For most of my life, I've had this peeve about being categorized. It wouldn't be too far a stretch to say I really resisted it and, when pressed, would act in a seemingly atypical manner just to prove a point. Like, you know, ordering the sushi for lunch when everyone assumes I'll get the same grilled chicken sandwich I got last time.
Thing is, I haven't had to overreact this way in my real life too often because my tastes are NOT that easily defined, and I've never been all that consistent in my habits. My friends and family know this about me. Some days I quite honestly prefer the sushi to the chicken. Some days I'm a burger girl. Other days it's Cobb salad or pizza or loaded nachos or vegetable lasagna. Food provides excellent examples because I like so much of it.
And music. Music is this way for me, too. ACCORDING TO JANE is an homage not only to Jane Austen but also to the sounds of the '80s. I love '80s music like I love gelato, but that doesn't mean those are the only things I'll play or eat. And I love Austen, but my favorite reads include more than her six novels.
Which is, to a large extent, why this focus on "author branding" has been so challenging to me. I've been forced to think about the concept more frequently in the past year or two and am now a product of that machine. I've been stamped a "women's fiction author," which is true, of course, but within the genre there are further delineations, and I've had to adhere to some them. The point of branding is to clearly provide for one's consumers the product they're anticipating. Women's fiction can be light or dark in tone, commercial or literary in intent, involving one main character or a group, having a small-town setting or a global one, employing some paranormal/suspense/romantic elements or not, etc. In saying yes to some and no to the others, I'm supposed to willingly shape my packaging so that my audience will know exactly what to expect when they open one of my books.
I get that. I really do. And as a reader, I've appreciated the gift of this literary shorthand on more than one occasion. I'm angry when I'm misled by a backcover blurb. I feel betrayed when an author known for her romantic comedies takes a depressing turn. And I'm surprised and disappointed when a novelist with a really strong erotic-fantasy voice tries to fake her way through a different genre.
But today, as a writer in the midst of a first draft...on a cold, dark, November afternoon with snow flurries outside...forcing my storytelling inclinations into a prescribed box is going against the grain. I'm sure I'll feel more up to being "light," "commercial" and (theoretically) "witty" tomorrow, but if I try to write another scene today, it'll come out as "dark" as my 7th novel or as "quirky" as my 4th.
And we can't have that, can we?