February 24 – March 1: “Crossing genre takes great skill, please discuss stories that have succeeded at it.”

thriller-roundtable-logo5As authors we all know that crossing genres takes great skill. This week ITW members Jon Bassoff, Frank Zafiro, Basil Sands and J. H. Bográn discuss stories that have succeeded at it, and maybe some that didn’t! Scroll down to the “comments” section to follow along. You won’t want to miss it!

 

Basil Sands is the author of action packed thrillers, novellas, and short stories and a professional audiobook narrator. Born on a homestead outside of Fairbanks Alaska, he served in the Marines, was Chef to the Spies (dining manager at the NSA), owned a computer shop, worked as a lumberjack, ambulance driver, radio host, and government IT guy. He’s married to a Porsche driving Korean woman, and has three grown sons and a Yorkie named Heimdall, The Norse Dog.

 

Jon Bassoff was born in 1974 in New York City and currently lives with his family in a ghost town somewhere in Colorado. His mountain gothic novel, Corrosion, has been translated into French and German and was nominated for the Grand Prix de Litterature Policiere, France’s biggest crime fiction award. For his day job, Bassoff teaches high school English, where he is known by students and faculty alike as the deranged writer guy. He is a connoisseur of tequila, hot sauces, psychobilly music, and flea-bag motels. THE LANTERN MAN is his seventh novel.

 

Frank Zafiro was a police officer in Spokane, Washington, from 1993 to 2013. He retired as a captain. He is the author of numerous crime novels, including the River City novels and the Stefan Kopriva series. He lives in Redmond, Oregon, with his wife Kristi, dogs Richie and Wiley, and a very self-assured cat named Pasta. He is an avid hockey fan and a tortured guitarist.

 

J. H. Bográn is an international author of novels, short stories and scripts for television and film. He’s the son of a journalist, but ironically prefers to write fiction rather than facts. His genre of choice is thrillers, but he likes to throw in a twist of romance into the mix. He currently divides his time as resource development manager for Habitat for Humanity Honduras, teaching classes at a local university, and writing his next project. He lives in San Pedro Sula, Honduras with his wife, three sons and a “Lucky” dog. His motto is “I never tell lies, I only write them!”

 

25 Comments
  1. When I was thirteen years old, my father took me to see the film, Angel Heart (based on the novel Fallen Angel by William Hjortsberg). Looking back, I don’t know what the hell he was thinking. I was too young for that kind of over-the-top violence and sex. But, man, did that movie have an impact on me. See, from the time I was a little kid, I always loved old film noirs. Angel Heart had that film noir sensibility (complete with Mickey Rourke as a down-on-his-luck private detective named Harold Angel). But the film went far beyond film noir and transformed into a wild and disturbing supernatural horror film. From then on, I’ve been on the lookout for genre mashups. Not that there is anything wrong with a straightforward thriller or mystery, but I get excited when an author is able to pull the rug out from under us, when he or she is able to go against the expectations of a particular genre. Try The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson. Or House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski. Or The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon. These are all novels that show that you don’t have to be restrained by genre that, in fact, you can be released by it.

    1. Jon, I LOVED Angel Heart. I saw in the theater, and thought it was a masterpiece. It may be one of those rare films that is even better than the book (also a great read).

      I gave it a recent rewatch a couple of months ago, and it held up well. The only thing I thought as I watched it was “How on earth did I not figure out this twist?” But that is the hallmark of a good mystery – hard to crack, but all the clues were there.

      Part of the reason I think the I didn’t figure it out (I was 19 at the time) was that supernatural element you mentioned. The viewer spends so much energy experiencing that horror aspect and trying to decipher THAT, s/he misses or gives short shrift to the more mundane missing person mystery that Angel is actually trying to solve.

