A few years back I wrote an article for Writer’s Digest detailing my thoughts on the future of genre fiction: Cross Pollination: The Future is Genre-Blending. Having reviewed various genre fiction categories for the last two decades, I saw—and continue to see—this evolution firsthand. Simply put, the once rigid boundaries between genres has been slowly blurring into nonexistence. While sales of conventional romance, fantasy, mystery, science fiction, and horror releases remain consistent, genre-blending releases are increasingly occupying spots on bestseller lists.
I remember back in the ‘80s, when Stephen King began releasing his Dark Tower novels. Although readers loved The Gunslinger—sales were phenomenal—booksellers had no idea where to shelf the novel that blended together elements of dark fantasy, Western, science fiction, and horror.
Fast forward a few decades. These kinds of reads are everywhere. I would guess that almost half of the genre fiction titles I review for PW, Kirkus, and BlueInk are genre-hybridized in some way. Fantasy novels that feature a hard-boiled mystery element. Science fiction novels powered by a romantic thread. Mainstream thrillers that slip into horror. Justin Cronin’s bestselling (and shelf-bending) Passage trilogy is a perfect example—a sprawling post-apocalyptic epic that is also equal parts horror, science fiction, vampire fiction, and travelogue. I interviewed Cronin for Goodreads back in 2016 and described the trilogy as “T.S. Elliot’s The Waste Land wrapped in Bram Stoker’s Dracula inside Homer’s The Odyssey.” (In the interview, Cronin talks quite eloquently about why he wanted to write a genre-hybridized story, for those interested.)
So, why are these genre-hybridized novels so insanely popular? And why I am suggesting that you consider writing one? Here are a few things to think about:
1. A potentially larger audience. Kat Richardson’s commercially successful Greywalker saga, for example, was a seamless blend of paranormal fantasy and Raymond Chandleresque detective fiction. The novels appealed to both paranormal fantasy and mystery fans, which effectively doubled Richardson’s potential readership.
2. Limitless potential for storylines. Readers don’t like to be bored with the same predictable, formulaic narratives. As a reviewer, I’m frequently disappointed by novels where, after a few chapters, I can accurately guess the story’s ultimate outcome. By blending together seemingly disparate genre elements—like zombie horror and erotic fiction in the anthology Rigor Amortis, for example—writers can “wow” readers with new and innovative storylines. When I begin reading a novel that I know will be utilizing a diversity of genre elements, I immediately get excited because I have no idea what I’m about to experience. That sense of unpredictability is absolutely wonderful—especially for a reviewer who has read it all.
3. High risk/high reward. Finding an audience for a genre-hybridized novel can be difficult, particularly if you’re a new writer with a small following. The concept “familiar but unique” could be put to the test here. But while some readers are hesitant to try new things and stick religiously to what they like to read, there is most definitely an audience that regularly seeks out these genre-blending and genre-transcendent reads. The reward for having the creative courage to write something new can pay huge dividends. When Diana Gabaldon published Outlander back in 1991, she not only ended up selling tens of millions of copies of her historical romance and science fiction blending series, she created a tidal wave of other authors penning comparable time travel/romance novels.
4. It’s a win/win. Writers get to unleash their creativity—genre conventions don’t necessarily apply when mixing together genre elements and since so many concepts are at play, the narrative sandbox writers can frolic in is huge! Romance-powered storylines, cosmic horror, sentient alien races, talking dragons, serial killers, ghosts, grand-scale conspiracies…. the list is endless! The result of this is that readers get fresh and unpredictable storylines. There’s nothing better—at least in my job as a reviewer—than reading a book that truly surprises me, a book that I literally can’t compare to anything else I’ve ever read.
For those of you who have not experienced a stellar genre-hybridized read, the list below features some excellent genre-blending indie releases. Enjoy!
- Opposable: The Halteres Chronicles, Book One by Kirk E. Hammond
Equal parts drug and alcohol-fueled road novel, bizarro science fiction, and apocalyptic thriller, Kirk E. Hammond’s first installment of his Halteres Chronicles follows a misfit group—including a writer whose ideas may be thought spores from an omniscient alien fungus, a telepathic cat with bionic hands, and a sexy assassin—as they try to stop an alien invasion and save the world.
- Sequela by Cleland Smith
Simultaneously a futuristic corporate thriller, a powerful cautionary tale, and a disturbingly plausible and provocative glimpse into humankind’s future, Smith’s debut is unarguably a science fiction masterwork.
- The Nosferatu Conspiracy Book One: The Sleepwalker by Brian James Gage
The first installment of Brian James Gage’s Nosferatu Conspiracy saga is a deliciously dark blend of occult fantasy, alternate history, and apocalyptic fiction that will have readers furiously turning pages until the end.
- The Soul Mender By R. S. Dabney
An utterly readable fusion of speculative fiction, mystery, Biblical myth, and mainstream thriller, Dabney’s debut novel—the first installment in her Soul Mender trilogy—follows a recent college graduate named Riley Dale as she struggles to come to grips with the mind-blowing realization that in a parallel universe there exists a world where everything has an opposite: including herself!
- The Phantom of Witch’s Tree by Mark Lunde
An unapologetically raunchy Western with subtle fantasy elements, Mark Lunde’s stellar debut novel, The Phantom of Witch’s Tree, is set in 1912—the last days of the Wild West—and follows one man’s redemptive journey from wastrel to legend.
Paul Goat Allen has been reviewing books for more than 25 years. In addition to BlueInk Review, his work has appeared with BarnesandNoble.com, The Chicago Tribune, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and more. He also teaches in Seton Hill University’s Writing Popular Fiction graduate writing program. Readers of this blog are offered a $50 discount on a BlueInk review by using the “key code” Allen. (This in no way guarantees a review by Allen.)