Tuesday, May 28, 2013

It's Genre Research, I Swear!

Sorry I missed last week's post--life just got crazy and I forgot. So, on that note, on to this weeks blog post.

I am a huge bookworm.

This is a trait that goes perfectly with being a writer, along with being a librarian. As a bookworm, I devour new books like a woodchipper goes through tree branches, and I get a lot of ideas by seeing what other people have done with the genre. I got back into fantasy by reading Discworld. I got into mysteries by reading Sherlock Holmes. I got into horror by reading Stephen King. And so forth. So naturally the best way I know of to research a new genre I'd like to try out is to read a bunch of books in that genre.

However, this can lead to some strange results, depending on the genre you're researching.

For a while I was into Bizarro fiction and aspired to write my own as soon as I had a handle on what made it work. As a result, I was reading books with titles like Warrior Wolf Women of the Wasteland, Apeshit, and The Ass Goblins of Auschwitz. In hindsight, I was quite glad that all of these came through interlibrary loan and had the big transit sleeves over the front covers, because a lot of the covers were really damn weird and I didn't feel like trying to explain what they were about to passersby, especially since some of the titles were almost obscenely literal once you got into the story. I soon concluded that Bizarro deliberately defied any attempts to fit it into a set framework, and set the genre aside as far as writing projects went, until such time as I recalled a particularly vivid fever-dream that I could render into a semi-coherent plot. (Good luck with that, me.)

Before that, I was plowing through a list of obscure books that were eventually made into less-obscure movies, like The Stepford Wives, Rosemary's Baby, and The Midwich Cuckoos. These titles were quite a bit more innocuous than the Bizarro titles, but you can imagine the looks I got while reading Rosemary's Baby in the waiting room at the OB/GYN. (Incidentally, my roommate has me beat on that front, sitting on the front steps of a church to read Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses. Hee hee.)

Even mainstream genres aren't immune to this reflexive guilt reaction. I read Twilight to see if it was all it was cracked up to be either good or bad. I know that both camps have particularly rabid supporters, and I did my best to stay out of the fray, but it's hard to do that when you have the first book of the series in your hands. Even straight romance is really damn hard to research, as a lot of the covers skirt the edge of modesty, and I'm starting to have difficulty taking a lot of the titles seriously when half of them follow the template of The Greek Billionaire's Forbidden Mistress or The Italian Tycoon's Secret Wife.

And you can just forget about researching the particulars of erotica. I've looked up titles for genre research, and they covers practically trumpet from the rooftops, "Hey everybody, I'm reading porn!" I know it's not the same thing, and I'm sure the readers know it's not the same thing, but I don't feel like wrapping my legitimate genre research (no really, I swear) in a brown paper bag like a dirty magazine to preserve my dignity and avoid people thinking I am, in fact, reading porn. The better-known titles have more innocuous covers, but pretty much everyone knows what Fifty Shades of Gray is about by now.

At this point I've just about decided that e-books will be my best best for discreet genre research. I should feel weird or guilty about the stuff, I read, but honestly, there's a legitimate reason!