Category: mixed genre

Book Club for Horror Enthusiasts

book clubs, book review, genre fiction, mixed genre, publishing, reading, reading with a purpose February 7, 2014

Hey everyone!

For a last several months, I’ve been a member of the DarkFuse Book Club. For a flat fee, you receive many, many titles delivered to you for your ereader. If you enjoy horror, particularly horror that isn’t mainstream, and if you enjoy supporting a great publisher and its authors, please do check this out. This has been a really great bargain and I’ve received some titles I’ve truly enjoyed (I will be reviewing some of them in the coming weeks).

I am in no way affiliated with DarkFuse, nor did they ask me to write this. I’m just really pleased with what they’ve offered and I don’t want it to go away. If you love horror and want to support the community, check it out. It’s 100% worth it. I linked to it above, but here’s the link anyway:

Have a great weekend and happy reading!

Guest Blog: Dystopian fiction with author Jenn Loring

guest blog, mixed genre, reading August 22, 2012

My love for Jonathan Maberry’s Rot and Ruin series is firmly established. While I’m thrilled that my son also loves the books, I’m also curious as to what makes these kinds of settings so universally popular across generations. While I appreciate the dystopian setting for my own adult reasons, what attracts a younger reader to such a depressing world? It’s lots of fun to create our family’s zombie apocalypse survival plan over dinner, but by reading Maberry’s series with my son, we’ve been able to broach some heavier subjects like bullying and grief. What draws a carefree twelve-year old into dystopian stories?

Jennifer Loring, fellow author and my guest blogger for today, has some excellent thoughts on this subject, as follows.

The dystopia has been a fixture in science fiction and horror almost since the inception of those genres. Wikipedia defines a dystopia as “the idea of a society, generally of a speculative future, characterized by negative, anti-utopian elements, varying from environmental to political and social issues.” A number of the 20th century’s great works of fiction, including Nineteen Eighty-Four, Brave New World, and Fahrenheit 451, are dystopias that explore the political and social issues present in a society ruled by an autocratic government. In recent years, however, dystopian fiction and its close relative, post-apocalyptic fiction, have enjoyed their greatest popularity in young adult novels. What draws countless teens to depictions of an utterly dismal future, and what can we learn about the modern young reader from the success of these books?

While Scott Westerfield’s Uglies series preceded it, the success of Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games trilogy thrust the YA dystopian into the spotlight, where it has continued to thrive ever since. As the YA market in general evolves, darker and edgier themes have become the norm, and nowhere is this more evident than in the dystopian. A number of reasons for the genre’s popularity have been debated by fans, critics, and scholars alike; here we will examine several of the most prevalent theories. The first is that teens today are more aware of current social and political problems, and that YA dystopians are a warning of danger to come. In the age of the Internet and instant news, few teenagers can claim ignorance of the world around them. The YA dystopian speaks to the notion that there may not be a future if teens are not proactive in recognizing the problems that affect all of us and doing their part to help steer us away from the cliff. The choices a teen makes can have just as much impact as those of an adult. It can also warn against the perils of unrestrained technological advances, an important point to make for young readers who frequently believe they cannot live without smartphones, iPods, and video game consoles.

The protagonists of both YA and adult dystopias often rebel against society and its oppressive rules. Teens naturally find this appealing, as they typically live under their parents’ roofs and spend most of their days in an overbearing high school environment. Dystopian protagonists act out teenaged rebellion on an epic scale, and in the service of freeing their fellow citizens from repression; thus teens can live vicariously through them. In these books teens are the heroes, the possessors of the knowledge and power to reshape society, whereas in their daily lives they may feel like powerless children subject to the rules of parents, teachers, and other authority figures. Jana Riess notes in What Would Buffy Do? The Vampire Slayer as Spiritual Guide, “…sometimes people reach heightened maturity more by questioning authority than by obeying it” (73). Authority itself is not evil, but blind obedience to and abuse of it is, and dystopian authors instill in their readers a healthy distrust of anyone who claims to have one’s best interests at heart. These young protagonists have become their own moral agents, and they must overthrow that which conflicts with what they know to be right and wrong. In school teens contend with bullying, peer pressure, violence, and many other concerns. At home the issues may be even worse. Novels set in repressive societies in which only teens have the strength and wisdom to topple the socio-political order become powerful metaphors for the daily struggles of modern teenagers.

