Scott's Note: Joshua Chaplinsky guest blogs this week, talking about his new novel, The Paradox Twins. Chaplinsky is the managing editor of LitReactor.com, as well as the author of the novella Kanye West - Reanimator and the story collection Whispers in the Ear of a Dreaming Ape. The Paradox Twins is his first novel, and it is, quite clearly, a genre blender.
Here he is:
April 6th marks the release of my debut novel, The Paradox Twins, courtesy of CLASH Books. It’s an epistolary work comprised of excerpts from various memoirs, novels, screenplay adaptations, and documents of public record. These conflicting sources combine to tell the story of estranged twin brothers who reunite at their father’s funeral to discover they have aged differently and no longer look alike.
A pretty good setup, if I do say so myself. One that could go in any number of directions. I find doubles and doppelgangers to be inherently noirish tropes, and although this sounds like the setup for a Hitchcockian thriller, I should be honest—The Paradox Twins is not a crime novel.
If I’m to continue being honest, I’m not sure what category The Paradox Twins falls under. It definitely doesn’t adhere to a single genre’s rules. At its core, it’s a family drama set firmly in reality, but it’s also a sci-fi novel and a ghost story. It’s got elements of existential horror and satire as well. It plays with structure and format in a way that could be described as ergodic. I wouldn’t necessarily call it experimental (although the “e” word did find its way onto the cover copy), but if I did, I would say it’s accessibly so. There’s a lot going on under the hood, which doesn’t make it easy to target a specific audience.
Which is why I decided to target all of them.
Well, not all of them. My approach is a little more focused than that.
You see, I’ve found a certain overlap in readers of modern genre fiction. Especially denizens of the small press scene. Maybe that’s because a lot of the best small presses run the gamut, publishing everything from poultry farm crime dramas to metaphysical high school murder-sleaze to intergalactic sex romps. Presses like Perpetual Motion Machine, Apocalypse Party, Word Horde, Weird Punk Books, Broken River Books, Soho Press, Kingshot Press, Down & Out Books, and of course my own publisher, CLASH Books. In the last few years they’ve published an impressive array of titles, everything from African horror, gothic fairytales, and military sci-fi to video game influenced poetry, personal memoir and dystopia. Hell, they’re even publishing an entire book about ska. Ska! It’s almost as if they’re a genre unto themselves. Like a lot of these presses.
So it made sense for me to go where fans of these publishers congregate, no matter what genre banner they rallied under. Most venues proved welcoming to outsiders. It wasn’t long before I had a nice little blog tour going. I scheduled an interview with a speculative fiction site and a guest post on a horror blog. A small transgressive press agreed to host an excerpt. I secured reviews on a number of horror, literary, and weird fiction websites. Twins was recommended in roundups on IO9 and Vol. 1 Brooklyn. I’ve guested on three different podcasts so far, one of which is a Random House podcast for serious-type authors (not sure how I managed that one).
I also took note of the trails blazed before me. One novel that influenced my approach was the genre-defying masterpiece Liminal Space, by Zack Parsons.
For my money, Liminal Space is one of the all-time great genre experiments. And it achieves this without mashing everything together into an unrecognizable gray mush. It’s kind of like David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, but without the nesting doll structure or changing cast of characters. One reviewer described it as “a helter-skelter journey through mind-blowing SF, western dime novel, noir mystery, and near-future dystopian horror that somehow manages to become a cohesive, thought-provoking whole.” The nearly unanimous consensus is that it shouldn’t work, but it does. Like gangbusters.
It’s books like Liminal States that are constantly at the back of my mind when I’m writing. Whenever my self-doubt says, “You can’t do that!”, Zack Parsons says, “Oh yes you can, motherfucker!” (because I imagine Zack Parsons would curse, and it sounds cooler that way). David Mitchell, on the other hand, would be more reserved in his encouragement to break the rules. More of a “Go for it, old chap!” kind of guy.
Then, when I’m staring at the finished product thinking, “What the hell am I supposed to do with this?” I look to books like Liminal States to guide me in my promotional efforts. Where did Parsons get reviewed/do interviews? What circles were tweeting about his novel? Was he covered by each of the genres represented in his writing? Did the more conservative outlets go out of their way to feature his book? You do this with a handful of examples and you start to bank options.
Of course, they say if you’re going to break the rules, you’d better do it well, and if Liminal States was a turgid pile, no one would have paid any attention. The few who did would be clucking their tongues. So if the imaginary version of one of your favorite writers is encouraging you to take risks, you need to be confident in their abilities as well as your own. And then you need to go out there and share your risky business with anyone who’ll listen. Because although genres may be rigid, communities don’t have to be.
Am I implying I broke the rules well? How the hell should I know? My book just came out. You probably shouldn’t be coming to me for advice. And now that I think about it, I don’t remember Liminal States selling that many copies. I once tweeted at Zack Parsons asking him when he was going to write another novel, and he told me hopefully never, because it was a horrible experience.
So there’s that.
You can get The Paradox Twins right here.