Patricia Burroughs: Those Pesky Genres

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Patricia Burroughs loves pooks glassesdogs, books, movies, and football. A lifelong Anglophile, she treasures her frequent travels in the British Isles researching The Fury Triad, the epic fantasy that has taken over her life and heart. She is a Nicholl Fellow, a proud member of Book View Café, and a fifth-generation Texan. She and her high school sweetheart husband are living happily ever after in their hometown of Dallas, Texas.

 

Picture this:

I’d just been named a Finalist in a screenwriting competition so prestigious, my name was in “Variety” and “Hollywood Reporter” and I’d received over one hundred requests for my script from studios, producers, etc. Life was rocking, and I was in LA taking meetings. I drove onto the Sony lot, got escorted into an office and after exchanging greetings and accepting the obligatory bottle of water, sat down to talk about my script.

One of the producers asked, “So. Have you loved science fiction all your life?”

I must have looked gobsmacked. “Erm… no?”

They looked a bit surprised. “Well, how long have you been writing it?

Me: “I don’t write science fiction…?”

Inside my head: OMFG, my agent sent them somebody else’s script!

They looked gobsmacked. One of them held up my script. “‘Dreamers’ is science fiction.”

Me: “It is?”

Them: “…”

Me: “Huh. I just thought it was a fun idea.”

Can you tell I was hell on wheels in meetings? Yeah, I knocked ’em out of the ballpark every damn time. Sigh.

But you see, this is the story of my career from my very first published novel through all the scripts, and finally, the story of This Crumbling Pageant.

For better or worse, I don’t think in genres. I think in terms of, “Wouldn’t it be cool/horrifying/amazing if THIS happened?” I do this without considering this genre or that, which means eventually the stories are difficult to label, place and sell. (I’m hell on agents, too. Just ask them.) It’s something I can’t change, because these stories are the part of the process that feeds me, that gives me joy in the day-in and day-out effort of putting words onto the page.

None of us really know, after all, what the market will do. We’ve all seen those game-changing stories, the ones that break the rules, create new sub-genres, and seem so obvious in hindsight. They very likely weren’t obvious, though, to the writer, when he or she started out. It is more likely that there were well-meaning friends along the way who read their first drafts and thought they’d possibly lost their minds.

I got lucky this time, though. The publishing and reading worlds have shifted to a place where crossing genres isn’t the problem it once was. And even more luckily, I found a publisher that loved the story whether it could be wedged into a neat little genre slot or not. Story Spring Publishing is making it available in hardcover, trade and digital simultaneously, they love and believe in it so strongly.

At the beginning of the book Persephone Fury is on the brink of womanhood, cursed since birth with Shadow magic and about to enter a world of Dark intrigue where she is a powerful weapon and many seek to possess and control her.

“Aha!” my friends declared gleefully. “You’re writing a YA fantasy. Those are so hot right now.”

But I wasn’t, because despite the fact that Persephone was the perfect age for a YA fantasy, the plot didn’t lend itself to YA. She isn’t surrounded by same-aged characters battling to save the world. Her love interest isn’t even similarly aged, as plot details demanded he must be much older.

“A love interest? Oh, you’re writing a romance!” my friends declared. “Romantic fantasy is so hot right now!”

Alas, no, I wasn’t writing a romance. Again, that pesky plot didn’t fit the parameters. The story I wanted to tell was epic fantasy.

At this point my helpful friends were getting a bit frustrated with me. “Then change it.”

This may sound incredibly bossy and pushy, but it was really smart advice. I knew that. The problem is, just as I have a history of ignoring genres, I also have a history of going in the teeth of really smart advice and writing my own damned story the way I want to, no matter how much smarter I’d be to try to fit into the ‘hot’ genre, or any genre at all.

And that’s how I ended up with a true epic-length trilogy at a time when publishers were shrinking from no-names with epic-length trilogies. The production costs are immense for an epic-length book, and to commit to three of them from someone who is new to the genre? A risk they were unlikely to take.

PatriciaBurroughs_ThisCrumblingPageant_600pxThe good news for me is that This Crumbling Pageant truly does fit into the epic fantasy genre, whether or not it was the ‘smartest’ (ie most potentially lucrative) genre for me to target. This time at least I managed to land smack dab in the center of a genre I love.

It is a dark epic fantasy that will appeal to many YA readers but isn’t a YA fantasy.

It is a dark epic fantasy that will appeal to many romance readers but isn’t a romance.

This Crumbling Pageant is a dark epic fantasy that follows the path of “a girly-girl with cojones”(as one reader delightfully described her) as she traverses magical Court intrigues, sacrificing all the things dear to her in order to save those she loves more than life itself.

Getting back to that Finalist script that got me all the attention, “Dreamers” did not win. However, the following year I became the only person in the history of the competition to return as a Finalist with an entirely different script, and that year “Redemption” won. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences awarded me a $30,000 Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting.

For the record, “Redemption” was an adaptation of my first published novel, a novel with a plot that more experienced writers had cautioned me away from because of all the things I was ‘doing wrong’ and that weren’t allowed in romance at the time.

