It has only been on the hunt for publication that I have ever questioned the sort of thing I was writing. To me, it was literary fiction — but is it?
A friend of mine once lent me Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury, saying “This is one of those children’s books that just stays with you forever.” As I read the book, I thought, it’s not really a book for children in the same way that Spongebob Squarepants isn’t really a cartoon for children.
In fact, there were many references in Bradbury’s book that children wouldn’t even understand and many words that were unlikely to be in their vocabularies. But if you look at the story on the surface, or came up with a blurb for it, it would indeed seem like the plot to a children’s adventure book — and yet there is so much more to it. I am sure children can enjoy it on one level, and adults on another entirely. The same is true for the famous sponge that lives in a pineapple under the sea.
But if you’re sending in your writing to literary magazines or agents, you must classify it. If you don’t, you’ll probably pick the wrong lit mag or agent. And even if you do chance upon an agent who might be a good fit, they want to know where it might be placed on the bookshelves or they’re not interested.
Many books with children in the lead role, especially those written in the first person, such as To Kill A Mockingbird, have been classified, in the past, as children’s books. It has only been with time that they have transcended that label and are now called classics, read by adults and young readers alike.
There are many books that defy labelling – such as the Gormenghast Trilogy, which I reckon should have a genre classification all of its own.
I still have a real problem classifying my own work. It’s certainly not genre fiction. It does have elements of literary fiction. I like to play with words, sounds, images, themes and psychology, and what I write does, I hope, have a greater meaning than the words on the page.
Some of my short stories would not look out of place in a horror magazine, but they are not stories written for the sake of gore – they are about psychology and humanity. Others contain elements of Magic Realism, and yet I would not label them solely as that.
At the moment, I’m sticking with “accessible literary fiction” and will wait until I get greater feedback before I can honestly say what it is I’m writing. Have you run into the same issue?