[GUEST POST] John Mantooth on Fitting a Square Book in the Round Hole of Genre

John Mantooth is an award-winning author whose short stories have been recognized in numerous year’s best anthologies. His short fiction has been published in Fantasy Magazine, Crime Factory, Thuglit, and the Stoker winning anthology, Haunted Legends (Tor, 2010), among others. His first book, Shoebox Train Wreck, was released in March of 2012 from Chizine Publications. His debut novel, The Year of the Storm, is slated for a June 2013 release from Berkley. He lives in Alabama with his wife, Becky, and two children.

Fitting a Square Book in the Round Hole of Genre

I never really fit in. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t picked on in school, but on the other hand, I wasn’t really a part of the popular crowd either. I was just sort of there. I played basketball in high school, but I also played Dungeons and Dragons, read comic books, and won the creative writing award my senior year. The jocks didn’t want me, and I spent too much time in the gym playing hoops to really be accepted by the comic book crowd. And the females couldn’t have cared less about me (thank God for my wonderful wife who also breaks the mold). I was a poor-to-middling student who ended up being a teacher. I was in a rock and roll band despite not having an ounce of musical ability (and we weren’t as bad as you’re probably thinking). I grew up in the south but I never played a down of football, nor have I fired a gun either at a target or at a deer. I loved to read, but never did my summer reading. In short, I was a contradiction, a person more comfortable outside a circle than in. Yet, for some reason I was surprised when I finished my first novel and realized it was going to be very difficult to sell because it didn’t slide neatly into one category.

See, I’d written an adult novel whose two main characters were fourteen years old. I’d written a horror novel with very little blood, no zombies, and nothing even resembling a vampire. Maybe it was fantasy, I thought, except everything in the book could have really happened. Or could it? Southern Gothic? That sounded like a winner, but when you look up the definition of that slippery term, my book isn’t really that either. Literary? Well, sort of, but like the jocks from high school, I don’t think the literary establishment would have me. Okay then, genre. That’s where I fit. But which one? It was maddening. I was back to square one, trying to fit the proverbial square peg into the round hole. Not only that, but I was told by many, many agents and editors that the novel was too grown up for kids and adults wouldn’t read a book where the main characters were teenagers. Sort of like when people told me I wasn’t a real Southerner because I didn’t hunt, sort of like playing basketball for hours on end, and then relaxing with a stack of comics. Sort of like enjoying genre and literary fiction in equal measure.

Sort of like my life. Unclassifiable. But better for it, I think.

Yet, I understand that some people still want to know the genre of a book before they plop down their hard earned cash on it. So let me offer a sort of Frankenstein’s monster of an answer cobbled together from early readers: The Year of the Storm has been compared to authors as diverse as Stephen King (his novella, “The Body”, has come up multiple times), Robert McCammon (A Boy’s Life), Tom Franklin (Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter), Clive Barker (The Thief of Always), and Yann Martel (The Life of Pi). So, that’s five different authors. Three of them would be considered horror (King, McCammon, and Barker), one of them Southern literary fiction (Franklin), and the last would be slipstream/ magic realism (Martel). So, my book is three fifths horror, one fifth southern lit., and one fifth slipstream/ magic realism.

Got it?

Yeah, me neither.

But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, right? Sometimes getting outside the box is exactly what the doctor ordered. I mean I did eventually find an agent who thought she could sell it and an editor who believed in the book for what it was instead of what it wasn’t. Now, it’s your job to prove them both right. Go buy it, read it, and enjoy it. Just don’t think too much about where it fits in, okay? But if you do happen to figure it out, shoot me an email because I’d love to know.