That said, the final reason so many teens have embraced YA dystopian may be the simplest: these books illustrate how much worse their lives could be. Whatever the challenges posed by school, parents, or peers, the teens reading YA novels are not forced to kill each other, harvested for body parts, retroactively aborted, exiled from their communities, imprisoned in fortresses, advertised as sexual objects, or experimented on, all at the hands of their governments. YA dystopian stories lend perspective to teens who are so often tempted to melodramatically declare that their lives “suck.” The imaginations of YA dystopian authors can envision far greater horrors than the average teen reader is likely to ever encounter, thus engendering a sense of sympathy for those less fortunate, whether it is for a teenager in a fictional future world, or a child on the other side of the planet who does not have enough to eat. YA dystopian’s greatest strength lies in its ability to make readers think about the world in a way they may not have before and, most importantly, to recognize that what truly matters comes from within.

As global crises such as climate change, war, or the possibility of a new pandemic loom ever larger, the market for YA dystopian fiction shows little sign of slowing down. Whether the events depicted in these books ever come to pass remains to be seen, but they have much to teach us about ourselves and, perhaps more importantly, the generations who will inherit the world we leave behind.

Riess, Jana. What Would Buffy Do? The Vampire Slayer as Spiritual Guide. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 2004.

Jennifer Loring has published nearly 30 short stories and poems in various webzines, magazines and anthologies, and received an honorable mention in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror for her short story “The Bombay Trash Service.” She holds a BA in studio art from Mercyhurst College and is studying for her MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University. Jenn also works as an editor for Musa Publishing’s YA imprint, Euterpe, and writes for You can find her online at

Hazard Yet Forward

genre fiction, mixed genre, publishing, reading with a purpose, SHU WPF, Writing About Popular Fiction, writing life August 7, 2012

It’s here! Today’s the release day for Hazard Yet Forward, the anthology written and compiled by fellow Seton Hill alum, students, and friends. The proceeds from this amazing 700+ page tome will benefit my friend Donna Munro in her fight with breast cancer.

This huge volume covers all genres and everything in between. Follow this link to get your copy today! Help us make this book #1 on Amazon’s list!
If you don’t have a Kindle, never fear, there’s an app for that! Get it here.

Locked in?

angst, genre fiction, mixed genre, publishing, writing life August 9, 2011

Okay, so I’m not actually locked in to anything. Sometimes I wish someone would give me a time-out in a locked room, but I’ve had no luck with that one yet.

Someone? Anyone? Can I have a time-out?


Anyway, I have a question today for the writers that might be reading, particularly those that have published in more than one genre.

If you publish in one genre, are you locked into that genre?

For example, my thesis novel is a cozy mystery. I know the cozy market is bleeding from its eyes and the chances of me publishing my thesis without some sort of revision (I’m thinking of adding paranormal elements) is slim, but if, by some miracle, I do get it published, how locked into the subgenre is my name?

I know an easy fix to this problem is a pseudonym, but let’s just say I don’t want to use one. How much slack are readers will to give a writer who writes across genre or blends genres? The zombie story I’m working on now is a mystery, in a way, but with horror elements. Would it be in my best interests to use a pseudonym for one or the other?

What’s your experience?

Genre crossing, epiphanies and inspiration

angst, genre fiction, mixed genre, SHU WPF, voices in my head, writing life July 25, 2011

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.

Book Review: Magic for Beginners

book review, mixed genre January 25, 2011

I read Kelly Link’s Magic for Beginners in fall of 2009 for a class on fantasy. These stories are classified as “slipstream,” something a little different, but I find that in general I really enjoy slipstream. Here’s my take on her collection of short stories:

This and that, but it all comes together.

