What’s in a Genre Name?

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

So, I have some exciting news: at long last, I have a literary agent! This is huge for me, obviously. I’ve been writing pretty much my entire life, but only recently has it become of high enough quality that someone who doesn’t personally know me thinks it can sell.

But the question is: what genre does this new story fall under?

I think the overarching and oversimplified answer is simply: HORROR. If you want to get fancy with it, I’d say paranormal mystery. But the thing is, some publishers who may be super into HORROR are less excited by the term “paranormal mystery”. I was hoping my agent might have a snappy answer for me, but then she asked me what genre I felt this book was. So naturally, I turned to the Interwebz for answers.

I came away with about a million different answers, a lot of which ended up at “paranormal mystery” and “horror.”

My agent then brought up the idea of using the subgenre term Magical Realism, and HOLY SHIT that sounds cool! And look at the amazing writers who fall under that (sub)category: Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Toni Morrison, Isabel Allende, Milan Kundera, Neil Gaiman, Stephen King… of course, that’s super-specific but it adds a lot of class to HORROR.

Now I’m wondering why HORROR has such a bad rep? Is it because it’s a genre fiction category that some consider automatically cheesy or bad? If so, why is that? Is it all Twilight‘s fault? Discuss.

Which leads me to want to create some new subgenre that’s accurate without undercutting deeper themes within the book. So here are a few ideas:

  • Modern Gothic Horror (I like this one the best!)
  • Natural Horror (This sounds like what would happen if David Cronenberg set a film in the woods)
  • Ghost Mystery (This one is confusing! Like, is it about ghosts solving mysteries, or what is it…?)
  • Cabin Gothic (This sort of sounds like the shabby-chic of fiction, like a style of furniture called Rustic Baroque. HARD PASS.)

Did Shirley Jackson have to struggle with this? Or did they only use the term FICTION back then? Not that I’m as amazing as Shirley Jackson. (I wish!) But I have to wonder if the writers I love would even get published now because breaking down the barriers of genre can be so tricksy. But worth it! I hope…