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.

Fresh Find: Beneath the Sleepless Stars by Charisse Nicolle

When I first held Charisse Nicolle’s debut paperback in my hands all those years ago, I didn’t think I could be prouder of my friend and colleague. Now, many house moves later, that book has vanished, but the pride and friendship lives on. Charisse tells me her novel is today more polished than ever, and re-launched last year on Amazon.

I asked if she’d mind sharing it with all of you. Here’s what she had to say…

Beneath the Sleepless Stars by Charisse Nicolle

Will a love thought lost to the endless gaze of sleepless stars awaken once more?

By daylight, Sapphira is an aspiring young designer, trying desperately not to end up in the family antiques business. The discovery an heirloom necklace hidden beneath the floorboards leads her to an encounter with the fabulously wealthy billionaire-about-town, Lincoln Scorpeone.

By starlight, Sapphira now finds herself amorously entangled in Linc’s fabulous world. Yet the closer they get, the more she is haunted by cryptic dreams of a stranger warning her that she is courting danger.

When an unexpected proposal causes her dreams and reality to spectacularly collide, the truth of Sapphira’s heritage exposes the false facades of all those closest to her. Believing the necklace holds the key to her family’s secrets, she escapes to London in pursuit of answers.

On a chilly starlit rooftop she meets the enigmatic Declan. Sensing he is intertwined with her nebulous dreams, Sapphira is drawn to the beguiling green-eyed barman.

Yet just as Sapphira begins to awaken the secrets of her bloodline, she finds herself pursued by a Hunter – who has returned from the shadows to enact a centuries-old revenge.

To survive, Sapphira and Declan must join forces and fight to overcome an immortal feud that lays claim to both their hearts.

Beneath the endless gaze of sleepless stars, will dreams be all they ever have?

Green eyes peer through a starry night sky on the cover of Beneath the Sleepless Stars by Charisse Nicolle

Excerpt

‘Crummy English weather,’ I muttered.

‘Don’t need a penny for your thoughts then,’ a soft male voice murmured behind me. Startled, I turned, realising that in my quest to feel free I had not thought to consider sinister axe wielding maniacs who lurked about on London rooftops on chilly nights. I could make out a figure in the shadows, leaning casually against the main large chimney. My pendant jolted into high alert and the hairs stood up all along my arms.

‘I didn’t realise anyone else was up here.’ That’s right, point out to Jack the Ripper that you are up here all alone. You really are on the ball tonight.

‘Understandable. I try to be rather unnoticeable.’ His voice had a distinctly Irish lilt to it, but somewhat diluted, sounding like he had lived in London for a long time. A memory awakened, tingling at the edges of my brain, but I was too preoccupied with my safety to acknowledge it.

By who? Your other slasher victims? ‘Is that because you like to skulk about in the shadows?’

‘Skulking? Hardly. This is my space you’re invading. I claimed this rooftop long ago.’

I judged the distance between myself and the door. I sidled along the wall a little to the right. If I dodged to the other side of the main chimney from where he stood, then I could make the door in about five bounds.

‘I didn’t realise one could take a lease out on a rooftop. Is that a British thing? I may have to consider that option myself if this week doesn’t improve.’ I took one step more to the right to improve my getaway angle. The pendant chain, well concealed beneath my hoodie, hummed with electricity against my neck, a sure sign something was afoot.

‘We all need a place to come and be ourselves. Sharpen my axe skills. That kinda thing. Are you – are you trying to move away from me?’ he suddenly asked, his tone of voice incredulous.

Oh God, he really is an axe murderer and I’ve made him angry. ‘Stay away from me! I know Tai Chi!’ I yelled, commencing my escape plan.

‘Wait – what?

I made the first three bounds successfully before my foot managed to hook on a cable feeding off one of the antennae, plunging me into a collision course with one of the smaller chimneys. My complete lack of any kind of athletic ability was shining gloriously through once again. I couldn’t even escape when my life depended on it. I cried out and instinctively brought my hands up to protect my face as I braced myself for the inevitable impact. But at the last moment when I should have connected with something flat and brick, I found myself pressed up against something broad and soft. Strong arms grabbed my shoulders and kept me upright. My hands gripped cotton that had that well-worn, favourite t-shirt feel to it. And smelt faintly of sweat. His face was bent down, checking to see if my ankle was okay. I gripped his t- shirt and wondered how he could not be freezing on a night like this. Yet I could feel his warmth emanating through the fabric, smouldering beneath my fingertips.

I looked up into his face which was barely inches from my own.

It was angular with strongly outlined cheekbones, one of which bore a small jagged scar. Slightly chapped lips framed a set of perfect teeth. A small indent cleft the bottom of his square chin. He had a goatee, but not in the preppy trimmed way, just in a “forgot to shave for a few days” way. He looked to be in his late twenties, his hair concealed beneath a dark grey beanie, his one consolation to the cold night. A cheeky smirk played across his mouth, yet his dark eyebrows were furrowed in concern across his eyes. Oh, but those eyes. In the dim light I could see that they were an intoxicating green. Like a choppy sea on a stormy day, inviting you in but capable of pulling you under; you could lose yourself entirely.

He turned from examining my ankle. Our eyes connected and my world suspended completely.

I was certain that in that instant, my heart stopped beating, my lungs stopped breathing. Instead the vehement humming that had reached fever pitch within the necklace unexpectedly surged free, consuming my whole body and powering me with life. The force of it overcame me and I was transfixed, feeling utterly exposed before him, vulnerable and laid bare, as though he could see right through to my very soul with those shining eyes. It was an unsettling and intrusive feeling and yet I could not avert my eyes from his. Just when I felt certain I would be completely overwhelmed by his gaze, he blinked, his eyes clouding over; I was released, and the connection passed. My heart rate slowly settled, as the power pulsating within me retreated once more to the containment of the pendant. I drew a ragged breath. A haunting memory triggered in the recesses of my mind, but I was incapable of coherent thought. His eyes remained intense, like unfathomable storm clouds, a fortress to protect what lay beyond.

‘Are you alright?’ As he spoke his breath caressed my wind burnt cheeks. I opened my mouth, intending to answer smartly ‘oh you have no idea just how much better I am now thanks’, but the word axe came flashing back into my mind. He was clearly now trying to lull me into a false sense of security. But I wasn’t falling for that.

Reviews from Goodreads

“I was completely hooked from the first page, an enticing romance fantasy”

“A captivating read and true page turner”

“An intriguing urban fantasy romance… I didn’t want to put it down”

“Creating a genre within itself, Beneath the Sleepless Stars is well worth the read”

“I really enjoyed this debut novel and I can’t wait for the next one!”

About Charisse Nicolle

I am an indie writer hailing from the sunset coast of Australia. When not pondering my next storyline, or the countless possible ways GoT could have ended, I am an ardent U2 fan, blatantly inept skier, and the only person I know who can make any garment more creased by attempting to iron it.

I have been known to apply a Star Wars quote to any given situation, prefer DC over Marvel any day, and believe the best story recipe combines sprinklings of mystery, spoonfuls of laughter and generous dashes of romance.

Beneath the Sleepless Stars is my first published novel.