NOT YOUR USUAL SUSPECTS

A group blog featuring an international array of killer mystery, suspense, and romantic suspense writers. With premises and story lines different from your run-of-the-mill whodunits, we tend to write outside the box. We blog several times a week on all topics relating to romantic suspense and mystery, our writing, and our readers. We welcome all comments and often have guest bloggers. All our authors can be contacted separately, too, using their own social media links.

We find our genre delightfully, dangerously, and deliciously exciting - join us here, if you do too!

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Friday, August 7, 2015

Mixing Genres--A Dangerous Game


Although I'd dreamed of writing when I was a kid growing up in Baltimore, life kept getting in the way of dreams, when it should have been the other way around. And so it was only after several careers, which included food service, English teacher and psych nurse, that I finally took the plunge and dove headfirst into fiction writing--though at first it felt more like a belly flop.

Coming from an academic background, I read lots of books on the craft of writing, most of which were unhelpful. (FYI, a decidedly helpful book is Stephen King's On Writing.) Wading through the material, one warning kept appearing, usually in all caps and with an exclamation point or two: 

DO NOT MIX GENRES!


"Thou shalt not mix genres!"

...the old professor guy.

I understood the danger. Readers like to know what they're getting into and if a book crossed too many genres--maybe a science-fiction western with a comic slant--it would fall by the wayside. And yet following this rule too strictly is self-limiting. I agree with David Byrne: 

Putting everything into little genres is counterproductive. You're not going to get too many surprises if you only focus on the stuff that fits inside the box that you know.
In other words, good writers make their own boxes. Either a book works, or it doesn't.

Last April in London, I had the opportunity to meet John Connolly at a book signing on a Friday night in London. Connolly is the author of the Charlie Parker thrillers. For those of you not familiar with the series, they're rather odd books with elements of crime fiction, myth, supernatural, with a dash of dark humor for spice.


Incredibly, these disparate elements come together to form a compelling universe of good and evil, and something in-between.
John Connolly and me at Waterstones, Piccadilly

So how does Connolly do it?

It doesn't hurt that his writer's toolbox is full. He's a gifted stylist whose prose often veers into the poetic. And he's no slouch at characterization. His characters not only bleed, but eat, fall in love, and make bad jokes. They live outside the pages.

For me, one of Connoly's  most touching characterizations was that of mechanic Willie Brew, whose story figures prominently in  The Reapers. Save for his association with Charlie Parker and his lethal friends Louis and Angel, Willie's  sixty years on earth have passed largely unnoticed. A workaday everyman, he worked at fixing cars, got married, got divorced, then worked some more. But in Connolly's hands Willie's small life becomes very large, achieving a certain dignity. When Willie's asked to put everything at risk for his friends, we know exactly what he's giving up.

I still think about Willie Brew. If he had the chance to do it all over again, would he make the same decision?

But perhaps the most compelling part of these novels is in Connolly's portrayal of evil.  Too often evil is rendered in the abstract, Have you ever noticed that evil is often sensed, rather than seen or felt? I think writers sometimes shy away from the concrete in their descriptions because they fear winding up with a cartoon devil with horns and tail that wouldn't scare a five-year-old.

What's not to like?
A London pub, a beer in one hand, and a great read in the other!
But Connolly doesn't look away from the face of evil. In his books, it is felt, seen, smelled, touched and even...well, you get the idea.

Here's hoping Charlie Parker keeps fighting the darkness for a long, long time.

So, I'd love to hear your take on genre-crossing. Have you crossed the boundaries as a writer? Or do you have any favorite reads that blur genre?


4 comments:

Rita said...

Oh Daryl. This is a great post. I think there are many books that cross genres. I really don't care if they do or not. I only want to read a good well written story. One the author pulls me into. Now I am going to look into John Connoly's books. Lately I've been on a quest to read outside my norm. Thanks.

Anne Marie Becker said...

I'm in awe of writers who cross genres so successfully. I love stories that are masterfully crafted, no matter what the genre (or genres). :)

Marcelle Dubé said...

Same here, Daryl. I don't really care if a story sticks strictly to one genre or wanders about a bit. Good post. Thanks for introducing me to Connolly -- I'm going to check him out.

jean harrington said...

Daryl, historical, time-travel, sci-fi, thriller romance is not my favorite genre. But that said, I enjoyed your post. As writers, and readers, you gave us a lot to consider. Thank you.

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