At a recent meeting of our writers’ group, my friend Leonard Pung (who, by the way, is currently attending Clarion, the lucky dog!) referred to my twenty-eighth story of the week, “Code Zombie“, as a “feathered fish”. When I asked him what he meant by this, he told me it’s a term used in genre media. Essentially, it means a work of fiction that can’t quite decide what genre it’s supposed to be; or, more technically, when the target audience reads it or views it, they think it’s for another target audience. In the case of “Code Zombie”, he couldn’t quite figure out whether it was supposed to be a comedic romance story with some elements of horror, or a horror story with some elements of comedic romance.
Later, another conversation with another member of our writers’ group made me think about genre fiction versus literary fiction. I also thought about how some writers, whose works could technically be considered horror, fantasy, or science fiction, often find their books marketed in the general / literary section of the bookstore, rather in the genre you might think. For example, Christopher Moore (currently my favorite writer), whose books could be considered horror or science fiction or fantasy by some folks, usually end up in general or literary fiction, because that’s the way he writes. He writes mainstream fiction, fiction about regular people, with elements of genre fiction in them. His novels Bloodsucking Fiends and You Suck might be about vampires, but their real focus is the characters and the relationships between them. They’re novels about people who just happen to be vampires, rather than novels about vampires who just happen to be people. The difference is subtle, but it’s the difference between the book being found in general / literary fiction, or in the horror / fantasy / science fiction section. It also means a difference in sales (though I, of course, being of a higher caliber morality than most people, don’t care about the money).
So, because it’s all about me after all, I found myself thinking about what kind of fiction I want to write. I enjoy horror fiction, of course, but I could read a dozen horror novels and not have any of them stand out in my mind; but a good character-driven story, well told, with warmth and sensitivity and humor, will stand out more. Such stories are harder to write, I think, because focusing on human beings and their relationships is more difficult than focus on than what monsters do. Vampires? Werewolves? Zombies? Tentacled monsters from beyond the stars? Those are easy to write. A couple whose been married for forty-seven years and now dealing with the husband’s rejection of their gay son thirty years ago while zombies march across their suburbs? Much harder.
The world is full of broken, funny, damaged, wonderful people, and I think I’d prefer, in the long run, to write about them. And the zombies that surround them, too. But mostly about the people.