The people in my life–and there are many great ones–fall into a number of different groups. These groups are largely isolated from one another; there is little overlap, little interaction between them. I could chart them as a Venn diagram, but there would be a lot of circles. I would have to make myself a really big circle in the center, and everyone I know would have to be little tiny circles all around in order to fit and overlap with me. (That would make me look really conceited.) Furthermore, although the groups are largely discrete, there are some individuals who fall into more than one, and those circles should therefore overlap with others, and that might be difficult to work out. The resulting Venn diagram would look like curdled bubble bath.
Groups (for example): Immediate Family, Extended Family (Dad’s side), Extended Family (Mother’s side), Band Mom Friends, Junior High School Friends, EastEnders Fan Club Friends, Hairdressers/Manicurist, Next-door Neighbors and their Contractor Son-in-Law, Arboretum Nursery Manager (a group of one), Science Fiction/Fantasy People, Online contacts, and so on. Most of these people know I write, but only a few, outside the Science Fiction/Fantasy People group, have a clear understanding of what I write.
I used to be told–yes, told–I write children’s fiction.
“No,” I say, “I have never written children’s fiction.”
“But yes,” says Acquaintance. “I’m quite sure you do.”
“No, honestly. I don’t.”
“But Suzie [not her real name] told me that you told her that’s what you do.”
I said no such thing, but I knew Suzie believed I told her I wrote children’s lit, because of her perception of what SF & F was. Also, I was a woman. Woman + SF & F=children’s lit, or so Suzie assumed. Once I had a child, my career as a children’s lit author was set in stone.
No one even asked. A friend bought my short story collection, Inside A Bear and Other Dark Places [published by Stone Dragon Press 1999, no longer available], and then came to me, puzzled, to ask if there were any stories in it that she could read to her very young kids.
Not really. I would say most of my stuff is PG-13-ish, leaning in the direction of R. I favor mostly less-than-happy endings. I felt bad that she had assumed.
Those days are past. Now that my daughter is in her twenties, the subject of SF & F brings up Hunger Games and Game of Thrones, both of which I have read or am reading, and one of which I am catching up with on TV. A few months ago, SF & F talk by non-fans centered around a certain teen vampire series, and we heard of a new sub genre: the paranormal teen romance.
Categories. Sub genres. Both are necessary to shelve books, even digital books. But oh my goodness I can’t stay in them, either as a reader or a writer. I love to mix it up, and read others who are doing the same.
Science Fiction: When I write SF, it usually has a strong sociological content. I am interested in our human society and what happens when you change this or that. I’ve dealt with gender issues, age issues, and political issues. I do my best with any hard science, but that is not my focus. My focus is how change affects us. Sometimes set on near-future Earth, sometimes on a far-off planet, but no space opera, no military.
Fantasy: It’s contemporary, urban, and always involves issues of control. It is psychological. Often, reality is melting. On various occasions, I’ve taken on God, Jesus, and Satan. One early story touches on zombies, but not in the George Romero sense. Elves and wizards appear rarely. Fantasy is more likely to be psychological; science fiction, sociological.
My reading closely tracks my writing, but only in the most general sense. I’ll never do what George R.R. Martin does in the A Song of Ice and Fire series. Nowhere in any part of my brain are there neurons sufficient to imagine that saga. Even as a reader. No way would I have said, “Hey, someone ought to write a minimally supernatural, very bloody late-medieval saga. That’s what I need to read!” Surprise. It was exactly what I needed to read. More than that, it is inevitable that it should exist, and that I should be fortunate enough to read it.
This is the highest aim any writer goes for, to be inevitable. Regardless of genre, whether it’s for children or adults, pop fic or lit fic, we want people–not all of them, just some–not to be able to imagine a world without our work in it.
Imagine trying to explain that to all the parts of your Venn diagram. Some of them, I think, would understand. Some of them, probably not.