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Festival of Words: Defying Genre panels talks the intricacies of genre fiction writing

Festival of Words guests talk the limitations of genre when writing, and how they approach genre when producing their work
FoW genre panel
Panelists Hiromi Goto, Craig Davidson and Dorothy Ellen Palmer, joined by moderator Lindsay Morhart, talk about genre.

A panel of experts took the virtual stage at the Saskatchewan Festival of Words to talk about defying genre — a topic that all three guests have plenty of experience in doing. 

Hiromi Goto, Craig Davidson and Dorothy Ellen Palmer sat down to answer questions about how they approach the idea of genre in fiction. 

“The easy answer is that it’s a labelling system whereby readers find books and writers find readers,” said Palmer. “It's also a  way to put books in a  hierarchy that makes it possible to make more money, and so I’m not a big fan of the way genre’s hierarchy divides readers and writers and makes some think they're better than others.”

Goto and Davidson agreed that genre is more of a system of categorization on the consumer side of the industry, best utilized by readers, publishers and marketing experts, and not necessarily a box that all writers work to fit inside.

“I think publishers do want to find places for writers to be, for readers to find their way to them and there’s an entire apparatus sort of wants to confine writers,” said Davidson. “But I think the thing that makes that interesting is writers don’t necessarily always feel compelled to follow those rubrics.”

For all three panelists, the process of writing a new project typically doesn’t include strict adherence to the set structures of “genre.”

Palmer and Goto said that they usually follow the manuscript where it is leading, and define its genre for marketing purposes later on in the process. For Davidson, writing to please reader’s expectations of genre tends to be back of mind.

“I really just want to have fun when I write [and] if I’m not it really shows,” said Davidson. “I’m not really worried about if I'm fulfilling audience expectations, it’s just a matter of my own enjoyment as I work my way through a novel.”

The panel also talked about what it’s like switching genres as a writer — which Davidson said he’s dabbled in but not always felt comfortable and Goto, as a self-described “genre-hopper” said is always interesting.

“I like to hop genres because it sets up a different set of writerly challenges, to work in a different form,” said Goto. “Each new project feels like a way to learn by doing [and] it's creatively challenging and creatively engaging to embark on something that’s new.”

The Festival of Words continues on Sunday, with a morning reading session with Mohamed Abdulkarim Ali, Angie Abdou and Lyndon Penner, followed by two more panels in the afternoon before events wrap up.