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Genres – Why We Need Them and Why Elitism Harms Readers and Writers

 

So, a little story time first.

I studied English in university and during an exercise in one of the classes, we were asked to take a list of writers and place them within a circle. The more influential the writer was the closer to the center they would go, the least influential sticking to the outer rim. We were given a handful of writers from modern to ancient but the two I remember were J.R.R. Tolkien and Lord Byron. I argued in my group that J.R.R. Tolkien should be near the middle because his work has had such a huge influence on popular culture, even if you hate fantasy and you’ve never read Lord of The Rings, when you think of an elf or a wizard, you are thinking of his creations. The rest of my group agreed. Our lecturer however, did not. I was given a condescending sneer as she moved Tolkien‘s name to the furthest reaches of the circle and told that because he was a ‘genre writer’ and because Lord Byron was a ‘literary writer’ that obviously Lord Byron had more influence. I don’t know about you but I can’t name you a Byron poem, and I studied the guy. All I remember is that he had a club foot and he was there when Mary Shelley, another genre writer, wrote Frankenstein. I’m not saying he wasn’t influential and his work should be forgotten, but we have a habit of rehashing old stuff when we should be supporting writers and artists who are alive right now and actually need it.

That class was my first look into genre elitism, and as I did a double major and studied music, there was plenty more where that came from. But just like everything else in life, genres are not inherently bad, they do serve a purpose, it’s our fault for how we sometimes use them.

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What are genres good for?

We love to categorize everything because it helps us make sense of things in a complicated and messy world, and this is no less true when it comes to books. Genres are a way for us to simplify and find the things we need, they help publishers sell books to the people most likely to enjoy them, and they help readers find more of what they are most likely to enjoy – so in that sense having genres is a win win.

Have you ever been excited for a book or movie only to realise that it wasn’t what you thought it was going to be? Marketing can really be to blame for this. There are loads of movie trailers online where they’ve made kids movies look like horror, and thrillers look like teen coming of age stories – its all in how you present it.

Take this for example:

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In early 2000s Ellen Page stared in a two movies called ‘Ghost Cat‘ and ‘The Cat That Came Back‘. If you looked at these two posters they look like completely different movies, the left looking and sounding like a horror to me, and the right like a heart warming tale of love beyond the grave. The problem is, these are the same movie, and it even had a third name ‘Mrs. Ashboro’s Cat‘. WHY? Because once you stick a label on something you are shutting off the opportunity to use other labels. If you market as a horror, you get horror fans, if you market as a feel good movie, you get feel good fans, so why not cast your net wide and get both?

It’s absurd to think about now, but it’s the reason books have different covers in different countries, and why, when they realised men weren’t drinking Diet Coke because it was a ‘women’s drink’, they came up with Coke Zero, which is much more manly.

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Judge Judy wouldn’t stand for this nonsense.

Genre Snobbery

Genres can morph and merge, they can cross borders and reinvent themselves and we see this all the time in stand out books and movies. It all comes down to the formula and tropes that are used to tell the story. We all know them, and if we see certain tropes we get an idea of what we can expect from the story and we automatically label it a ‘western’ or a ‘crime novel’. But those same tropes, with just a little bit of tweaking can completely change how we think about the story. Take ‘women’s fiction’ for example, if you were to take a woman’s fiction book about family, divorce, realistic life struggles, and replace the female lead with a male lead, you suddenly get ‘literary fiction’, the golden boy (pun always intended) of genres. Sometimes books don’t fit the mold of a clearly defined genre, or the can easily slot onto the shelves of many.

Literary fiction is always given more respect than any other forms of writing. I can’t tell you how many writing groups I’ve been in where I was the only ‘genre writer’ and every time someone read a piece of mine they started with ‘I NEVER read stuff like this, so, I did’t really know what to make of it…‘ or ‘You guys are so clever coming with all this stuff! I really envy your imagination. I wish I could write like that‘. In short, it’s cute but there aren’t enough metaphors for sex or impotence. And if a literary fiction writer in one of those groups goes ‘a bit mad’ and decides to throw in something surreal, they are praised for picking elements or for transcending the genre, another sarcastic way of saying ‘you are better than them’.

