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Fantasy and Speculative Fiction
LeeAnna Holt
Posted: Friday, July 4, 2014 8:42 AM
Joined: 4/30/2011
Posts: 662

We've all come across them. Those genre books that don't quite fit into a single category. They say high fantasy, but they have some science fiction mixed in. Maybe there are zombies stomping around. Or there are more horror themes than there are swords. Maybe it's got a heavy post-apocalyptic vibe.


I've recently been told that my book Hands of Ash might not quite fit the epic fantasy tag despite that I have a) scope, there is a lot of world that gets moved through, and reader gets to see it all, and b) multiple point of views through multiple characters. I've considered other genres, and it seems the best fit despite some industrial-like technology, most have even called it steampunk. I'm wondering if anyone else has problems with their fantasy, and if you do, what did you do about it?


I also want to know how many like blended genres, and what do you look for in them? If you're a purist, than why?


Sound off below.

Elizabeth Moon
Posted: Saturday, July 5, 2014 12:57 AM
Joined: 6/14/2012
Posts: 195

When I'm reading,  I consider only very general genre definitions (there are some I don't like much, and avoid, but within the ones I sorta-kinda like, I ignore subdivisions.)   I read for Story.   I want characters that both feel real and that I want to hang out with for awhile. I want their behavior to come out of their true selves and make sense in that way.  Some motivations don't make sense to me personally, and some I find nasty even if understandable.   I like quirky characters, characters with some interesting "shapes" to their personalities.  I want enough action (for me...and it varies from reader to reader.)   So given the right characters, and the right amount of action, I will read mysteries, thrillers, epic fantasy, humorous fantasy, some dark fantasy,  hard SF, alternate history,  even borderline literary fiction (must have more than typical lit characters navel-gazing, though....something has to actually happen, and the people have to show an interest in more than their own petty affairs.  I am not fond of suburban angst.  I like gumption.)  If all readers were like me, the sub-categories would disappear because I just don't care--I want a story that gives me a certain sense of satisfaction when I'm done.  That's it.  I don't care if the protagonist is wearing a spacesuit or a business suit or a costume out of history...I care about the character's ability to drag me into the story caring about what's happening.  I like straight arrows and rogues and initial-blahs that turn out to have far more interesting innards under pressure.  I would read a between-genres story that mixed cattle ranching and biomedicine, or a mystery with a family saga, if it suited me. 


So onto the matter of your book that you think is epic fantasy but someone else thinks "doesn't quite fit."  I'd ask why...what exactly does not fit that person's definition (and is that person one who can sign the check if they like it?  If not...ignore.)   It can be difficult for women to be recognized as writing epic fantasy even when what they write clearly is epic fantasy.  As with the attempts (sometimes successful) to make the covers for women-written fantasy say "This is a woman's book: beware!"  women who write epic fantasy can expect to be tossed into other categories by at least some reviewers & editors (high fantasy, classic fantasy, adventure fantasy, even military fantasy.)   That's because the hidden characteristic, to many readers (and editors and reviewers) besides size of the work (wordage, that is), geographic scope, complex plotlines,  complex & richly detailed settings, very high stakes, etc., is..."and written by a guy."   If you then ask "Why isn't X considered epic fantasy, when it has those things you were just talking about?"  the mumbling starts and comes down to "But women just don't write epic fantasy.  It's maybe close but it's not...epic."  Sometimes it's because there's a woman protagonist in there, and, well, women just aren't epic (says the person making that claim.)


But women are beginning to clam their label, insist that theirs is epic fantasy, to label it epic fantasy on their websites and when speaking at conventions.  We didn't use to do that.  Now we do.  And you will find some editors who agree, who list epic fantasy by women as epic fantasy, and even some reviewers who do.    So if you are sure yours fits all the definitions of epic fantasy except that you're female keep pushing until every editor has said the same thing about it, that it's not epic enough.  Epic fantasy is no longer limited (never was, really) to one location, one cultural background.  There's marvelous stuff going on that uses different backgrounds (cultural, not just geographic)--Glenda Larke's for instance, or Kate Elliot's. 

LeeAnna Holt
Posted: Saturday, July 5, 2014 6:02 AM
Joined: 4/30/2011
Posts: 662

Elizabeth Moon answered my post! (Squeals and runs in circles while waving arms.)

Thanks for taking the time with such a lengthy response. I agree that it's difficult for women to be welcomed, for lack of a better term, into the epic fantasy mold. Things are changing, but after a long debate I've decided to use an unisex name for my writing. It still has strong family meaning, so I'm pretty happy with it.


That said, it was from a fellow reader on here, and it was more just a question of how to classify it for a pitch because I'm starting to mix in some steampunk/industrial elements with my world of magic and magical creatures. Epic Steampunk Fantasy? Can that be a thing. I kind of miss BC's old classification system because I could do that. I can't do that now.


As for reading a story for story, I agree. What does it matter as long as something happens and the characters are well developed. I've read some seriously pulpy writing just because the characters are just done so well. I like writers who aren't afraid to write characters who are unlikable. I like people who can't do anything write, but they try. I like happy people, sad people, even bitter and angry people. And yes, characters who just mope and let the story carry them along annoy the crap out of me. Why are they the protagonist? They aren't active. I don't care for the categories either because there are so many writers who try to fit into that one thing. A lot readers expect it too, and it saddens me. Stories should be written as stories regardless of tropes and expectations to see those tropes. That is why I like speculative fiction, because it is trying so hard to break those molds.


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