When you’re writing, follow your passion where it leads you. We cannot predict the marketplace, and we cannot even guarantee that if we jump on a trend, we’ll do well enough to pay the light bill, much less have anything left over for savings. Since there are no guarantees, why not do what you, and only you, can write? Yes, it may be a little more difficult to break through that market wall, to get your book in front of others (and heaven knows, I have experienced that difficulty). In the long run, though, we only have so much time to spend writing, so little time on earth—why not take a chance, do that which is unique to us, which gives our dreams a voice.

Everyone’s got to believe in something, you know. It might as well be happy endings… and for me, writing where my passion leads me is the happiest ending of all.

I have nothing but thanks and kind wishes for the great people at Magical Words as I complete my month here. May you and all your readers write with passion and find all the happy endings this writing life can supply!

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16 comments to Patricia Burroughs: Those Pesky Genres

  • I don’t jump on genre trends. I write what comes to me and that’s that. If it happens to be sci-fi battle suit anime-ish romance, so be it. If it’s noir-ish alternate Earth/history zombie/mutant hero urban fantasy, that’s what it is. I’ll find a market for it somewhere, even if I have to go it on my own. I like to mix my genres. 😉

  • Ken

    Agreed. I think “Write what you love” should be said as often as (if not more than) “Write what you know” With E-Books, it’s easier to try and piggyback onto what’s hot easier than it is with traditional publishing but that whole “Writing for the market” thing strikes me as kind of forced, if you follow me.

  • Thank you for being here, Patricia. It’s been a pleasure having you on the site. And this advice is spot on. The market, I always say, is a moving target, and given how long it takes to write a book, much less shepherd it through the production process, writing to what’s popular “now” makes little sense. As you say, we should write what moves us, we should write our passions.

  • Daniel, as you can tell, I like to read mixed genres as well as write them. It’s like a recipe that includes several of my favorite things whether the marketplace has figured out they go together or not, like peanut butter cups!

  • Ken, I tell my classes, “Write what you want to know, something that excites you so much, you can’t wait to dig in and find out more about it.” If we only wrote what we already know, how boring! Follow your passion.

  • David, discovering this site has been terrific. I’ve been linking my class blog to various entries here ever since Mindy pointed me in this direction. Getting to participate was the icing on the cake!

  • Hepseba ALHH

    Hello and thank you for a very happy post!
    My goals for writing right now are to try to tell the stories *I* want, which means that trying to pin down the genre has always been difficult.

    My first book is the first of an epic-fantasy trilogy (I really *didn’t* mean for it to be a trilogy when I started), but:
    a) It has *very* *little* magic in the first book, to the point where readers would be perfectly justified to question whether it has any (it does).
    b) There is very little in the way of travel, and I have avoided any mention of/existence of horses because they don’t interest me enough to try to get them right.
    c) I am 100% opposed to allowing any marching armies to appear at all. This will probably end up being a little bit of a struggle, since I do already have a band of mercenaries and a band of rebels, but I intend on keeping them *small*. I just don’t think I’d be able to keep sufficient interest to finish writing the 3rd book if it involves marching armies…

    And I’m slightly terrified of how I’m going to structure the next book/story I’m writing, because the basic plan is: a) boy-meets-girl…and-marries-her. b) crazy-adventure-happens-a-couple-years-later. (wish me luck?)

    It’s been lovely to have you here!

  • momof3boysj

    I don’t care which genre THEY put it in, it’s a fantabulous, well-written story! Everyone needs a sprinkling of magic! And, you had me at Persephone Fury!

  • Hepseba, I hate reading ‘final battles’ and yet epic fantasy of the type I’m writing kind of demands a final battle. I feel your pain!

  • momof3boys, thank you from the bottom of my heart. Every time a reader ‘gets’ what I’m writing, I feel like it’s all worth it.

  • Patricia, funny you should mention recipe, I’m also an accomplished home cook and I tend to liken mixing genres, and writing in general, with putting together a good dish. 🙂

  • Kind of like those Chicagoans who take chili and mix it with pasta. It’s definitely not traditional [says this fifth generation Texan] but that doesn’t mean it’s not tasty!

  • Razziecat

    The more I learn about this book, the more I want to read it…you sneaky person, you! 😀

    I love what you’re saying about genres. I’ve never written anything “because it’s what’s hot right now,” I just write what the voices (aka characters) in my head tell me to write! Hell, I’ve even written a vampire story, and I generally hate vampire stories.

    Write with passion. Yeah. I like that.

  • quillet

    Now you’ve done it. Another book on my TBR pile. 😉 (If it topples it will bury the neighbourhood.)

    “When you’re writing, follow your passion.” Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. Passion will create a far better story, with far more resonance, than any genre-chasing could ever do.

    It’s been so great having you here this month. I hope you’ll stop by in the comments now and then!

  • razziecat & quillet — thank you both for your comments. And I do hope you get the book and enjoy it!

    It’s ALL about passion. Writing, reading, experiencing, sharing. I love it.

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