Friday, 19 August 2011

Crossing Genres and Not Blurring Them

I mentioned in an earlier post that I love to read genre fiction, going all the way back to those heady days when I was a 12-year-old haunting the public library, lugging home armloads of science fiction, sports juveniles and westerns. Now that I'm a big boy and able to write my own stories, I find the same urge to explore my favorite genres, to try my hand at the tropes, conventions and distinct atmospheres of each.

The Ghost Man, my first novel, was an entry in the horror genre, a supernatural thriller, which I picked because my son was very interested in ghost stories at the time and encouraged me to try it out. I like horror and will go back again for another shot in the near future.

Blood Passage, on the other hand, was the result of a long-standing love of crime fiction. Science fiction will always be a sentimental favorite, but crime fiction is where my imagination has pitched its tent, built its campfire and settled in. I'm gonna fish this stream for a while.

I'd like to make it clear, though, that Blood Passage does not blur the division between crime fiction and supernatural fiction. Reading the descriptions of the book, you may think that Donaghue and Stainer are investigating a case of reincarnation. You may think you'll be forced to accept reincarnation as a part of the Donaghue and Stainer universe if you read the novel. That's not the case at all.

Blood Passage was inspired by the book Life Before Life: A Scientific Investigation of Children's Memories of Previous Lives, by Dr. Jim B. Tucker of the University of Virginia Medical Center. Dr. Tucker's research, which extends the research of Dr. Ian Stevenson, is a completely scientific exploration of a very real phenomenon -- that there are many children out there who seem to recall memories of a previous life. Dr. Tucker goes to great lengths in his book to make it clear he's not shoving reincarnation down anyone's throat, but rather is exploring it as one of several possible explanations. I was inspired by the book, and I'm greatly impressed by Dr. Tucker and his work, but I have to say straight out:

I didn't believe in reincarnation before I read Life Before Life, and I don't believe in it now.

I'm an agnostic on this one. A fence sitter. It's one of those who-knows, anything's-possible kind of things. It tantalizes, it tweaks the imagination, and quite frankly, some of the evidence analyzed by Dr. Tucker is quite compelling. But Blood Passage was not written from a position of belief, and it shouldn't be read as an attempt to convince.

I think, personally, if I ever encountered one of these children and hovered at Dr. Tucker's elbow as he investigated their memories, I'd likely feel the same undertow sucking at my beliefs that Hank Donaghue and Karen Stainer feel in Blood Passage. I mean, you don't know. It's upsetting, because criminal investigation lives in a world of physical evidence, witness testimony, suspect confessions, things that a judge and jury can see and hear and feel and understand with minimal effort. But little kids remembering who killed them four years ago in their previous life? When someone like grad student Josh Duncan presents physical evidence and witness testimony that seems to corroborate these unlikely memories, it's upsetting.

It's that tension which works at the center of Blood Passage. Which gnaws at Karen and Hank when the case is finally closed. Which readers will also hopefully carry forward with them after reading the story.

But be clear on one thing: Blood Passage is crime fiction. The world of Donaghue and Stainer is the world of police procedure, homicide investigation, crime scene analysis, victimology, witness interview, suspect interrogation. A universe very similar to our own.

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