Friday, January 23, 2015

Themes, Trends, and Other Topics

By Art Taylor

This week's question is: "Have you ever tried to incorporate a popular trend (such as zombies or vampires) into your own work? Have you ever felt pressure to do so to increase sales/circulation?"

As a short story writer, I probably have a different take on this than others. On the one hand, my primary publisher, Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, doesn't really give me any instruction at all; instead, my editor considers the stories I send and whether or not they're good stories, they'd be a good fit for the magazine, etc. But at no point has she ever approached me with an idea about what she wants me to write next or instead. (If only she would!!!) 

On the other hand, I have submitted stories to various themed anthologies—and in those cases, the stories were either written from scratch or revised from earlier drafts in order to accommodate/address the themes and restrictions. For example, I've had stories in the last two Chesapeake Crimes anthologies, and I've had another story accepted for the next one. The respective themes in these cases are reflected by the subtitles: This Job Is Murder, Homicidal Holidays, and Storm Warning. What's fascinating is that even with these themes, the range of the stories from the various contributors usually proves remarkably diverse; each writer's own stylistic approach or thematic interest almost inevitably shines through, no matter what.

These are themes, of course, and not trends—like the trend toward vampires and zombies that the question above mentions. But clearly there could be overlap, and clearly the process might well be the same.

While I've not written or submitted a story with vampires, zombies, werewolves or others, I really enjoy the works I've read in that direction. I just recently finished and very much admired Dana Cameron's standalone story/novella "The Curious Case of Miss Amelia Vernet"—which draws both on elements of her Fangborn books and on the world of Sherlock Holmes. While it could be argued that Sherlock Holmes has been renewed in recent years as a trend of its own, Dana hardly seems to be jumping on any bandwagon but instead just pursuing her own interest in each of these directions, playing, exploring, seeing what might happen, where such a story might go. In a similar way, I've long enjoyed the anthologies put out by Toni L.P. Kelner and Charlaine Harris—beginning with Many Bloody Returns and continuing most recently through Dead But Not Forgotten. The contributors there have represented a wide array of writers—some already writing paranormal/supernatural, some not—and even in the case of authors who might not already be writing in this vein (pun, sorry), it seems like they're having fun with the challenge of trying something new, of putting their own spin on it all. All of this, perhaps inevitably, produces a broad range of subject matters, tones, and approaches—none of it feeling "pressured," all of it a real pleasure.


Toni L.P. Kelner said...

Speaking of those writers who've never done paranormal before, Charlaine and I have been constantly delighted by how many people had just been waiting for the opportunity. We'll never forget Nancy Pickard turning to us and saying, "I've always wanted to write a werewolf story." Or thriller icon James Grady contacting us via a mutual friend to ask if he could write something for us.

I think everybody has a ghost story or horror story inside, waiting to creep out.

Art Taylor said...

Thanks for chiming in here, Toni--and coincidentally, I thought about mentioning James Grady's story in Home Improvement: The Undead Edition myself!

Susan C Shea said...

Nice pun, Art. Maybe we should start some punning games here?