That's the first response I keep hearing from readers of the actor and the housewife. I wondered if the title or jacket was misleading, or the jacket text. Or all. They may be. But as I've listened to these readers, I've come to realize that, at least in part, it's something more ephemeral than all that: this book doesn't have a genre.
Some reviews have called it "chick lit," because there are elements of that, I suppose, and austenland could fit that description. But I think readers who expect chick lit will be surprised, and some might be disappointed.
So if it's not chick lit, then what? Fantasy? Sorta, but not really. There are no magical elements, no hero's journey or perilous adventure, no mythical creatures. But if fantasy is a genre that says, "Here's what's possible in our world--now let's add a little more..." then yeah, it is fantasy. Though not in the traditional sense. So again, readers expecting fantasy like my other books will be surprised, and perhaps disappointed.
So is it literary fiction? No. There are elements of that, but some of the plot and the fact that one of the characters is an A-list gorgeous British actor means that this book wouldn't be allowed in the literary fiction club.
Romance? Sorta...but sorta not.
Wish fulfillment? Sorta...but sorta not.
So, no genre. It's just a novel. For some readers, that's enough. But for others, that can be confusing and upsetting. This has made me look at genre, what that means, why we like it.
Genre is a kind of a handle to hold, a way to manage the story. Genre does tend to follow a certain formula, though I don't think it's fair to say that all genre fiction is formula fiction. But as a reader I can understand the desire to have an idea of what I'm reading before committing to the book. I've had a few experiences where I'm reading a book by a fantasy author that doesn't turn out to be fantasy, and I'm like, Wait! We had a contract here--I read a book and you deliver some magical stuff!
That's what genre can be--a contract between reader and writer. You read this book, and there are certain things I promise to deliver. If you go see a romantic comedy film, there had better be a few laughs and the highly compatible couple had better get together in the end. If that doesn't happen, some viewers might think, "How unexpected and refreshing!" But probably most would be disappointed. "Where were my laughs? Where was the romance? I want my money back!" Dean and I once rented a little-known Jackie Chan movie, in which the characters talked for an hour and a half. Talked! I believe there was some fighting at the very end, but we'd bought out by then. It wasn't what we were expecting, and we were disappointed.
I get that, as a reader, as a viewer, genre can be helpful. But it can also be limiting. While sometimes it's comforting to slip into a familiar kind of story, other times I don't want to read the same tired old tale again and again. I want something fresh, something surprising. And as a writer, genre can be so limiting that I work very hard never to consider it while working. Editors and marketers always want to know, what's the genre? Who will be the readers? What's the hook? They're running a business, and those questions make good business sense. But those questions are useless to me as a writer. I'm trying to find and wrestle out a story. I'm keeping allegiance with the characters to do right by them. I'm creating a world like my own but different too, and a place where I'd like to be. I'm asking questions that I don't know the answers to. I'm aiming to write a story that I haven't read before. Sometimes that process results in a book that can be stickered as one absolute genre. And other times...I get the actor and the housewife.
I hope that readers can set aside ideas of genre and expectations and go on this reading adventure with me. I really hope so. Because I am terrifically proud of this book. Genre would have sucked the life out of this particular story. Maybe my publisher should put on a label: WARNING: This is not what you're expecting. Contains no genre. Read at your own risk. Maybe. And then again, sometimes, maybe surprise is a good thing.
I'm interested to hear your thoughts on genre and how they aid and hinder your reading writing experience.