I went to see Studio Ghibli's latest (and perhaps last) movie the other day. When Marnie Was There, despite its awkward title, is a lovely film and worthy of its legendary studio.
What's interesting is how I keep thinking of it as a non-genre film, when -- I'm sure I'm not giving anything away by telling you this -- it's actually a ghost story. Perhaps it's because ghost stories are so embedded in our culture. Perhaps it's because so many people believe in ghosts and even those who don't would like to believe in them. But unless the ghost is malevolent (in which case the story or film goes straight to horror), it's difficult to think of a ghost story as fantasy. It feels like an accepted part of our everyday worldview.
I can think of only one other fantasy sub-type that can be routinely sold and accepted as mainstream, and that's the time-travel love story. It has to be love that breaches the walls of time and (briefly, usually) unites two people who were Meant To Be Lovers. Machinery gets in the way of romance and turns the whole thing into icky sci-fi.
So that's two. Can anybody think of a third?
And a word to young writers...
If you're a natural fantasist who wants to write a mainstream novel, falling through time and in love is probably the way to go. Keep in mind, though, that you stand the same chance of getting a big paycheck as you do if you stay in genre. I've talked to any number of not-yet-famous mainstream writers who are jealous of the big advances they presume genre writers receive.
The cash is always greener on the other side of the fence.