Oh Spooky Day: Some Thoughts On Halloween

Happy Hallowen! Although in some parts of the country it’s gettin’ to feel a lot like Christmas. Seriously. Everywhere I go.

Halloween, wintry or not, raises several interesting thoughts. For example, my costume. When planning out our costumes, we question, often without realizing it, “What kind of me will I be?” Much like the writer may not consciously think, “What genre is my book?” The decision seemingly springs from us unbidden, an extension of ourselves, just as the genre is a descriptive extension of the story the author creates.

But a September article from The Millions suggests the Genre Decision comes from a less pure, more commercial place. Author Kim Wright ponders on the shift of literary fiction writers like Tom Perrott (Little Children) and Colson Whitehead (Sag Harbor) from literary fiction to genre fare, which includes (but isn’t limited to) YA. Her reasoning?

Once upon a time, genre was treated as almost a different industry from literary fiction, ignored by critics, sneered at by literary writers, relegated by publishers to imprint ghettos. But the dirty little and not-particularly-well-kept secret was that, thanks to the loyalty of their fans and the relatively rapid production of their authors, these genre books were the ones who kept the entire operation in business….But while genre authors were always the workhorses of publishing, lately they’ve broken out as stars and are belatedly receiving real recognition. In 2010, there were 358 fantasy titles on the best seller list, more than double the number in 2006. Publishers, always the last to recognize a literary trend, are pursuing top genre writers who, for the first time, have not only bigger paychecks but genuine clout.

So genre’s finally getting it’s day in the sun. Hooray, says I!  And in a YA context, Wright’s statement feels especially prescient. Genre writers have tons of clout. I’m pretty sure a little thing called Stephanie Meyer happened, right? Then again, the clout and popularity recognized and promoted by publishers don’t necessarily speak for quality, or for everyone’s taste.

Sure, when Twilight happened, publishers probably saw the clamor for every sequel and realized there a market for similar material-a huge one-and they began accepting and publishing manuscripts for those tastes, and at the end of the day, that’s a job well done for them. On the flipside, it also means that we have to show publishers that we are the market for our tastes by buying those titles and ordering them for our libraries.

And lest we become too scared that anyone’s tastes are being disregarded, we should be heartened by this article at Publisher’s Weekly, in which  agent and bookseller Jennifer Laughran says,

Everything in my in-box is paranormal, but the problem is, I’m not interested,” Laughran says. “It can’t be just two shiny guys and a girl anymore.” Instead, the books that are going to be successful, she believes, are the ones that do something different with the paranormal elements. She cites Maureen Johnson’s just-released The Name of the Star (Putnam) as an example. “There’s a paranormal element, yes, but it’s super funny on one page and super scary on the next.

So no matter the genre, agents and editors are still looking for originality, for a WOW factor that makes them sit up and participate in the story with their brains, and their hearts. And that’s not scary at all, is it? It seems pretty great to me.

But what are your thoughts? What would be scary to you, in the literary sense? And what kind of books would it terrify you to see gone from your bookstore shelves?

Coming up this week, my first time nominating something (yay!), and YAvolt!’s first review, Rick Yancey’s The Monstrumologist: The Isle of Blood.



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