Expanding the Boundaries: Genre and Books

 

Last month, I released my novella Compromised as an ebook on Amazon Kindle. Not quite getting the response I need, but that isn’t the point of this post. I’m recalling the process of setting up the book and getting it ready for release. One of the hardest parts in the process for me was determining a genre. I eventually settled on Literary/Fiction.

compromised_filtered

I hesitated to call it romance because of something I once read as the baseline criterion for romance. I won’t say what it is here because I don’t want to give out spoilers for my novella, but it technically does not fit with that definition. However, the more I thought about it, the more I definitely want to say Compromised is a romance.

One of the reasons I believe this is a romance is because it focuses on the romantic and sexual relationship between two people. The plot is their struggle as a couple and the ways they connect. To me, this is what makes a romance no matter how it turns out. *Spoiler alert*: After all, Terry McMillan’s Disappearing Acts did not end with Zora and Franklin living happily ever after with a family and a house with a white picket fence. The story was their struggle to find each other and stay together.

Another reason I classify Compromised as a romance is because of something that stuck out to me as I re-watched the trailer for a documentary called My Final Girl, which looks at the Black women in Blaxploitation horror films. I was struck by a white female academic who says the Blaxploitation horror films aren’t really horror because of the music. Since the music was so “funky,” (read: Black) these films can’t possibly be horror.

That statement made me think of the ways we define genre along arbitrary lines that are often based in factors such as race, gender, class, sexual orientation, religion, etc. This woman wanted to dismiss horror films that were clearly horror films just because they didn’t use the music she thought appropriate for “real” horror films.

Qualifications such as this are used to dismiss the participation of marginalized people in many different types of genres where we aren’t supposed to belong. It also becomes a way to demarcate marketing and promotion in a way that is familiar to what we want to believe about genre. After all, why isn’t that guy who writes books like The Notebook (don’t tell me is name because I don’t know and I don’t care) promoted as a romance writer when all his book covers look identical to Harlequin book covers?

While classifying according to genre can be useful in helping us find a book, film, TV show, etc. that we want to connect with at the time, we should be weary of how they are classified. Toni Morrison’s Beloved is every bit of horror as it is “traditional” literature. Yes genres can cross and converge and that’s perfectly okay. Genres may have a few qualifications that should be followed for classification purposes, but we should also recognize that sometimes works may not follow these qualifications like checklist.

Done ranting now. Enjoy this excerpt I posted on Tumblr a few days ago and go pick up the romance novella on Kindle!

She never got in trouble for bringing a Walkman to school. It was against the rules, but Lisa kept it in her bag all day and only listened to it during her walk home after school. She needed it to block them out. All of them. Everyone who caused her grief during hours would most definitely try to do it afterward when she had no one to come to her defense. Girls like her usually did not have a knight in shining armor to rescue them. She was on her own. She listened to music as she walked home and tried to drown them all out with her music. She was deep into Gang Starr’s “Love Sick” when she felt rather than saw the car slowing down beside her. She usually ignored cars that followed her lest she find herself staring down the mouth of some toothless old man thinking he still had it and she wanted it. Lisa turned to tell the man she did not want a ride but found herself looking into the eyes of her knight. He only said, “Jump in.”

Lisa climbed into the passenger side of the aging Oldsmobile. She turned off her music to hear his. He was an old school cat. She halfway expected to see that GQ’s “I Do Love You” was coming from an 8-track rather than a cassette or compact disc. They were in their own world here. The world was a 70s wonderland, the world into which they were born. She would find later that he was more into rap while she actually preferred her old school R&B. For some reason that day, they were feeling the other’s vibes.

“I’m glad I ran into you,” Danny began. “I’ve needed to talk to you.”

“Talk to me? Why?”

“The Bridge tests are coming up soon. If I don’t pass them, I can’t graduate. I was told I should see you.”

“Oh,” Lisa said thoughtfully.

“What’s wrong?” Danny asked.

