Friday, July 6, 2018

On Reading Outside Your Genre

I’m going to take a quick time out from talking about writing from a “crime fiction” perspective and talk about it in a more general sense. I went out to see Paul Tremblay read from his latest novel, Cabin At The End of the World, which I finished a few days ago. Afterward, a group of us went to get a snack and talk. A lot of attention was on Paul - after all, he’s the belle of the ball at his own reading, and everyone had either read Cabin... or was looking forward to it, but we talked books in general. Sitting at a table full of writers, the majority were horror writers, but as readers and movie watchers - we talked science fiction, too. Earlier in the evening I’d chatted with others about historical fiction, sci fi, crime fiction, and more.

This has me thinking about Stephen King’s advice about writers being readers first. You don’t become a writer without loving at least one book. Most of us love a hell of a lot more. Personally, I grew up on horror and literary fiction, and stuff I pulled off of my mother’s nightstand and my grandmother’s bookshelf. This put me reading everything from old Tennessee Williams plays to Robin Cook and James Patterson. My favorite, like so many people, was Stephen King.

To call these “influences” might build an expectation that my work is somehow like the work (or at least attempting to be like the work) of these authors, and the obvious truth is - it’s not. But talk to any good writer, and you’ll find someone who reads across genre. I don’t think it’s a coincidence. A crime fiction writer better love crime fiction, or it’s going to be a hard road, but it would be ridiculous to say a crime fiction writer should only look to Tremblay’s earlier crime novels for inspiration and learning, when his horror novels have so much to offer.

I thought about giving some examples, but holy hell I don’t want to spoil a single twist in this novel - I read it in one night, it was so good. But after I got over the emotional trauma the book put me through, and was able to think about more than the ways the story knocked me on my ass - I wanted to pick at all the techniques and tricks Paul used to make me feel that way. Every good book I read makes me want to do that - and that includes everything from young adult fiction to literary fiction.

Of course I’m going to tune in when crime writers talk about crime writing, and I’m going to read as much in my genre and sub genre as I can, but there’s always new ground to be covered, and new lessons to be learned. I hope writers all make an effort to read outside their genre, learn from the good (and hell, even the bad) books that come from other writing communities.

If I can find writing lessons watching romantic comedies for Mandatory Happy, surely we can all learn a thing or two from a horror novel.

1 comment:

Patrick Whitehurst said...

King remains a favorite of mine as well, with a helping of Clive Barker and James Herbert as well. Thanks for the reminder on the importance of reading outside your genre!