Boxing Your Genre

I’m not HUGE on labels in life. But I understand their importance in the consumer world. And in the commercial world of artistry, proper classification is essential. With writing, you need a clear-cut genre. It’s probably best if you go into a project with your genre in mind, but I’m sure many a passionate writer stumbles across it the way I did with Chaos (un)Controlled. I had no idea where I was going with it, how it would end, what revelations the characters would reveal. The story quite literally unfolded in front of me as I wrote it, so that even I was surprised at the final outcome. The open-ness of my mind had full and free reign. And then, with a finished product, I realized I needed a category.


Most that I shared the story with immediately pegged it as Sci-Fi.

Sci-fi? Do I even LIKE Sci-fi? Well…I did love Inception, and Ready Player One remains on my Holy Grail list. But how could I have written one without intending to? I considered my story more of a Fantasy concept, but a little more research made me skeptical on that one too, because there’s no centaurs or orcs or unicorns. But, there are parallel dimensions blended with realism, and elemental power synonymous with magical elements. I discovered a blended genre called “Science-Fantasy” which seemed to be a closer fit. But only a couple of days ago I stumbled across a review on Amazon where someone was initially put off by a book because it was listed as BOTH Sci-Fi and Fantasy. I can only imagine this is because maybe Sci-Fi purists prefer their HARDCORE Sci-Fi. I had Amazon relist Chaos (un)Controlled under the Sci-Fi–>Fantasy–>Contemporary sub-category, because they’d stuck it in Urban/Paranormal, and I was wondering why Twitter promoters kept using the hashtag #PARANORMAL (why does Amazon classify those two together anyway?). Contemporary definitely defines much of the story, but maybe not enough for it to be the main standalone genre? And then there’s the YA aspect…

So what happens when you have a Black teenage girl crossing dimensions from New York City to library-worlds-in-the-sky and desert wastelands with prejudicial climates, questioning higher power and struggling to wield elemental magic?

For marketing purposes, I settled with YA Science Fantasy. Because ultimately, I consider it a mix of both, and you can’t please everyone.

But no trailblazer blazed a trail by adhering to current standards. So perhaps it was good that the boxing left me conflicted.


Protagonists With Melanin

It’s inevitable that the Black writer will encounter caution on the author journey; warning that it will be harder for us to succeed in this medium (much like everywhere else). The logic behind this slant is particularly transparent to me.

While I don’t have as much time as I did in earlier years to rapidly devour books on a regular basis, the trend I’ve noticed is that Black authors have two categories:

The “urban” or “hood” category that generally tells a tale of the projects, drugs, sex, and some sort of downfall and/or escape from an illegally extravagant lifestyle, e.g. Zane, Noire, Tracy Brown. I have fond memories of attempting to read every sort of book like this I could get my hands on when I was still in school, attempting to hide the cover on the train or in public because those covers screamed “I’M READING A HOOD BOOK WITH JUICY SEX SCENES” and e-readers were not yet a thing.

Then there’s the “Black consciousness” category that actively addresses race and focuses on the Black struggle throughout the story. So your Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright, etc…

I have yet to encounter a well-known Black novelist whose content doesn’t fit into either of those niches (but if you have, I’d love to hear about them!). Where are they? And even when Black characters are introduced to plotlines outside of these niches, it can still feel kitschy. Ernie Cline pulled it off with respectable shock value. Suzanne Collins seemed to get it right, until the Hunger Games movie came out and Rue’s big-screen appearance caused ridiculous controversy. Even though Collins described Rue’s complexion in the book as dark-skinned, Hunger Games devotees (who you’d assume had read this) lashed out against Rue’s actress, Amandla Stenberg, 14-years-old at the time, mind you, in hatefully insulting ways. I was shocked that the young reading community could be so dense and close-minded. The millennial generation is supposed to be an incredibly accepting one. I wrongly assumed it could only carry on and get better from there. For people to say that a character being Black ruined the movie for them, made the character’s death less sad…for it to supremely shake their core like that, that a character they’d come to love turned out to be Black and they missed it due to their own lack of reading comprehension, it’s a significant #TruthTreble.

In Chaos (un)Controlled, Rixa and Azurre are Black. Is it an “urban” tale? Well, the realistic setting is New York City and that’s the extent of it. Does it incorporate themes of “living Black”? Not particularly. From my experience, Black churches tend to have a different vibe than the rest, so some readers who recognize those elements may pick up on the cultural connection. Is there an underlying implied interracial romantic theme? Yessir. But Rixa’s race has no bearing on the plotline whatsoever. I simply chose a main character with skin color in my own likeness.

In today’s world of boxed genres, is there a place for an indie author of color with a YA Science Fantasy novel that features a female protagonist with melanin in a non-urban or inherently “black” setting?

We’ll see.