By Evangeline Jennings
In the fifth thrilling episode of our birthday series, we discuss genre. And breaking all the rules.
If you want to get ahead, get a genre. It’s the first rule of publishing success.
Ask anyone. Best-selling author. Hard-drinking agent. Bean-counting publisher monkey. They’ll all tell you the same, genre sells. So pick one, learn the rules and conventions, and apply them assiduously. Simple, right?
Well, yeah. Assuming you can write and tell a decent story. Work hard. And get a little luck along the way.
Here at Pankhearst, we set out – probably unwisely – to create our own genres because, quite frankly, the old ones have bored us to death and/or say very little to us about our lives. So we decided that Fifty Shades Of Meh required a Noirotica reaction. That someone should write YA books that tell the truth to kids who know that life isn’t all pep rallies, mythology, and Abercrombie morality. And that FemNoir was a fucking good idea. Our first book, Cars and Girls, is FemNoir through and through.
The problem is, No one knows what the hell that means. Which makes it hard when you try to promote your book. For example, a friend asked me very recently, So what genre is it? The best I could manage was Um.
Then I went to look at – among others – a very popular website for readers and an enormously popular research source to examine some accepted genre definitions and consider their relevance to Cars and Girls.
Apparently, Romance novels describe the development of a relationship between two people. Well, we have that. In each of the four stories in Cars and Girls, there is a relationship between two people at the core. Zoë’s 500, for example, features TWO relationships. The first is between the main character, Emily, and her childhood sweetheart, Andrew. The second is her lifelong relationship with an obsessive sociopath. Sadly, however, nobody falls in yer actual love and there is no similarly optimistic conclusion. Indeed, this is the case throughout Cars and Girls. There are relationships, love, some dirty kinky animal sex, but – spoiler alert – no one lives happily ever after.
Fantasies, we are told, are often inspired by mythology and magic. Typical characters include werewolves, fairies, demons, dragons, witches and wizards. Well, there’s none of that shit here. We don’t need to invent things to be scared of. Although a case could be made for saying that the four stars of Cars and Girls are all actually Vengeance Demons.
A Mystery is a puzzle or a secret that is solved by characters in the story. Clever plotting, interesting clues, detective reasoning skills? All of these are important elements. Similarly, Thriller stories involve a threat or imminent danger that must be overcome or resolved and often involves mysterious elements. Now we’re talking. There are mysteries within Cars and Girls. Truths to be revealed. But there isn’t one sealed room murder mystery to be found. Our mysteries are more about the Whys than the Whos. Although my own little story Crown Victoria has elements of both. It’s also probably the most Thriller-like.
Stories that are aimed at young adults and teens, most often about teenagers and frequently set in high schools. Sometimes, Young Adult describes the problems faced by young people and the challenges of growing up. Yes! Two of our four stories are entirely Young Adult. With guns. And shit. The other two are based on events that occured when the protagonists were children and/or teens. I honestly believe the average sixteen-year-old reader would love Cars and Girls, yet somehow I think YA would be a hard sell to Waterstones and Barnes & Noble.
The popular website says that Adventure novels involve an exciting and often risky task that the main character must successfully complete. Though the hero is often in dangerous situations, the character is more likely to use his/her wits and ingenuity to outsmart an enemy than resort to violence. Yeah. Not so much. In our adventure stories, the main characters tend to use their wits and ingenuity to outsmart their enemy so that they can resort to violence.
An action story is one where most of the plot developments are delivered at an exciting and fast pace. This category includes stories about Kung Fu, extreme sports such as rock climbing, and stories about daring adventures. Again, yes. Our stories move like a cheetah in a jet fighter. We have squeezed four novel length adventures into two short stories and two novellas. No lie. There is precious little Kung Fu though.
The literary genre that fictionalises crimes – duh – their detection, criminals and their motives. It has several sub-genres, including detective fiction, legal thriller, courtroom drama, and hard-boiled fiction. Um. Truthfully, I think the girls in C&G are all pretty fucking hard-boiled indeed and all four stories are deeply crimey. The trigger for all four stories is one or more crime, and multiple further crimes occur during the telling. However, there are no detectives, few police, and no one gets anywhere near a courtroom. Which leads us to…
A literary genre closely related to hard-boiled with a distinction that the protagonist is not a detective, but instead either a victim, a suspect, or a perpetrator. Other common characteristics include the self-destructive qualities of the protagonist. Well, yes, this is the one. Except we’re looking at issues that go beyond the norms of the established genre.
Pulp fiction is often used as a synonym for hardboiled crime fiction or gangster fiction. We, however, think immediately of Mrs Mia Wallace, bad motherfuckers, and a reinvention of mainstream American storytelling. So yeah, we’d like to think so.
And where does that leave us? Well, we’re sticking to FemNoir. But we can now say with only a healthy amount of cynical doubt that FemNoir is actually a genre-bending melange of YA Action Adventure Crime Noir Pulp Thriller fiction.
That FemNoir is a post-everything retro-noir in which the fairer sex gets real fucking dark.
We’ve heard it both ways.