Finding a Genre; Finding Peace
Imagine you're a brand-new, untested author. Your first novel, between the covers of which you've left your heart, your memories, your health and a good part of your sanity, is published. It's on line, available on multiple platforms to the teeming millions of potential readers. Trying not to cut your nose off to spite your face, you consider choosing a genre, which always seemed like a no-win situation. Readers in this highly balkanized on-line world, dominated by Amazon, Barnes & Noble and a dwindling number of other underpaying sellers of books, have been shunted into easily marketable categories. You choose one. Thrillers.
But your book is only partly a "thriller" according to today's standards. More than 80% of what are called "thrillers" on the market today are what one could categorize as "Homeland Security porn." Your book has no rogue CIA agent superhero renditioning hapless towel-headed Middle Easterners and foiling their plans to horribly kill mass numbers of innocent Americans. Your novel features a bunch of semi-good characters and semi-bad characters and a handful of really bad guys and gals, most of whom are American assholes doing horrible things to each other. The book is also psychological, in that the protagonist is a slowly recovering misogynist, and a slowly developing sociopath. His breast harbors what could at one time have been nurtured into a strong, kind, caring heart, but has been serially abused by life, bad decisions and horrific circumstance into a squirming black ball of violent, antisocial, apolitical action. He is not a nice man, nor a healthy one. He's what you could easily have become, and may yet still. "Thriller" doesn't quite capture the conflicted, unhelpful nature of this person and his exploits.
And then you see it, on Twitter of all places. An entity, someone or something with 70,000 followers, begins following you. She/it is titled "Transgressive Fiction." There is a website involved, and a Wikipedia page. Holy crap! It's a genre! It’s not one many people have heard of, but there it is, in black and white (mostly black)! Here's a partial description: "Because they are rebelling against the basic norms of society, protagonists of transgressive fiction may seem mentally ill, anti-social, or nihilistic. The genre deals extensively with taboo subject matters such as drugs, sexual activity, violence, incest, pedophilia, and crime. The genre of 'transgressive fiction' was defined by Los Angeles Times literary critic Michael Silverblatt." Holy shit! Michael Silverblatt! And you, the genre-challenged author, can get with almost everything in that description, except maybe the incest and pedophilia. Writers you imagine yourself to vaguely resemble, going back centuries, are represented as having unwittingly been toiling in this genre. Among others (all but one a male of the species, unfortunately): Marquis de Sade, Émile Zola, Dostoyevsky, Georges Bataille, D. H. Lawrence, Henry Miller, Vladimir Nabokov, Alan Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Hubert Selby Jr., Kathy Acker, J.G. Ballard, Charles Bukowski, Anthony Burgess, Bret Easton Ellis, and Chuck Palahniuk. That's some pretty heavy company, including some lonely, formerly genre-less scribblers who may have had no clue that one day they would require being lumped together to form a bulwark recognizable to a clueless "consumer" perusing Amazon or Goodreads for something less cloying or patronizing to read. Palahniuk, for one, accepts the genre as his own, except he calls it "Transgressional Fiction." I'm pretty sure he made up that word, to sound like a cross between "transsexual" and "congressional." Whatever you want to call it, I'm in.