Writing in Many Genres, or the Delights of Diversity
I stand in awe of those who can write book after book in a single genre. How can they bear to do one story, then another, then another, then another ad infinitum that each follow the same structure? That is not an “all genre writers are formulaic” slam; however, the fact that each genre has certain expectations of structure/tone/ending is what makes it a genre.
That said, I still don’t see how a writer can keep writing the same set of expectations – however different each individual book might be. A cozy mystery is a cozy mystery. A romance is a romance. A horror is a horror. Etc. I love them all, but cannot even read just one genre. Or write.
I write romance and horror (as Janis Susan May), cozy mysteries (as Janis Patterson), children’s (as Janis Susan Patterson), and non-fiction and scholarly (as J.S.M. Patterson.) Usually all at the same time.
Yes, I bore easily. It’s a character flaw. During my time in the 8-5 workforce I did everything from acting/singing to being a multi-magazine publishing group Editor in Chief (two groups, actually!) to being Supervisor of Accessioning in a bio-genetic DNA testing lab to checking documents in a travel agency. I’ve been a talent agent and a jewelry designer and more, but I won’t bore you with a complete list. Our home libraries (yes, plural – two currently extant and another in the works) bulge with research books on WWI/WWII and Egyptology and travel and photography and cooking and history. How this pertains to writing is that not only does this diverse knowledge pool give me a wealth of personal experience to draw upon, it is a constant reminder of my need for variety.
People have asked me how I can switch from one genre to another and my only answer is how do you switch from any one thing to another in your life? From a manual shift car (my personal fave!) to an automatic? From cooking in a plain old skillet to using a microwave? From a simple desk-top single line telephone to a Smart Phone? We very seldom do the same thing all the time, from cars to cooking; why should writing in different genres be regarded as such an impossible task?
I’m not going into the branding thing here, but will suggest that readers are a lot more forgiving of genre-jumpers than some publishers – and some writers. I know I would read anything some of my favorite authors might care to do, including a re-write of the telephone book!
In my personal experience genre-jumping keeps my writing fresh, as does having several projects going on at once. When one goes stale, I switch to another which, even though it might have gone stale in the past, now appears a different book with a fresh look. This is not always easy when I am juggling two deadlines, but it has never failed to work, and I have never missed a deadline yet. Currently I have on my computer – in various stages of completion – a romance, a time-travel romance, two cozy mysteries, two romantic adventures and a section of a scholarly tome destined to be a college text. Needless to say, the two that are under contract are getting the most attention at the moment, but I know the others are there, patiently waiting to help me over any rough spots that might manifest or to stimulate my flagging imagination.
Did I mention that I bore easily? I would never restrict myself to reading and/or writing just one genre any more than I would consider having just one job for my entire working life. I cannot help but think of my patron saint Auntie Mame’s unforgettable words, “Life is a banquet and most poor fools are starving to death!”
Enjoy and explore what you can when you can.