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What Got You Started?


What got you started?

That’s a question I often see posted on Twitter’s #writingcommunity feed. It’s usually something along the lines of, “what was the book/movie in your genre that got you hooked?”

I never answer these questions because frankly, I don’t know. Or, more accurately, I don’t remember.

What I do remember is reading everything I could get my hands on, whatever it was. Except children’s and what we call today middle-grade books. Too boring. Yet there was one collection we had, a set called The Children’s Hour, or something like that. They weren’t really children’s books. They were written so children could understand the text, but they weren’t children’s stories. That was fine by me.

Steamy thrillers aren’t for kids. Unless they are.

At any rate, I read every genre that was available to me. One book I recall pretty clearly is “Never Love a Stranger.” I guess I was about 7. It was a steamy thriller–or, what passed for steamy in those days. I found it sitting on an end table or something in the living room and picked it up. Hey, I said anything I could get my hands on, didn’t I?

As I said, I read everything. Mysteries, thrillers, science fiction, fantasy, horror. Not romance, though. In those days, romance meant Barbara Cartland. Bodice rippers, they were called. I call them rape fantasies. I tried reading one when I was 10 or so, and put it down because I thought it stupid. Kinda funny that my stories often involve romance, isn’t it? Who woulda thunk it?

I think the first science fiction author I read was Ray Bradbury. A collection of shorts. That led me to Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein. But at the same time, I was into Agatha Christie. And horror, in the form of legends and ghosts. I especially liked ghost stories about real places. Massachusetts. New York. Washington, D.C. Have to say, D.C. is one spooked-out joint. I loved reading about the legends of Indigenous peoples. The Manitou. I don’t remember being much into fantasy. That came later.

Every book was an influence.

None of this includes, of course, what I call the “practical books.” Like, How Things Work. Rockets, everything mechanical. Loved that one.

Wasn’t into television because I never got to watch what I wanted to watch. The sibling who had control of the television was much bigger than me, and what she wanted to watch, that’s what got watched. So I went to my room and read. Except for four shows: Alfred Hitchcock, The Twilight Zone, Time Tunnel, and The Outer Limits. The problem with those though, was that they came on at or after my bedtime. My parents might let me stay up for an extra 10 minutes, but that was it.

Movies? No. Really, there weren’t many “children’s” movies back then. There were movies children could watch because there was nothing the censors could object to, like Sound of Music, but that film dealt with themes I wouldn’t exactly say were meant for children. Not like Ice Age, or Shrek. And then there were those movies that wouldn’t raise an eyebrow today, like The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1966) (one scene with a teen-aged girl’s exposed breasts) and Rocky Horror (’nuff said) (1975), both of which were rated X. Finally, my parents didn’t take us to movies. I remember Dark Shadows at the drive-in, and I think there were a few others.

When Star Wars was released, I was headed for college. It didn’t have as great an impact on me as it would have if I was 11 or 12. Or 10.

Mixed genre is a genre.

I suppose all this is to say that I was never hooked on any one genre, but all of them. And I suppose that’s why I write what I write. The trick is to make that stew of genres work. When it’s good, it’s very good, but when it’s bad, man, does it stink! Beyond that, maybe that’s how I can conceive of mixed genre tales. All those genres are in my head simultaneously, and I just figure out how to stitch them together.

Honestly, I don’t think I could ever stick to one genre. Some might say it amounts to being a jack-of-all-trades, master of none. Far as I know, there’s no rule that says genre fiction has to fall within just one genre. And if there is…

Rules are made to be broken.


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