The Genre Blender with B.K. Bass

Photo by Bruno Thethe from Pexels

B.K. Bass is a prolific storyteller, a professional editor, and a worldbuilding aficionado. For the last few years, his blog has been a go-to reference when I need to set my head straight on speculative fiction genres.

As far as I’m concerned, this guy knows his shit, and I’m very excited to have him here today to talk about the mechanics of combining genres.

The Genre Blender with B.K. Bass

When you think of genre fiction, what comes to mind? Likely, you may think of fantasy tales with swords and dragons, science fiction with aliens and starships, or a horror yarn with some unknown threat lurking in the shadows. Something even more specific may come to mind, like the grand scale of epic fantasy or the sociological analysis of social science fiction. Perhaps it’s something more personal, like the emotional tug of a romance novel or the intellectual challenge of a detective novel.

Many modern authors have a tenuous relationship with genre, and there are various views on the subject. Some feel genre defines their work, while others see it as a shortcut to describing it. “I am a fantasy author” is a statement that may only hint at the scope of an author’s work or be rigid guideposts defining the boundaries of it. There are authors who shun genres entirely, considering them unnatural labels that limit the freedom of their art form. Others see them as useful tools to shape a story with familiar elements that will appeal to an established fanbase.

There’s no right or wrong approach here, but there’s a few matters of fact that every author should consider. First is that almost no matter where you look, books are categorized by genre; be it categories on a website or shelves in a bookstore. Second is that many readers search for new books by genre. Once somebody gets hooked on epic fantasy, they’re likely to seek more of the same. If somebody has a craving for a murder mystery, they’re going to search the mystery category or shelf. No matter how the author feels about labels and genres, they are an important part of the journey of books into the hands of interested readers.

But they can be more than that.

Figuring out how to mash up different storytelling conventions could be the spark that leads to something completely innovative.

Genre is a toolbox packed with an assortment of devices that an author can assemble into a story that appeals to readers who are familiar with or interested in such devices. Medieval-inspired fantasy kingdoms complete with dragons and wizards remain a popular schtick, and you must unpack that traditional fantasy toolbox to get what you need to put that kind of story together.

But there is something that I feel is even more useful about genre, and that is finding ways to mix them.

There are many aspects of storytelling that define genres, and each genre has its own set of devices within that definition. While some genres are familiar due to the type of settings they occur in, others are recognizable by the types of characters, the tone of the book, the structure of the plot, the themes they explore, or even the style we write them in.

The empty space within each of these toolboxes is where things get interesting.

Let’s take two genres that are combined with relative frequency: fantasy and romance. On one hand, we have a genre almost entirely defined by the setting. Of course, there’s a lot of variation within fantasy fiction, but the fundamental aspect that defines it is a setting where elements of magic or the supernatural are genuine parts of the world. On the other hand, we can define romance almost entirely by how it approaches relationships between characters. So, here’s a splendid example where one genre fills one slot in the toolbox, while the other fills another. There’s no conflict between the two of them, and they fill in the gaps in each other’s repertoire.

Green eyes peer through a starry night sky on the cover of Beneath the Sleepless Stars by Charisse Nicolle
Beneath the Sleepless Stars by Charisse Nicolle combines an urban fantasy setting with a romance plot.

But we can do even more with that. Of the “big three” aspects of fiction, this example only covers two of them. We still must contend with plot. Now, there are romance plotting conventions we could use, or fantasy plotting conventions like the hero’s journey. But what if we threw something else into the mix? What if there was a murder mystery happening in this setting that our characters had to contend with? Now we have a fantasy romance mystery. There’s a lot going on, but none of the genres are stepping on the other’s toes. It’s like putting together a puzzle: all the pieces fit together perfectly to create the bigger picture.

This is just one example of countless opportunities to mix things up. Those who love delving into genres, like myself, may find this as a springboard for inspiration. Figuring out how to mash up different storytelling conventions could be the spark that leads to something completely innovative. Others, who aren’t fond of labels, might find this to be an opportunity to break the molds and ensure a single definition of genre doesn’t encompass their work.

