where the writers are
Stepping out of my genre

Not long ago my agent presented me with a challenge I wasn’t sure I could accept. Parties I cannot name here decided to assemble an anthology to commemorate the 50th anniversary of The Twilight Zone TV show. She said they wanted to get this thing into bookstores in a hurry, and asked if I would submit a story.

Well, I write mystery novels and action thrillers but I wasn’t too sure I had anything for this genre. I wasn’t even sure what this genre was. The Twilight Zone was an anthology show of sorts, presenting 30 minute suspense-filled dramas that often defied classification. On a Venn diagram, the show sat in the intersecting space between fantasy, science fiction and O. Henry. The stories could be tragic to the comedic, scary or just thought-provoking. In a sense, “Twilight Zone” is its own genre of short stories from, as creator Rod Serling used to say, another dimension.

Whatever you called them, they were not adventure stories. They were not mysteries. Could I write one?

Ultimately I decided to try it, for two reasons. First, my ego would not let me admit that there was anything I couldn’t write. I’ve expressed the opinion from time to time that all fiction is mystery fiction. The mystery might be: will the guy get the girl (romance), how do we destroy this creature (horror), what’s out there beyond the stars (sci-fi) or how would life be different if sorcerers or flying horses wandered the earth (fantasy.) No story is worth reading without an element of suspense and a problem for the protagonist to solve. This challenge was a chance to put my money where my mouth is.

Second, any appearance in an anthology was a chance to promote my series character, Hannibal Jones. This would be a great way to introduce Hannibal to a broad new audience. With any luck I’d be shoulder-to-shoulder with some bigger, better-known authors too. To I had a couple of good “why”s. But what to write?

After some thought I realized I did have something to say about Hannibal Jones and his world that simply wouldn’t fit into one of his novels. Hannibal has a spiritual, metaphysical connection to his neighborhood. If I embodied that connection I could step outside the boundaries of his normal genre.

Thought soon became deed and I’ve submitted a 4,000 word mystery/fantasy called “Under the Hood” that takes my familiar detective into that other dimension. I think maybe Rod would have liked the story. Let’s hope the anthology editors do.