The fact that its called genre fiction leads you to believe that literary fiction lies outside of genre altogether, that it is the basis for everything and therefore the most pure.

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Look at all those unnecessary commas…

And look, I’m not shitting on literary fiction, what I don’t like about genre elitism, is that we make people feel bad about what they like. We should be celebrating reading and writing, not shaming teens for ready YA, BOOKS WRITTEN FOR THEM I MIGHT ADD, or adults for reading Sci-Fi or Fantasy. Genres are a pointer, a helpful hand given us something to start with, but a great story is a great story.

Readers – Expand your reach, try new things and don’t have ‘guilty pleasures’, there’s nothing to feel guilty about.

Writers – Mix, melt, merge and smash together. Don’t let people tell you you can’t write X because you only write Y, or that no one respectable reads Z. Just make the story great.

 

What are you opinions on genre? Have you been duped before by a movie trailer or book blurb? Or do you think that ‘genre fiction’ really is sub par? Let me know down below.

 

‘Dark Wood Dark Water’ by Tina Callaghan – Review

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Skully would love to read it but he literally doesn’t have eyes.

“A story Stephen King would have written if he’d grown up in Ireland – a read-in-one sitting, sleep-with-the-lights-on sort of book.” Peadar Ó Guilín, author of The Call.

The river is the vein of history. Its surface looks the same when viewed by modern eyes as it did to druids and warriors, to Vikings and other invading forces. The river’s secrets are hidden in its mud and its elephant slow days. It carries pleasure cruisers as it once did merchant ships. It doesn’t care, or even notice. Its life is underneath and it skims the edges of its world with slow-destroying fingers. It is the lifeblood of its towns and villages but demands its forfeit. Sometimes, that is great tree, sometimes a fallen and bloated cow, its legs sticking up out of the mud at low tide, sometimes a boat, taken in a storm. Sometimes, it demands a greater forfeit.

Sometimes, it just takes.

Before I dive into a summary or review of Dark Wood Dark Water, let’s set the scene of how I found the book in the first place. Anyone who loves books or writing knows that Twitter is the absolute best place to be, it is chocked full of writers, readers, reviewers, and everything in writing related in between. Tina’s book popped up on my timeline with luck and a little bit of location services too I’m sure. After reading the quote from Peadar Ó Guilín, I simultaneously said “Oh yay!” And thought Oh no! If anyone else out there knows they are a procrastinator, they know the feeling of dread you get when you find something similar enough to your own writing to be exciting and scare you into thinking someone beat you to publishing an idea.

It’s OK! I don’t have to sue her. Tina Callaghan’s idea is all her own, and after having read it I can say that it is unique in terms of anything I’ve ever read, and it’s nothing close to my own work in progress except for the fact it’s set in small town, rural Ireland. Shout out to the tiny Irish towns, respect! But as Tina herself said – You should write it anyway. And I can’t disagree with that.

After finding Tina on Twitter and realising this was a person I should be following closely, I found out that her book was about to be released, where I live, when I was free, and can I just say for anyone out there who wants to write anything or just loves books, going to the launch of an author you see serious parallels with, or have lots in common with, is the ultimate motivation out there. So, I landed down at the Gutter Bookshop in Dublin, and hung around like a bad smell with my free wine to actually meet the woman herself, Tina Callaghan. And, honestly – she was horrible. JK! Just writing some fiction there! She was so lovely, she engaged me and offered to sign my book, recognising that I’m not very comfortable talking to people and even introduced me round, and showed proof of her mission to help other writers by giving me so much advice for my own work. A genuine top notch lady who wants to engage with other writer’s and be a part of the community. On to the material at hand…

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The Review

There is something rotten in the town of Bailey and the fetid corpse has just risen to the surface of the river. Dark Wood Dark Water itself, is chilling novel that brings you right back to all of your childhood fears. Seventeen years old Kate has recently been forced into independence as the weight of her father’s disappearance leads to her mother being taken to a psychiatric unit- but no one in Bailey seems to mind the minor living by the waters edge alone. Helped by her best friend Gabe, and the newcomer to their triangle, Josh, they have each lost someone to the fast running, murky waters, and as more strange things begin to happen, maybe its time that they did something about it. But as the ghosts of Bailey stir, so to do new and confusing feelings in the trio.

