Breaking Out of the Box

I don’t like boxes.  They are a necessary part of intelligence and experiential learning – the ability to categorize objects, people, and ideas into groups that allow us to predict their actions and characteristics. It is how we know that something heavy for its surface area will drop like a stone, while something broad and light will gently float down like a feather.  It is also what draws people in to works of fiction.  They have experience with people sort of like the characters, or events the bear a resemblance, and so they build in their expectations and knowledge into the story. They relate.

But still, I don’t like boxes, because human beings use them far more than necessary to organize the world.  We’ve gone beyond observing the world and organizing it based on those characteristics, to forcing the world into preconceived categories and demanding it behave accordingly. That may bother me more than other people, because at times in my life, I’ve found myself shoved unwillingly into a box that didn’t fit. For example, in the first hours I spent with my future in-laws, they informed me that  I was subservient, smart, polite, and a distant second to my brother in the eyes of my mother. They stated these as indisputable facts based on one-half of my genetic heritage.  But the box didn’t really fit. And why put me in that box? Half of my genetics bear a different label. Why not put me there?  Why not into a box of people who don’t fit in boxes?

That latter question caught an entire room by surprise ten years ago. During a mandatory diversity training, we were doing the jelly bean exercise. You have several different color jelly beans representing different races, and put the proper color bean into a cup for each question asked: the race of your doctor, your dentist, the person who does your hair, your best friend. When I had to select a color for my own race, I stared at the colorful candy, not knowing what to do. I raised my hand and asked.  To my embarrassment, a gasp went through the room at the question and I was directed to lead a lengthy discussion as to which racial jelly bean I should place in my cup for my race. I never understood why I couldn’t be both.

I run into the same problem with my writing. I have to categorize my novels into preconceived boxes. I look at Foreseen, which comes out next month. It will be categorized as science fiction, but it could just as well be categorized as paranormal. It may be classified as action or adventure, but could easily be classified as romance. It doesn’t fit neatly into one box and not the others. It follows time-honored traditions of story composition, but that isn’t exclusive to one genre or another. In fact, a good story in any genre will follow the same rules. And yet, I must put it into the boxes to help people find it.  But when they do, I hope they don’t expect something that’s exactly the same as everything else in that genre, because Foreseen, like it’s author, doesn’t fit in a box.