Elizabeth Bear is a literary philanderer

Please join me in welcoming to Elizabeth Bear, who’s on a blog tour to promote her newest book, Karen Memory, a unique blend of steampunk and Wild West excitement which I definitely enjoyed. Today, she’s here to talk about the pros and cons of strict adherence to writing in one style or genre, and to ask whether readers enjoy or dislike when an author swerves from an established path. She’s also got a copy of Karen Memory to give away to one random commenter.

Elizabeth Bear Photo Credit: Kyle CassidyHello there. I’m Elizabeth Bear and I have a confession to make.

I have a hard time sticking to a topic. A subgenre. A set of tropes. I’m a serial literary philanderer. (Maybe it would be kinder to call myself polygenreous?)

In my career (counting collaborations, 27 novels written so far and counting!) I’ve flirted with cyberpunk, dallied with hard science fiction, had a serious fling with space opera. I’ve dated around contrafactual fiction, urban fantasy, gaslamp fantasy, epic fantasy. I just can’t seem to settle down.

And now I’ve written a Weird West steampunk book, Karen Memory.

I’ve had colleagues caution me that I’m probably not doing my sales numbers any good with this ceaseless flitting. Settle down, they tell me. Find a nice series you can live with and make it work. You’re not getting any younger, and you need somebody who will be there for you when you’re old.

And there’s a lot of validity to that. I mean, if I had kept writing Jenny Casey books, I’d probably be making a lot more money than I am now.

But if I’d stayed on doing technical writing and administration, I’d be making more money than I am now. And I’d have to wear mascara every day. So I figure some of it is what I want to be doing. What sort of stories I want to be telling.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsI also comfort myself that the Roger Zelaznys and George R.R. Martins of the world can serve pretty handily as models of the sort of literary legacy I’d like to leave — eclectic, playful, but with certain things that tie it together.

Likewise, I think there are thematic concerns and modes of characterization, for example, that I think mark an Elizabeth Bear book, and that can serve as a brand just as well as, say, “Big Idea Space Fantasy” could. I mean issues of ethics, the position of marginalized people in society, and the unexceptionalism of everyday heroism: people getting up and doing what they have to do for no better reason than because they have to do it.

I also know that every transition may lose me readers — but it is an opportunity to find a new audience, as well. It’s an interesting conundrum. There are writers whose work I will read no matter what they’re doing — writers like Barbara Hambly — and other writers whose work I only like some of the time, on particular topics.

So what do you think, folks? Will you follow a favorite writer across series? Are there some writers with whom you have tried, but you only like some of their work?

Readers, comment below for a chance to win your own copy of Karen Memory.


ELIZABETH BEAR was the recipient of the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 2005 and has won two Hugo Awards for her short fiction along with a Sturgeon Award and the Locus Award for Best First Novel. Now she returns after the conclusion her highly-praised ETERNAL SKY trilogy with a Western steampunk set in a reimagined 19th century Seattle in KAREN MEMORY, the unforgettable story of a plucky heroine risking her life for friendship.


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JANA NYMAN, with us since January 2015, is a freelance copy-editor who has lived all over the United States, but recently settled in Colorado with her dog and a Wookiee. Jana was exposed to science fiction and fantasy at an early age, watching Star Wars and Star Trek movie marathons with her family and reading works by Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury WAY before she was old enough to understand them; thus began a lifelong fascination with what it means to be human. Jana enjoys reading all kinds of books, but her particular favorites are fairy- and folktales (old and new), fantasy involving dragons or other mythological beasties, contemporary science fiction, and superhero fiction. Some of her favorite authors are Bradbury, James Tiptree, Jr., Madeleine L'Engle, and Philip Pullman.

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37 comments

  1. Paul (@princejvstin) /

    So what do you think, folks? Will you follow a favorite writer across series? Are there some writers with whom you have tried, but you only like some of their work?

    I’m willing to give an author a chance across genres, series, settings. It doesn’t always work, but I’m usually amenable to the attempt.

