Today, author Greer Macallister tackles the age-old question of genre! Historical fiction, women’s fiction, romance. Does it matter? How do we fit? What does it mean? I’m not sure there are any definite answers, but Greer has it right. It’s the reader who matters, and our job is to deliver a good story. THAT’S what’s most important, no matter when, where, or how, your story exists.
Please welcome Greer Macallister to Women’s Fiction Writers!
The Mystery of History
That’s the case with all genres, on some level. Recently, I saw a roundup of reviews in one of the major industry publications, and was astounded to see “Amish fiction” as its own category. Doesn’t that seem a little… specialized?
But then I thought about the readers.
If there are readers who are burning for Amish fiction, who want to read nothing but Amish fiction, who want to jam-pack their e-readers or their shelves or what-have-you with Amish fiction, then guess what? Genre has done its job.
It’s hard, still, for me to agree to “historical fiction” as a meaningful category. My book, The Magician’s Lie, is historical fiction about a female illusionist under suspicion for her husband’s murder. It’s set in 1905. It has less in common with The Other Boleyn Girl (“historical fiction”) than it does with Gone Girl (“contemporary” or “thriller” or “crime”, among other things, depending on who you ask.)
History is… well, history’s big. It covers the waterfront. Soldiers and outlanders, queens and architects, pilots and criminals. What could all these stories have in common? Just that they took place in the past? Just that they’re centered on some time which is not The Now? It seems a slender thread on which to hang anything at all.
And yet. It always comes back to that same question. With “Amish fiction”, with “historical fiction”, with “women’s fiction”: what about the reader?
Are there readers who want their fiction historical? I’m sure there are. There are likely more who want to drill down further, who prefer their historical fiction Gilded Age or WWII or alt-Victorian. For those readers, the “historical fiction” category is at least a starting point. Perhaps it’s like “romance” – you know what you’re going to get, on some level, but there is a great deal of excitement and variation and charm in the particular way that a particular author in a particular book leads you from The Beginning to The End.
If nothing else, genre can open up our eyes to the pleasant futility of expectations. No matter what someone tells you about a book – the genre, or how much they loved it, or that it was a bestseller – there is no substitute for experience. What matters about a book, when you sit down to read it, is whether you want to find out what’s on the next page.
In that way, you always make your own history.
Raised in the Midwest, Greer Macallister is a poet, short story writer, playwright, and novelist whose work has appeared in publications such as The North American Review, The Missouri Review, and The Messenger. Her plays have been performed at American University, where she earned her MFA in creative writing. She lives with her family in Brooklyn.