Author Shannon Muir on Writing in Multiple Genres

Shannon Muir (Guy Viau Photography)

Author and screenwriter Shannon Muir is best known for her pulp mystery suspense stories that appear in a variety of anthologies. However, she’s not one to stop there. She’s got a whole host of fantasy stories out, too. Here she is on why she doesn’t stick to one single genre (which sounds more than a little familiar to me).

In my youth, I grew up with a mother who watched soap operas, a father devoted to science fiction and fantasy, discovering a love of mysteries on my own, and in college getting an English degree emphasizing literary prose and poetry. Looking back, it doesn’t surprise me that I’ve tried writing a variety of genres trying to find my niche. Early effort strove to be of the soap-opera-in-book-form variety, but I’ve come to learn I’m my own worst enemy in that regard. One thing I really want to focus on is character psychology and why characters behave as they do. It took a while to learn that the traditional romance book, while not without complications, doesn’t really venture down these paths. This required me to take a step back and figure out what I really wanted to be writing.

I realized that what I wanted to be doing were stories that had discovery and mystery at the core, with a focus on character. Early opportunities opened up with niche genre publisher Pro Se Press, who – especially at that time – emphasized fiction written in a pulp style. For me, it became easier to write more of an action piece if I latched on to a character in a period tale; that is a big reason that my early short stories with Pro Se Press are set in 1950 or earlier. I didn’t see them as mystery or crime stories at first, but more pulp-style action stories.

Not long after that, I began to find out about a handful of female writers who wrote for Pro Se Press that also happened to be members of Sisters in Crime. That’s how I began to make the connection that I might fit into some bigger picture with the stories I told. I still remember the day not long after I started regularly networking with mystery and crime authors that I realized a short story I’d previously done, “Ghost of the Airwaves,” was a female amateur sleuth mystery as much as a suspense tale since the lead character actively works to find her husband’s killer. With more recent published stories like “Hidden History” in the anthology Explorer Pulp, and “Tropical Terror” in the anthology Crime Down Island, multiple genre influences are also a bit more apparent. With “Hidden History,” though the thrust of the anthology call was for action stories with explorers, I have a strong interest in how people think and motivation. Therefore, I developed that story with a character mystery first which ended up being a tale of suspense and crime. “Tropical Terror” really clearly shows the cross-genre as the former Marine that gets tied up in the local mystery also uncovers a soap-opera like plot in which his girlfriend is a central player.

So, at the heart, what I want to write is a good character story, that contains some mystery or discovery, that I’ve call “the mystery of character” and use it as part of my branding. Then, I seek out the genre that best fits the way to tell that character’s story. It might be hard action, it could be cozy and romantic; it could take place in the past or present, or maybe not even on Earth. I’ve actually started to discover some interesting and classic mysteries with investigators who utilize fantastical elements, such as the Lord Darcy series by Randall Garrett, the Garrett, P.I.  series by Glen Cook, and the more recent Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher (who counts Cook among his influences). While it will require a lot of research, bringing my personal genre passions together in this manner is something I hope to experiment with in the future.

Admittedly, not sticking to one genre makes any form of marketing a challenge, as I can’t be easily “typecast” or “pigeon-holed” into a set of expectations. Fortunately, while sales are a nice thing to have, that wasn’t what motivated me to want to write; that motivation comes from a strong desire to be a storyteller. In the end, I’m telling the stories I want to tell, and willing to take those risks. That’s better than not even taking the chance and finding out what you can do as a writer.

You can find out more about Shannon Muir and her work at her website, www.shannon-muir.com

Anne Louise Bannon

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