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July 26, 2006

Installment #17: Of Nalo Hopkinson, Readers' Perception, and "It Ain't Necessarily So." 

My wife Lucy and I are lucky in that we can call award-winning writer Nalo Hopkinson our friend. Nalo, in case you're not familiar with her work, has been nominated for the Nebula, the Hugo, the Locus Award, and the World Fantasy Award. In 1999, she won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. She's one helluva story-teller, and a damned nice (not to mention smart, compassionate, and sexy) person.

She has told me on more than one occasion that, based on what she's read about my work, it sounds fascinating to her, and she wishes she could read some of it ... but she avoids reading horror because she finds it too disturbing. (Which I can understand, but in Nalo's case this statement creates something of a mystifying contradiction: if you have a chance to read her amazing short story collection Skin Folk, you're going to encounter a quartet of horror stories that are out-and-out screamers; one of which, "Snake", will sear its way into your nightmares for a very long time. But I digress.)

Nalo is not the first person to tell me or Lucy that they've not read my work because they find horror too disturbing. It occurred to me -- Mensa material that I am -- that the reason for this is simple: I am so closely associated with horror (I'm the freakin' president of the Horror Writers' Association, fer chrissakes!...at least for a few more months) that many people automatically assume that everything I write is horrific.

To quote the great song from Porgy and Bess: "It ain't necessarily so."

Sometimes readers' (or, in this case, potential readers') perception of your work can work against you. I have written in the fields of mystery, fantasy science fiction, science fantasy, western, romance, so-called "literary", mainstream, and even -- if I understand the definition correctly -- slipstream.

So I have decided -- as a courtesy to those of you who have avoided reading my work because you share Nalo's concerns (and in a blatant attempt to garner more readers, being a needy sort) -- to offer here a list of my works that are most definitely not horror. Sure, some of the stories that follow are dark, and may not deal with the cheeriest of subject matter, but none of them are, in my opinion, horror in either the traditional sense or the popular perception of what constitutes the field. I'm going to start by listing and briefly discussing a half-dozen of non-horror stories, and then follow with a complete list of my non-horror stories.

1) "I Never Spent the Money": This is as straightforward a mainstrem story as I've ever written, a simple tale of two men who strike up a conversation in a bar. One is on the road because he's depressed that his divorce is about to become final in a few days; the other -- a much older man -- has just walked out of a nursing home and is readying himself to go across the street and rob the bank located there. It's a story about shattered hopes, wistfulness, and, ultimately, self-redemption. It has appeared on this web site, as well as in my collection Things left Behind and Graveyard People: The Collected Cedar Hill Stories, Volume 1. (Parenthetical pause: to save time and column space, you need only pop over to my Bibliography section to track down the stories and where they've appeared.)

2) "Aisle of Plenty": Another mainstream piece, this one my contribution to the series of post-9/11 fiction that, for a while (understandably so) almost became a genre unto itself. This one concerns itself, on the surface, anyway, with a series of near-tragic events that befall a Pakistani man (who's recently become an official US citizen) when he goes to a department store to buy a gift for some family members. Mistaken for an Iranian, an Iraqi, and a Saudi by the various customers and employees of the store, his simple, thoughtful errand quickly turns into a nightmare of prejudice and mistaken identity.

3) "At Eternity's Gate": A fantasy tale that concerns itself with a young woman, an artist who's dying in hospice, and her encounters during her seizures with Vincent Van Gogh, who is attempting to complete an unfinished painting through her.

4) "One Brown Mouse": The only outright science-fantasy story I've ever written, this one concerning a widower's discovery that the death of his wife was a "quantum accident" that various beings -- some of the extraterrestrial -- are trying to correct. I walked on air for a week when Ellen Datlow, in that year's edition of The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, called it "...a remarkable story...".

5) "Danaid Night": A short-short that was written as an anniversary gift for a couple of friends. A semi-surreal piece that was written as my nod to Borges. It is also the most unapologetically romantic story I've ever written.

6) "Matthew in the Morning": A sort-of mystery story set during the battle of Cold Harbor during the Civil War, a study of how war can corrupt even the best and most innocent of souls, yet have a certain sort of dignity and glory emerge. One of my personal favorite non-horror stories.

Now, here's the list -- a bit long -- of all my non-horror stories, including the genres in which they can be classified (and remembers, go to my Bibliography section to track down where these pieces have appeared):

"After the Elepant Ballet" (Fantasy)
"Adhumbia" (Mystery/Suspense)
"Afterthoughts" (Fantasy)
"A Leg Up, or The Constant Tin Soldier (Gonzo Version)" (Fantasy, and a shameless tribute to William Goldman's The Princess Bride)
"All the Unlived Moments" (Science Fiction)
"The Ballad of the Side-Street Wizard" (Fantasy)
"Bright Be the Face" (Fantasy or Slipstream, depending on how you define the latter)
"Captain Jim's Drunken Dream" (Fantasy -- and, yes, I stole the title from the great James Taylor song)
"The Cat's-Paw Affair" (Mystery)
"Consolation Prize" (Fantasy)
"The Envelopes, Please" (Mystery)
"Fisherman's Delight" (Fantasy)
"From Among the Stars" (Fantasy)
The Hand Which Graces" (Fantasy, inspired by the work of Rod Serling)
"In the Direction of Summers Coming" (Fantasy or Slipstream)
"In the Lowlands" (Mystery -- my personal favorite of all my Cat Crimes stories)
"I Suppose This Makes Me Sancho" (Mystery)
"Just Like Mom Used to Make" (Mystery)
"Kite People" (Slipstream)
"Mail-Order Annie" (Western, the title taken from a Harry Chapin song)
News From the Long Mountains" (Fantasy)
"Palimpsest Day" (Science Fiction)
"Point of Contraction" (Science Fiction)
"The Rabbit Within" (Fantasy -- another personal favorite of mine)
"Rami Temporalis" (Fantasy/Fabulist)
"Redemption, Inc." (Fantasy)
Resurrection Joe" (Mystery/Suspense)
"Rights of Memory" (Fantasy)
"Silver Thread, Hammer Ring" (Slipstream)
"Small Song" (Fantasy/Slipstream...I've never really been able to nail down where this one belongs)
"A Song for No One's Mourning" (Fantasy)
"That, and the Rain" (Fantasy)

... I'm sure I'm overlooking a few stories, but for those of you who've been hesitant to read my work because you're adverse to horror, I think the above-listed tales will have something that will appeal to you.

I don't read in any single genre, nor do I write in any single genre; nothing worthwhile can be created in a vacuum, regardless of what field in which you toil.

So while I will always be proud to be thought of as a horror writer, I think it important for potential readers to know there's more to my work than a single genre label.

I hope you find something on that list to enjoy.

And thanks for giving my work a chance, Nalo.



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