Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Tomorrow evening (the 15th, if all goes as planned) I’ll be giving a talk to Capital Crime Writers on cross-genre fiction. There won’t be time to cover all the things in the rough draft of my speaking notes, so I thought I’d use the opportunity of this guest blog to revive a couple of the darlings I had to kill.

Normally, CCW asks me to do a presentation but this time I approached them. I had some fuzzy ideas I wanted to clarify, and there’s nothing like a deadline and having to explain things to others to force you to concentrate. It’s almost as good as hanging.

What inspired the fuzzy ideas was having one of my stories accepted by a
Nominated/dp/1461080819 . The publisher in question is a small but respected horror press. I didn’t know the story was horror.

Now, I’m not the world’s biggest horror fan, but some of my favourite short stories are horror. And if, by horror, you’re thinking Dean Koontz or Stephen King—all I can say is: that’s a tiny bit of the market, and not the most respected bit, either (apologies to Koontz & King fans).

That story resided on my hard drive for at least a decade, because I kept sending it to the wrong markets. Needless to say, I’ve been examining my other long-term residents, looking for symptoms of horror. I found a couple of incomplete efforts that would qualify, and some crime stories I never sent out because they’re not EQ or AHMM material. Oddly enough, none of the crime stories have an ounce of horror in them, and none of the horror are in any way criminous.

But crime and horror: what a perfect fit! Horror is all about sending shivers up a reader’s spine. Ghosts, ghouls, zombies or other paranormal creatures are not a requirement. The best horror, in my opinion, concerns itself with the monsters that dwell within us: obsession, ego, guilt, ignorance, greed et al.—we’ve all got at least one, and have observed those monsters in others. And feared them.

Obsession, ego, guilt, ignorance, greed ... Sound familiar? They’re what
motivate people to kill, or to get themselves killed. So why aren’t there more crime-horror cross-genre stories out there?

If there are any publishers reading this, and it inspires you to put out a crime-horror anthology, I can recommend an excellent editor, and guarantee her enthusiasm for the project.

Another point I had to cut was one of the few good things I have to say about they have an honest best-seller list.

Ever since the introduction of bar codes on books, writers and smaller publishers have been begging the mainstream media’s best-seller list publishers to use actual sales figures to compile their lists. Unfortunately, individual writers and smaller publishers don’t have the funds to take out half-page ads in those mainstream media, so it wasn’t in their interest to modernize. The old-fashioned way of doing it was to call up “selected” bookstores and ask what was selling that week. Absent among the “selected” were specialty—i.e., genre—bookstores. Genre has always sold extremely well, yet few genre writers ever made it into the mainstream media’s best-seller lists. Crime was among the first, because writers such as Robert B. Parker and Jonathan Kellerman were selling too well to be ignored. King, Rice and Crichton also broke in but, generally speaking, a perusal of a newspaper or news magazine’s best-seller list would lead one to believe that either very little genre was being published, or that it didn’t sell all that well; that genre was “niche.”

Then along comes Amazon, and they don’t care what places highest in their sales ranking. The mainstream media has to follow its lead or look totally out of sync with the reality of Amazon sales. So genre finally has its place in the sun, and genre readers no longer have to hide their horror or fantasy novels inside a Booker winner cover. Genre, except among the diehards, has become respectable.

Of course, Amazon isn’t solely responsible for this change. Writers such as Salman Rushdie (fantasy), Michael Chabon (crime-science fiction) and Margaret Atwood (crime and science fiction) have also done their bit. A Google search on literary writers genre turns up some interesting articles for further reading.

This second point doesn’t have a point, in and of itself. It’s by way of
introduction to a talk on writing cross-genre fiction, because I suspect crime readers and writers are just as susceptible to prejudices against other genres as any other fiction readers, and I wanted to assure them that by going cross-genre, they’d be expanding their potential rather than pushing themselves further into a niche. Then again, if they’re attending a talk on cross-genre fiction, maybe they already know that.

Melanie Fogel is a fiction editor, writing teacher and occasional
fiction writer, with an Arthur Ellis nomination to her credit. She has
presented workshops to most of the Ottawa area's writers' organizations
and at the Bloody Words and Surrey Writers conferences. You can read the
first two pages of her horror story here: Or visit her website at

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