The strengths of Tina’s writing come in her assault of the senses. Maybe it’s because I can’t swim, but there were so many instances where I felt breathless and as though I was the one drowning. There is an uncomfortable feeling of suffocation and drowning throughout, the taste and smell of the water never fully leaving your mind when the pages are closed, and  the eerie two-faced town of Bailey gives that sense of the uncanny with secrets clear in the light of day that the townsfolk just don’t want to see.

The only drawback, I feel, is that you want to know more about characters like the Doctor and Adam, you get a sense of their characters but you want to know more about their lives and what has taken them to the point at which they fade to the darker side. And even Kate’s mother, it would have been interesting to get her side of her family story.

I would recommend this novel for any Stephen King fan, any fan of other worldly fiction, and readers of all ages really. You don’t have to be a teenager to love this one. And if you want to check out the myth that started it all, click here.

Tina Callaghan released Dark Wood Dark Water as part of a three book deal with Poolbeg Press, so follow her and them for more delicious darkness in the future @TinaACallaghan and @Poolbegbooks

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Tina was kind enough to answer some of my long winded questions and here are her very informative answers!

  1. What would you say Dark Wood Dark Water is really about under the surface? DWDW is about friendship, love, and making a stand against evil, all of which are important to me. I think that a lot of novels have these principles at their heart, because they matter to most people and, I think, comprise the big values in life that link us all.
  2. What was the first character/image/scene that sparked the idea for DWDW? I have lived near the river Barrow most of my life and spent many hours of my teens on it with my Dad in a series of little boats. The river was cursed by corrupt monks in the 13th century and I seem to have known that story forever. When I first committed to writing a novel, it was natural to me that the river would feature heavily. Everything started from that point.
  3. What was the hardest scene to write? That’s a hard question! Sometimes it’s difficult to figure out what happens next, but once I figure it out, the writing is easy. In fact, I can’t recall any of them being hard to write, because once I know how the scene should feel and look, I just write it. I think this is because I become immersed in the story until the writing is almost like transcribing dictation and the scene comes out the way it must. I did cry for a character at a certain point. Readers might like to guess who the tears were for!
  4. How long did it take to write DWDW from first inception to final edit? The first draft took 12 weeks, but it took years to get published! If I don’t count the tricky not-being-published bit in the middle, I got a book deal on the 23rd January 2018 and the book was released on 1st September 2018, with several rounds of editing in those few months.
  5. Was it difficult to find a home for your dark fiction novel? Not really. It is just difficult to find a home for any novel. In most cases, the search for a publisher is a marathon, not a sprint. Writers are creative people but it helps to remember that the publishing industry is an industry. Publishers and agents receive a tremendous number of manuscripts so a writer has to be professional in their approach and work hard to make their book shine.
  6. Are you working on anything now? If so, it is similar to DWDW? I’m writing my second novel now and expect to finish it before too much longer. It will be published in 2019 (date to be confirmed). I can’t say anything about it, except that it will also be a YA supernatural thriller. I’m excited about it! Watch this space!
  7. What was the best piece of advice you got while writing DWDW? Every time I got stuck and didn’t know what came next, I was told to sit down with pen and paper (I write directly onto the laptop normally) and figure out what came next. That works for me, so now I know to tell myself to do it.
  8. What will you do differently when working on your next project? Have faith in my process. Know how to get past being stuck!
  9. After publishing your book, has your writing process changed? No. I tell beginning writers to write the story of their heart. That’s what I do and what I will always do. I believe in the magic of story and the craft of writing. The only difference between the first and second novels is that I’m writing to a deadline now. I find it concentrates the mind wonderfully!
  10. What advice do you have for any aspiring writers who would like to see their own book published? This needs bullet points!*DO call yourself a writer. You may aspire to be published, but if you’re writing, you are a writer. Don’t be afraid to name it. *DO write every day. Every day. The habit is what creates inspiration. Nothing might come at first, but it will. * DON’T worry about your writing not being as good as that brilliant book you just read. That brilliant book started out as a rubbish first draft and was polished by the writer and then an editor before it saw publication. At the start, don’t get it right, get it written. *DON’T think about what your friends and family will say. Even if there are bits that you don’t want them to read now, forget about it. If it’s important to the story, write it. It won’t matter later; they’ll just be proud of you. *Remember, no one is looking at you or your story. It is totally private. You can write anything you like. This is yours and yours alone. How wonderful is that?! Later others will read it. That’s for later. Enjoy the hell out of writing it now. The rest will follow. * Write the story of your heart.
  11. Bonus question!Other than DWDW, what dark fiction/supernatural/thriller novel would you recommend to readers?I have always loved Stephen King. I love the fact that his novels are about ordinary people experiencing extraordinary things. I particularly love IT, The Dead Zone, Bag of Bones, Lisey’s Story, Duma Key, The Stand, Salem’s Lot…I also recommend the following writers…John Ajvide Lindqvist – Let the Right One In, Harbour

