There’s a Genre for That

by Rob (and Guest blogger SB)

As regular readers of Murderati know, I’ve been considering leaving our wonderful little blog for some time. Well, unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately for some), the time has come for me to finally say goodbye.  

I’ve enjoyed my time here, and all the insightful and often funny comments from readers and my fellow Murderati alike, and thank you all for putting up with me over the last few years.  It’s been fun.

I leave you in the capable hands of Stephen Blackmoore, who is subbing for me today.

Stephen is a writer of pulp, crime and urban fantasy who occasionally lapses into talking about himself in the third person.  His first novel, CITY OF THE LOST, a dark urban fantasy will be coming out from DAW Books in early 2012.

I hope you’ll all join me in welcoming him.



Ever heard of Rule 34? “If you can imagine it, there is porn for it,” and it’s corollary, “If there isn’t someone will make it.”

Cheerleaders in glasses? Sure. Guys in monkey suits? Absolutely. Cross-dressing Shriners in latex wimples? Damn straight.

Genre’s kind of like that.

Way back in the misty days of yore (late ’80s) I read an article about books that people couldn’t really pigeonhole.  They had vampires in them, but they weren’t horror novels. Or detectives, but in fantasy settings. Science fiction, but set in a future that was right around the corner.

Now we’ve got genres and sub-genres and sub-sub-genres. Everything gets a label. Cyberpunk, Steampunk, Neo-Noir, Paranormal Romance. The desperate need to identify a book’s niche is so pervasive that the labels are split ad infinitum.

I mean, NASCAR romance? Seriously?

When my first novel, CITY OF THE LOST (Out next January through DAW Books) was being shopped around I made a miscalculation. I kept thinking of it as a crime novel. Which it is.

But it also has a zombie in it, a demon in a bar that isn’t really there, a feral, psychotic midget, and a 700-year-old magician who thinks he might have figured out a way to stick around another few centuries.

Shopping this as a crime novel was, duh, not working. Nobody knew what to do with it. People liked it, but they weren’t sure how they were going to market it, where they could put it on the shelves, how to push it.

Hell, I didn’t even know how to describe it. After several lame attempts the best I could come up with was, “It’s like The Maltese Falcon meets Night of The Living Dead,” which really doesn’t cover it.

And then we got back from an editor, “Great urban fantasy novel.”


Urban fantasy is a genre that covers a lot of territory. Mystery, romance, historical. There’s some damn good stuff out there.  Everything from Emma Bull‘s WAR FOR THE OAKS to Seanan McGuire‘s LATE ECLIPSES.

It’s a real world setting, more or less, but within a fantasy context. Maybe hyper-realized, maybe not. The San Francisco of LATE ECLIPSES is our San Francisco.  The Seattle of Kat Richardson‘s GREYWALKER is our Seattle.

To say I was surprised was a bit of an understatement. 99% of my writing is straight crime fiction. I write about vengeful strippers with mommy issues, ethically challenged private eyes, homeless junkies.

And so I wrote CITY OF THE LOST as a pulp crime novel set in modern-day Los Angeles. I just happened to have a protagonist with a slight rotting problem.

Even though I hadn’t realized it there was already a genre for the book. You’d think, being the lifelong geek that I am, that I would have recognized it for what it is. Turns out not so much. Took me something like three months to wrap my brain around the idea that I had written a fantasy novel. I don’t have a problem with that, far from it, I just wasn’t expecting it.

Now I don’t mind my books being labeled. Otherwise how the hell would anybody find them? Urban fantasy is a great place to be.

But I don’t think I want to be labeled. I’ll keep writing about a mythical Los Angeles, and about homeless junkies and about psychotic cops who gun down kids. One of these days I’ll tackle a western (with Lovecraftian overtones), or historical (with aliens), maybe a romance… though god only knows what sort of twisted shit I’d come up with for that.

I like the idea of writing all over the place. And no matter what I write I know this, there will always be a genre for it.

And if there isn’t then goddamn it I’ll make one.

23 thoughts on “There’s a Genre for That

  1. J.D. Rhoades

    "One of these days I'll tackle a western (with Lovecraftian overtones), or historical (with aliens), maybe a romance… though god only knows what sort of twisted shit I'd come up with for that."

    All I know is that I'll probably buy it.

    Welcome, Stephen!

  2. Rob Cornell

    Makes me feel batter about the book I'm wrapping up now. It's a thriller. Only it has vampires, ghosts, and werewolves (and an ogre named Marty). My first impulse to write the book was, "What if Lee Child's Jack Reacher found himself up against an organized group of supernatural beasties?"

    It's been a fun ride. Now, who knows if there's a market for it?

  3. KarinNH

    While teaching a science fiction and fantasy course, I brought in a list of genres and sub-genres for my students. There were, if I recall correctly, about 85 that I found–there could easily be more.

    Welcome to the blog!

  4. Eika

    Welcome to the blog!

    The problem is, with all those genres, if you don't know about one or aren't sure it's easy to mislabel where you think something goes.

  5. Chuck

    I love this post so much I want to make porn about it.

