become old friends and be re-read in their turn in time, but there's no question that I also treasure my time curled up with old friends, especially when life gets difficult. There's nothing more comforting in tough times than a cup of mint tea and an old friend, although these days I more often than not find myself reading my old friends on my new iPad. I'm not clinging to old friends as a way to avoid moving forward in the literary world, either in terms of not wanting to discover new friends, or not wanting to use new technology.

I guess I'm still a Girl Scout at heart, remembering when we used to sing around the campfire:
Make new friends
But keep the old
One is silver
And the other gold.

I'm not sure whether my old book friends are silver or gold, but I treasure both the old and the new. Do you find yourself returning to old friends as you read, also?