    Thomas Olde Heuveldt – Hex

    Jack Finney – especially for his wonderful time travel book Time and Again

    Richard Matheson – anything of his but especially I Am Legend which is very different from the movie with Will Smith, and is a beautiful story about loneliness and isolation. With vampires.

    My new book, which may or may not be called The Witch of November

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Dark Wood Dark Water is available from all good bookstores including Eason, WH Smith, Amazon and Poolbeg Books.

If you would like me to review your ‘dark fiction’ book contact me on Twitter @gloralot

Dead Steam by Bryce Raffle Cover Reveal and Competition!

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I’m happy to announce the cove reveal for this great new Indie Steampunk Horror ‘Dead Steam’! If you like the cover then you’re sure to love the trailer too – and there’s even an extract to read as well! For a chance to win a free copy of ‘Dead Steam’, make sure you enter the giveaway at the bottom! 

Dead Steam: A Chilling Collection of Dreadpunk Tales of the Dark and Supernatural 

Expected Publication Date: October 1st, 2018 

Genre: Anthology/ Dreadpunk/ Dark Steampunk/ Horror 

Reader beware: to open this tome is to invite dread into your heart. Every page you turn will bring you closer to something wicked. And when the dead begin to rise from the steaming pits of hell, only then will you discover that it is already too late. Your life is forfeit. 

 

Featuring an introduction by Leanna Renee Hieber, author of the Eterna Files and Strangely Beautiful saga, DeadSteam plays host to the scintillating writing of David Lee Summers (Owl Dance, The Brazen Shark), Jen Ponce (The Bazaar, Demon’s Cradle), Wendy Nikel (The Continuum), Karen J Carlisle (The Adventures of Viola Stewart), Jonah Buck (Carrion Safari), and more… 

 

With seventeen chilling tales of Dreadpunk, Gaslamp, and Dark Steampunk, DeadSteam will leave you tearing at the pages, desperate for more. For within these pages, the dead rise from their graves to haunt the London Underground, witches whisper their incantations to the wind, a sisterhood of bitten necks hunts fog-drenched alleyways lit only by gaslight, and only one thing is certain: that dread will follow you until you turn that final page. 

 

And that sinking feeling in the pit of your chest? That fear that something is following you, watching you, hunting you? It is not for nothing. Look over your shoulder, dear reader. Watch behind you. Listen to the whispers in the darkness. 

 

But know this…it is all inevitable. 

