The Spawn and I were chatting earlier this afternoon, and as often happens, the talk turned to writing and reading. Specifically, we were talking about genre fiction, and the considerable blurring that takes place.
She mentioned one of her favorite stories of mine, and how she thinks of it as speculative fiction. I agreed that it could be seen as urban or contemporary fantasy, but that I also thought of it as something akin to a crime story, and that I do tend to see myself as a noirist or as a writer of crime fiction. But I think the darkness in my work is concomitant with my tragic view of humanity, my suspicion happy endings in the life we know. It’s noir as attitude, really, rather than as genre in a traditional usage.
I also write Westerns from time and time, having published three stories about a cowboy named Graham. (I don’t really know if that’s his first or last name, but it still gives him one more than Eastwood had in the spaghetti Westerns, so why worry about it?) But again, I don’t really think of Western as a genre as much as I do a setting. One can use the furniture of the Western while telling any number of stories, and Graham has appeared in a revenge tale, a ghost story, and a story about domestic violence. For that matter, I have a chunk of a novella (likely never to be finished) in which Graham finds himself in a cosmic horror scenario. It just happens in Colorado in the 1870s. In Louis L’Amour’s books, we can see the West as the backdrop for heist novels, detective stories, and the occasional romantic subplot. Again, one can fit a lot of different stories under the Western’s umbrella, or its 10-gallon hat.
And so on.
But where the Spawn and I went in our chat was to the terrain where crime and horror seem to intersect. This is hardly an original concept — I know James Ellroy talks about it in his intro to Jim Thompson’s Heed the Thunder. I mentioned to her that when I heard Silence of the Lambs described as the only horror movie to win the Best Picture Oscar, I was taken aback, because I saw it as a detective movie. Meanwhile, I discovered Michael Slade‘s work because of a mention of the novel Ghoul in an Alice Cooper newsletter, which described it as horror. But while that’s certainly a fair description of the Special X thrillers (particularly the first several, which are pretty splatterpunky), the books are also detective novels, with aspects of the police procedural — the good guys are Mounties, after all. And Slade themselves describe the works as “Mountie Noir.” Meanwhile, Stephen King has won Edgar Awards, and is in fact an MWA Grand Master.
Of course, having lived through what we have over the years, the Spawn and I are both aware that crime and horror can and do intersect in life as well. And as for fiction, I guess the point is that genres are like the quote on music variously attributed to Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and Richard Strauss: There are only two kinds — good and bad. Meanwhile, Mr. Block has noted that there used to be a very useful definition of the mystery. It was a story, with a crime in it, that would sell between 3,000 and 6,000 copies in hardback. (And Mr. B has written at least one novel that I would class as psychological horror — and a very fine job of it.)
When I sit down to write, I tend not to think I’m going to write a crime story or whatever — I write whatever story comes to me. But I do try to make them good ones.