Monday, October 14, 2013

Genres be damned.

There's a reason I decided to call my blog "Genrefied." I like blurring the lines. Where the lines get blurred, or where they should, is entirely up to you. 

So here’s the thing: I have said before and will again that I am not a fan of genres. Before you go all crazy, calling me a poseur and maybe contemplating which stake I should be burned at, allow me to clarify. I am not fond of genres as a method of categorizing a book or a writer.

Once upon a time, lo many years ago and before I became a published author, I decided to lay down a few rules for myself. Most of those rules involved actually writing, instead of thinking about writing and a few simple philosophies about work ethics, but there were two I’ve tried very hard to stick with. First among those was simply this: Follow the examples of the writers you admire most. By that I meant listen to their advice because it obviously did them some good, and also follow the examples they have offered, consciously or not.

So let’s look back at the beginning of this for me. I have a lot of writers I admire. I mean that. A lot. Can’t hope to emphasize that enough. But there were only a handful who gave advice I wanted to listen to, and chief among them were Stephen King and Dean Koontz.

Can you guess why? If you said because they write horror, you are wrong. I read them in part because they wrote horror, but I also looked to them as examples because they just plain kept breaking the rules.

Listen, inevitably someone comes along and tells you that you have to do things this way or that. Sometimes that advice is good advice and you should take it to heart and sometimes it’s just a suggestion that worked for someone else or is what is normally done.

Both of the writers I was looking at the hardest were on my radar not only because they wrote horror but because they were successful and they kept breaking the rules.

Little factoid for you: Stephen King in the foreword for DIFFERENT SEASONS, explains that the publisher initially did not want to publish the book. It was A) four novellas instead of a novel and B) not horror. They didn’t want him to write anything that wasn't horror, not after the success he’d had with CARRIE, SALEM’S LOT and THE SHINING. Heavens, what a preposterous notion! So he shrugged and thought about it and started talking about finding a different publisher. And when the publishing house considered the possibility of losing a best selling author, they decided they could maybe take one on the chin for the man.

Yeah. Let’s look at the track record here, shall we? “The Body” came out in theatres as “Stand By Me,” to critical acclaim. “Rita Haywood and the Shawshank Redemption” came out simply as “The Shawshank Redemption.” Also to serious critical acclaim. “Apt Pupil” came out as “Apt Pupil” and did well enough, though not quite reaching the stellar numbers of the aforementioned two flicks.  The last novella, “The Breathing Method” has not come out as a movie. It remains one of the few novellas by King that has not. It would be a beast to make, and it is literally the only story in the entire run that could be safely called supernatural in any possible sense and is, to me at least, the only one that could come close to being called horror in the most traditional sense. And that definition is very generous in this case. What King did here was he wrote four novellas that were the right length to make him comfortable and he then he leveraged his sales numbers to convince his publisher to take a chance on what were, frankly, mostly mainstream fiction pieces.

Little aside here for you: “The Shawshank Redemption” and “Stand by Me” along with “The Green Mile,” are the three movies I point to when people tell me they don’t like Stephen King because he writes horror. The looks on their faces when they discover that the man wrote those three pieces never ceases to amuse me and has convinced a few people to actually READ the man before deciding for themselves if they actually like him. They are also three of the truest adaptations of King’s work in my honest opinion. They are cases, in other words, where Hollywood actually stuck close to the source material. Weird how that works.

Dean Koontz has mixed crime-detective stories, science fiction, horror, suspense, religion and a few others together for damned near every book he’s ever written. And he’s normally done it well enough to guarantee that he’s had best sellers. If he has fallen short of that it’s news to me.

My point is this: Categorizing by genre was meant to make it easier for bookstores to place like with like. That’s a fine notion in small doses, but should never, and I can’t emphasize this enough, be a good reason to write a book.

My first novel, UNDER THE OVERTREE was called horror. It could just as easily have been called urban fiction, but that category was barely formed when I was first published. My second book, FIREWORKS, was touted as horror. There are no supernatural monsters to be found, but there is a flying saucer. It could just as easily have been called a science fiction novel. Or a political thriller. To  be fair several of my books really are straight out horror, but only a few. SUBJECT SEVEN is science fiction and thriller and Young Adult. My collaborative novels with Charles R. Rutledge, BLIND SHADOWS and CONGREGATIONS OF THE DEAD most definitely have supernatural horror. They are also crime novels. A third novel we’re plotting away on will not have any monsters of the superhuman variety. That doesn’t mean there won’t be monsters. BOOM TOWN is mostly finished. It’s a western with a side of monsters.

Oh, and then there’s SEVEN FORGES. The sword and sorcery novel that just came out.

My first rule, the one I have always held closest to my heart, is simply this: Write what you want to read. I love horror. I also love crime fiction, romance, science fiction, fantasy, westerns, comedy, action adventure and the occasional comic book.

I am extremely fond of mixing my mediums. Artists do it all the time. Why should writers be forced to follow different rules?

There. That’s my rant for the week. Your opinions might differ and you should always remember that ultimately what works for you is the only way for you to write.

James A. Moore

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