I got into a conversation on Twitter this morning with PC Bushi that grew to include several other individuals. Mr. Bushi initiated things by saying Leigh Brackett’s short story “The Woamn From Altair” demonstrated her range as a writer because it was a well-written story that wasn’t an adventure story. I agreed. (If you’re interested, my review from a couple of years ago is here.)
Early in the course of the conversation, he linked to a post he had written about Jack Vance and Andre Norton, discussing their versatility as writers. He says some good stuff, and you should check it out.
The conversation moved onto to all the genres Brackett wrote in. In addition to space opera and science fiction, she also wrote detective stories (which is what got her the job writing for Howard Hawks on The Big Sleep) and westerns. This discussion got me to thinking…
Specifically the following tweet got me thinking:
I think that’s one of the marks of a great writer – being able to write different kinds of stories or forms well and to blend them, as well.https://t.co/wBtxAFRx9W
— Bushi (@PCBushi) January 16, 2018
This is a true statement, and anyone who wants to write good stories should pay attention to it. While it is possible to write stories readers keep coming back to that are all in the same subgenre, it’s much more challenging to do so than writing across multiple genres.
At least I think so.
Allow me, if you will, to give some additional examples to the ones Bushi and I have listed. (Brackett, Vance, and Norton, in case you weren’t paying attention.) I don’t pretend for a moment for the following names to be a definitive list. Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments. In no particular order, my suggestions are:
Poul Anderson: One of my personal favorites, he wrote fantasy, science fiction, and mysteries. Many of Anderson’s science fiction novels are structured like mysteries. While he is best remembered for his hard science fiction, he wrote in a number of subgenres of both science fiction and mysteries.
Fredric Brown: Brown isn’t as well known today as he deserves to be. His novels Martians, Go Home and What Mad Universe are best known among his long works in the science fiction field. At short lengths, he was a master of the short-short with a twist ending. But it was in the mystery field where he really made his mark at both short and long lengths. His work is worth studying.
Robert E. Howard: He wrote fantasy, horror, historical, serious westerns, humorous westerns, and boxing stories, both funny and serious. And let’s not forget the poetry. Need I say more?
Ed Gorman: Gorman is primarily known as a crime and mystery writer. He was also accomplished in horror, fantasy, and especially westerns.
Loren D. Estleman: Estleman, like Gorman, is known for his mysteries. Unlike Gorman, he’s not written much in the way of the fantastic. If you like traditional PI stories, though, Estleman’s Amos Walker is your guy. He’s also an award winning western author. Finally, in his book Writing the Popular Novel, he says life is too short to spend it talking to people who don’t read short fiction. My kinda guy.
Louis L’Amour: Did you know he wrote adventure, detective, boxing, and historical fiction, not just westerns?
Joe R. Lansdale: Joe writes, well, Joe Lansdale stories. His work blends horror, crime, mainstream, and historical. He’s pretty unique. He’s also one of the best writers working today.
Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore: Both together and collaboratively, this husband and wife writing duo wrote science fiction, fantasy, horror, and mysteries until Kuttner’s untimely death. Together and separately they wrote some of the classics of the pulp era.
Kristine Kathryn Rusch: Kris has won multiple awards in a number of genres. She’s writes science fiction, fantasy, horror, mystery, and romance under several different names. Kris is one of my favorites, especially her science fiction.
So there’s a list of ten writers, some still active and some passed on, who I think are among the best in multiple genres. I think a lot of that is because they wrote in multiple genres. Who do you think should be added to the list?
I’ve noticed when it comes to my own writing I tend to write cross genres. I’ve got two short novels I need to polish and edit and send into the world. One is a cross between the traditional PI and science fiction. The other is a blend of fantasy and who-dun-it. I finished a story the other day that mixed hard physics with a ghost story. Does that make me a great writer? Probably not in and of itself. I do know I enjoy reading across multiple genres, and that’s what shows up in my work. And that I’m going to keep reading writers who cross genre lines.