And you might also find that readers love this stuff.

I recently published the last book in my Night Trilogy. Night Shift, Night Life, and Night Shadow are books built around this sort of genre mash up, and some of the most encouraging feedback I’ve received on all three books has to do with how they smoothly combine two genres.

Now, I’m going to preface this by saying that this combination isn’t entirely new. It was inspired, in no small part, by the film Blade Runner and the Philip K. Dick novel that inspired it: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? However, I endeavored to peel back the layers of those works to find what lay beneath the surface, and then pulled as well from those deeper and older inspirations to make the Night Trilogy what it became.

That out of the way, what is the Night Trilogy? It is a cyberpunk setting combined with a hardboiled detective mystery, although it shakes things up more and more as it goes along (but to avoid spoilers, we won’t discuss that). And why do these genres work so well together?

Night Shadow by B.K. Bass combines two genres that work well together — cyberpunk and hardboiled detective mystery.

Well, let’s look at what slots in the toolbox they fill. Like our fantasy example, cyberpunk deals with setting: a bleak future where technology rules our lives and capitalism controls the world. It also involves themes of socioeconomic disparity and humanity’s relationship with technology.

On the other hand, mysteries are more about the plot, as we discussed already. And the hardboiled detective is a specific subgenre that takes this plot and adds in a gritty, often cynical, protagonist (that is a brief explanation that hardly does it justice) and dark, introspective tone. So, each genre is checking off different boxes: setting and theme on one hand; with plot, character, and tone on the other. I also pulled inspiration for the writing style from some older hardboiled stories, like the works of Raymond Chandler, to further flesh out the atmosphere.

And as I mentioned, the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Several reviews of the books have complimented how well these two genres work together.

Beyond this, the real fun can be picking apart different genres that don’t fit so seamlessly and make them work together. I’ve done several other mashups, including military science fiction with social science fiction and post-apocalyptic, flintlock fantasy with supernatural horror, and alternate history with cosmic horror. By removing or changing certain elements of genres to make them mesh, you may create something innovative and exciting. And this also casts a wider net to attract readers, as you won’t be just putting your book in one genre box, but several!


B.K. Bass is the author of over a dozen works of science fiction, fantasy, and horror inspired by the pulp fiction magazines of the early 20th century and classic speculative fiction. He is also a freelance editor with experience both as a publisher and editor-in-chief of a literary journal. When B.K. isn’t dreaming up new worlds to explore, he spends his time as a lifelong student of history, bookworm, and film buff.

Find out more about B.K. at his website and connect with him on Twitter. The Night Trilogy can be found via Amazon.

Semi-socialite

In an attempt to fix those annoying tech issues, I deleted all the social media apps from my phone only to have the subsequent experience (and rest of the internet) tell me it’s not enough—a factory reset would be imminent *DUN DUN DUNNNN*

So I was happy to drag my feet a bit, and found one pleasant side-effect of being app-less. It was only for a few days while work and other commitments pushed the phone reset lower down the priority list. But I found I could focus better on writing and reading.

That “hooked” feeling I’d get from feed scrolling transferred to books and I am so very pleased. I’m getting to stuff that’s been on my TBR for ages, approaching my work with a clearer head, and the weird thing is I’m not even going cold turkey on social media. I just don’t have the apps on my phone right now.

Actually, wait, those are only half-truths. I’m on a “feed restricted diet” right now too 😛 I get five minutes each of Twitter and Facebook a day (unless there’s something undeniably work-related I need to take care of). And now that I’ve reset my phone, I’ve put Goodreads back on there—but you could argue that Goodreads isn’t really a social platform, it’s more like a beefed-up logbook of stuff you read.

I wonder if it’s the combination of convenient internet-enabled devices and engagement-centered design that creates that dangerous combination. When you sit at a computer to do something, you have to sit at the computer to do the thing. But with a smartphone, you can not only spend your precious micro-minutes, but the extra tax of context-switching too.

