Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Double-Dipping Part Two: Why We Write In Multiple Genres

Share |
Double-Dipping Part Two: Why We Write Across Genres

By Susan Hughes

Today I continue my chat with five children’s book authors who—like me—delight in dabbling in more than one genre. They are Alison Hughes, Helaine Becker, Lorna Schultz Nicholson, Monica Kulling and Kathy Kacer. Let’s find out what they like most—and what they find most challenging—about this double-, triple-, or even quadruple-dipping!

Susan Hughes:

What do you enjoy most about writing in multiple genres?

Alison Hughes:

I enjoy the freedom and stimulation, and how each genre brings its own rewards. I love the minimalist poetry of picture books, the snappy pace of early readers and the rich possibilities for humour with middle grade. I also like having more than one project on the go, so if one day I’m really struggling with a manuscript I’ll switch gears and work on another.

Helaine Becker:

I seem to be ADD by nature. I adore the variety, changing it up from project to project. I enjoy learning about wildly diverse subjects too - everything from civil rights legislation to Mayan glyphs to feeding habits in finches.

Lorna Schultz Nicholson:

What I like most is the variety in the writing and being challenged to grow as a writer. I like learning and I’m always trying to be a better writer. I don’t want to be in just one genre because that is just not me. I was the kid who played on every sports team, sang in the choir, took violin lessons, joined clubs. I’m still that person so it is natural for me to write in different genres. I keep thinking when I’m retired I’ll go back to writing adult mystery novels, another love of mine. If I was to limit myself to one genre I feel I might miss out on something and I want to be able to write the story that comes my way.

Monica Kulling:

Writing in multiple genres challenges and informs me as a writer. I learn so much when I'm writing biography and non-fiction. I love the challenge of compressing a person's life into a small picture-book framework. When I switch to fiction, I can write more freely, work without a net, which is always fun. Switching things up keeps the work of writing interesting, for me.

Kathy Kacer:

I love writing in different styles and genres. It challenges me to think about my writing in different ways. I have discovered that I love writing short stories. I have discovered that I love researching a true story and then trying to write it in as accurate a way as possible and still being creative in the process. At the end of the day, writing is writing. We still need to focus on character, setting, plot, etc. But it is great to break out of the mold every now and then and expand on how we create those elements within a book.


What do you find challenging about writing in multiple genres?


Sometimes the gear-switching from one genre to another is effortless, but sometimes it’s not. You have to be very mindful of your audience, your level of language complexity and your tone. For example, switching from an ironic middle grade boy voice to the voice of a little, misunderstood gerbil in a picture book may take a bit of adjustment time. It has helped me immensely to have three children and nieces and nephews of varying ages.


People like to pigeonhole each other. It's easier to think of someone as either "jock" or "artsy" than consider the possibility that someone could be both athletic and creative. Because I am not easy to categorize, people often just look at me and blink, unable to figure out where I "fit." In addition, a lot of big publishers want you to be a "brand" that they can sell like toilet paper. I don't want to be toilet paper! But as a result I also don't "fit" into a lot of companies' publishing programs.

Working in so many genres also means it's tricky to focus my efforts, say, in promoting a particular book. Should I prepare a workshop for a science teachers' conference to promote Zoobots? Or do a mailing to middle school librarians to promote Dirk Daring, Secret Agent? With only so many hours in the day, it's hard to do both well. That being said, I can't see ever changing my modus operandi. I'm having too much fun now!


Sometimes if I’m working on multiple projects I have to focus on my dialogue and make sure I’m age appropriate. It’s also important to keep the language authentic for every genre.


I find that keeping the voice (of fiction as opposed to non-fiction) fresh and distinct, the most challenging.

I usually prime the pump a bit, that is, write some exercise scenes and dialogue, before moving into a story after writing a biography or other nonfiction piece. There's a liveliness one can implement in a story that doesn't always work in nonfiction.


I don’t find it challenging to write in different genres. The challenge is simply to create a compelling story for young readers of different ages—in whatever genre we are working in.


Do you have any other comments you’d like to add?


Sure! I think too often as writers we settle into a niche when we find one, whether we’re really happy or stimulated there or not. Or worse, we let other people box us into a particular genre. Children’s literature is a vast and varied field, and story ideas come in all shapes and sizes. Romp around.


Let’s give Kathy Kacer the final word…


As writers we are working in an ever-changing market. We have to continue to look for ways to increase our readership and to get “noticed” in the arena of children’s literature. Expanding ones repertoire of genres enables us to reach a broader audience—different ages; different stages. That can only be a good thing.

Susan Hughes is an award-winning author of children's books — both fiction and non-fiction — including The Island Horse, Off to Class, Case Closed?, No Girls Allowed and Earth to Audrey. She is also an editor, journalist and manuscript evaluator. Susan lives in Toronto. Visit her website,


Related item from our archives

JF Robitaille: Minor Dedications


Open Book App Ad