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September 27, 2011

Karen Healy: What's in a Genre?

Posted by Anonymous

Karen Healey is a Young Adult novelist who hails from Australia. Her debut novel GUARDIAN OF THE DEAD won the Aurealis Award in May 2011. Her latest work, THE SHATTERING, takes place in a tourist-town in New Zealand known for its isolation and beauty --- until things start to go awry. THE SHATTERING is a heart-pounding novel full of secrecy, suspicion and mystery; as she describes it here, a cross-genre tale that will leave readers guessing at every turn.


It's a terrific word --- gets you great Scrabble points if you put it in the right spot --- but it's difficult to define.

Is genre a marketing category, a sign in the bookstore that directs you where to go?

Sure, why not---except then you get the "Young Adult" genre, which is full of fantasy, science fiction, literary fiction, horror, mystery, thriller, romance and so on. Very different books in tone and style, with the sole linking factor being --- usually --- a young protagonist or narrator.

Well, is genre what happens when you write a book with certain tropes? Like, a romance should have two people falling in love, and a happy ending, right? And in a YA romance they should both be young people.

But what if the two young people falling in love are fighting dark magic in a world the writer made up?

Or one of them is dealing with the grief and trauma of an untimely death in the family?

Or they're solving a murder in a museum (and making out on a stuffed tiger)?

Oh well, that's a romantic high fantasy. Or a literary romance. Or what author Lili Wilkinson calls a "rom-crime."

BUT. What if the young protagonists are fighting dark magic in a small town in New Zealand (that the writer made up) and dealing with the grief and trauma of untimely deaths in their families and solving several murders. And making out with people---sadly, no stuffed tigers involved.

My second book, The Shattering is most certainly a cross-genre novel.

I love cross-genre stories, and the thing I love most about them is that as a writer, you get to take all the expectations people have of single genres and play them off against each other.

In a murder mystery, you expect the dead to be revenged by the living and justice brought to the killers. In a paranormal, the dead might be walking around with the living. In a thriller, the conflict should come from mundane causes. In a fantasy, you expect the conflict to have a magical aspect. And in a romance, no matter what the protagonists go through, you predict that they'll get together in an eventual happy ending.

In a cross-genre novel, all bets are off. As a reader, I love that.

I know that's not a universal response. Plenty of readers feel betrayed when a novel they thought was firmly in one genre turns out to have elements of another. But plenty more readers are thrilled by that heart-pounding moment that occurs when you realize that you really can't predict what will happen or anticipate which genre conventions will rule the course of the novel at which time.

Those are the people I'm writing for, the people who enjoy uncertainty and challenge and the thrill of the unknown.

Much like one of the main characters, Keri, I find such uncertainty incredibly disquieting in real life. But I love to read books that shatter genre expectations, and I sincerely hope that readers like me enjoy the ride.

To learn more about Karen Healey and The Shattering, visit her website