An Author in Search of a Genre
By Judith Cullen
We like to categorize. It makes it easier to find things we need or want when they are classified, organized: canned vegetables in this aisle, pasta and soups in the next. Everything sorted and alphabetized so we can lay hands on it at just the right moment. It is not a bad working concept.
I was the primary proponent of this very concept recently in my Mother’s house. An overhead cabinet was mounded with decades of holiday decorations and items for little homey touches: candles of all sizes and shapes, votive holders, mobiles, windsocks, table and window décor, various objects d’art. After 45 years they had become a festive Fibber McGee’s closet. I was regularly ascending a 6’ step ladder, as the designated household climber, opening the cabinet door with one hand, and holding the other up protectively against anything that decided to descend before its time. I reached my limit. I bought a bunch of inexpensive plastic storage bins and sorted out both that cabinet and the closet beneath. Now we can find things without risking life and limb. Now the holiday accumulations of the years can be found and chosen from easily. I can’t tell you how many times the words “Oh, I haven’t seen that in years” were spoken. But this essay is not about reducing clutter or increasing your feng shui.
Authors are regularly asked to categorize themselves. What do you write? What is your genre? The literary word is a vast series of pigeon holes and authors are challenged to fit themselves into as many as possible to make their work easier to access by interested readers. It makes sense, right? Yet I continually find myself straining at those carefully drawn boundaries. I know other writers who have chosen more defined markets for their books, and are much more prosperous than I: Christian Romance, Historical Romance, Historical Fiction, etc. Am I only a fiction writer? Am I only an essay writer? Do I have any claim to being a poet? Why can’t I wrap all these things up in the term “author” and just write what inspires me?
I can, and I have, chosen to do the later. It’s probably not the brightest commercial choice in the world, but I am not writing solely to turn a profit. And I haven’t, not yet. The Internal Revenue Service defines the length of time you can professionally pursue something at a financial loss as five years, then they declare it a “hobby.” I have three years left on their timeline. I do not accept their definition as my own. This is a journey, and it may take a decade or more, given that I began with less than nothing. However long it takes, it is my journey. But this essay is not about tax codes either.
Asked after my first year of writing what I wrote, what my subject is, I answered “If there is anything that connects much of my work, I think it is belief. By that, I do not necessarily mean religion. My work reflects my personal conviction that there is “more on heaven and earth than is dreamt of” to quote. I don’t actually care what people believe in, but I think it is essential to believe in something beyond yourself that cannot be seen and frequently does not make “logical” sense. I think only by such leaps of faith can we truly believe in, and be true to, ourselves. We attribute too much power, especially in western culture, to things: things which do not have a soul, or energy of their own.”
It felt like the answer of the moment, and almost two years later it still fits. I write stories, fiction and essays, about life’s journey and the power within each of us. Call it God-given, call it the Universe, call it what you will. We all have a power granted us at sentience, and we are all handed the choice of good or ill: big choices, important choices, small everyday choices. What do we do with what we are given?
All around us, the world feels like it is descending into one perpetual Ridley Scott movie. Everyday it seems to be more distressingly depressing: bombings, beheadings, deceit, theft, anger, and hate. We see our world devolving into chaos and darkness – that is the constant message we receive: “It’s all going to hell!” Yet, here I sit on a sunny May morning looking out at a clear blue sky, and vibrant green trees and the world does not seem to be all death, grief, and sorrow. So is the world going down the abyss of doom? Yeah, it is doing and it has done before. What makes the difference? We do: each of us does individually, and then collectively.
Look, historically this is not the first time things were grim. It is not even the grimmest time in history. Think of feudal times: tyranny, inquisitions, slavery, war, pestilence, terror. We have invented none of these things in our modern age. Why are we experiencing these things again? Haven’t we outgrown grim? No, we have not. We still have lessons to learn, lessons that begin on the personal level and without fear or hate. Changes that will come from the ground up, not legislated from above. It does not “trickle down.” The magic to transform our world begins and ends with each of us. That’s not bullshit.
So how does this relate to my search for my pigeon hole as an author, or my denial of same? I still write about belief. I still write about the power and magic within each of us, and the wonders unseen that surround us. I write about these things for myself, and because I believe they are an important message for our time. There are plenty of people talking about the horrors, dangers and threats – defining them, analyzing them, debating them. I am not needed in that conversation, there are plenty of voices there and I have nothing new to contribute. It is not that I deny their importance; it is simply not a discourse I can be effective in.
I believe that what you focus on, you manifest. That is part of our magic, the core of our personal power. Focus on anger, intolerance, fear and that is what you manifest – even as your conscious mind struggles against it. Focus on the power you have within you to nurture your own seed, and to be a positive, life-affirming influence for yourself and for those around you, and slowly you begin to manifest love, tolerance, kindness, and understanding. Who knows? Maybe it might catch on. This is a discourse I can be effective in.
Maybe five or ten years down the road I will look back on this moment and roll my eyes at my own naiveté. But that’s part of the journey as well: learning not to judge the seed, but to simply plant it let it grow free of presumption. I write. I write about belief. I write about the power each of us was born with, and that we spend our entire lives trying to understand and access. It is my personal journey. It is the journey of every reading soul who finds they can relate to what I have to offer, and that it has relevance in their own lives.
Okay, now try searching for THAT on Amazon!