For the next few weeks, Wednesdays will be focused on the lead-up to the full release of my latest book, The Songstress Murders, which you can pre-order from Amazon at THIS LINK. So, without further ado, let’s get into The World Of The Songstress Murders!
Genre fusion is something that is pretty old-hat by now. It’s like chocolate and peanut butter; mixing the right taste combinations creates something greater than the individual ingredients. It’s at the very core of cooking, be it for food or for new literary cuisine. The Songstress Murders is no different.
But as with most elements of writing, genres and their fusions have to be handled properly. Each genre brings with it certain core elements and genre conventions, as well as certain preconceptions brought to the tale by the reader herself. To write a genre tale well involves understanding these themes and elements, as well as how to both cater to and play with the reader’s expectations. One must balance both embracing the genre and creating a unique and interesting interpretation of said genre. Rehashing the same formula, even if it is a tried-and-true formula, gets tiresome for readers after a while.
This understanding and use of genre gets more complex as you begin to mix and match those genres in one work. I’m of the opinion that almost any genre can be fused with just about any other genre with the right work and care, but that doesn’t mean it is an easy thing. Some genre elements do not play nicely with each other and what a reader expects from one genre may be diametrically opposed to their expectations from another genre you’ve fused the first with. How you deal with these problems, what genre conventions you embrace and subvert, will play a big factor in how good your book comes out being.
For The Songstress Murders, I wound up going deep into the fusion stew. Originally, I intended the story to be something purer, starting with a murder mystery set in a future sci-fi/cyberpunk world. I wanted to mix my love for film noir and the classic hard-boiled detective tale, like The Maltese Falcon, with the technology and societal implications explored in some cyberpunk tales. One particular wrinkle I wanted to focus on was the classic idea of the ‘spirit in the machine’ … could a particularly advanced artificial intelligence be truly alive, to have a soul? Along with that, I got the idea of adding an element drawn from the Japanese ‘virtual idol’ and the holographic performers we have seen recently.
It wasn’t hard to balance the genre conventions of a hard-boiled mystery with cyberpunk. Both have a hard edge to them, with crime, falls from grace, femme fatales, and other common elements. While film noir tends to focus on the humanity and the slipping morals of its protagonists, it could still easily be woven into the ideas of exploring the humanity of machines as well. However, I wasn’t completely satisfied. I felt there was more I would work with, so I put the nascent idea back on to cook some more.
My first breakthrough was to introduce a stronger romantic element to the tale. While romance and love affairs aren’t too uncommon in a hard-boiled detective tale, even if they rarely turn out well, it’s a rarer element in cyberpunk. Still, I saw it as a way to further explore the ‘AI humanity’ angle, by exploring concepts of love in between man and machine. As cyberpunk tales often have elements of strong, even extreme, self-expression, I felt I could make some of the more outrageous romantic tropes and concepts work through that lens.
What was starting to concern me was how the concepts as they were coming together in my head were edging further and further into what could be called science fantasy. You see, I greatly respect writers of hard sci-fi (something many cyberpunk tales try to embrace with their near-future settings), but I really suck at it myself. My ideas tend to get too grandiose too quickly, outracing my ability to find hard science to back up what I want to accomplish. That’s when the final piece of the puzzle hit me: if I couldn’t quite match the level of hard sci-fi I felt was needed for a purely cyberpunk setting, I could simply flip the script, so to speak, and go straight past science fantasy to actual, honest-to-God fantasy.
That’s where things got the most complicated when it came to the fusion. It’s no surprise, really, as so far everything in the setting had been focused to contemporary and near-future ideas. It took careful work and transition, finding ways to convert ideas of the cyberpunk and hard-boiled mystery genres to the fantasy setting. Romance, well, that wasn’t too hard to work with, as romance is something that is pretty universal to all times and genres.
The hard-boiled detective had to transition to a member of the City Watch. A.I.’s and robots turn into golems. The idea of the ‘virtual idol’ became a golem bard. Also, there were elements I had to wholly discard. While there is a nod to the cybernetics in cyberpunk with the idea of ‘golem limbs’, it is more of a nod as opposed to a major element. Instead of an independent private detective, I felt that it wouldn’t work as well in the fantasy setting as an actual established member of law enforcement. There’s plenty more, as well as trying to balance the darker tones prevalent in hard-boiled and cyberpunk tales with the more up-beat tone of romance and epic fantasy. I like to think, with the help of my beta readers, that I hit the mark on this one.
I know this was long, but I hope it helps when you decide to mix genres in your writing. Find the complementary genre tropes and merge them together, watch out for things that contradict themselves to properly cull them down, and to find new ways to reinvent one genre’s elements into the new fused setting.
Until next time, good reading, good writing, and good luck!