One of the most difficult things about writing fiction is deciding on a genre, particularly when your work hits several of them tangentially.
For instance, my style is more literary than contemporary. But the Literary genre requires more than a literary style. It identifies character-driven stories that explore the reactions of characters to universal situations, situations often fraught with emotion.
In the broad sense, my novel WHISPERS IN THE CANYON does those things, but some would not label it as Literary Fiction because there is too much resolution.
What do I mean by “too much resolution”? Literary Fiction is focused on making the reader do some deep thinking, and usually leaves at least one open question in the reader’s mind. My novels are character-driven and, at the end of the books, the major conflict is resolved. However, there are questions left open pertaining to the future of the characters and how deeply the issues will affect them going forward.
On the other hand, most genre fiction has a definite set of rules to follow. A Western, for instance, is plot-driven, and will usually flow this way: hero cowboy/lawman/rancher fights the bad-guy/rich-guy/land-grabber and saves the girl/ranch/town. A twist on that involves a woman, sometimes posing or dressed as a man, fighting obstacles to win the guy/ranch/revenge.
Now I realize this is very simplistic view of a plot and many variations are possible, but most Westerns will follow this formula. And just as Romance readers expect a happy ending, most Westerns readers will expect the formula to be followed, at least to some degree.
So how is my novel, set in the 1880s Arizona Territory, not a Western? To start with, the bad guy’s death is the opening catalyst for the novel, not the thrilling denouement. The cowboy wins the girl (and the ranch) very early on. However, the repercussions of the dead outlaw’s deeds figure prominently in the story until the very end. And to top it all off, the hero manages to create a situation that threatens both his happiness and that of his woman.
So to sum up, a novel that’s set in the Old West but that deviates from the expected norm is, by definition, not a Western. WHISPERS IN THE CANYON is a Literary novel set in a Historical time period and most definitely not a Western.