The Circle in the Quadrature

Let us consider categories.

In the midst of getting one’s book published, there are a bunch of small decisions that have to be made (how much do I charge, how the heck do I compress that painstakingly-composed description into 400 characters, etc. etc.). I’ve been comparing self-publishing to acting as my own general contractor on a house renovation – and having been through house renovation, I can say that even if you hire a builder who organizes everything, there are still a mind-boggling number of choices to be made. At least books don’t have nearly as many light fixtures.

A lot of the last-minute but-I-want-the-book-up-now stabs at decision are pretty fundamental, and some of them are also pretty constrained. I did realize I’d have to choose a category to slot my book under, but I hadn’t seen the list till I had to pick from it. Time for Tea ends up described in most venues as Fiction – Science Fiction – Adventure, which is… okay as a place to start, I guess.

So how would I categorize Time for Tea, and by extension, the entire Waters of Time series? Well, I wouldn’t, unless forced. I shelve my own library alphabetically by author (and biographical subjects, except Boswell’s Johnson, which goes under Boswell, because), and that includes fiction, poetry, nonfiction by authors I’d look for it under (yes, this is arbitrary), essays, etc. (dramatic literature is moving onto my younger son’s shelves as soon as he clears them off, as there is no room downstairs anymore. NO ROOM). I don’t put science fiction over here and mysteries over there and Patrick O’Brian somewhere else and Jane Austen on a pedestal. It’s just all books.

But I understand that categories are necessary for marketing purposes, so all right: my books have time travel in them, made possible by sufficiently advanced technology, not magic, so they count as science fiction. I’m fine with that, though knowing what I know about the SFF community, I’m sure along the way someone will object to the self-definition. If I’m lucky.

What else are they? I kind of like the label I accidentally invented when putting up the first Facebook notice about Time for Tea: “adventure, romance, and caffeinated beverages.” (Time and Fevers would have to be “adventure, romance, and virus-laden tulips,” I guess.) I’ve been sort of avoiding the R-word, not because the books aren’t full of romance, and not because using it causes a lot of (mostly male) readers to shriek and start checking themselves for cooties, but because it’s yet another category, and one with more decided rules than SFF, and I pretty much break them all, as well as veering away from the focus on love with some frequency. (More on expanding universes to come in other posts, I’m sure.) But if you’re here for the romance, come on in, the water is somewhat chilly and you can’t be sure what’s lurking under the rocks, but really, it’s fine. Ish.

And yes, there’s adventure too: swords and pistols and fistfights and sailing ships and the king’s revenue officers rushing up on horseback. There’s also a fair amount of people sitting around in drawing rooms drinking tea and playing string quartets while it rains outside, but I like to think that adventure – or, at least, deadly tension – can exist in those spaces as well. Characters and the plots they impact take time to develop; some of my plot threads resolve in a single book, some stretch out over several, and some insist on tying themselves in knots with all the complexity that jumping around in time allows. There were bits I needed charts for. I’m sorry.

I also love quoting from things (that’s Andrew Marvell in the subject line), so a lot of that happens. I wish to assure everyone that I have to look the quotes up. And humor is very important to me as a leavening device, so don’t worry if you giggle.

The other matter I should probably address is what I guess we have to call rating. Distributors want writers to tell them if their books have “adult content” so they can filter it out for readers under 18. I did some poking around in the Smashwords “adult content” list, and ninety percent of what’s there is erotica/porn, and the rest is books by probably over-careful writers. I did not check the “adult content” box for Time for Tea (which contains some discussion of sex, kissing, non-graphic violence, and a couple of F-bombs as well as a lot of George saying “Shit”) and that was an easy choice. The later books in the series have more of what the MPAA calls “language” (which always cracks me up. Ooh, language), sex scenes that aren’t explicit but don’t shy away from letting you know what’s happening, and a fair amount of blood. I am not inclined to say any of this is inappropriate for 16-year-olds (though this is obviously a personal decision) and I really don’t want my books filtered out of searches, but I’ll have to consider further whether the box gets checked. None of the possibly-adult-content is the point of the books, however (I have no objection to erotica, but it’s for people who go looking for it; they’re not going to find it in my writing), and it’s all plot-relevant. So, probably not checking the box.

In conclusion: I don’t really like genres, but I’m fine with being an author of genre fiction, even if defining that gets tricky. If anyone wants to tell me what you think my books are after you’ve read them, I’m listening.

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