Confession time: I’m a fan of rules. Of parameters. Of restrictions. As a writer, I feel like I’m not supposed to say that, because it punctures the notion of some quill-brandishing creative-type madly jotting down his or her every whim. And hey, some folks can pull that off: witness Jasper Fforde or David Foster Wallace. But I’m pretty sure my kitchen-sink novel would read like a psychotic fever dream, so when I sit down to tell a story, I give myself a few guidelines to stick to – and it turns out, I’m not alone.
I read an interview with Stephen Soderbergh recently in which he talked about how, when he set out to make his pandemic-thriller Contagion, he drew up a list of clichéd disaster-flick scenes he wouldn’t allow himself to shoot. In the documentary Under Great White Northern Lights, Jack White of the White Stripes talks of leaving his spare picks at the far end of the stage to inject spontaneity and creativity into his performance. And Shakespeare famously penned his sonnets while standing on his head. (One of those I may have made up because I was desperate to have a third thing. As I said, I like rules, and in writing, the rule of three is a big one.)
So, you ask, what were the rules I laid out for myself in writing DEAD HARVEST? (Yes, I’m aware you didn’t ask, but let’s pretend for the moment that you did. Otherwise, I won’t make my word count, and that’ll stress me out something fierce.)
1. No Hero’s Quest, No Prophecy
DEAD HARVEST is a strange little tale, one that filters the battle between heaven and hell through the lens of classic crime pulp. To my mind, one thing religion and crime fiction have in common is the notion of moral agency: good or bad, our actions are our own. So I wanted to reflect that, by creating characters who weren’t lucky enough to be handed a road map. They’re not chosen. They’re not destined. Their arrival is not foretold. They’re just scared, and human (well, most of them), and fallible. They’re doing the best they can in a situation they might well not survive.
2. No One True Religion
Obviously, when you’re writing a tale that features angels and demons, the topic of religion is bound to come up. But I had no interest in telling an explicitly religious tale. So when I sat down to craft my mythology, I decided to cast a wide net. I borrowed from Judaism and Christianity, obviously, but also from Eastern and Middle Eastern religions, as well as Greek and Mesoamerican mythology, folk tales, apocryphal texts, and assorted sundry writings on the occult. I had this idea of the world’s religions as the result of some great game of telephone, a couple millennia’s worth of folks passing down garbled tales intended to make sense of this vast, half-glimpsed cosmology all around them (and largely failing.)
3. Neither Shrinking Violet nor Driven Snow
Look, DEAD HARVEST is at its heart a pulp tale, and as such, it was bound to have a damsel in distress. But what I didn’t want is said damsel to come off like some cardboard cutout paragon of sweetness and light. I wanted her to be fully realized. I wanted her to be scrappy. I wanted her to be flawed. Whether I’ve succeeded is for the audience to decide, but I, for one, quite like how she turned out.
4. Fantasy Ain’t a Coat of Paint
This was a biggie for me. Too often in crossgenre works, there’s a tendency to half-ass one of the genres. I wanted to pay equal respect to both. That meant I couldn’t just cook up a crime tale (“They have to rob a bank!”) and slap on some supernatural derring-do (“They have to rob a goblin bank!”) So I set out to create a tale that couldn’t be told were it not for the fantastical element. What I settled on was a potential frame-up, but one in which the person supposedly framed for murder (the damsel in distress I mentioned a ways back, unless of course she proves a literal femme fatale) was witnessed committing the crime.
So were all those self-made hurdles worthwhile? I’ll leave that for you to decide. As for me, I’ll be busy fretting over the fact I couldn’t come up with one more rule – I was aiming for five…
About The Collector
The Collector 1
Angry Robot (February 28, 2012 US/Canada; March 1, 2012 UK/RoW)
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 384 pages
Meet Sam Thornton. He collects souls.
Sam’s job is to collect the souls of the damned, and ensure they are dispatched to the appropriate destination. But when he’s sent to collect the soul of a young woman he believes to be innocent of the horrific crime that’s doomed her to Hell, he says something no Collector has ever said before.
File Under: Urban Fantasy [ Souled Out | Damned If You Don't | Collector Mania | On The Run ]
The Wrong GoodbyeThe Collector 2
Angry Robot (September 25, 2012 US/Canada; October 4, 2012 UK/RoW)
Mass Market Paperback and eBook
Meet Sam Thornton, Collector of Souls.
Because of his efforts to avert the Apocalypse, Sam Thornton has been given a second chance – provided he can stick to the straight-and-narrow.
Which sounds all well and good, but when the soul Sam’s sent to collect goes missing, Sam finds himself off the straight-and-narrow pretty quick.
File Under: Urban Fantasy
He’s been a Derringer Award finalist and a Spinetingler Award winner, and he’s also written a novel or two. He lives on the coast of Maine with his lovely wife and a noisy, noisy cat.
What: One commenter will win a Mass Market Paperback copy of Dead Harvest (The Collector 1) from The Qwillery.
How: Leave a comment answering the following question:
What are some of your favorite cross genre novels?
Are there any genres do you think should not be crossed?
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Who and When: The contest is open to all humans on the planet earth with a mailing address. Contest ends at 11:59pm US Eastern Time on Saturday, March 24, 2012. Void where prohibited by law. No purchase necessary. You must be 18 years old or older to enter.
*Giveaway rules are subject to change.*