    And some authors, I just read everything they write I have time for to read. Bear is one of those–but she knows that already :)

    • Jesslyn Hendrix /

      I love when authors cross genres. I’ve found that unless the genre is way out of my wheelhouse, say to mystery, I am drawn to their style.

      For my favorites it has worked so far, I’ve gone from steampunk to horror to paranormal to urban fantasy and I’ve enjoyed blogs that I most likely would not have read.

      Keep it up!

  2. I’m often surprised at how good writers are when they write cross-genre. But, I’m still drawn more to some storylines than others.

  3. I enjoy authors that move across genres. Is frequently worth the effort and they tend to stay fresher longer.

  4. Heather A /

    Definitely! When I love a writer, it is as much for their imagination, style, language, world building and character developement as it is for a particular genre or series. When they boldly go where no writer has gone before (possibly), I love to tag along.

  5. Always a Bear fan – I’d love a copy of this book!

  6. Katrina /

    I love cross-genre authors: Zelazny, Hambly, Bujold, Rachel Aaron (and Elizabeth Bear, of course) are some of my favorites. After all, my reading taste spans genres…so it feels only logical to me that authors’ writing taste does as well. Can’t wait to read KAREN MEMORY!

  7. susan emans /

    When I was much younger, I read and loved (still love) Andre Norton. She wrote science fiction, fantasy, post-apocalyptic science fiction, space fantasy…and I loved it all. I love Rachel Bach’s Paradox series and Rachel Aaron’s new urban fantasy series. Michelle Sagara’s YA series, The Queen of Death (I think), got me to try her Elantran Chronicles. My philosophy is “Write it; I will read it.”

  8. I love that term, polygenreous. :)

    It’s a double-edged sword. Writing in multiple genres increases your exposure, and may draw in readers of genre X who would never read genre Y . . . but who just might try it now because they trust your style and imagination. At the same time, I can understand how readers who’ve become accustomed to you in genre X might feel a little cheated or betrayed by a shift in genres.

    In my experience, I’m more happy to follow authors who I’m accustomed to being polygenreous, because I’m comfortable with that diversity, than those who have always been defined by one genre and suddenly, inexplicably shift.

  9. Margo Hurwicz /

    I wonder if genre relativism (modeled on cultural relativism from anthropology) is a thing? I think I practice it in my choices of what to read. But yes, an author with a writing style that works for me will win every time when resources are scarce. I’m planning to read Karen Memory (although it’s really Memery, which is cool, and maybe based on “meme”). Is care & memory like tea & sympathy?

  10. I follow authors across genre pretty faithfully, but then I read almost every genre there is. What hooks me about an author is usually the way they tell a story and the characters they create, and most of the time (for me) the author’s voice transcends the details.

  11. You lead, & I will follow. That’s how I find new books that I otherwise would miss.

  12. This book is the first I’ve heard of Elizabeth Bear but it makes me excited to read more of her writings!

  13. I tend to read across genres anyway so a switch from a favorite author won’t phase me in the least. I’m happy to try something new and if it works, great, if not, I move on. No big deal.

    There are some authors that I’d be euphoric if they would branch out and write more in any genre that pleases them because I just would like to read more of their books but if they don’t, that isn’t a big deal either.

    Does that make me a polygenerous reader?

  14. A good author is a good author, so I’ll follow them happily into other genres I read and maybe into genres I am less enamored of, but I don’t think I have followed one into a genre I don’t like and probably wouldn’t. Mostly due to out of sight out of mind, but if I thought about it I’d probably think the genre tropes would outweigh the skillful writing. Much as there are authors whose writing I can respect/admire but I don’t like their books

  15. I would read anything that Elizabeth Bear wrote. Even her grocery list.

  16. For me, it’s a question of whether I enjoy a genre and am therefore willing to follow an author on their adventures. There are some genres that I’ve tried and just can’t get into, so even if I’ve loved or liked an author’s work in (for instance) straight-up fantasy, I’m a lot less likely to try their urban fantasy work. Or I might feel that an author has a great voice in their Young Adult series, but their “serious adult fiction” offerings aren’t as compelling.

    But some authors have their hooks in my heart, and I’ll happily read anything they write.

