I have started a new story that isn’t really science fiction It isn’t really fantasy. Isn’t really horror. Yet, for me, the story still falls into the category of popular fiction. I am not trying to be coy with genre here. But it feels like a mainstream popular fiction story that doesn’t fit neatly into the boundaries of any particular genre.
This has been a trend with my stories, lately. “Meat and Greet,” which was published in the January 2015 issue of InterGalactic Medicine Show was more-or-less mainstream story (although one reviewer referred to it as literary). A year earlier, my story, “Big Al Shepard Plays Baseball on the Moon” (IGMS, January 2014) was an alternate history, but was essentially mainstream fiction about baseball in the 1940s, and the Apollo program of the 1960s. And earlier this spring, my story “Gemma Barrows Comes to Cooperstown” was my attempt at writing a long-form Sports Illustrated-style profile. The only difference from real Sports Illustrated profiles is that my piece is fictionalized.
For a long time I have resisted writing these more mainstream stories I think there are several reasons for this:
1. I grew up reading and loving science fiction, and it seemed natural to write science fiction when I began to write.
2. When I began to sell stories, science fiction is what I sold. That is the world in which my writer-friends live, and I wanted to be part of that world.
3. I was afraid to write more mainstream stories because I didn’t know where to send them once they were finished.
4. I felt like I didn’t really have permission to write stories outside my adopted genre. After all, I’ve been writing science stories all this time, who am I to write anything else?
The first two reasons are forgivable, I think, and I suspect many genre writers have done the same. The third reason is easily overcome by some simple research.
It is the fourth reason that has troubled me, the feeling that I need some sort of permission to write outside the genre. Why I should feel this way I can’t begin to say. Permission from whom? I suspect the answer is permission from myself. As a science fiction writer, I have become used to being pigeonholed to a set number of markets. This has nudged me into writing stories that would fit those markets if the stories were good enough for publication to begin with.
But as I said, I have recently started a new story which, while falling entirely into the realm of popular fiction, doesn’t really mesh with the genre boundaries we have today. So whether it was a necessary thing or not, I have finally given myself permission to write these stories. They may be harder to place, but I have to write them. Other writers will understand this, I think. And yet, I am left with a feeling of disloyalty to the genres I grew up with, a feeling that I am abandoning them after all they have done for me.
A guilty conscience, perhaps.
Sometime in the last year, I decided I wanted to be more than a science fiction writer. I wanted to strip away the adjective and be a writer. I have written nonfiction within and without the genre, why not fiction? This is what I am doing now, but the guilt still lingers.
This is not to say that I am giving up on writing science fiction (or fantasy). Instead, I am writing stories. If they turn out to be suitable for one genre or another, great! If not, that’s okay, too. I suspect many of these stories will fall from the nest soon after hatching, but I am hopeful that with practice and time, a few will find their wings, and fly to places far beyond those in which my stories have appeared so far.