Sci-Fi, Horror, and Genre Jumping

Once again, I’ve been enjoying a great conversation with Dan Bensen about genre. It began with a mutual rave fest over the inter-genre brilliance of Lois McMaster Bujold, particularly around the elements of horror in The Sharing Knife series (which would be more broadly classified under fantasy in the vein of the Alvin Maker series). We agreed that it’s one mark of a book with rich world-building when imagining the story being told from the perspective of another character in the series would easily recast it as a different genre.

This seems, to me, to play out especially well in science fiction vs. horror. Horror has a good grasp on the value of the unseen monster: if you can’t get a fix on it to explain it, you can’t feel any confidence in the resolution, leaving the possibility of terror hanging in the air. Science fiction, however, thrives on meeting the new and unexplained and giving it a name, learning its language, figuring out how it dies or what will persuade it to be nice so it’s not scary any more. If you look at a story from the boots-on-the-ground, oh-god-we’re-all-dying-one-by-one perspective of, say, a military commander failing to get a group to safety, you’ve got horror. If you turn it around and look at the situation from the viewpoint of, for an extreme example, a scientist in the lab with the ability to measure and test the situation for variables under more controlled circumstances, the same premise can become science fiction. Which genre the story ultimately belongs in depends on which perspective wins: knowledge or fear.

This realization led me to the epiphany that  I should probably be writing horror instead of science fiction…the one arena where my inherited tendency to anxiety might actually be an asset. If you can think of a rational solution to a scary problem, I can come up with a catastrophic point of failure.

This realization in turn led me to think it would be fun to write a horror story from the perspective of the correspondence between two people reacting to horrific crisis: the rational, optimistic scientist observing the situation from a safe distance and a military commander in charge of the situation on the ground. Dan graciously invited me to riff on his alien incursion story base on the Lolo Complex forest fires last year, so I’m going to try my hand at something a little different.

More to come on that soon.

Dreams Half-Remembered

Dreaming and writing are strangely connected for me. I write  best in the mornings when I’ve woken up from a vivid dream, even if I’m not trying to capture the essence of the dream. I rarely try to capture the essence of a dream, actually. The emotion is so intense and surreal and personal that my efforts inevitably fail, but that moment when you mourn the realization that you don’t live in the dream world is very much what I hope to invoke in my readers.

I didn’t so much dream memorably last night as I do sometimes, but I went to sleep having just finished a fairly excellent post-apocalyptic sci fi. It left my mind dancing  with ideas and handed me a puzzle piece that I needed for my own post-apocalyptic novel…that piece that starts your mind singing and drives the writing forward. Until I find that piece, I always feel like I’m working uphill to build a mountain of dung. It’s the soul of the thing. No matter how carefully crafted a plot or how well-developed the characters, a story without soul isn’t worth reading…and I figured out what that missing soul piece was as I was drifting off contemplating the book I had just finished.

I woke up this morning, charged to get writing, which feels amazing after two or three weeks of feeling dead about the whole writing  thing because my brain has been utterly stressed out by the lack of a definitive answer about whether or not the bank is going to give us the mortgage on this house. (Reason number umpteen to avoid working for giant, asshat corporations: their salary verification processes for lenders suck.) We STILL don’t have an absolute, 100% “yes,” even though our loan officer is still saying we’re probably fine to close on Tuesday, so the stress is still there, but it’s like a breath of fresh air to find this soul-piece of a story to take  my mind elsewhere.

Anyway, I sat down at my computer to get to work and in the process of looking for the files for this story, which I haven’t touched in a while, I ended up going through a few old pieces I’ve either finished or started on. I came across one that took my breath away to leave me incredibly sad, not because it’s a staggering work of genius by any means, but because I got to the end and really wanted to know more. And I realized that I’m the only one who knows what’s supposed to happen next and I DON’T REMEMBER IT AT ALL. I don’t remember writing the beginning, and I don’t remember the general concept for the tale, so I’m left with this fairly intriguing beginning and no clear idea of what to do with it.

This is exactly what happens when you don’t keep on writing when you’ve got the soul of a project in your hand, so I’m going to chase after that story sprite and attempt to capture it before my mind wakes up all the way. And in the meantime, maybe I told someone about this story and maybe that someone reads my blog and remembers what the heck I was thinking about when I wrote this, so here’s the snippet that left  me wishing I remembered how it goes on…

A Shellhead’s Pearls (a working title I threw on there after reading it  this morning, so don’t think there are necessarily any clues in the title)