Or am I the problem? Do I have poor executive function and self-control in the face of digital temptation? 🤔

At any rate, my phone is running smoothly and I’m okay with being a bit less twittery and instagrammy at the moment. My manuscript is running on schedule for now. And I’ve finally been able to pick up Perihelion Summer by Greg Egan and B.K. Bass’s final book in the Night Trilogy 😄

Photo by arvin keynes on Unsplash

Status Update — May 2020

CampNaNoWriMo was a success. And by that, I mean The Dragon’s Den WIP is finally in a usable first draft state. It still needs so much research and revising before it’s even close to becoming a book, but I was very happy anyway and celebrated with a couple of new videogames (tell you about them in a tick).

The Basilica Conspiracy

The Dragon’s Den is book 2 of The Basilica Conspiracy, a sci-fi/retrofuture mini-series that follows the development of Rhys and Adria’s romantic relationship after they accidentally stumble on some business they weren’t supposed to see.

The first book, Chasing Sisyphus, came out in 2017 and while book 2 should have started as soon as book 1 was finished, now that I’ve reached this point in the WIP, I realise I just wasn’t ready to write The Dragon’s Den back then. The story was too complex, character motivations too intense, and my writing nowhere near strong enough to tell the story needing to be told.

But I’m ready now…I think. And after a short break, I’ll be starting the first proper revision of The Dragon’s Den as well as the first draft of book 3, Sins of the Other.

Sunset on a Distant World

…is back on the worktable after almost a year of sitting in a box. There are a lot of problems with the first draft, but a lot of interesting ways to fix them. There is a plan for this book and I’m really looking forward to sharing it with you when it’s done.

Shop talk

I hope you enjoyed reading about the revision process for It Starts With A Kiss, as there’ll be more where that came from. “Shop talk” is a new category of content I’ll be sharing in my newsletter and on this blog, talking about writing craft, mindset and “the trade”. I know most of you also write, so I hope you’ll find the information useful in your own creative endeavours.

Short stories

So, the writing I started “for no reason” ended up as short story, Playing Trades. This 2000-word piece was sent out to my dear readers in the April/May issue of Dot Club, and has since been accepted into Crystal L. Kirkham‘s Where the Sun Always Shines Anthology, coming out soon.

There’s a new microstory going into next month’s newsletter. If you’d like to see it, you can subscribe on my website.

Oh, and I gave up on “MOAB”. About two-thirds of the way through, it stopped feeling right, so back in the box it goes.

Projects (still) on hold

  • Project H
  • Project D (yep, there’s another unnamed project floating around)

Self-care

There’s a lot I can’t control right now, but also a lot that I can. Getting at least 20 minutes of sunlight a day is one of them. Drinking 2L of water a day is another. I still slip sometimes, but for the most part, minding these two things sets me up to be able to do other things. Like exercising and catching myself before I get too emotionally invested in ignorant hot takes on Twitter. Everyone handles stress differently, and where I can help it, I’m trying not to let some stranger’s stress tantrum become the reason I have one too 😅

Other self-care activities that have helped a lot:

Moisturising my forearms… Maybe I have a sensory thing going on, but supple forearm skin seems to be a real mood lifter 🤔

Nice smells. I’ve burnt all my smelly candles, but found a tiny vial of peppermint oil on a cluttered shelf, so we’re all candy cane country this month!

Curating my feeds. Nuff said.

Reading

  • Forgotten Storm by A. R. Vagnetti, after longingly staring at the paperback on my shelf for months.
  • True Refuge by Annabelle McInnes—I had to stop this one, as the incredibly powerful first chapter moved me more than I was ready for. But I’m ready to come back now.
  • Also beta reading for some writer friends.

Recently finished: The Way Home by Stefanie Simpson. Night Life by B.K. Bass.

Watching

  • Family Guy
  • Parks & Recs
  • Luis Miguel: The Series—Diego Boneta is a snack, even with a mullet

Actor Diego Boneta holds a cigarette between his soft lips
Diego Boneta via IMDB

Recently watched: Devs (brilliant).

Playing

Recently on the socials…

https://www.instagram.com/p/CAEn942AIwS/