Adam Christopher is a novelist and comic writer. In 2010, as an editor, Christopher won a Sir Julius Vogel award, New Zealand’s highest science fiction honour. His debut novel, Empire State, was SciFiNow’s Book of the Year and a Financial Times Book of the Year for 2012. In 2013, he was nominated for the Sir Julius Vogel award for Best New Talent, with Empire State shortlisted for Best Novel. Born in New Zealand, he has lived in Great Britain since 2006.
Ignore what everyone says. Seriously. The rules of writing don’t exist? Oh no, they exist, buddy. But you’re in luck, because there is actually only one rule, and it’s a pretty simple one.
Write what you love.
That might sound obvious, but sometimes it’s a rule that isn’t so easy to follow. Any writer will tell you they have more ideas than they will ever get the chance to write in one lifetime. That’s part of the joy of it, of creating art from nothing but thin air. Ideas are easy. Ideas are commonplace. When someone asks us the perennial question of where we get our ideas from, that eye-roll you’ll get in return isn’t because it’s a stupid question (it isn’t in the slightest), it’s because we really don’t know the answer.
What we do know is that ideas are easy and choosing which one to write is usually easy too. Writers are fixated on The Next Book, because The Next Book is the interesting one, the exciting one, the one that is going to be way better than this pile of nonsense you’re currently working on.
But that idea, the one that sinks its claws into your shoulder and whispers into your ear as you’re really trying very hard to finish what you’re supposed to be working on—that idea is The One.
And sometime The One isn’t what you expect.
I write science fiction. Okay, I’ve also written urban fantasy, and superhero adventure, and space opera. Sometimes in a single book. But I’m part of that big group that lives in that particular section of the bookstore.
And then, after five SF novels published (with another five under contract)… I wrote a crime/mystery novel.
Actually, Elementary: The Ghost Line represents a number of firsts for me. It’s my first tie-in novel. My first mass-market paperback. My first book with Lucy Liu on the cover. And my first crime/mystery. Elementary is procedural detective show, transplanting Sherlock Holmes from 19th Century London to 21st Century New York City. True enough, Holmes himself is something of a fantastical character, and always has been no matter what the incarnation, but The Ghost Line is rooted in reality. There are police and murders and mysteries and a turtle called Clyde. I love the TV show, and writing this book was possibly the most fun I’ve had as an author yet.
But it all goes back to that golden, singular rule of writing.
Write what you love.
And I love Elementary. I’m a TV junkie, and Elementary is one of my most favourite of favourite shows.
There are writers who love epic fantasy, and they write epic fantasy—great sweeping series of doorstopper novels, and they write nothing else. Some writers stick to spaceships and aliens and intergalactic battles. These writers write in these worlds because they love them. And when a writer loves their work, you can see it on the page. It’s literary magic, a spark that isn’t in the words themselves but which somehow dances between the lines. You can’t define it, but you recognize it when it is there.
I love science fiction. I grew up on a diet of Pertwee-era Doctor Who and my dad’s Isaac Asimov books. I wanted to be an astronaut and to dig up dinosaurs. Preferably both at once.
But I also love crime stories. I love murder mysteries and police procedurals. I love detectives. I think I first read Conan-Doyle’s Holmes stories when I was about seven, and today I believe that some of the best contemporary writing can be found in the crime/mystery genre.
Genre-swapping can be a little worrying for some writers, and understandably so. Reader expectation is an important part of the business—after working to establish yourself in one particular area, your readers will start expecting a certain kind of book. This is, actually, great—this is how long and successful literary careers are built. A pseudonym is always an option, of course, and many writers work under many different names in many different genres, because sometimes the difference in readership between two different types of book—military SF and historical romance, say—really can be significant.
The other option is to bring those readers with you on a new adventure. Perhaps easier said than done, but I’m probably a little lucky in that my books have tended to mash genres together a little anyway. Someone who has read my first book, Empire State, would probably be unsurprised to find I’ve written a straight crime novel, for instance.
So how to you change up your genre, as a writer and as a reader?
There’s one piece of advice that applies equally to both groups.
Take a risk. Move out of your comfort zone. Try something new. And don’t worry about it, whether you are a reader or a writer. This might be the start of a whole new something and you’ll never know until you try it.
Because you might discover something amazing. You might discover something that you love.
I know I did. And let’s face it: why worry about genres? Sure, genre has a place, and it’s an important place, whether it’s for booksellers who need to shelve books or salespeople who need to sell those books to the booksellers in the first place.
But writers write, and that’s all that matters. And if you write what you love—and that shows—then you will find there will be an audience there who will love it too.