The Newest Branch

In my interview with William Gibson, the iconoclastic godfather of cyberpunk talks a lot about genre – nearly to the exclusion of all else. It had never been his intention to be a science fiction writer, but when Neuromancer, his debut novel, won science fiction’s three top awards, his fate was sealed. In talking to him, it seemed to me that he has wrestled off and on with this fact ever since. Gibson puts it well, I think, when he says in the interview that the unspoken truth about genres is that each is expected to provide the same thrill over and over again. This is not to say that genre writers must provide the same thrill, but I think it is hard to argue that readers often expect a particular experience when they pick up particular types of books. Which has a lot to do with why they sell so well. Many of us are creatures of habit, and habit requires a certain level of predictability.

I do not think there is anything artistically wrong with writing to the expectations of a genre. If you love the swoon of a traditional romance, and you would love to provide that same swoon over and over again—more power to you. You will be happy, your readers will be happy, and God knows your publisher and agent will be happy.

What I decline to accept is the notion that one must write to the expectations of a genre if one’s work falls within that genre’s narrative terrain. To me, this is just fear, and a decidedly narrow view of people in general. Genres merely represent the discovery of one idea, or a branch within the tree of fiction, an idea fertile enough that it can be more or less replicated thousands of times. But branches always beget other branches and other branches and so on, all of which might in turn become genres of their own. To believe otherwise is to believe that human beings never want to grow or change.

We mustn’t be fooled by our own stubbornness. Yes, people will eat the same thing, read the same thing, watch the same thing over and over again. That is because they have found something that has made them happy and everyone wants to be happy. But remember, people don’t actually want to repeat themselves, they only want to be happy, and it often requires one brave soul, perhaps someone just like you, to reveal a new version of an old idea, a new way to be happy.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group conferencing.

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