Bending Genre to Your Will

The best part of ignoring genre is the freedom to bend, fold, mutilate, and spindle it to one’s will.

Consider, for example, Duane Swierczynski’s The Blonde:

The Blonde

What a killer cover.

It’s a taut thriller which happens to include nanobots. Is it still crime, or is it now science fiction? I’m sure some crime and noir purists rolled their eyes at the high concept while science fiction enthusiasts wondered why they couldn’t find it on their racks at the bookstore.

Does it really matter? Read it, dig it, buy his other work.

Then there are your genre mash-ups, like Cullen Bunn’s The Sixth Gun:

Yeah, I linked to Volume 1. Deal.

Bask in the glory. Bask in it!

A classic Western tale that happens to include horror and the supernatural, and at the same time kick all form of ass. It’s not the first time it’s been done (see Jeff Mariotte’s Desperadoes), but I would argue The Sixth Gun has gained a lot more momentum in a shorter time and it is already spawning imitators. Western fans may turn their noses up at the ghouls and golems, and some comics fans will wonder why they should bother reading about something as stale as cowboys.

Both groups would be missing out, because here’s the trick to both:

It’s not the gimmick that makes the book.

These are both great, well-written (and, in The Sixth Gun‘s case, wonderfully illustrated) stories featuring interesting characters and engaging plots. If these books were only about the gimmick—the high concept hook—nobody would give a shit.

I’m always excited to see more of it. While Sandman Slim got a little lost in the fantasy side of its fantasy-noir mash-up, I do want to check out the sequel, Kill the Dead. And I’m really looking forward to the noir-superhero blend Paranormal*:


Coming at you this summer

Once again, tell the tale you want to tell. Make it good. Don’t set out to write a horror novel, a science fiction novel, or a steampunk novel, set out to write a good frickin’ story in the setting you think best accommodates it.

Let the marketing department figure out how to sell it.

*Full disclosure: Paranormal will be published by Evileye Books, the guys who brought you my own The Pack: Winter Kill.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.


  1. Bill Dezell says:

    Blade Runner (movie, I know) was equal parts Science Fiction and Noir Detective Fiction, and could easily been billed as either. Many of Isaac Asimov’s stories were classical mysteries that just happened to be set in a Science Fiction world. I think the main reason for genre was to give people some idea where to look for the book on the shelf. In an ebook world, that’s no longer a concern.

    In my own writing, I keep my Private Eye grounded in the real world (as seen by the Old Time Radio dramas, but I’ve got another set that is equal parts hard urban fantasy and police procedural. We’ll see how that fares.

  2. Kate says:

    As the editor of a press that specializes, it seems, in “mashup” or “crossover” or “genre-bending” or whatever you want to call it fiction, I applaud you! It kills the marketing – professional book buyers still like neat labels – but readers love it when the story is done well, the characters grab you by the collar and won’t let go, and everything just clicks, regardless of label.

    Political dystopian sci-fi with superheroes?
    Near-future first contact with video games?
    Parallel-world fantasy with steampunk elements?

    If the story’s good and the writing’s there, bring it on, man.

    (and oooooh, superhero noir? THAT just got added to my reading list…)

  3. […] been toying with the idea of bending genre to my will, making my third novel more fantasy-like than either The Ageless or The Century. Of course, […]