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Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Consider Blending Genres


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“A reader lives many lives,” James Harris said. “The person who doesn’t read lives but one. But if you’re happy just doing what you’re told and reading what other people think you should read, then don’t let me stop you. I just find it sad.” - From "The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires."

I finished up a book this weekend that left me eagerly heading over to Amazon and Goodreads for the book reviews, because it was such a fascinating example of storytelling. I first noticed the book, “The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires,” last summer while browsing one of my favorite independent bookstores. Both the title and cover intrigued me, but I already had another book in my hand, so I put it back. Someone in my family remembered me talking about the book so I got it as a Christmas gift. 

Any book about a book club is going to be an automatic draw for me, but a book club set in 1990s Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina where the women decide to be “rebels” and discuss only spooky books like true crime and suspense/thrillers? Count me in, especially when a mysterious man moves into the neighborhood who may or may not be a vampire. Yes, you read that right. 

At first, I thought the protagonist, Patricia, was only mistaking new resident James Harris for a vampire. She did invite him into her home and offered to let him be the only male member of their club. This book, authored by Grady Hendrix, is described as “Steel Magnolias” meets “Dracula.” I described it as “Steel Magnolias” or “Fried Green Tomatoes” meets “Fright Night,” after that move set in the 1980s. Not only are there themes of female friendship, an exploration of race relations in the south, but there is also plenty of horror thrown in. So if you’re not up to someone’s ear being bitten off or a large band of rats attacking an elderly woman, this book may not be for you. As an avid reader of true crime, I also enjoyed reading about the characters’ discussions about famous books like “The Stranger Beside Me,” and “Helter Skelter.” The author includes an annotated true-crime reading list as bonus content at the end of the book. 

But as a writer, I was fascinated by the blend of storytelling the author created. I’ve never read anything quite like this, and it made me rethink ways I could tell new stories in the future. It can be a tough sell to readers, though, based on the reviews of “The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires.” Some reviewers thought it was a compelling exploration of the themes, and appreciated the horror aspect. Other reviewers hated the way the male characters treated their wives and how the police didn’t care to investigate when Black children went missing or died mysteriously in the town. I believe the author set out to write a southern gothic book and succeeded with the character development and themes explored. 

Have you read an interesting work (or written one?) lately that blended different genres? I’d love to hear your thoughts! 

Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer and creator of the true crime podcast, Missing in the Carolinas. She now knows that picking up "The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires" on a night she had insomnia may not have been a good idea.


  1. I can't think of anything I've read that blended genres but I do know I could never read one like this or any horror-based book. I'm a scaredy cat and would have nightmares forever. Likewise any true crime books because those horrible, unbelievable crimes really happen.

    If I do some reaching, I guess you could say that Star Wars was a combination of space fantasy and scifi. Mostly though, I read NF like memoirs and essays. Not much genre-bending there.

  2. Renee--I'm 100 pages into the YA "Hollow Fires" by Samira Ahmed, and I'm enjoying it. It's a novel, but one of the two main characters (Safiya) is a high school journalist, so there's high school newspaper columns included. She is trying to find who killed a classmate (Jawad), so bits of evidence, transcripts, and law-type writing/documents are also a part of it. Another part of it is a "ghost story" because Jawad is dead, yet his voice is part of the narrative.

    I thoroughly enjoy the idea of blending genres in a book. It keeps the reader on their toes, enlarges the possibilities for the author (it actually blows it up), and makes the story so much richer.

    Have you read "Haunted" by Chuck Palahniuk? If not, email me your address (I have an extra copy of it). Every writer should read it. The premise is this group of wannabe writers go on a three-month writing retreat, where they're totally cut off from the rest of the world. None of them have the talent to make up the next great American novel... so they start doing things to each other for fodder for their books. It's poetry and prose. It's horrifying at times... but totally enthralling.

  3. I love reading autofiction, which is a blend of memoir and novel, technically fiction where the protagonist is yourself and shares your name. The Sarah Book by Scott McClanahan is an awesome one and Juliet the Maniac by Juliet Escoria is another one, and most recently, Be Brief and Tell Them Everything by Brad Listi. In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado is one of my favorite books ever for the innovative structure. Each chapter is structured like a house and a trope, and there's even a Choose Your Own Adventure section. Chelsey Clammer's Circadian is a master example at innovative form, and in one essay she uses numerology, geometry, and biology to logistically solve the problem of understanding an alcoholic father.

    Sioux is right about Haunted - it's one of my favorite books and it's basically a bunch of short stories of each character's past tied together by an overarching storyline that takes place in the present. I've read every book Palahniuk's written and they are all innovative in form. He has a journalism degree, so his pieces are a blend of research, reportage, and fiction. To find topics for his books, he interviews people to see what people are most eager to talk about and uses those interviews as fuel for his fiction. All of his books contain a major twist, and it's fun to see how he'll pull it off each time. Palahniuk's Survivor is about a cult and written/reads backwards, like a countdown. It's one of my favorites.

    I write hybrid work and don't care if I cross genres as long as it serves the story. Not everyone is going to like it and some are sticklers for the rules, but I don't see anything wrong with making art your way.

  4. Come on, y'all. I should be writing not adding books to my reading list.

    Given the innovative form, will it work to listen to In the Dream House or do you need it in print? I've requested it as an audio book but can remedy that if need be.

  5. I do like blended genres as long as it's not so complicated that I have to work to figure out what's going on. Like, if I'm reading and wishing that I had a college professor explaining the book to me then yeah, I'm tossing that into the "Not To Be Read" pile. :-)

    But when I saw the title HELTER SKELTER? It's been almost a half century since I read that book and it still makes my blood run cold, just seeing the title. Same for (ironically) IN COLD BLOOD.


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