Goodreads 

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/40751298-deadsteam 

 

 

Purchase Links: 

 

Amazon Hardcoverhttps://www.amazon.com/dp/0995276765 

 

Amazon Paperback & Kindlehttps://www.amazon.com/dp/B07GFV5X49 

 

Barnes & Noble Paperback & Nookhttps://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/deadsteam-bryce-raffle/1128997727 

 

Barnes & Noble Hardcoverhttps://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/deadsteam-bryce-raffle/1129305698 

 

Kobohttps://www.kobo.com/ca/en/ebook/deadsteam 

 

Booktopiahttps://www.booktopia.com.au/deadsteam-bryce-raffle/prod9780995276741.html 

 

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VaK6P5_z35I&feature=youtu.be 

 

Excerpt 

Burke Street Station 

 

The city was frost and fog. Icy crystals formed on the windows of the train station. Breath drifted up in a hazy clouds like puffs of  

smoke as Theodore tried to warm his hands, blowing hot breath onto his stiff, cold fingers and rubbing his hands together vigorously. When that failed, he thrust them back into his coat pockets, cursing under his breath. His threadbare coat offered little warmth. Drafts of wind found their way through the broken stitching and the tears in his sleeves like rats scrambling through the cracks in the station walls. A discarded page of newsprint, caught in the rushing wind, tumbled and turned in the air and landed, crumpled and torn, at Theodore’s feet. 

 

He stooped over, picked it up, and glanced at the engraving of a wanted man. Even without a skill for reading, he knew what name was printed beneath the picture of masked man on the page. Anthony Tidkins. 

 

Wanted, he read. That was one word Theodore recognized. Crimes was another, and then, finally…murder. 

 

Rubbish. The newspapers always tried to make villains out of the radical thinkers of the world. The Resurrectionists, who named their organization after the sack-em-up men who provided the anatomists with subjects for their scientific endeavors, were scientists. They had provided the world with aether, revolutionizing air travel. They had brought Prince Charles back from the brink of death. They had devised the engines for the London Underground. Anthony Tidkins himself promised to cure death. Yet the newspaper men still called for his blood. Theodore balled up the page and shoved it in his pocket. 

 

He pulled out his trick coin as he approached the gate. The station master was asleep at his booth, a little dribble of spit running down his chin. Typical. Thoedore stuck his coin in the machine, waited for the gate to open, and then, with a light tug on the fishing line threaded through a little hole in the tip of the coin, it popped back out. Easy. He was in before anybody noticed what he had done. He pocketed the coin and started down the hallway. 

 

Tap-tap, clack, tap-tap, clack, his shoes beat a rhythm on the stone steps. The sole of his left shoe was beginning to wear, and the heel of his shoe tapped against the heel of his foot as he walked. He puffed on his hands again, and peeked over his shoulder. No one was after him. He had done this trick a thousand times before. So why did he feel like there was someone watching him? 

 

Clack, tap-tap, clack. Again, he glanced over his shoulder. The odd double-rhythm of his broken shoe was suddenly unnerving in the deserted station. Where were all the other passengers? Nice folks avoided this place like the plague, especially after midnight. The oil lamps that lit Burke Street Station were so routinely out of oil that he could hardly find his own feet in front of him, but still, Theodore expected to see other passengers. But where were the other vagrants? They should be sleeping in the dark corners of the hallway under blankets made of rags. And the boys from the blacking factory should be heading home from their long shifts, fingers stained black with powders and oil. But there was no one. Only the rats skittering through rat tunnels to keep him company. 

 

Tap-tap, clack, tap-tap, clack. 

 

Another set of footsteps began to follow his own, beating out a different rhythm. A steady tap, tap, tap, tap. He paused to listen, and nothing but silence greeted him. He glanced over his shoulder. Nobody there.  

 

He continued onward, and again, a second set of footsteps started up behind him. He paused to listen. This time, they didn’t stop. 

 

Tap, tap, tap, tap. 

 

Whoever it was, they were getting closer. Closer and closer, louder and louder, tapping out a steady rhythm as they approached down the long, dark hallway. He could almost make out the solitary figure in the gloomy, hazy light, but then the fog grew thicker, and whatever he thought he’d seen was gone. The footsteps kept on getting louder, though, and closer. He turned and ran down the hallway. 

