If you’ve followed this blog or my writing career for any length of time, you might often find yourself scratching your head and going, “What on earth are you thinking?” You might, I suppose, actually wonder from time to time, if I’m thinking at all when it comes to the direction my writing takes in regards to genre. After all, I’m all over the place. My first set of books were adventure books with monsters. Then, I wrote a historical fantasy adventure set in Jerusalem during the first Crusade. Then, I wrote a paranormal mystery set in eastern Kentucky with a coroner who sees the spirits of dead people and whose Granny talks to faerie creatures known as the Yunwi Tsunsdi. After that, I wrote a fantasy novella set in an alternate pirate world that involves voodoo and the underworld.
From that little snippet of my stories, one might see that I’m all over the place. Worse, once again, if you’ve read my blog at all, you also know that since the beginning of my writing career, I’ve struggled with my identity as a writer. Just who is J. Kent Holloway? Or is it just Kent Holloway? Or is it James Hall or J.K. Holloway (neither of those last two names have I ever used, but I’ve considered it). I’m a Christian author, as I originally set out to be? Am I a thriller author? Am I a urban fantasy or paranormal mystery author? I’ve tried my hand at crime fiction as well, and enjoyed it much more than I predicted I would.
I’ve written several posts similar to this one in the past. Posts about ‘my plans’ for the future. Existential treatise on my identity as a writer. And despite it all, I’m still beating my head against the wall trying to figure it out. I look at a lot of my writer friends and just shake my head in silent jealousy. They just seem to know exactly what they’re all about as a writer. They’ve chosen a preferred genre and have stuck with it. They might occasionally dabble a little off center of their normal fare (like David Wood occasionally writing as David Debord in a few fantasy novels), but for the most part, they stick with what they know.
Funny thing is, this pattern of bouncing from one direction to the next is nothing new for me. It’s a description of every aspect of my life really. Anyone who knows me (especially my old youth pastor) knows that since a teenager, I’ve bounced from one idea of ‘what I’m going to do when I grow up’ to another. One week, it’s “I think this is what God has called me to!” A week later, something has happened to cause me to reconsider and I’m convinced that another vocation entirely is what I was meant to do. It wasn’t until I started writing on a semi-professional basis back in 2008 that I finally became at peace with what I was doing with my life.
So, it’s no wonder that once I discovered my true calling (i.e. writer) that I would revert right back to my old ‘bouncing back and forth, trying to find my way’ as far as ‘what type of writer I am.’ And that’s what I’ve pretty much done since 2008. Go in one direction for one book, then get an idea for another book in a completely opposite direction and write it. And all the while, never settling down in any given genre.
For the most part, I like that. There’s a lot of freedom to it. I’m not tied down to any given style or genre that way. However, since I started writing, I’ve been studying not only the art of writing, but the business of it, as well. And I know that in order to succeed as a writer, the biggest key factor in success is in your audience knowing exactly what to expect when they pick up one of your books. To some extent, you all know what to expect from my books…primarily that you have no idea what type of book you’re about to read.
So, I’ve decided it’s time to grow up. It’s time to stop wondering what I’m going to do when I grow up as a writer and decide that I’m a grown up writer and pick a genre to stick with (for the most part).
As you might know, in recent years, I became pretty close to one of my writing heroes…Warren Murphy, the co-creator of Remo Williams of the classic men’s adventure The Destroyer series. Warren was such a great guy. So patient, but also so very blunt. He didn’t mince words. If he felt something, he was going to share how he felt with you and wasn’t going to sugar coat things at all. He had read my book The Cursed and enjoyed it (for the most part). He’d read a couple of my other stuff and enjoyed them less.
His criticism? Your stories are too convoluted. Keep them simple. But his biggest suggestion…which was almost spoken like a mantra…”Write what you know!” As I’ve told you in the past, especially when I was introducing you guys to Ajax Clean and my forensic crime thriller CLEAN EXIT, Warren often admonished me to write stories more in line with what I do for a living (forensic death investigator for a medical examiner). He continually asked me why I wasn’t using my more than 23 years experience in forensics as a source for great crime fiction. My response, invariably, was that I wrote for the same reason I read…as a means of escape. The last thing I wanted to do was write about my job. But his words made sense and have stayed with me long after his passing.