      Anyway, great choice! (and one of Rourke’s best portrayals in a long career)

    2. “Released from genre”, I like that. In the past publishers wanted, and probably still do want, authors to write genre-specific works that they can easily market to known audiences and shied away from genre-bending work as it was a harder thing to describe. With the explosion of self-publishing that barrier is no longer there to get such work to market. Even some of the best-selling authors still have to self-publish their works that don’t fit their publisher’s genres.

      FREEEEEEDDDDDOOOOOOMMMMMM!!!!!!

  2. I first read Ken Follett with novels like Eye of the Needle and Triple, or The Man from Saint Peters-burg. And although they were historical pieces ranging from early 20th century to WWII, they were straight forward thrillers.
    Then he surprised everybody with the historical novel Pillars of the Earth, a massive undertaking placed in the middle ages.
    A more recent example, although a film instead of a book, is the film Parasite. It begins as comedy, the halfway moves into suspense spiced with social commentary and ends up with what could be called a slasher movie. It made history as the first foreign film to earn a best picture Oscar so I think it’s safe to say it succeeded.

  3. I’m a fan of Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther books and also Alan Furst’s spy stories. They both mix WW2 history brilliantly– with crime in the Gunther books and spying in the Furst. Very interesting to have the European view of that war rather than the over done British and American side.

    Lindsay Davis mixes Ancient Roman history and sleuthing in her Falco novels. Plenty of humour in there too. Love them.

  4. I think it depends on what we’re referring to as “cross-genre”: an author who writes within multiple genres or a single work that crosses genres. There are many terrific authors who across multiple genres, like the late Sir Terry Pratchett who wrote both the immortal comic-fantasy Discworld and the deeply philosophical sci-fi Long Earth series. Or, as mentioned previously, Ken Follett who cut his teeth writing World War Two espionage thrillers like The Needle, crime thrillers like Whiteout, and some of the most popular generation-spanning historical fiction like his Century and Pillars of the Earth series’. In each of these author’s works the latter definition of cross-genre also works because they combined elements of science-fiction and philosophy, comedy and fantasy, WW2, espionage and romance, and, perhaps the least expected example of famous cross-genre writing, medieval architecture, European history, romance and ethics.
    While those two authors sit high enough atop the spires of my writing cathedral, there is another, perhaps a little less well known in this county who has absolutely captured my attention in every book I have read of his. The late Frank Delaney, Ireland’s beloved actor, radio personality, and author masterfully wove Irish history, romance, and literary prose in a manner such as the travelling storytellers of old, the Seanchaí of the Green Isle, have done for thousands of years. My favourite of his novels titled with the name of his homeland, IRELAND, captivated me as he slid from telling the modern story of a young man and his yearning to find his grandfather to thrilling tales of ancient Irish history filled with poetry and drama and romance. All in a single book. Even better, he narrated the audiobook version of the majority of his works himself, a rich, talented voice that lent fully the perception that one is sitting beside a fire in a stone farmhouse being warmed by a peat fire and a glass of whisky as you listen to the tales woven by a master Seanchaí.
    Those three authors, and many others like them, I think have done tremendous jobs at crossing Genres both in regard to single books, and career-spanning transitions in style on content. Enough so that I think they have indeed affected my own style of writing and the directions I am willing to diverge into in my works.

    1. Basil,

      Not yet, though I have long kept a generational family saga on the back burner that might qualify, as the specific adventures of each generation would be very different…emigrating to a new land, going to war, protesting a war, being a police officer…as I say, it might qualify.

      1. That sounds pretty cool Frank. Kind of like the Louis L’Amour series “The Sackets” followed one family from Elizabethan England through the birth of American and the frontiers, the building of the west, up to the modern era.

  5. Coming late to the party (a dodgy Monday!), I was certain my choice would already be taken, so I feel fortunate to say that I think a very successful cross-genre novel is one that begins:

    The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.

    Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series intermittently blends horror, sci-fi, alt history, and fantasy, all with a western influence. And a great way to experience these books is in audio – the narration is superb.