“Nothing. I was just thinking about the other day – the thing with Brad. I understand it now.”

“Understand what?”

“Why you, you know, why you helped me.”

“Why I helped you that day in the hall? Oh, that had nothing to do with the exams. He’s just an asshole and like most assholes, he needed to be plugged up sometimes to stop spreading shit.”

Lisa laughed out loud. Her eyes sparkled and her face lit up. But just as suddenly as she began to laugh, Lisa covered her face and attempted to stifle herself.

“So she does smile,” Danny teased.

Lisa took her hand from her face and set it back in her lap. She felt his eyes on her for a moment before he returned his attention back to the road. A snicker escaped her lips before she could suppress it.

“Now what?”

“Nothing I just thinking about Brad. He never saw you coming. Neither did I actually. You kind of just snuck up like a -”

Lisa clamped her mouth before she could finish the sentence. She had always tried to be sensitive toward other people. It was not always returned to her, but she did not want to say anything to offend him.

“Like a what? Go ahead and say it. A ninja. I don’t mind. That used to be my name.”

“So that was you.”

“Emphasis on the was.”

She had wondered if he was the one, the elusive Ninja. Lisa marveled that the best form of cooperative multiracialism she had ever seen was in a gang. The crew he ran with included everybody, the best of the best. Still, Danny was the only Asian in the group. The Ninja they called him. He was like a secret weapon. He need not always be involved in a rumble. Just the mention of his name was enough to make even the meanest gangbangers back down, particularly those who knew absolutely nothing about any type of Asian culture except what they had seen from Enter the Dragon. “We ain’t worried. We got The Ninja on our side.”

“Why did they call you The Ninja?” Lisa asked despite the obvious.

“Like you said. They never saw me coming.”

They began to meet after school, sometimes in her parents’ home and sometimes in his apartment. He passed his exams by a comfortable margin. The day Danny found out his results was the first time he kissed her. He could tell it was her first kiss from her reaction. It did not take her long to get it down.

Graduation day rolled around. As her gift, Lisa offered to throw a party for Danny and his friends. Even though it would only be about twelve people, Lisa made sure it would be a memorable event. She prepared the food, cleaned and decorated the apartment and played hostess to all his guests without complaint. Lisa hated parties, so she spent most of the time DJing and making sure the food did not run out and cleaning as she went along. She still noticed one of the town naughty girls openly flirting with Danny. She also saw him respectfully rebuff her as he moved to claim what was his. That girl suddenly had to leave.

Around one, the party began to wind down. Only a couple of guys lingered as they were engrossed in some Sega game. Lisa excused herself to the bathroom. By the time she came out, all the guests had gone.

“Tom and Jeff leave?” she asked as she ran the dishwater to finish cleaning the kitchen.

“Yeah, they needed to get out of here,” he said as he walked up behind her as she busied herself at the sink.

“Oh. I thought they were still playing that game.”

Danny made no reply. Lisa felt his hand caress her ample backside. He often did that when they were alone. She ignored him as usual and kept at the dishes even though she detected something different in his touch this time. His hand wound around her body and found itself under her shirt. She felt an unfamiliar heat engulf her. By the time his fingers were caressing her right nipple, she could no longer breathe easily.

Lisa found her dish towel and made a big deal out of drying her hands, but he had already seen they were shaking. He took hold of them with his free hand and gently caressed them.

“Lisa, look at me.”

She nervously blinked as she forced her eyes to meet his. It was the first time he looked at her that way.

“You don’t have to if you don’t want,” he said gently. “I figured you were ready, but if not I’ll take you home.”

“You’ve been patient and never pressured me…”

“That’s not the point. You shouldn’t do anything you don’t want to do, not even to please me. I just thought it was time I turned you Japanese.”

Lisa nervously laughed as she buried her head in his chest. Danny held her, kissing her and caressing her until the shaking stopped. He then led her to the bedroom.

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