I wrote CLEAN EXIT with that in mind. Ajax Clean is a criminal because it was my work-around for my hangup about writing about my job. Ajax worked in forensics. He worked with dead bodies. But he definitely didn’t do what I do for a living. Therefore, it offered an escape for me.
But for the most part, most crime fiction bores me to tears. They’re too serious. Too oppressive. Too dark. I deal with ‘dark’ way too often to want to roll around in it with my fiction. So I put the crime fiction behind me after Clean Exit (though I’ve always planned on going back to Ajax Clean at some point) and continued writing my monster/paranormal stuff.
Recently, however, when I began pondering the direction my writing should move toward, Warren’s words just keep coming back to me over and over. I tried my hand at fantasy with The Legend of the Winterking, and it’s safe to say that it was an utter and complete failure. It’s the best book I’ve written without a doubt…but just not enough people are buying it to seriously consider moving forward with the trilogy (at least for now). I dabbled with Christian fiction too, but as I mentioned a few posts ago, Christian fiction is a very weird genre. Unless I’m willing to write Amish romances, I’m pretty much dead in the water with that. Paranormal thrillers are good though, but there’s very little to distinguish my books from the stream of thousands of others hitting Amazon every day. I decided I needed a hook. I needed an ‘in’. And once again, Warren’s words came back to me, “Write what you know.”
What do I know? I know death. I know murder. I know mystery and forensics and crime. And I also know folklore too. And that’s when it hit me.
When I was a kid, my favorite genre was the old whodunits of Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, etc. I spent hours reading Hardy Boys and other great mysteries. Now these mysteries were lighthearted and fun. They had a plethora of suspects and offered the reader the chance to solve the mystery themselves as they read along with the detective. This, I thought to myself, was something I could possibly do. Not crime fiction…not exclusively anyway. As I said, most crime fiction always seems so self-important to me. Serious. Dark. Cozy mysteries seemed much more up my alley, albeit without the cat sleuths or bakery murders. I decided I wanted to write something more akin to ABC’s Castle. Something light and quirky with the perfect blend of murder and crazy cast of suspects to choose from.
But of course, I’m J. Kent Holloway. I can’t just have a straight up whodunit cozy mystery, can I? Oh, no. I need at least a smidgeon of paranormal, right? So this is where the idea for my next book came from. This is where DEATH WARMED OVER was born.
DEATH WARMED OVER is the first book in my upcoming Grim Tidings Murder Mystery series. The premise is basically this: Someone or something has discovered the Touch of Death…the means by which the Grim Reaper takes the lives of those whose time it is to die. And people, whose time is not quite up, are dropping like flies. Puzzled by this, Death takes the form of a human and goes to the small beach town of Summer Haven, Florida to investigate. There seems to be a disproportionate number of deaths in the area, so Death believes it’s the best place to start his investigation. Once there, he immediately becomes the suspect in a murder investigation being conducted by Police Chief Becca Kane. And from this point on, the two begin investigating the murder of a 32 year old Hispanic female who had been marked by a death curse from a local priest of Santeria.
That’s the premise of the first book. I plan to write a number of these books, as well as resume my focus on Ajax Clean as well. As a matter of fact, I believe that the focus of the majority of my books in the future will be murder mysteries and crime fiction. For you Ezekiel Crane fans, don’t worry…I consider that series a mystery series as well, so I’ll continue soon with where Ghostfeast left off.
But that’s it. I’ve made my choice and I think it’s a good one. I’m growing up and going to focus on one specific genre…the murder mystery. And the timing couldn’t be more perfect. With approaching debut of QUOTH Publications, the publishing company I’m starting with NY Times Bestselling author David L. Golemon, these books will make the perfect series to help build Quoth’s expanding library of thrillers and mysteries.
I hope you’re as excited as I am!