The Great Unknown: Trying a Different Genre

Under my Kim English moniker, I write family friendly, totally PG books for kids and teens. In real life, I am a devotee of all books spooky and creepy and will never turn down an opportunity for a dark thriller. While my offbeat thriller for adults (under a different pen name TBA) continues its slog through the submission process (shout out to my fabulous agent Gina Panettieri) I’ve also started dabbling in short stories, and in particular, horror/noir.

It’s s strange sensation to leave your writing comfort zone and hone a whole different skill set. Maybe it’s a mistake to try different genres, and I’ve read many people, much more experienced and qualified than me, who caution against cross-genre writing, especially as an unestablished author. I understand the notion that it’s a good idea to master one genre before tackling seven different ones, and I accept that a certain amount of branding goes into marketing your name with your genre. But unless I’m setting the publishing world on fire in kid lit (spoiler alert: I’m not), then who is going to gripe if I write a few short stories that are meant to keep you up at night, double checking the locks?

To that end, I posted my first horror short story on Wattpad (my user name is KimQuill). “The Dread” made a few long lists and a couple of short lists, but ultimately didn’t find a home, so I gave it one. I found that writing short stories (in any genre) has helped me improve my overall writing tremendously.  I’m also outlining the third and last book in the Coriander Jones series, will be putting out another picture book in a couple of months, and, depending on how submission goes, I see some thrillers in the future, maybe even a cozy. Oh, did I mention that steampunk novel that I am dying to start?

Maybe it’s just a bit of attention deficit (SQUIRREL!)  but for me, life is too short to forgo the enjoyment of learning something new. Unless I become the next big thing in a genre, I’m not going to sweat dabbling a bit and dreaming a lot about what I might try next. The best thing about writing is that you can sit down and make up whatever you want. If people like it, great. If you get paid for it, even better.

The cover for “The Dread”  is below. Pop over to Wattpad if you have an account (and you should- there is some great stuff) and let me know what you think. Have a great weekend, everyone!dread!

 

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Rediscovering John D. MacDonald

Recently I added “A Purple Place for Dying,” by John D. MacDonald to my kindle queue. One of several books featuring iconic Florida detective Travis McGee, I originally bought it as a pleasant diversion for a long plane ride, you know, the kind of pulpy crime novel that you read and then instantly forget about. I hadn’t read a McDonald novel in decades and had quite forgotten that he was far more than a grinder of pulp fiction.

In the novel, Travis is out west on a potential job when his would-be employer is shot and killed in front of him. This character appears only on a scant four or five pages, but consider his description:

I read female characters from sterns. Hers was hefty, shapely rich and  unapproachable. This one, I decided, would consider any gift of her favors a truly earth-shattering event, to be signaled by rare wine, incense and silk sheets. And she had the look of almost being able to live up to her own billing.

Lest you think McDonald’s narrative is limited to cops and femme fatale types, consider his description of college students that Travis observes as they scurry to and from their classes, noticing, but uninterested in, a middle-aged beach bum who is on campus following up on a lead.

The kids hustled to their ten-o’clocks, little and young, intent on their obscure purposes…They were in the vivid tug and flex of life, and we were faded pictures of the corridor walls-drab, ended and slightly spooky.

And the final blow, in which Travis imagines how life will eventually turn out for the young, unsuspecting coeds.

They were being structured to life on the run, and by the time they would become what is now known as senior citizens, they could fit nicely into planned communities where recreation is scheduled on such a tight and competitive basis that they could continue to run, plan, organize, until, falling at last into silence, the grief-therapist would gather them in, rosy their cheeks, close the box and lower them to the only rest they had ever known.

Mind you, at its core,  this is a crime novel, the type of popular fiction that is all too often derided as unsophisticated fodder for the masses. But I’ve read a lot of prize winning literary fiction that can’t hold a candle to the voice in this book.  I was struck by how well the story and characters hold up in today, where someone with a cell phone and Facebook could have probably untangled the complex family dynamics at the heart of the story.  Yes, there are outdated bits, and as far as some of the women characters, well, we’ve come a long way baby. But the writing is so good, Travis McGee so compelling a hero, that the reader can settle in as if it’s still 1964 and enjoy the ride.

My apologies for overlooking you for so long, Mr. MacDonald, who was also a Floridian, albeit a transplant. You will have a permanent place on my actual bookshelf from now on.

 

Thrillers, Women Characters and the Barbie Effect

I love reading thrillers, the pulpier the better. Airport kiosks bursting with potboilers are my playground. But  if I let myself stray from reading for sheer enjoyment to a more critical analysis, I sometimes conclude that in order to be a woman character other than the MC, one must be 1) in her early to mid-twenties; 2) smoking hot 3) single and ready to mingle; and, 4) if the plot demands it, have an advanced degree enough to earn the grudging respect of colleagues but not enough to prevent said character from getting kidnapped or murdered or both.

Of course, this isn’t true across the board, and there are plenty of great women characters that don’t fit this archetype (Detective Rizzoli, “Bones” Brennan, for example). But it does seem that a good number of suspense thrillers use the supporting women characters either as a plot device (their brutal murder haunts the MC) or as a luscious love interest in the prime of her youth. It doesn’t matter if the male MC is fifty-something with scars and a beer gut, that lithe coed/neurosurgeon is gonna be all over him by the end of Act One. I read a book awhile back where a female assasin (in her twenties and with a perfect body, naturally) went about her bloody business… topless. ‘Cause, you know, sometimes the girls gotta breathe. The reader was also assured that her assets were spectacular. So that was a relief. Also, these women have no  body fat, no kids to distract them and really shiny hair.

God forbid a forty-something gal with roomy hips and maybe a few gray hairs wants to get in on the action. Yes, attractive people make up the bulk of fictional characters in books, television and movies. Pretty sells better. I get that. But surely the women characters can be a little rounder, a little more realistic. Start small. Make them less Barbie and more “Bones.”  And for Pete’s sake, put some clothes on those poor girls. They might catch a cold.