 

A long flight of steps delved deeper into the darkness of Burke Street Station, down, down toward the platform. The train was already rumbling, announcing its approach. It vibrated through Theodore’s toes to the tip of his spine, rattling his bones. 

 

He grabbed the railing all but flew down the staircase. The rumble of the train grew louder and clearer. 

 

“Shit,” Theodore cursed. Taking the steps two at a time, he hurtled down the steps and didn’t stop when he reached the bottom. 

Nails on a blackboard. The tines of silverware scraping against a ceramic plate. The screaming madmen at Newgate Asylum. The anguished cry of a mother weeping over her stillborn babe. Theodore had heard these sounds all, but not one compared to the shrill screech of an automatic train rolling into Burke Street. Iron wheels grinding against iron tracks. Hot metal sending up sparks, belching out steam as black as sin. The carriages rattling and clanging against one another. The hiss of hot coal burning in the engines. The shriek of brakes as the train ground to a halt. If it went on long enough, it would surely drive a man mad. Theodore covered his ears with his hands, pressing them against his head to muffle out the deafening noise, and waited for the thundering train to come to a halt. 

When it did, he realized it must have drowned out the sound of the steadily approaching footsteps he’d heard in the hallway, because he could hear them again, and they were closer. So close he half expected to feel someone’s hot breath on his neck. He whirled around, but there was no one there. Silence greeted him like an old friend. His heart hammered against his chest. 

“There’s no one there,” he muttered to himself. But he didn’t sound convinced. 

A smell lingered in the air, as if something foul had passed through. The smell was familiar enough, the breath of a man with rotting teeth. It was a foul, cloying stench. He spun around again, and this time found himself face to face with the man to whom those dreaded footsteps belonged. 

Only he wasn’t a man. Not really. 

 

 

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Bryce Raffle writes steampunk, horror, and fantasy. He was the lead writer for Ironclad Games’ multiplayer online game Sins of A Dark Age and is the founder of Grimmer & Grimmer Books. His short stories have appeared in numerous anthologies, including Hideous Progeny: Classic Horror Goes Punk, Denizens of Steam and Den of Antiquity. His short story, The Complications of Avery Vane, was awarded Best Steampunk Short in the Preditors and Editors Reader’s Poll in 2016. He lives in beautiful Vancouver, Canada, where he works in the film industry. 

 

Author Links: 

Twitter @bryceraffle 

Facebook: facebook.com/bryceraffle 

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/bryceraffle/ 

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/14585685.Bryce_Raffle 

Website: http://www.bryceraffle.com 

 

Giveaway Details: 

Bryce is giving away a digital copy of Dead Steam to one lucky winner. The giveaway will run from Sept. 17th to Sept. 20th so make sure you enter! 

Link: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/0e7c6a8f45/? 

Embed: 

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Book Trailer Reveal Organized By: 

R&R Book Tours 

http://www.rrbooktours.com 

Welcome to My Little Dark Corner

 

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Portrait commissioned from @Squeefox

So, I’ve started a blog. What now?

This blog will encompass everything I can’t do in my ever changing day job. I’m a writer myself and a voracious reader but that doesn’t make me unique, certainly not in Ireland, but what I can do is bring a spotlight to the ‘dark corner’ of writing that I think is often over looked and is one of my passions – HORROR! But I won’t solely be focusing on horror, though I would like this to be a platform to promote new horror and my own stories,  this blog will also be a place where I can share my views on the Irish Writing scene: the book launches, the events, the venues, promoters and writers involved. And it will also document my journey as I work towards becoming a published writer (I’m working on it, really hard, believe me). Here, you can find book reviews, book launch reviews, literary events and competitions I take part in myself, and perhaps even a few short horror/thriller story that feel might fit the theme here. The sky is the limit!

I’m working on the next ‘hot take’ in writing, but in the mean time, if you have any topics you think I should cover or if you have a traditionally published, or indie horror/thriller/speculative/dark fiction – basically anything that isn’t all sunshine and roses, and you would like me to review it for you, please get in touch! I always need knew things to read!