I’ve started a new manuscript (an occupational hazard for writers). This one’s not a Joel Williams mystery; in fact, it’s not really even a traditional-style whodunit, ‘though it is a crime novel. I’m pleased about the idea, but it’s still in its beginning stages, so we’ll see how it goes. The process of getting started on this story has got me thinking about other writers who make an even bigger leap with their stories than I am with mine.
Some authors have even written in different genres. Or, they’ve written both fiction and non-fiction. Or they’ve written both poetry and crime novels. That sort of ‘branching out’ is risky. After all, many people write what makes them comfortable, and perhaps even get a reputation and a following. Trying something new means building up a new audience, using different skills, and so on. To move on to something different isn’t always easy. But it can result in some excellent work. And it gives the author the chance to experiment and ‘stretch’ creatively.
As you’ll no doubt know, Edgar Allan Poe is often credited with pioneering the detective story. Works such as The Murders in the Rue Morgue and The Purloined Letter are frequently cited as examples of detective fiction. But as you’ll also know, Poe was a master of the horror story, too. The Fall of the House of Usher, The Pit and the Pendulum and The Black Cat are just a few examples.
More recently, Alan Orloff has done a similar thing. Under his own name, he’s written Diamonds for the Dead, Killer Routine and Deadly Campaign, all crime novels. Under the name Zak Allen, he’s written The Taste and First Time Killer, both of which are horror novels. You might argue (and you’d have a well-taken point!) that horror novels and crime novels are close cousins. But they do require different sorts of storytelling skills, and they appeal to different audiences. That sort of flexibility takes skill.
Agatha Christie, of course, is renowned for her mysteries. She wrote all sorts of plays, short stories and novels featuring crime and its investigation. And if you’re kind enough to read this blog with any kind of regularity, then you know what a fan I personally am of her crime fiction. But she also wrote novels that explore characters and trace their lives. Under the name of Mary Westmacott, she wrote stories such as Giant’s Bread and A Daughter’s a Daughter, that explore love in its different forms, and provide interesting character studies. In those novels, the focus is on psychology and relationships, rather than on crime. And she’s by no means the only one to write both romance and crime fiction (Am I right, fans of Georgette Heyer?)
More recently, Paddy Richardson has written both well-regarded literary fiction (such as The Company of a Daughter) and well-regarded crime fiction (such as Hunting Blind and Swimming in the Dark). And she’s not only one who’s made that ‘literary crossover.’ Many other literary writers have also written crime fiction.
Some of them have been poets. For instance, Cecil Day-Lewis was the UK’s Poet Laureate. His collections are extremely highly regarded. Under his own name, he also wrote some literary novels. As fans will know, he also wrote a series of crime novels under the name of Nicholas Blake. His sleuth in those stories is Nigel Strangeways, who is, like his creator, a poet. And that’s an interesting example of the ways in which one’s writing in one genre/type of book can influence one’s writing in another.
Isaac Asimov gained a worldwide reputation as a scientist and an author of science textbooks. He was also a skilled writer of science fiction, such as the Foundation series. With his name made, as the saying goes, in that field, Asimov also created a short series of crime novels featuring Elijah ‘Lije’ Baley. Baley is a homicide detective in a futuristic New York, which bears all the hallmarks of Asimov’s background in science fiction. But the stories (The Caves of Steel, The Naked Sun, The Robots of Dawn, and the short story Mirror Image) are distinctly crime fiction.
There’s also Ausma Zehanat Khan, whose novels The Unquiet Dead and The Language of Secrets are crime novels featuring detectives Esa Khattak and Rachel Getty. They take place in contemporary Ontario, and focus on crimes and their investigations. Khan is also writing a fantasy series (at the moment, it’s scheduled as a quadrilogy). The first in this series, Bloodprint, is due to be published in 2017.
Elizabeth Spann Craig has written three mystery series. Under her own name, she writes the Myrtle Clover series; under the name of Riley Adams, she writes the Memphis Barbecue series. She also writes the Southern Quilting Mysteries. Recently, Craig has also ‘branched out’ and written a post-apocalyptic novel that includes zombies. It’s a big change from cosy mysteries to post-apocalypse, but Craig has made it successfully.
Of course, there are plenty of other authors, too, who have used their skills in more than one genre or type of writing. J.K. Rowling, Sara Paretsky, and before them, Charles Dickens, are just some examples. I know that you’ll have lots more in mind to share.
Have you read the same author in two different genres? What have you thought? Can authors do that effectively, so that you, as a reader, enjoy their work? If you’re a writer, have you experimented in different genres, or with a literary-to-genre move (or vice versa). What was it like for you?
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Utada Hikaru’s Crossover Interlude.