Saturday, August 23, 2014

Go Ahead, Cheat on Your Genre

We are delighted to welcome Susan Sundwall to Type M as this weekend's guest blogger. Susan is a mystery writer who sets her stories in and around Albany, New York. Her first mystery, The Red Shoelace Killer – A Minnie Markwood Mystery, was published in late 2012. Her second book in the series, The Super Bar Incident, was released in August. She lives in Valatie, New York, with her husband and adopted stray cat, Sister Agnes, whose demeanor suggests she is channeling a convent dweller from the dark ages.

Susan shares with us the pleasures of cheating – all in the good cause of become better writers.

Go Ahead, Cheat on Your Genre
By Susan Sundwall

Think about the word, genre.  It’s a bit snooty sounding. And right now you’re saying it to yourself just to test my supposition, aren’t you? It means kind or type. When someone asks what kind of writing I do, most often they’re thinking genre. But their asking frequently stumps me. My second mystery was just published so you’d think I’d answer “mystery,” but the word tends to stick in my throat.

There’s a hesitation there because I don’t want this asker to think that’s all I write – I’m broader than that. I don’t want her to think that’s all I read, either. Yeah, I’m broader and, dare I say, more beautiful than that because of the poetry. It’s true I always have a mystery waiting on the table, under the lamp, but often, in a mad fever of rebellion, I’ll give in to my cheating heart. So here I confess, with Hank Williams and his guitar serenading me.

Books like Kalad Hosseini’s,The Kite Runner, and A Thousand Splendid Suns, seduced me into the historical fiction genre with its violent beauty, ancient cultural patterns, and the universal revulsion for cruel injustice. In like manner Lisa See’s, Snow Flower and The Secret Fan, pulled me in and begged me to experience the old Chinese practice of foot binding. It was dreadful and fascinating and sent me searching like a mad women for authentic images (which I found). It also made me cringe and give thanks for being born elsewhere and in another time. Hugh Howie’s, Wool, whipped me below the surface of the earth and made me wander through a future where everyone lives like a mole. Science fiction. I rarely read it but I could hardly lay Wool down. I tried. Then, every time my Kindle gave up the ghost on one installment, I zippy quick downloaded the next. So what if it was two in the morning? This is what cheating does to you and I’m not sure I’m ashamed. If you’re judging, hang on a minute. I’m calling Lucy in to do some ‘splainin’.

After the pleasing, near erotic, diversion of any number of other genres I scamper happily back to Janet Evanovich, Sue Grafton, Lee Child, and Elizabeth George – old flames, brief passions, or current crush all from my long days of delicious mystery reading. I’m excited. I feel like I have things to tell them; tales and imaginings from these other worlds I’ve discovered. I’ll gladly grab their hands and set out the picnic blanket if they’re only willing to listen, to broaden out, too. Where can we go for a glass of wine and good brie to discuss the dark secrets revealed in the back alleys of nineteenth century London? Do they have any idea how strangely wonderful Tibetan butter tea is? And then, what kind of dirty secrets might I pull from these masters about their wildly popular inspectors, detectives, or bumbling skip chasers? And who have they cheated on – these purveyors of murderous humanity? You tell me yours and I’ll tell you mine. The game is afoot.
Once we’re settled down and begin courting true insight, another phenomenon bubbles up. In veering off (a gentle term for cheating) into other genres writers can become green with envy in so many productive ways. At first we chasten ourselves for not coming up with this brilliant plot twist or that sublime syntax more readily than Mr. #1 on the New York Times bestseller list. Self flagellation looms. But in short order we get mad – as in mental – in a way far greater than simply red in the face. The mind whirls. The pen flies. Our writing scales new heights and heads for Alpha Centauri because our cheating heart has brought home the goods. And when, at last, that pen is laid to rest, we collapse into sobbing.

“Why didn’t I stray before? What was wrong with me?”

The old flame, brief passion, and current crush smile. What I didn’t know is that they know what it’s like – they’ve cheated, too. And so they forgive, hand over a hanky, and fill my wine glass. Sure, I’m no longer pure, but I’m better, wiser and more able to forgive myself and others. The glorious blooming must come next. It’s a wonderful thing.

And if, deep down, you also have a cheating heart, you know exactly what I mean. Old Hank and I really want to talk to you.

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