There’s this idea in the publishing world that if you write, say, a mystery novel, it should be strictly a mystery novel. If you follow the tried and true formula, it shouldn’t even have a romance subplot. Or, if it does, the person the protagonist is interested in usually disappears between books. (Hmm. Should we be investigating these philandering sleuths to see what they’re doing with their mates when we’re not looking?) Of course, that rule only applies to series characters, for the most part, but it’s part of the genre.
But I digress.
The point is, if you write in a particular genre, you’re supposed to stick to the traditions (tropes?) of that genre. That’s the standard readers expect—according to the publishers, anyway—and if you color outside the lines, you’ll get a lower grade on your homework.
Or will you?
Let’s go back a bit, way back to something like the 1950s and the novel The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov. Asimov wrote this novel in response to John W. Campbell’s assertion that science fiction and mysteries were incompatible, his argument being that, if the writer is already inventing facts the reader can’t know (i.e., a future where technology exists that can do pretty much anything the writer wants it to), then it can’t be a real mystery. Nothing is at stake. Asimov wrote The Caves of Steel, as well as several sequels, to prove his assertion that science fiction could be laid over any other genre and make a good story. On the whole, I’d say he was successful, but you have to keep one thing in mind: The Caves of Steel is still sold as science fiction (if you can find it in a bookstore, that is).
The Caves of Steel isn’t the only example, but it’s the one that always pops into my head when I think about mixing it up. I’m reading a fantasy/mystery mashup right now called The Sword-Edged Blonde by Alex Bledsoe. I’m not sure if that’s the best title ever, but if you’re a fan of the old hard-boiled mysteries like The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep, but you also like your wizards and magic, check this one out. It’s the first in a series, and it’s shaping up to be a good read that successfully mixes elements from both genres into something new.
And maybe that’s the problem. Maybe that’s why publishers tend not like mashups like this: it results in something new. And we’re talking here about an industry that’s so bipolar it’s not funny. They want the next new thing, the next Twilight, the next Hunger Games, the next whatever-will-sell-like-crazy, and yet they’re always afraid to take chances on new authors. One of the chief reasons indie presses are doing so well right now.
As a reader, I like finding these new things. They aren’t always great discoveries, as I found out with this book (and I’m not the only one), but on the whole, it can be interesting to see how someone else does something like that, even if the end result isn’t always to our liking. You have to cheer them on for slipping one under the publishers’ noses, at the very least.
What about you? You like mixing it up? Or do you prefer your genres to stick to their traditions? Are their exceptions to the rule, or do you see these things as aberrations?