  17. I read across genres anyhow so I’d try just about anything by an author I liked.

  18. Barbara Elness /

    I will follow a favorite writer across series and yes, sometimes it just doesn’t work for me. For example, there are some authors that make me fall in love with their paranormal or historical romance and then they start writing contemporary or new adult stories that just don’t interest me. One of my favorite writers has done several different types of stories, including YA, and I’ve loved them all, but I just haven’t been able to dredge up any interest in her latest offerings, which are new adult stories.

  19. RedEyedGhost /

    I will follow most authors across genre lines, because I don’t just read one genre. Daniel Abraham being my favorite example – I’ve loved all of his books, and will read everything he writes.

  20. mayam1127 /

    I will read anything Elizabeth Bear writes. Genre doesn’t matter to me, it’s the characters’ voices that matter, and EB always writes amazing characters.

  21. Lila Mihalik /

    I would and I have followed authors as they have started other series especially if it is in a genre I read. I sometimes find it weird when people won’t try another series by that same author because “It’s not X series.” There are some series that I don’t prefer from authors, but that won’t stop me from trying other stuff by the same author.

  22. Leland Eaves /

    I would follow an author across genres and series. Off of the top of my head I have read Anne McCaffrey’s Pern books and also her DinoWorld booksand her Doona books, Larry Niven’s Draco series and his Known Worlds books. Does Michael Moorcock count with his Multiverse series? Several of them are different genres. Dan Abnett I’ve followed from comics to Warhammer 40K. Stephen King from his Dark Tower series to his short stories….Oddly, I have a bunch of to reads that follow authors to different genres. Like Jim Butcher and his upcoming steampunk endeavor.

  23. Kimberly /

    Yes. And yes please! :)

  24. I love it when an author is polygenrous! Some of my favorites are!

  25. Really looking forward to this

  26. Kestrel Barnes /

    So what do you think, folks? Will you follow a favorite writer across series? Are there some writers with whom you have tried, but you only like some of their work?

    I personally think there is nothing wrong with writers branching out and giving other genres a shot. I would gladly follow an author across multiple genres, and across multiple series.

    I have definitely had my experience with authors who write multiple books that have been either hit-or-miss for me. But, it does not cause me to lose faith in that author, nor does it keep me from enjoying the better parts of their work.

    Also, I must add, regardless of the results of this giveaway, I will still be getting a copy of Karen Memory for myself. I can’t wait to read it!

  27. Thomas L Walcher /

    Thank you for a chance to win Karen Memory.

  28. I do like it when authors try new genres and I’ll usually follow them! I absolutely loved this article. I haven’t read anything by Elizabeth Bear yet but that needs to be fixed ASAP

  29. I am always willing to give my favorite writers a chance when they try out new genres, although I don’t necessarily enjoy the results. Sometimes, however, they exceed my expectations and then — awesome! :)

  30. For me, it depends on what I look for with that writer. If I love their characterizations, prose and voice, I will probably follow them across genres. If I think they excel at a particular genre, I may be reluctant to join them in an experiment. In the thriller field, Lee Child is an example. If he published a high fantasy novel I might not rush to get it.

    Elizabeth, you seem to do it all so I would have no trouble border-jumping with your books.

  31. Although there are definitely some stories/genres that I enjoy more, I find that it’s more often an author’s style and ability to weave a fascinating plot/world that makes me enjoy their work. I’d imagine that an author that writes cross-genre wouldn’t put me off too much, as long as his/her characters really shine.

  32. I will follow Neal Stephenson anywhere. He writes all kinds of weird, wonderful stuff, and does something different each time. I think this quality attracts me to an author–I get the sense that, with each new endeavor, there’s a whole background research project going on. It stands for an entire invisible book list that I haven’t read but that the author had to master to write a work delving into new territory. Not only is it impressive, but I think the writing gets better, too, the more an author plays around with genre. You go for it, Elizabeth Bear!

  33. Lila Mihalik, if you live in the USA, you win a copy of KAREN MEMORY!
    Please contact me (Marion) with your US address and I’ll have the book sent right away. Happy reading!

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