The Genre Conundrum

Bouchercon, the international mystery writers convention, has just finished a four-day run in Minneapolis. Very interesting, panels on 80+ topics. I attended several, including one on techno-thrillers. Yet again, the genre I live in has shifted.

Ten years ago, my fiction genre was thriller. My stories checked the traditional boxes: Large, maybe world-spanning problem, typically discovered by an individual, usually a non-professional. Fast paced story in which reader knows both the protagonist’s and the antagonist’s thoughts and the question is not so much Whodunit? (as in Mystery) as it is Who will prevail? (as in Suspense).

Gone Girl had been published, and someone in marketing at Gillian Flynn’s publisher had slapped Thriller on the cover despite the lack of almost anything thrilleresque about the book. But it is a good book, and it sold. So over the following decade, many books became thrillers and the definition of thriller collapsed to “fast-paced.”

I watched that happen and adjusted my queries to be “thriller/suspense.” The addition of Suspense recognized that my thrillers had characters with wants, needs, fears.

There is so much writing about technology now that thriller has grown whiskers (aka sub-genres). I think I learned at Bouchercon that my first book, Fatal Score, and all my other manuscripts except Skins and Bone are techno-thrillers.

If my friend Carl Brookins reads this, he will take the opportunity to peel a layer or two of my skin off next time we meet at the critique group Crème de la Crime. “Rogers, how the hell many times do I have to tell you, genre doesn’t matter. Readers don’t give a damn about genre. Totally unnecessary.” Of course, Carl is a many times published mystery writer, so he can ignore genre. I can’t ignore genre, because the query letters I send hoping to snare an agent or publisher demand that the genre be named. So what used to be a comfortable definition is now a crap shoot. Next letter … maybe thriller/suspense? Techno-thriller? Crypto-techno-thriller?  Damn.

2 thoughts on “The Genre Conundrum

  1. I’ve been grappling with that same issue for years too, John. Mystery? Crime? Thriller? Suspense? Not all good and great books fit neatly into one specific genre. Just like life isn’t always a thriller or a suspense or a mystery or a romance. I’m in Carl’s except when you’re trying for an agent or pubhlisher because they’re the only ones who care. Another reason, I suppose, that I took the indie-publishing path.

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