I read the blurb on the back and all of the praise before I actually began reading Magic for Beginners, and I was fully aware that I was going to read slipstream fiction. This knowledge set expectations on my part, and I was not disappointed.

Link’s voice is perfect for this subgenre, lilting and musical, and uses it to good effect, contrasting the lyrical quality of her writing with the horrific subject matter.

I imagine that if I had begun reading this book with the idea that I would be reading something more classically set in the fantasy genre, I might have been disappointed. But I know that when I read slipstream, particularly slipstream short stories, that I’ll be working a little harder, stretching my own imagination a little further and most likely left without a sense of closure.

The term “cognitive dissonance” has been put forth by Kessel and Kelly in their anthology Feeling Very Strange: The Slipstream Anthology (p. xi). According to the entry on Wikipedia, “[c]ognitive dissonance is an uncomfortable feeling caused by holding two contradictory ideas simultaneously.”

Link seems to grasp this concept and run with it. In “Stone Animals,” the reader experiences the dissonance between the concrete relatable problem of marital trouble with the ephemeral problem of a haunted existence. The tension of each separate issue winds about the other and heightens each.

In “The Faery Handbag” the characters are so utterly believable: a Scrabble playing grandmother with a weird, giant handbag; a grieving granddaughter with a quirky, neurotic friend. The story is so utterly unbelievable: a handbag that holds a world, a demon dog and your wallet, the people who leave the bag to visit.

In “The Hortlak,” we come to know Eric, an everyman’s kind of guy who has a secret crush on Charley. He likes his job and his boss, nevermind the fact that the boss wears surreal pajamas and zombies frequent the All-Night.

I was able to accept the unbelievable as merely a part of the story and allow it to heighten the tension I felt at the more mundane elements. Reading slipstream fiction requires a willing suspension of disbelief that can sometimes be hard to achieve, but Link made it easy for me. It’s the cognitive dissonance that makes the stories more interesting than the sum of their parts.

I’ve come to expect this cognitive dissonance from slipstream fiction. It’s the skill with which the author spins the contrasting elements that makes or breaks the story for me. Despite the fact that these were short stories, I was immediately invested in the characters. Link uses her voice and a masterful sense of cognitive dissonance to immerse me fully in the story so that I just run with it and accept the impossible in the everyday world.

“Some Zombie Contingency Plans” started out fine. An ex-con named Soap. That’s intriguing enough. Come on, you know the thought the crossed your mind– the one about prisoners dropping the soap– and I was a little concerned about where the story was going. Concerned enough to keep me reading. It was all downhill from there.

“This is a story about being lost in the woods.”

That’s the first line. I had a fleeting hope that maybe this would make up for Tana French’s book. Alas. The commonality– child disappearance– bothered me just as much in this short story as it did in French’s book. I could not find the thread linking the art theft with Carly’s neglect of Leo’s disappearance. This was the first story in Magic for Beginners that left me feeling completely lost. I could not picture the characters or the setting, as generic as they seemed. If I can’t see the characters, relate to them in some way, all is lost.

“The Great Divorce” redeemed Link for me a bit. It wasn’t the story itself that did the redeeming, it was the imagery she created. I loved the mental image of a ghost sitting in bougainvillea, of the ghost children in the lines at Disney. While I read the story I had a hazy image of Alan and Sarah discussing Alan’s marriage to Lavvie and it was a lovely, evocative image, but the story itself left me feeling vaguely depressed and flat.

The last two stories disappointed me. They had potential for the same kind of imagery, but never lived up to it. Magic for Beginners could have been fantastic– a librarian superhero of sorts.  I could envision bits and pieces of Fox, but not the whole. I knew she was beautiful and I knew she had a tail, but what about the rest of her? Furry or smooth? There was very little consistency in the setting so I had trouble actually immersing myself in the story. In “Stone Animals” I didn’t have this trouble. I could see the house and the bunnies and so was able to immerse.

