Writer, Poet, Community Builder
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Stray Writer, or: What’s My Genre Again?


My first completed story of 2016 took me by surprise. It’s a little flash piece, not even 700 words, and as is often the case with such short stories, I had no idea where I would end up when I sat down to write it. When I was done, I was surprised to find that I’d made it to the end of the story without anything weird happening. This is unusual for me. This story was sad, and evocative, and maybe hopeful, maybe bleak, but it wasn’t weird. This is a thing that happens every now and then: I make it to the end of a story without an element of magic or fantasy, without even an allusion to something that is out of this world. I never know what to make of these works that are weird due to their lack of weirdness. Much of what I write falls under the umbrella of speculative fiction, if you like categories, but it’s stories like this one that stop me from identifying as a writer of a specific genre.

I only started sending out my work and getting published this past year, and genre-wise I’ve been all over the place. There was some horror, some fantasy, some magical realism, even some speculative poetry (that, depending on how you read it, is not even necessarily speculative). There were also a few stories that were literary, non-fantastical writing, published in journals that were not primarily speculative publications. And at first, I felt like I was doing something wrong. I felt like I was turning into two writers (or three, or more). Shouldn’t I be building some kind of personal brand? Wasn’t writing stories that “go together” part of that?

But even as I was thinking all this, I kept writing what wanted to be written—it’s all I know to do. What can I say, sometimes I write about gross caterpillar monsters devouring a town and building a cocoon out of the hair of the people it ate, and other times I write about a person’s struggle with memory loss, the panic and fear in the face of disappearing names, and the urge to hide this from others and yourself. And now I have this grab bag of publications. But you know, with the start of this new year, I’ve decided to embrace this about me as a writer. Genre borders, where they’ve even truly existed to begin with, are becoming ever more fluid, and established authors are taking chances and are breaking out of their expected categories. I’ll probably be fine. (Right?)

A neat side effect is that for many of my stories, I get to choose whether I submit them to publications that are specifically speculative, specifically literary (I don’t like this designation, but you, dear readers and writers, know what I mean), or open to either and everything in-between. This stresses me out sometimes and makes for a pretty eclectic bio, but it’s also fun. I feel fairly in control of where I want each story to land, and at least for now I’ve decided that I don’t want to choose to write on one side over the other.

Also, I’ve learned to see that the stories in my grab bag do in fact “go together.” There are threads, common themes running through my work, across genre lines. The instabilities and strangenesses of bodies and minds. Loss and grief. Regret. Uncertainty. Alienation, estrangement. Moving on, becoming something new. I don’t set out to write about these things, but they find their way in, sometimes right on the surface, and sometimes buried beneath layers of other meaning.

Who knows where all of this will lead? I have, after all, been publishing for  not even a year. I’ll just keep writing, try to produce work that fills me with joy to have written it, and go wherever the words want to take me, personal branding be damned.

Layla Al-Bedawi