I think I have identified one of the things that leads me to like an author’s writing: when they write in several genres at once.
I knew Bujold did this, and Pratchett. But they’re both the kind of writers it’s easy to think of as simply exceptional. What I just realized, recently, is that some of my other favorites do this too. Barbara Hambly, for example.
Hambly writes science-fiction and fantasy. She writes horror. She writes historicals. She writes romance. And the thing is, she writes all of them at once. While any book of hers may lean toward one more than the rest, you can pretty much count on all those genre threads being in every book.
Of course, this means that she doesn’t usually follow most genre conventions of any of them.
Take the horror, for instance. Hambly’s books have plenty of it, whether gruesome and unknowable creatures from beyond the stars or the depths of human depravity and cruelty. But it’s never the point. It’s just there, and the characters have to deal with it. Which means she can’t be easily categorized as “dark fantasy” either, because the fantasy elements generally contribute to a very optimistic story, overall.
Or take the romance. Her books do generally feature multi-verse spanning, life altering love found at long odds. But her characters deal with it as one would expect people in the middle of deadly crises to do: “Wow, this is incredible! If we live, let’s have a good snog/marriage/deathless bond, okay? Now duck!”
As for the historical aspect, well even without her biographical blurb I’d have guessed she had either an advanced degree or an advanced hobby in history. Her narratives are chock full of little details that unmistakably set the stories in place and time. But it’s still the characters who are the point, not the details, and a lot of the books are set in places and times that didn’t actually exist, which makes it hard to call them historical fiction.
She writes against the genre grain, which I find charming. Also something I should probably keep in mind when next browsing the library or bookstore shelves.