    I know King has been enjoying a bit of a Renaissance of late, but while he’s always been popular, I don’t know that he’s always gotten the respect he’s due for his writing craft. It’s on full display in this seven book epic. And while it is a journey (and even occasionally a slog), the first entry is the shortest, and really sets the tone…a tone that will shift through those various genres from book to book and even within each volume.

    I’d say don’t read it if you can’t handle a little horror, as there are some King gross-outs, but that element is far less prominent than one might expect, and the elements from the other genres are equally on display. (*Note: If you want to avoid the gross outs but like the sci-fi, slipstream crossover, give 11/22/63 a go).

    For the uninitiated, the series follows Roland, the last of the gunslingers, who are akin to the knights of the round table. Alone, and later with his ragged band of assembled heroes (not your Marvel heroes here), he searches for the Dark Tower, which holds the key to existence…but he isn’t the only one looking.

    Of course, that is a woefully inadequate description of this epic, which is truly at the center of all of King’s work.

    1. King is definitely an amazing genre crosser. I started Dark Tower a few years ago, but couldn’t get into it at the time. It is still in my audiobook queue, might bring that up to the surface as my next listen.

  6. And if I may be allowed another quick entry? A long time ago, Piers Anthony wrote a book called Split Infinity that very nicely melded the two genres he wrote in most often – Science Fiction and Fantasy.

    In a nutshell, the hero of the story discovers a dimensional door between his world and a parallel one…only his world is advanced and scientific, while the world he is thrust into is one where magic truly exists. As you can imagine, things have developed very differently in each of these two realites. Sometimes a person’s double is very much the same, other times the environment has made them very different people.

    It’s a fun romp, and one I remember fondly (grew up on Piers Anthony’s work).

    1. Time travel! I just read The House On the Strand by Daphne Du Maurier. She jumps back from mid 20th century to the middle ages via a drug the hero takes. Her style is very British and dated now but her ideas are brilliant and the two time frames sit well. She successfully wrote contemporary and historical books. ewg Rebecca, Jamaica Inn, The Scapegoat. The Birds is another area all together!

    2. Years ago I narrated a bunch of Piers Anthony’s backlist titles from the 70s for Audible. The Biography of a Space Tyrant series combined Sci-Fi and politics, and his Cluster series which combined Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and some really weird alien races. It seems his stuff was always crossing, or shall I say bending, genres.

  7. Frank’s comment about possibly doing a multi-generational series is similar to my actual current WIP, working title Blood of Princes. A historical fiction series set in the time of the Mongol invasion of Europe, it is, I think cross-genre as it deals with a historical time period in which the main character transitions from Irish farmer to Templar to embarking on a journey across all of Eurasia ending at the beginning of the Chosun empire of Korea. The story itself is based on a dream I had shortly after marrying my wife, who is from Korea, in 1988.

    In the dream I saw a minor king in medieval China, ruler of five small city-states, who loses a war and escapes with his family to a mountainous region in Korea. The next morning as I told my wife the dream she just stared at me, open-mouthed.

    “Did I tell you that story before?” she said.

    “No,” says I.

    And she proceeded to tell me that her family name, Ma, is not actually Korean but of Chinese lineage, and that her dad has a copy of the family genealogy going back to the 1300s, with it is a journal of the Chinese ancestor that first came to Korea and a map showing the mountainous region where her ancestors lived, in a ring of mountains.

    This story has been sitting in my cerebral storage server for more than thirty years until I learned how to properly write a novel. Now, after seven military thrillers and a few handfuls of shorts, I think it is time to get it written.

    European, Central Asian, and East Asian history, religion, military tactics, philosophy, politics and a bit of romance are in for this project.

  8. Fancy that! My next door neighbour is called Tom Ma. Maybe he’s very distantly related to your wife, Basil. 🙂 I haven’t ever asked him about his Chinese-or maybe it’s Korean–heritage.

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