Writers understand the importance of defining genre; if nothing else, it assures our books shelf space and saves librarians hours of frustration. Beyond that, though, some of us don’t give it much thought. We have stories to tell, and not all of them are docile, co-operative, and neatly pigeonholed within a particular genre. This is neither bad, nor good.
My first real awareness of genre came when I started sneaking my mother’s and grandmother’s gothic romance novels – cheap and plentiful paperbacks, all well-defined in my mind as “woman running away from the house” books. Because, invariably, the covers of books in the gothic romance genre feature terrified young women running away from creepy old mansions – most of which are ivy-covered, brooding, castles perched on the edge of a cliff above an angry sea. How silly these young women were, I thought, even in middle school. I just knew that those haunting (and probably haunted) castles by the sea must have hidden passageways, attics, and underground tunnels to explore, and I caught on young that the gentleman with dark stormclouds for eyes would certainly turn out to be a decent sort who would kill the rats in the tunnel and carry the young ingenue off to the local hospital for a tetanus shot, should she snag some body part on the family cemetery fence.
I wonder if the charming young cousin, the sour-faced gardener, the handsome doctor at the ER ever turns out to be anything but villainous? Probably not. That wouldn’t fit into the gothic romance genre at all.
I refused to cut 10 pages from A New Leaf for Lyle to make it fit industry-standard lengths for juvenile fiction. In my short story, “Innocence Denied,” I set out to write a horror story and ended up writing a sort of psycho-social suspense drama. There’s a bit of horror, but it’s the sort of horror you’d feel in learning that your parents never married, that they found you in a Dumpster, and that they actually thought of leaving you there and pretending blissful ignorance. But it won several awards, so clearly I wasn’t properly punished for straying from the formula. I particularly love endings reminiscent of “The Lady or the Tiger” (no matter how much they annoyed me in middle school), and have written one story, called “Meet Me Halfway,” that I honestly could not tell you the ending to if I tried, since the ending differs – even for me – each time I read it, depending on my mood. Do I believe in love, everlasting, or do I believe that the world is a horrible, tragic place where no good deed goes unpunished? I don’t know – ask me tomorrow.
I have been blogging since 1999 – back when Blogger was a baby birthed by Pyra Labs (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pyra_Labs). I was running a little website for writers – I think it was called The Writers’ Corner or The Write Stuff or some such nonsense – and I wanted a faster, easier way to add new material that didn’t require uploading new static files to the site. Blogger could, at the time, be tightly integrated into the website template in a way that made it work seamlessly with other pages, and my first blog was born. The only reason I started the website at all was to teach myself HTML. Back then, most websites consisted of fairly useless lists of people’s CD collections. I didn’t care at all what music others listened to, and I didn’t want my site to be boring. But I wasn’t thinking about having a “niche” or defining a genre for my website – I simply didn’t see many other sites for writers. It hadn’t yet been done to death.
That changed fairly fast. Soon, everyone had a website aimed at writers. I grew bored with mine. So for a while, and ever since, I’ve written my blog posts the way people naturally have conversations – about random things that flit through my mind, but not so random as to bore you to tears and drive you away screaming. I hope that its being random doesn’t make it uninteresting, uninformative, boring, or confusing. I hope that, being a whole and well-rounded human being, you can relate and appreciate that if I had to shove every post neatly into a single category, or mold my blog to fit a niche, I’d go stark raving bonkers.
I even told Darren Rowse, back in 2009 or so, that I was setting out to dominate the “No-Niche Niche.” I haven’t changed my mind about that. There’s plenty of room for competition, but none of us will be accused of copying the others, I’m sure. So much room in which to differentiate and invent and blather on about…everything.
When I first moved to Houston, I fell in love with a newspaper column by Leon Hale. I don’t write like Leon Hale, but I thought, then, that if someone would just pay me to write a regular column about my thoughts on things, I could die happy. Or live happy. The man’s in his 90s and still doing book signings. I think he must be doing it right! If Hale’s got a genre, I think he invented it. His books are found under biographies and memoirs, anthologies, state and local… but his columns always seemed to be “whatever’s on Leon’s mind today.” And that makes a lot of people happy.
What makes me less happy is trying to puzzle out things like, “Which of the following categories does your blog belong in?”
- Home & Family
- Travel & Recreation
- Personal Development & Health
- Healthy Living
- Just for Fun & Storytelling
- Religion & Spirituality
- Collecting, Hobbies & Music
- It’s Personal
“All of the Above,” apparently, is not an option. “It’s Personal” sounds like “None of your beeswax,” or like a blog that’s part steamy confessional, part teen girl diary. I’m not sure that posts like “How to Create Document Properties in Word 2010” really count as fun, but the post wasn’t aimed at business only, either. Personal development? I mean, sure – doesn’t any post that tells you how to acquire a new skill count as personal development? There are posts here on healthy living (though I’m not sure if they’d belong there or under personal development and health); there are a few on travel and recreation (but there’s a dearth of sports-related posts). There are many posts that mention food, but I’m not sure all of those feature food as a central motif. We are all spiritual creatures, and where do thoughts come from, if not straight from the soul?. There’s no pigeonhole for politics – if this were a politically focused blog, where would it fit?
Meh. Do I blog to fit these narrow topics, do I stretch the meaning of the topic to the point where it’s a bit misleading, or do I ignore the directive to “choose one” and simply make up a new one? I’ve defined my own categories; you can see them in the menu options at the top of each page. I’m not doing this exercise again, trying to fit into someone else’s list. So for the purposes of this exercise – the Ultimate Blogging Challenge – I may just call it all Food, because I hope it’s “food for thought.” 🙂