So I've noticed an interesting trend this summer. I've been reading like a maniac as usual, and yes, still reading a lot of horror - for myself and for my continuing podcast series with Tales to Terrify, Horror 101 - but I've also been reading a TON of non-horror, literary/mainstream fiction this summer, too.
So far, I've read Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath (wonderful), several westerns (priming me for finishing Billy the Kid), of course my daily Bradbury, and I'm working on William Faulkner's short work, just started David Copperfield by Charles Dickens, and I'm in the middle of Ford County, John Grisham's first collection of short stories (really enjoying that so far). Flannery O'Conner's Everything That Rises Must Converge and Bleak House by Charles Dickens are also on the map.
But I'm not giving up writing the weird and strange and horrific, either.
So what gives?
I think it comes from something I read in Bradbury's biography right before summer. In it, he stated that he rarely - if ever - READ anything in the science fiction or the fantastic genre, hardly ever read work by his contemporaries for fear of subconsciously borrowing or stealing from or imitating their work, and that also, even as he was writing strange and fantastic stories, he really wanted to touch the human experience and condition, so he wanted to read works that did so.
And I have to say, the notion has gotten under my skin, especially because lately (Billy the Kid aside) I seem to be channeling my childhood and real-life experiences much more than ever before (whether or not that work will sell anywhere remains to be seen).
In FACT, I've had the urge - quite a bit, lately - to write childhood stories with little or no supernatural elements to them at ALL. Those stories would still take place in my mythical town of Clifton Heights, because that's very quickly becoming the stand-in for my childhood town, but lately very mainstream plot ideas and characters are surfacing FIRST, with the inclination to add in the supernatural coming later.
And I like that. A lot. Because here's the thing: I want to someday grow PAST the horror genre, and connect to mainstream readers.
Look, I'll never stop writing weird stuff. There will ALWAYS be weird little twists in my writing, if only because LIFE has weird little twists - like the 12 dead and skinned dogs my Dad found laid out neatly in a row by the railroad tracks in the woods behind my house when I was ten or so. That's MORE than a weird little twist.
But that HUMAN ELEMENT is not only something I desperately want to capture in my writing, it is - what I believe - attracts scores of non-horror fans to horror. Look at the Twilight Zone. While not strictly "horror" it was often dark and brooding and strange and surreal, and its popularity is legendary. Thousands of people profess their love for that show....thousands of NON HORROR FANS.
Which is not to say I can ever hope to be as good as TWZ. But I love this quote by TWZ writer George Clayton Johnson, (at about 3:00) about TWZ's strength:
"It's absolute realism in the strictest sense in the total realistic school of writing, no matter how fantastic the situation was, the lingo and the approach was mainstream, but then, it would have a touch of strange, it would get a twist to it."
I want to write all sorts of stories. And, hey, let's be honest: if I got a solicitation by a respected press to write a teen vampire romance or epic zombie drama tomorrow, I'd take it. Writing is writing, and I really like to write. But for my personal work, I want to get closer and closer to the above quote.
Such an approach doesn't guarantee anything. It doesn't guarantee a wider audience, it doesn't guarantee I'll ever sell anything to anyone. But lately, it seems to be much closer to what I WANT to write...of course, understanding that if I get the offer to write Gulliver Travels Through Zombieland tomorrow, I'd totally take it.
Because I do love writing, after all...