Wednesday, March 30, 2022

A Flower in My Hair - Reflections on Genre Bias

It's one of those weeks again, where there's been an attack on horror authors via social media, implying we're all psychopaths and terrible people. Happily, I've never had someone tell me to my face that they believe this about me, but on the wider spectrum it can be hurtful to hear this repeatedly.

Angry Eyes, by OCAL,

The good thing is, I can fall back on my communities, those of the blogging world and of the authors here in Colorado who I've gotten to know, and I can remind myself that there are plenty of people who know that being involved in the horror world doesn't make someone a bad person, just a creative person whose creativity has a dark bent sometimes. I also write humor, mystery, memoir, fantasy, and science fiction, and no one has judged me based on those things.

It makes me think of the abuse those in the romance genre also get. The insinuations and side-eyes they receive, because they MUST be smutty people, right? No, of course not. Or how about when a literary writer looks down at genre writers as writing junk or when the opposite happens and a genre writer dismisses a literary writer as being snooty?

We writers know that writing something doesn't mean we've done it, that we want to do it, or anything along those lines. I'm not even sure, though, if this current attack that blew up on Twitter came from a writer or a reader, but I've seen plenty of writers generalize those in other genres, and even in their own genres. After all, we do this all the time about ourselves. Stereotypes exist for a reason. Sometimes we amuse ourselves by playing around with stereotypes. For example, that guy at the bar who laughingly downs his fifth beer and says it's okay, because he's Irish. Or what about all the stereotypes surrounding something as basic and unchangeable (except with dye) as hair color? I bet if I asked you to list a bunch of hair color stereotypes you could bang them out, no problem. You may have even joked about your own hair color before. 

The Beer Snob, by OCAL,

As writers, I think we often employ stereotypes or generalities in our writing, especially in the beginning before we learn to outgrow those bottled characters, settings, or situations. In some ways, it's a necessity, as it's a comfort level for a reader to find familiarity, and one way to achieve that is through generalizing and using commonalities or things we've observed regularly. When there's a story about a group of people, chances are at least some of those characters will fall under some sort of stereotype, like the fiery, short woman or the "Karen" asking to see the manager. Part of writing is pulling the reader in as soon as possible, so if we sat back and looked at the ways we do that, we might find we're generalizing or stereotyping more than we even realized it.

However, I mourn for the days where I didn't hesitate before answering every time someone asked me what I wrote. Now I lob it like a softball and wait for a reaction before I say anything else about it. The two responses I'm most likely to get are either "Oh, I love horror! What have you published?" or "Oh, I don't read that stuff." Sometimes I get a really puzzled or semi-disgusted look and a, "But you're so pretty," as if somehow not looking like a hideous beast means I can't possibly be a horror author. That one cracks me up, and I can usually spin it into something positive.

Hey, to each their own. I don't hold it against anyone if they don't read horror. I admit that sometimes I get tired of hearing it, especially when it's thrown out like a shield or as if they feel they have to state it lest they be judged as a horrible person. I don't respond to someone who writes a genre I don't read with, "Oh, I don't read that," even if I don't or it's rare that I do. I don't hate any genre that I can think of. And I certainly don't think ill of anyone writing any particular genre. I prefer to continue asking them questions about their stories and their love of their preferred genre, so I'm supporting them instead of making them feel defensive or shutting them down. After all, we're all spinning tales and creating worlds and situations, which means there's always something worthwhile to talk about. Even someone writing memoir or other nonfiction is actively creating, whittling down the many details that surround real life, then weaving the remaining threads into a story people want to read.

Things were more fun when I didn't fear people's reactions to me doing something I love. When I didn't have to wait out whether that person might end the conversation with me or get that look of disgust before they realized it and brought it under control. When they didn't eyeball me as if looking for a knife hidden behind my back or horns peeping out from beneath my hair. I'm well aware that I shouldn't care what others think of me. I'm a middle-aged woman, after all, and no matter what I've done as a serial people pleaser, I'm certain I've left behind plenty of people who simply didn't like me.

But those who do like horror, and those who simply respect that it's something I enjoy, and that it doesn't make me a bad person, make it worth it. Because ultimately writers DO support writers. There are bad eggs, but they're greatly outnumbered, and I truly believe that most writers don't judge each other based on the genre they write, and are just intrigued as to the worlds their counterparts create. I know it's that way for me. I want to know about your stories. I want to know what inspires you. 

Photo with my "thank you" mug from Sisters in Crime after a recent workshop I did for them. Note the flower in my hair and the suit jacket.

So I put a flower in my hair to signal that I'm harmless, dress professionally at writing events so they know I'm a normal person, and throw out that softball to wait it out and see where the conversation will go afterward.

If you've ever had a knee jerk reaction about a genre someone writes, I'd love to challenge you to read a story in that genre and to go one step further: write a piece of flash fiction or a short story in that genre and see how you feel about it then.

Do you have a genre you have a knee jerk reaction to? Is it one you've experienced or is it one you've always avoided? Have you ever challenged yourself to try out a genre you weren't fully comfortable with? What happened with that?

May you find your Muse.


Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Shannon - there's more abuse now as people can get away with it anonymously many a time. One just has to ignore it and realise there's so many other people in the world. Take care and good luck - Hilary

Natalie Aguirre said...

Sorry people are attacking horror on social media. We should all be able to write what we love. And I just read on an agent's newsletter that horror is a popular genre right now.

cleemckenzie said...

Hi Shannon. You might want to check out a post I put up last month on the IWSG site. You'd be the perfect person to add to the survey from Book Angel. Here's the link if you're interested.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

People dis what they don't like or don't understand. I get the geek card for being a science fiction writer. We just have to ignore it.

Mary Kirkland said...

It's so ridiculous that people act this way. I started out reading Horror and now mostly read romance. So I've seen the bias against both genres.

Chrys Fey said...

I've written all about how romance is a genre looked down upon by many writers outside that genre, as well as readers who don't read it. There definitely are biases against certain genres. If only we could just let everyone read what they want and write what they want and be happy for them.

Shannon Lawrence said...

I totally agree, Hilary. Anonymity doesn't do us many favors.

Shannon Lawrence said...

Natalie, that's good to hear about it being a popular genre right now. It fits the circumstances, as horror often has a resurgence during emotionally and financially darker times.

Shannon Lawrence said...

I'll check it out, thank you!

Shannon Lawrence said...

I see a lot of it for fantasy and science fiction, too, definitely. So strange.

Shannon Lawrence said...

I bet. The day I realized how many similarities there were between horror and romance in terms of readers and those vocally against them was a surprise.

Shannon Lawrence said...

Agreed. It's odd that people feel the need to attack something because it's not their style, so to speak. Romance definitely gets a lot of hate.

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

I'm sorry you've experienced this, Shannon. What's worse is those people are part of our world and always will be. The hard is wishing them happiness when you're rather walk away. Some days I'm able to think to myself, I love you despite. Most days they make me cranky.