When I hear the word “cross-genre”, I instinctively picture Gene Wilder’s Dr. Frederick Frankenstein and Peter Boyle’s Monster performing a tap dance to Berlin’s “Puttin’ on the Ritz”. The visual says it all: easily identifiable figures of the horror genre set to musical stage for absurd effect. Comedy-horror, as it is best described, is just one of a multitude of mixed genres. Other examples include dark fantasies, tragicomedies, comedy dramas, and science fiction westerns (can you say Firefly/Serenity anyone?), and the presence of such genres leaves writers a vast canvas on which to combine the elements at their disposal.
There are challenges in cross-genre writing, however. A novel’s classification as one particular genre or the other tends to be always determined for marketing purposes. Who will buy this book? Fantasy lovers? Hard crime fiction fanatics? Where will I place this book on the shelf? These questions bring to light the main challenge, which is how to sell a book that could be shelved among books of two or more genres, but really belongs with all three. As a writer, you always want to tell the story that you need to tell, although you will often need to think about marketing even as you write. If you want to be published, defining a genre is a big step in the right direction. So what do you do if you want to write a hardened homicide detective in a inner city precinct on an intergalactic super space station?
The best method may be to work on character and plot. Genre is often defined by the setting and the circumstances, so if you have a well developed plot and lovable or interesting characters, the cross-genre platform may not be a dealbreaker for your readers or, perhaps, the publisher. I imagine as we move into the age where e-books are overcoming printed texts, the market for cross-genre fiction will grow. It is, of course, easier to create a Young-Adult-Christian-Historical-Mystery genre category for e-reader sales than it is to build an entire new shelving area in the big name bookstores.