Monday, November 10, 2014

Where I Like to Play

by Rebecca Cantrell

First off, a big thank you for my writing friend Meredith Cole for inviting me back to 7 Criminal Minds to play! I’ve missed this place.

Genre? Subgenre? I don’t choose my genres, they choose me. I have an idea and then I follow it through the book. This used to drive my agents crazy, but I think they’ve resigned themselves to it now.

I started out in a clearly defined subgenre: historical mystery. My Hannah Vogel series is set in Berlin in the 1930s and it ticks off those boxes nicely. Ironically, I didn’t set out to write a mystery at all. I had this idea for a character, a gay cabaret singer in Berlin at the end of the Weimar Republic. He was clear in my head—strong, funny, immensely talented—and then someone killed him and I had to find out why. So, I wrote a murder mystery called A Trace of Smoke. Then another. Then two more.

I detoured into horror with my YA horror books (iDrakula and iFrankenstein) and then my grown up vampire books with James Rollins (The Blood Gospel, Innocent Blood, and Blood Infernal). I was playing with new ways to tell stories (iPhone app, anyone?) and writing (co-authoring with someone else) and the supernatural (vampires, sentient artificial intelligences, vampires again).

Now I’m working on a new mystery/thriller series. I was walking down into the subway one day and I had an idea about a character who couldn’t leave. I typed in a bunch of notes while hanging on to a pole with one hand and I knew I had to know who that guy was before I got to my stop. I rode around for a while after that, just watching the stations go by and thinking. By the time I got home, I knew that the guy underground was Joe Tesla—an agoraphobic software millionaire who can’t go outside and lives in the tunnels under New York City, with a home base in a Victorian house built a hundred feet under Grand Central Terminal for the original engineer’s family. It wasn’t long before he came across a man breaking open a brick wall underground with a sledgehammer and he looked inside and there were three skeletons—two human and one monkey. I had to find out what that was about and the result was The World Beneath.

Because, for me, reading is about losing myself to play in another world, and writing is about that, too. It’s about playing with the characters, with the worlds, with the readers. I don’t think about genre—I think about fascination, obsession, and fun. If I do land in a genre, I tend to play at the boundaries—the places where things are new and fun for me and, hopefully, for my readers.

What about you, where do you like to play? And why?


Meredith Cole said...

Thanks for coming back to play at 7 Criminal Minds! We missed you!

I really admire how you don't let yourself be pinned down by genre (and that you've managed to get your agent to accept it...)

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Thanks, Meredith! I've gone my own crazy path, but rumor has it I'd be a lot more successful now if I'd just stuck to one thing. Depends on how you define success, I guess, but I've always wondered if that isn't true.

Rebecca Cantrell said...

I've been getting some good comments about this over on Facebook, so I thought I'd copy them here, too:

"Variety is the spice of life. It would be a very boring life if you only thought of one single thing."

"You know if you can pull it off why not? As a reader I enjoy different genres. Sometimes a thriller, a trashy romance novel or horror story. It's actually nice that an author can be so good and diverse. Your agent is wrong. Keep on writing about the things you want and success will follow."

"As someone who doesn't give a dang what other's think.. I like it when I find out others are "diverse" too. Readers have more than one genre.. why shouldn't writers?"

All very positive! Of course, these happen to be my readers, so maybe they're more used to such crazy doings. Still, it makes you wonder about the conventional wisdom on this.

Barbara Winkes said...

I understand where you're coming from--and I think it's important to follow the characters and their stories. If they lead into different genres, then so be it. It's true that not all readers will go all the way (and I've been guilty of that too), but if you take that freedom as a writer, I believe the result is authentic.

Susan C Shea said...

So good to see you on Minds, Becky! And I love the way your particular mind works. Listening to that "what if" voice and giving it its head is a great skill. Inspiring.

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Thanks, Barbara and Susan! It's great to be back. Such an intriguing topic, too!

Alan Orloff said...

Great having you back to visit, Becky! As for driving agents crazy with the genre-hopping, isn't that the point?

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Alan, That's at least part of the point, yes. Fun driving folks crazy.