    Seriously, though, genre is weird and fluid and ever-uncertain. Helps to think about it at the fore, but ultimately, just write the best story you can write and a genre will find it.

    Or something.

    — Chuck

  6. Spencer Seidel

    I think the industry has been struggling with genre for a while. After all, it wasn't that long ago that "thriller" as a genre didn't exist. Now, that genre accounts for almost anything, depending on who you talk to. Another curious newish genre is "speculative fiction." They come and go like fads nowadays. Totally agree that the industry has gone overboard applying labels to books. On the other hand, it lets authors brag: "Super! My book hit #1 on Amazon in the paranormal-home-kitchen-repair-romance category!"

  7. Bill Crider

    Welcome, Stephen. And Rob, I'm sorry to see you leaving, but maybe you'll have more time for reading those great old men's adventure novels!

  8. Kevin Burton Smith

    Obviously, I'm a big genre (or is it sub-sub-genre?) buff, in my case private eyes. Love that stuff.

    Still… — and maybe I'm just a crank — I find far too many of these stabs at multi-genre mishmash are unfocussed, overheated, self-conscious cliche-fests, betraying not an abundance of imagination but a dearth of it. A kitchen-sink assemblage of easily-identifiable tropes, but lacking any real heart or depth. Or, often, any understanding of the genres they're claiming to be pilfering.

    Yes, it's fun that Hamlet takes off in a spaceship, while Moby Dick is revealed to be a shapeshifting lesbian werewolf, but does the author have anything to actually say?

    The porn equivalent would be not being able to perform sexually unless your partner is a cross-dressing Shriner in a latex wimple. And covered in Kraft Lite Italian. While reading aloud from Chapter Four of Sarah Palin's book.

    There's nothing wrong with that, but don't act all surprised or act all haughty if not everyone gets off on it.

    Some of us think even normal, no accessories required sex can be pretty good.

  9. Rob Gregory Browne

    Stephen, thanks for filling in. Great post. Interestingly enough, my first book KISS HER GOODBYE is basically an urban fantasy, but my editor and publisher didn't know what to call it back then. My editor said, "This book is like nothing I've ever read, and that's a good thing and a bad thing."

    I guess I was slightly ahead of the curve.

    Bill, I just finished a Nick Carter and am now reading a Carter Brown. Love these short, fast reads.

    Louise, Alafair, I'll miss you guys, too, but I'll be popping in now and again just to annoy everyone.

  10. toni

    I'd say I'd miss you, Rob, but I plan on continually annoying you in email anyway.

    (Besides, if you haven't been able to shake me in 15 years, I doubt you'll manage it now.) 🙂

    Stephen, Alex is right – Blackmoore is a perfect name for urban fantasy. And I know what you mean about not writing with any particular genre. I wrote what I thought was simple — a funny thriller. Easy enough. But "funny" and "thriller" aren't really marketed together and there's no place denoted in bookstores for that, which made it all the more confusion. It could also be called "caper" but… same problem. Good for you that y'all figured out the right home for your book. Makes all the difference.

  11. KDJames

    There's an option to annoy Rob via email? Why am I just now learning this? Rob, I'll miss your voice and sense of humour over here. Please check in occasionally and let us know what you're up to.

    Hi Stephen! I like your sense of humour too. This made me laugh: "I just happened to have a protagonist with a slight rotting problem." Glad someone found a genre that fits your book so they know where to stick it. Um, shelve it. 😉

  12. Brett Battles

    Ah, Mr. Blackmoore. Nice of you to drop by. All, I've read early drafts of his novel, and even then it was easy to see it was something special. Can't wait until it comes out!

  13. Stephen Blackmoore

    Thanks for having me, folks. It was fun. Always happy to jump in and blather on as if I know what I'm talking about.

    Rob C:
    I've been wodering lately if the question, "Is there a market for it?" isn't the wrong one. Talking out my ass here, I'm sure, but I'm thinking a better quesiton might be, "Is there room in the market for it?" Something I ran into when shopping this one around was the whole zombie angle. It's not a zombie book per se, but the minute I made any kind of reference to it people's eyes glazed over and I got a lot of "Man, there's a lot of zombie stuff out there, already."

    Vampire novels aren't going to disappear, but god knows there's a fuckton of them out there. With that much saturation it might make it more difficult to sell. But what the hell do I know? Best of luck and I hope it works out.

    Just because you're a crank doesn't mean you're wrong. Genre mash-ups absolutely can be clich-fests. I think a lot of them are. I hope to avoid that fate, myself.

    If a book is all about the shapeshifting, lesbian werewolf and there's no story there, all you have is a gimmick. And gimmicks don't last.

    Thanks, I hope it stands out on the bookshelf

  14. Zyli

    HaHa I'm here to laugh and point because you told me to! Great article! I can't wait for your book, Mal! Mom is still excited about it too!

  15. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Stephen! Great to see you here! Sorry I'm a day late. My entire family is displaced and living in hotels presently, so I've only had sporadic internet access.
    I'm so happy and proud of you, Stephen!

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