Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Accidental Fantasist

Okay, fair warning: the following is a metaphor wrapped in what may seem like pointless back story. Fear not and soldier on. There's no less than an 11% chance it's going somewhere.

When I was a little kid, my hair was straight and blond. As I got older, it began to curl and darken into the unruly mane of brown (okay, brown and white) hair I've got today. Only here's the thing: for years after it changed, if anyone had asked me what color my hair was, I'd say blond. The lesson, I suppose, is that self-image is somewhat resistant to change, even in the face of incontrovertible evidence to the contrary.

That's all well and good, but what the hell has it got to do with writing? Well, I'll tell you. Whenever someone asks me what kind of books I write, I always answer that I write mysteries. Although if one were to take a gander at a description of Dead Harvest, it sounds an awful lot more like fantasy than mystery. If that's the case, then why the label disconnect?

(A brief aside: this is often the bit where writer of genre A says something wildly inflammatory and pejorative about genre B out of spite, genre-bigotry, or plain old ignorance. That ain't gonna happen here. I love fantasy. I read loads of it. I'd be delighted to be stocked in the fantasy section of my local bookstore. Or in horror. Or in self-help, for that matter. It's just not how I think of what I write. Then again, I was the dope with brown hair telling everyone it was blond, so what the hell do I know?)

Anyway, where was I? Ah, right -- the question of disconnect. I guess I consider myself first and foremost a writer of mysteries because to me, no matter how fantastical the frame upon which I hang my story is, mystery will always be the engine that drives the story. I can't help it; it's how I'm wired. Seriously, when I read something that's got no mystery to it, I regard it with confusion and wonder. How did the author know where to start? Where to stop?

That's not to say the fantasy in Dead Harvest is window-dressing. I think the point of including fantastic elements is to use them -- to tell a story that would not be possible without their inclusion. Otherwise, why bother with them at all? But to me, the mystery is what counts. The mystery is where the story lives or dies.

Of course, I guess the real point of all of this isn't that I write mysteries or fantasies; the point is that I write the books I write, without much thought as to where they might eventually be shelved (which is not at all the same as without a thought as to whether there's a market for them.) And my hope for Dead Harvest is that it's embraced my mystery fans and fantasy buffs alike. It freakin' better be, because so far, the sequel rocks. Right now, I'd be perfectly happy writing a dozen books in the DH universe, wherever they wind up being shelved.

Fingers crossed I get the chance.