Thanks, Anne McCaffrey, and Genre Boundaries

Anne McCaffrey’s death, and all the reminiscences and tributes offered in her memory, intersected with what-I-am-thankful-for. Many people, writers and readers both, have described the ways they are thankful for her work and her personal presence in their lives. They’ve said it far better than I, but each memory is personal and hence, unique. Writer Juliette Wade blogged on how McCaffrey’s “Pern” set an example for her own work by blurring the borderlines between fantasy and science fiction.

One of the things about McCaffrey’s work that left a deep impression on me was not so much the “blurring” of genre lines as how she combined story elements in interesting ways. More than that, when I read everything of McCaffrey’s I could get my hands on, I was astonished at how many genres she wrote in. I saw her telling stories in whatever form they needed to take; I saw that she, like me, was interested in a lot of different things and she was fearless in pursuing them.

Certainly, it’s become much more difficult for anyone but a Big Name Writer to switch around from fantasy to science fiction to something in between to romance/women’s fiction, and so forth. The bean-counters and marketing departments hold the purse strings. Many of us have found, to our sorrow, that such limitations are not lightly flaunted. “Marketing says they can’t place this,” is too often a death knell.

Even while we wrestle with the practicalities of trying to earn a living by writing, we should not — we must not — allow such forces to hedge in our imaginations. About the time I sold my first novel, I remember people talking about how important that debut was because it was the book you’d be re-writing for the rest of your career. I was appalled, for much as I loved the story, the characters, the world of Jaydium, there were many other stories, characters and worlds screaming at me — pleading with me, haunting my dreams — to write them. That’s one of the glories of short fiction, which allows me to play in diverse and alien sandboxes, with no computers tracking my sales figures to determine if my next novel will be marketable.

I don’t expect I will ever get to the point where a publisher will gladly bring out my next book, regardless of genre. But I never, ever want to stop dreaming in more than one color!

Thanks, Anne, for this and much more.

Deborah J. Ross has been writing science fiction and fantasy since 1982. Her novels Jaydium and Northlight, and short story “The Casket of Brass” are available as multiformat ebooks here on Book View Cafe.

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Thanks, Anne McCaffrey, and Genre Boundaries — 1 Comment

  1. I think if you write a hit, a best-seller, you may have to reprise it. Think about how Arthur Conan Doyle had to return to Sherlock Holmes, It takes will and power to step outside of your best seller.
    And there are writers who, having written a great book, never get beyond it: Harper Lee is one example. I don’t know if J. K. Rowling is going to ever write another book, but we can hope.