People ask me what I write. I have to say something, so I tell people I write detective fiction. This means very little. Detective fiction is most fiction; it covers everything from Genesis (who killed Abel?) to CRIME & PUNISHMENT (go Detective Porfiry!) to that fat paperback you picked up at the airport. But it still means something: genre is a joyous and beautiful set of rules, boundaries, formulas, and tropes. Everyone knows a murder mystery will be solved. Everyone knows the prime suspect didn't do it. A private eye with a bottle of whiskey in his hand is an image that has become a symbol: it tells a story to people. We know this man and we know his history: tough, bitter, hard-drinking, solves cases, easy prey for a certain type of woman. In this way, genre can be seen as a kind of language, and we can think of the tropes of genre as words. If you put a whiskey-drinking PI on a page with a woman in a tight red dress, you know what you're reading, and it's something like noir.
The joy in writing genre fiction is in the privilege of using this language. Once we see a scary little girl in a white dress and long hair, we all pretty much know where this story is going, and it ain't toward a happy ending. Imagine if every time you wanted to use the word "chair" you had to, instead, explain what a chair was and what it did. Genre gives us a series of building blocks to build a story without having to start from scratch every time.
If we use these building blocks exactly as they've been used before, we might end up with something smart and cool and fun, but we probably won't make anyone think twice if we give them exactly what they expect. Sometimes that's a good thing. Sometimes we need a fucking break. Sometimes we need to enter a story and know it's going to play by the rules and take us exactly where we expect -- maybe because the rest of life never seems to play by the rules, and we can never know what to expect at all.
But the other joy in writing genre fiction is taking those boundaries and formulas and tropes and fucking them all up. Language is so wonderful when we use it as expected. Maybe it's even more wonderful when we use it in unexpected ways. For example, put together the word "chair" with something you haven't seen before. Maybe "apple." Now you've got something to think about. What's an apple chair? Or is it a chair apple? Or is it a chair with an apple on top? Hey now, what if it's an apple with a tiny chair on top? And a mouse lives there? See, here we are, already thinking and creating and making something new.
The Infinite Blacktop by Sara Gran (published by Faber & Faber)
Driven off the desert road and left for dead, Claire DeWitt knows that it is someone from her past trying to kill her, she just doesn't know who. Making a break for it from the cops who arrive on the scene, she sets off in search of the truth, or whatever version of it she can find. But perhaps the biggest mystery of all lies deeper than that, somewhere out there on the ever rolling highway of life. Set between modern day Las Vegas and LA, The Infinite Blacktop sees Claire at her lowest point yet, wounded and disorientated, but just about hanging on. Too smart for her own good, too damaged to play by the rules, too crazy for most - have you got what it takes to follow the self-appointed 'best detective in the world'?
More information about the author and her books can be found on her website.