I have long called myself a mystery writer. I wrote a cozy mystery for my graduate thesis project. My favorite authors include Stephanie Bond, Dorothy Gilman, Alexander McCall Smith, Diane Mott Davidson, and Dana Stabenow (to name but a few). I love the puzzle of a good mystery. Always have and always will. I knew what I wanted to work on for my thesis project before I went to my first residency and focused on mystery throughout the program.
And then I met a horror writer. He was moderating a critique session I was required to attend. I truly appreciated the kind of critique he offered– down to earth and honest, but kind. Hmmm, thought I. I might like to work with this guy. So I snooped around a little and found out that we have a few things in common, and although he didn’t write mystery, he could relate to my thesis project and give me feedback on a whole new level. Hmmmm…
So I asked him if he would agree to take me on as a mentee for my last term writing project. Sure, said he. (Mwahahhahahaa….)
And a whole new world opened up to me.
Oh, I read outside my genre. A lot. There was one summer when I worked at a state park that I read every John Saul and Stephen King book I could get my hands on. I’m a huge fantasy fan, and I read all of the George R.R. Martin books WELL before the HBO series came out. I’ve read every Piers Anthony Xanth book and named my oldest son after a character in Katherine Kerr’s Deverry series. Melanie Rawn is on my shit list for not finishing the Exiles series. I love thrillers. My current favorite author is actually the team of Lincoln Child and Douglas Preston for their Agent Pendergast novels. Lurve me some Pendergast. Right now, if I turn on my iPad, Jonathon Maberry’s The King of Plagues will pop onto the screen (I’m nearly done!). Just an aside, I’ve met Mr. Maberry and he’s enthusiastic about talking with fans and a really great speaker. I highly recommend seeking him out if you ever get the chance. Also, on the recommendation of one of my critique partners, I’ve read every book of Karen Marie Moning’s Fever series (and enjoyed them). Nicole Peeler’s Tempest series rocks my socks off.
But, aside from a short story here and there, I’ve never written outside my genre. My mentor inspired me to read outside my genre with a new perspective. Because of my immense respect for him and for his work, I read the first book of his series with a new perspective. It’s a horror, set in Pittsburgh… with elements of a really great mystery. And that’s when I had the epiphany that every good book has a mystery. There are always questions to be answered in a book; it’s what drives the plot. Every writer is a mystery writer to some degree and it’s just the elements surrounding the questions that pigeonhole a book into a genre.
I went back to one of those fantasy short stories and started playing around with it again. I started the sequel to my thesis and somehow it came out a lot… darker. The realization that I could still write my mysteries and also indulge the other half of my creativity led to a very different kind of product… and I found that I enjoyed it so much more when I allowed myself to step outside those weird walls I’d put up and cross genres.
So now I’m working on a zombie novel. It’s got some gross stuff (whee!), a little romance and a lot of a mystery. And I’m having a blast writing it. Don’t ever be afraid to step outside those genre boundaries– sometimes the product is bigger, badder and so much richer.
And my thanks to that mentor.