With the impending ‘release’ of the book to film adaptation of 50 Shades of Grey I feel it’s time to drag a little irksome bug-bear of mine from under the bed.
For close to three years now, I’ve referred to myself professionally as a ‘writer’, though I’ve been writing for almost fourteen years all told. I’m not an ‘author’, as I’m yet to publish a novel, but I write. As such, I’m often asked what work I do, and when offering up this answer, I’m met with genuine excitement and interest, which frankly brightens even the dullest days. It’s really lovely to find so many people interested in what you do.
Inevitably the question is asked; “What kind of things do you write?”
To which I answer; “I blog and I’m working on a few manuscripts for novels…”
Then, without fail; “Oh wow, which genre/type?”
Here there is a frown of confusion, a grin of kindred understanding or a blank stare. All are perfectly normal! Genre names and sub categories are tough to define even in the industry, so for those simply purchasing and reading it can be gibberish.
However, the question I most often field when discussing my work has come to boil my blood in recent months…
“Is that like 50 Shades of Grey?”
*eye twitches and left hand begins to grope for a nearby sharp object*
Fantasy is not ‘like 50 Shades’, nor does 50 Shades fall into any fantasy sub genre. I don’t even know if the lovely folks over in the Erotica/Erotic Romance department classify 50 Shades as one of their own! It could have a whole genre to itself if it liked – a whole area of grey – no one knows what’s in there, no one wants to know and no ones even sure you can escape if you dare enter.
50 Shades might be a good story. I’ve not read it but I know it was written and published online as fan-fiction inspired by the Twilight series before it was picked up by traditional publishers. Personally I thought Twilight was appalling, and for so many reasons I won’t go into here, so I couldn’t think of any worse torture than fan-fiction based on that insipid love triangle.
My issue though, isn’t with the books or the author – each to their own and all that. My problem lies in this persistent idea that Fantasy, as a genre, equals erotica.
Fantasy is not erotica. Yes, there might be sex. Yes, there might be romance. There might even be a love triangle or two, but that is not the core function of the story or the genre.
It’s about swords and sorcery and myths and heroes and war and death and a shit-tonne of other cool stuff all piled into pre-modern settings. There are modern fantasy genres too, super natural, young adult, dystopian, steam punk… The list is endless, really. The key to fantasy is often the setting and within that, any number and type of tales play out.
So why this weird confusion between Erotica and Fantasy? Is it that the term ‘fantasy’ is more commonly used to describe ‘sexual fantasy’ than the genre itself?
Is it that I’m a girl and women only write romance or erotica, especially in the wake of Twilight and 50 Shades?
Is it born from the thousands of paperback romance covers featuring busty beauties in the arms of their hero lover, windswept on the prow of a sail ship, implying some sort of ‘old world’ setting?
Or is it a real lack of exposure of the Fantasy genre to the wider, often non-reading public?
For a long time the only reference point well known enough in pop-culture to compare my work to, was The Lord of the Rings. Even then I had to further explain that the language and writing style I used was more ‘modern’ than Tolkien’s. Now, thank the seven kingdoms, I can refer to the HBO series Game of Thrones, adapted from GRRM’s A Song of Ice and Fire. Though sometimes I wonder how many viewers realise this juggernaut series is in fact from the Fantasy stable.
All told, I’m endlessly frustrated with the lengths required to define and explain my genre. Is it still such an underground unknown that everyday folk remain blissfully unaware? I despair that the genre isn’t getting nearly close to fair recognition or well deserved exposure because of a lingering idea that it’s in fact Erotica, with its erect nipples, rippling biceps and throbbing members. How many potential readers miss the opportunity to experience story telling on an epic scale, all for the sake of misunderstanding the labels on book store shelves?
Could redefining of the genre be as simple as a name change? Or can we do more on our covers and with our titles to show the wider reading public what we are all about? For one thing we need to address the sneaking trend toward ‘flowery, romantic’ cover art on books with female authors. You’ll notice even the author of 50 Shades (E.L. James) uses a gender neutral name to counter any preconceptions about the story simply based on her identifying as female.
I for one am sick of the grey area, sick of living in the literary shadows and thoroughly sick of the confusion. It’s time Fantasy crawled out of the dungeons to be recognised for its uniqueness and sheer awesome scope, and take its rightful place at the best seller table.