“Lull” very nearly caused me to put the book down and give up. Too much, too little all at once. We had three different storylines going on in “Lull” and I never felt like I knew enough about any one of them at a time to fully “get” it. I was definitely intrigued with the backward storytelling, but it wasn’t enough to drag me willingly on the journey. And that’s what the last half of the book felt like– a vague journey on a train with dirty windows.

Link’s works comes highly recommended if you’re looking to stretch your idea of genre.

Book Review: The Killing Room, John Manning

book review, genre fiction, mixed genre, paranormal, poor editing, writing life, writing peeves November 15, 2010

Okay, here’s my new attempt at blogging! I’m shooting for three times a week. Someone poke me if I’m not back on Wednesday. Monday will be book review day. This is good for me, since it will prompt me to read at least one book per week. Sometimes that’s hard because I’m balancing school with kids with house with pets with husband with life… but it’s important for a writer to also be a reader.

Anyway, I finished my assignment for my Writing About Popular Fiction class and went looking for something to read. I ended up in the sunroom with the cat on my lap. This book happened to be within reach, so I grabbed it. Can’t make the cat move.

On to my  review of The Killing Room by John Manning.

A friend loaned me this book, so I’m not sure where it was shelved in the bookstore. Horror? Nah. Nystery? Not really. Thriller? Maybe.

Premise: a generations-old family curse is killing off the Youngs. Once every ten years they must meet for a reunion at the family estate in Maine. One person, whose name is chosen from a lottery, must spend the night in a basement room. Only one family member has ever lived the night, and she’s catatonic. Howard Young, the family patriarch at 98 years old, has hired a former FBI agent, a specialist in paranormal cases, to break the curse once and for all. Carolyn Cartwright arrives at the Young estate skeptical, but ready to do business. Many factors come into play here, including Carolyn’s own tormented past, family secrets, greed, and pride.

So what exactly is this book? The mystery of the killing room is a good one, but the details of what happen in the room remain a little fuzzy throughout the book. The answer is revealed in the end and a resolution is found. There are some elements of horror, including a little gore and some violence. The mix of mystery and horror may classify this as a thriller, but I’m not convinced. There is also a romantic element, but it’s sweet, not edgy, and does not lend itself to the thriller classification. I expect more tension from a thriller or a horror, and if there’s a romantic element in either of those genres, it’d better be incredibly tense with some amazing sex. Not here.

One issue I have with paranormal elements is that they remain consistent. If a writer introduces a paranormal element, like ghosts, then the other paranormal elements have to fit in with that “genre” of paranormal, or there better be a really good excuse as to why it’s something different. This novel (and this might be a bit of a spoiler, so stop reading now if you don’t want to know more) uses ghosts/malicious spirits as the main type of paranormal and then brings in a zombie. If there was a good reason for the zombie to make an entrance, I might have bought it. But in this novel it feels like the author ran out of ideas and brought in an element just for the scare factor. The zombie yanked me right out of the story and I threw my hands up.

I was sorely disappointed by the amateurish writing style.
“Inside the linen closet Ryan slowly lowered his hands from his ears.The house had fallen eerily quiet. The screaming and crashing and the gunshots had stopped. When the commotion had begun, Ryan had looked over the bannister into the foyer below and seen a scar-faced man on Douglas’s back raising a knife. Without even a moment’s hesitation, Ryan had turned on his heel and run down the hall, scurrying into the nearest hiding space he could find. For the next hour– or had it been less than that?– he had kept as still in the closet as possible, his hands clamped over his ears to drown out the sounds of his family being murdered, one by one” (p. 322).

I count seven “hads” in that paragraph. Someone very wise once told me most “hads” can be eliminated from writing. This section is representative of the book, lots of grammar errors and typos, just things that the writer should know better than to do and things that an editor could catch.

I give this book a C. It’s a fun read and I like the idea of the family curse, but the ends were not neatly tied and the errors in writing and publishing really detract from the book.

Work cited:

Manning, John. The Killing Room. New York: Kensington Publishing Corp., 2010.