[GUEST POST] JG Faherty on Blurring the Lines in Genre Fiction


JG Faherty is the author of THE BURNING TIME, CEMETERY CLUB, CARNIVAL OF FEAR, THE COLD SPOT, HE WAITS, and the Bram Stoker Award®-nominated GHOSTS OF CORONADO BAY, along with more than 50 short stories. His next novel, HELLRIDER, comes out in 2014, as do several novellas, including CASTLE BY THE SEA, FATAL CONSEQUENCES, and THIEF OF SOULS. He writes adult and YA horror/sci-fi/fantasy. His works range from quiet, dark suspense to over-the-top comic gruesomeness. He enjoys urban exploring, photography, classic B-movies, good wine, and pumpkin beer. His personal motto is “Photobombing people since 1979!” You can follow him on Twitter as @jgfaherty, on Facebook, http://about.me/jgfaherty, and his website www.jgfaherty.com.

Genre Fiction: Blurring the Lines

by JG Faherty

Apocalyptic Horror. Urban Fantasy. Dark Fantasy. Dark Fiction. Space Horror. SF-Horror. Dystopian Fiction.

Remember when you could go into a bookstore and there’d be three separate shelves: Horror, Fantasy, and Science Fiction? Not anymore (and I don’t mean just because book stores are disappearing!).

Genre fiction – horror, sci-fi, fantasy – has always overlapped. But never before has there been such a blurring of the lines between the basic genres (and you could include Romance in there as well). In fact, now more than ever those lines and categories only exist because publishers and book sellers needs them. If you are a writer in genre fiction, it’s almost impossible to say you write in only one area.

Genre blurring has been around almost as long as there’ve been genre categories. It’s not hard to imagine ancient hominids sitting around the fire, enthralled while their shaman told stories about tiny humans that lived in the woods and caused trouble (fantasy-horror) or beings that came from the stars with weapons of mass destruction (sf-horror) along with their tales of shape changers who’d eat you under the full moon or (horror) or benevolent mer-creatures who would help you if you got lost at sea (fantasy).

Overlap is natural; in fact, it’s hard to write genre fiction without some. Imagine Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter without the dark, terrifying elements. Pretty boring stuff. Take away the horror from The Time Machine or 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea or Frankenstein and there’s not much of a tale left. And what would Alien be without the aliens? In fact, you could argue that each genre depends on the other in many ways. In horror tales, you need a plot to build the horror around. The monster has to come from somewhere – a lab, toxic dumping, a world in the center of the earth, another planet, technology run amuck. In sci-fi, there’s either an action-adventure aspect (as in medical thrillers or space operas) or a horror aspect (as in space alien or plague novels). Often you have both (World War Z, The Ruins, War of the Worlds).

The same holds true in fantasy. The stories of Kane, of Hercules, of the Nine Princes of Amber – they blended fantasy and adventure, while other writers (Neil Gaiman, Caitlin Kiernan, Elizabeth Kostova) expertly mix horror and fantasy into “dark fantasy.”

In my own writing, my novels and short stories constantly blur genre lines, without my even trying. Young Adult Paranormal Romance? Done that. SF-Horror? Yep. Straight Horror? Definitely. Fantasy Adventure? Sure.

Horror overlaps anytime the writer sets out to elicit a sense of fear or anxiety from the reader, whether that’s from being stranded on an alien planet, lost in time, stuck in a forest with vampiric elves, accidentally cutting oneself with a contaminated scalpel, being stuck in an ancient castle filled with ogres, or opening a mystical box of cursed coins. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing hard sci-fi or high fantasy; if you’re trying to scare someone, you’ve crossed into horror. Likewise, if your fantasy or sci-fi adventure produces more chuckles than scares, you’ve entered the comedy-fiction realm, so expertly handled by writers such as Alan Dean Foster, Roger Zelazny, and Jeff Strand. High fantasy or urban fantasy – both provide plenty of chills. Paranormal romance – the only difference between this and straight horror is the strong element of sex.

Look at some of these classic fantasy and science fiction novels that definitely straddle the line into horror:

  • I Am Legend
  • The Strain
  • The Invasion of the Body Snatchers
  • 1984
  • Frankenstein
  • Lord of the Rings
  • The Day of the Triffids
  • The Eyes of the Dragon
  • The Andromeda Strain
  • The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
  • The War of the Worlds
  • Fear Nothing
  • The Horror of the Heights
  • The Mist
  • The Empire of Fear
  • Blood Music

And it’s not just in the classics where we find extreme cross-over. Modern writers are melding the genres more than ever. Michael McBride, Shaun Jeffrey, Christopher Golden, Jonathan Maberry, Nancy Holder, Tim Waggoner, Rena Mason, Brian Lumley, Preston and Child, Suzanne Collins, Lee Killough, Kelley Armstrong, Kevin J. Anderson, Jim Butcher – the list goes on and on!

More than ever, labels no longer matter. In the end, it comes down to the story. Is it designed to scare you, thrill you, make you laugh, or turn you on? Everything else is just the road that takes you to the final destination.

And I, for one, am glad. Because writers shouldn’t be bound by labels anymore than stories should. It’s restrictive. And cumbersome. I used to tell people I wrote horror, sci-fi, and fantasy. Now I simply say I write dark fiction.

It’s a lot easier on the tongue than dark fantasy-horror-sci-fi-thriller-paranormal romance-post-apocalyptic dystopian-urban fantasy-high fantasy-serial killer-zombie-supernatural fiction writer.

Sometimes, simple is better.