The Liberation of Genre

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R.B. Chesterton *is* Carolyn Haines  

 Walking Between Worldsget-attachment (2)

While world walking is often thought to be an art of fantasy characters, sometimes writers have to do it to. March 6, my gothic chiller, THE SEEKER, published by Pegasus Books, will drop. This is my second “dark” novel written under the R.B. Chesterton pseudonym. I also write a humorous mystery series under my real name, and the 14th Sarah Booth Delaney mystery will be published by St. Martin’s Minotaur in May.

Writing two books a year (and teaching and running an animal rescue) keeps me a busy person, but a strange thing has happened since I’ve added a “dark” book to my schedule of writing. I find that I write more, and my imagination is much more active. 

Horror was my first love. I grew up reading Poe, thrilled by his masterful hand at painting the details of a word governed by shadow more than sunlight. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Hound of the Baskervilles” was a thrill ride of dark moors and the potential of a killing beast driven made by one bloodline. As I grew up, I discovered King and McCammon. These writers gave me the key to a door in a haunted house. Fabulous!

My journey as a writer took me many different places before I returned to a story that plagued me for years. The story of a young woman hired to homeschool the children of a wealthy family in Coden, Alabama. A privileged family that buys an old estate and renovates it—and also adopts an amnesiac young girl who brings darkness with her. THE DARKLING was a story I had to tell, and last year it was published by Pegasus.

I’ve always believed that the story is a gift. For those of us who are practitioners of the art of story-telling, the most incredible thing is the gift of a story that demands to be told. I’ve put a lot of thought into what this means. And the best way I can describe it is that our job as writers is to honor the gift of the story. Genre, point of view, length—these are things that we, as writers, can sometimes manipulate but often can’t. The story is what it is, and we serve it.

I’ve written in a lot of genres. Part of it is that I read everything. I don’t care what package the story comes in, if it’s well-written and skillfully told, I’ll read it and love it. But this means I get a lot of ideas for stories that don’t “fit” in the markets I normally write in. Such was the case with THE DARKLING. But I did my best to honor the story, and in doing so, I found that all of my writing was invigorated. Allowing yourself the luxury of simply listening to the story and telling it to the best of your ability is something every author should do whenever possible. It’s a little unnerving, because it’s stepping out into the darkness. But when I now turn my hand to write a Sarah Booth mystery, it’s like a rush into the sunlight to return to those characters and the warm embrace of Zinnia, Mississippi.

For those feeling low on energy, rev your engines up with a different kind of story.  Just for fun. Remember, we became writers because we love writing.  Honor yourselves and the story with some experimentation.

CarolynHainespicCarolyn Haines is the author of 65 books in a number of genres and under several pseudonyms. She was awarded the Harper Lee Distinguished Writer Award in 2010 and the Richard Wright Award for Literary Excellence in 2009. She teaches fiction writing at a Mobile university and runs Good Fortune Farm Refuge, an animal rescue. You can learn more about her at www.carolynhaines.com or her writing conference at www.daddysgirlsweekend.com  

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10 comments to The Liberation of Genre

  • So glad to have you here with us, Carolyn. Thank you for this post. I love the idea of story as gift, and this line — “The story is what it is, and we serve it.” — rang so true for me. Each book, each short story, dictates its own pacing, its length, its tone and color and emotion. That’s a hard concept to convey to students, but the way you’ve phrased it here is wonderful and incredibly useful. Congratulations on the upcoming release.

  • Welcome, Carolyn. Serving the story… yes, it often feels that way! I was wondering if I should work on one story over another, even though it’s different, and the reward is more personal. I’m going to go with it. Thank you for this. :)

  • Hepseba ALHH

    Hello! and thank you for this lovely, thought-provoking post. I have been having imagination issues the past couple weeks and to counter-act I’ve been working on doing more daydreaming. Trying to just plow forward with my writing like it’s work has been neglecting the dreaming, and why go to such trouble for something that’s supposed to be just for my own fun if it isn’t actually working to realize the dreaming?

    Thank you for sharing your successes with writing the stories that keep you going, and for bringing a lovely new voice to this site. 😀

  • Thanks for the warm welcome. I’ve been on the road most of today and I was in a hurry to get here and check in. What a great bunch of writers and readers. Thanks for having me.

  • Welcome, Carolyn! Yes! >>Part of it is that I read everything. I don’t care what package the story comes in, if it’s well-written and skillfully told, I’ll read it and love it. But this means I get a lot of ideas for stories that don’t “fit” in the markets I normally write in.>>

    I live in this world too, with a desire for writing *everything*. That makes me crazy sometimes. Cross genre writing helps, but then I still want to delve into something new…

    Do you ever feel that you are the slave of the story? That it tears you up inside as it tries to fight its way free?

  • I have stories sometimes that I have to spend a lot of time reading to figure out how to tell. It isn’t easy to shift all the time. But I believe the story is the gift. It may not be easy for me, but I do try to tell it the best way I can, and it is what is it. I have an idea for a YA fantasy (like that market isn’t flooded enough) that I’ve been mulling over for the past year. I simply can’t “feel” the shape of it, how to tell it, what it wants to be. I’ve started writing 3 or 4 times and quit because it wasn’t right. So yeah, sometimes it is very hard. And that story does own me right now, but I’ll figure it out, I hope. Or else get tired of the idea and walk away. Not every gift has to be opened, you know.

  • Hi Carolyn, and welcome! I also enjoy reading different genres, and find that if I read more than a few books in a row in the same genre, I feel the need to read something different. I never once thought about the same thing being true for writing, so thank you for that.

  • Always love Poe, Lovecraft too. I just love the horror stories that don’t always end on a upbeat note. But I’ve never been a fan of slasher horror, the *insert psychotic killer of choice* in the *insert remote location of choice* sorta deals that are always so popular (evinced by the fact that those are all people seem to want me to edit, script-wise). I have some Lovecraftian short stories I hope I can sell one day. That took some research, I can tell you, figuring out what’s in public domain and allowed to be mentioned and what’s not. It’s fun to just try dropping into that style for a bit, as I usually write sci-fi and fantasy. I’ve been waiting for Weird Tales to reopen to subs so I can try to sell them and it looks like that’s finally gonna happen soon.

  • I’m not much of a torture porn or splatter punk reader either (my students taught me those terms). I love the horror of Boris Karloff and Poe and Shirley Jackson. Subtle horror that works on the readers imagination. The dread factor only makes me put a book down or turn a show off. I hope Weird Tales does reopen soon. And good luck with your stories.

  • Lovely to hear someone else talking about the story taking as long as it takes! And of reading everything no matter what genre which then influences your own work.
    As a book worm of more years that I care to admit to, it would be all the more astonishing if my writing wasn’t cross-genre, which then makes me wonder why other so called readers are so resistant to a touch of something *different* in their reading? Or is that just that publishers feel that way? And I spent an agonising month trying to work out how to chop my fantasy quartet up into smaller chunks in order to fit more sumission criteria from publishers. But I ultimately discovered that the story is what it is, and if I do carve it up, it becomes something less.
    Great blog, thank you!