Brain Babies: I Don’t Think I have a Niche
I guess I’ve always had this issue. When I was in high school, I was a theater kid; I was also on the track team; I hung out with stoners; I played D&D with the geeks. I flitted and jumped from one clique to another, fitting in with all and none at once. I guess I was a kind of social chameleon.
I’m not sure why I was this way. Maybe I was just indecisive. Couldn’t figure out who I wanted to be. I doubt very much I was the only one. For as long as I can remember, I’ve refused to allow anyone to pigeonhole me; I won’t be put into a box for your convenience.
Still, to this day, I feel that way. Do I write horror? Yes. Is that the majority of my output? Yes, it is. Do I also write fantasy, SF, magical realism, weird, slipstream, Bizarro, kid-lit, mainstream, pulp, mystery, and erotica? Yes…yes, I do.
Here’s the thing: I write the story I want to write. The one I wanted to read that no one has put down in words yet. The one that wants to be told. I don’t think about genre when the idea starts poking me in the brain. I don’t worry about to whom I’m going to sell it, or how I should market it. I don’t care. None of that matters at first. What’s important is the story. The characters whose lives are in my hands (poor things). These are the things on which I focus. This is where my energy goes. I let the story dictate the genre, or mixed genre, or utter lack of easily defined genre. I don’t care what it ends up being, as long as it’s the best story I can tell.
Only when it’s finished, when I’ve gone back and edited all the horrible, first-draft mistakes, polished it until it shines… only then do I start to think about where I can sell it. And, I’ve sold a lot of them, so this seems to be working out okay.
I don’t always do this, I have to admit. Sometimes, I’ll see an open call for a specific type of story, a theme. Sometimes, this will resonate with me and I’ll write something for it. Sometimes, it won’t especially resonate with me, but I know the editor is a good one, or the pay is high enough, so I’ll take a crack at it anyway. I’ve sold some of those too.
Sometimes, and I have to admit loving this, I will be invited to write for something. I always try to produce for those, because I’d like to be invited again at some point. If you are asked and blow it off, I imagine you will stop getting asked. I’ve sold one or two of these as well.
And, finally, sometimes I want to see a whole book out there for which I cannot write. When this happens, which has been precisely twice so far, I find a way to create it. I did this with BURNT FUR (Furry horror anthology from Blood Bound Books, and my first time curating a book), and I’m doing it now with STITCHED LIPS (horror anthology of oppressed voices). I feel this one is incredibly important. There are so many opportunities for me, a cis/het, white man in his fifties. I have no obstacles with which to contend, other than my own limitations of skill and talent. Doors open easily for people like me. So, I intend to hold that door for the people for whom it doesn’t open. I plan to keep it open as long as I can.
So, maybe this is who I am. Maybe I’m a chameleon because I want to be part of all the groups, and to be excited to be in the room, no matter where it is, or who else is in there with me. Maybe I’m a genre-jumper because I want to experience All the Things! I honestly have no idea why I’m like this. But, I love writing. I love supporting other writers. I love reading good books. I love it when something I wrote (or edited) touches someone, makes an impact. There is no greater pleasure for a writer, I think, than to have a reader reach out to tell you that your work meant something to them.
If you, like me, find yourself writing all over the genre map, maybe don’t worry about it too much. Maybe look at it this way: you’re keeping your readers on their toes. They won’t know what to expect next. As long as your style (that’s a whole different topic!) remains the same, I think you can write anything you want. Look at Neil Gaiman. His work is all over the place. But you can always tell it’s him. That’s the secret maybe. I don’t know. I’m no Neil Gaiman. I’m just a guy who feels comfortable hanging out with the jocks, the freaks, the weirdos, and the drama kids, or whatever equivalent exists in the grown-up world of writing and editing.
As always, thanks for listening.
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Ken MacGregor writes stuff. Sometimes, he edits stuff too.
He has two story collections: AN ABERRANT MIND, and SEX, GORE & MILLIPEDES, a young adult novella: DEVIL’S BANE (YA winner of the 23rd annual Critters Readers Poll), a co-written (with Kerry Lipp) novel: HEADCASE (available in serialized form), and is a member of the Great Lakes Association of Horror Writers (GLAHW). He is a somewhat regular contributor to HorrorTree with his column Brain Babies. He has also written TV commercials, sketch comedy, a music video, some mediocre poetry, and a zombie movie. Ken is the Managing Editor of Collections and Anthologies for LVP Publications. He’s curated two anthologies: BURNT FUR for Blood Bound Books, and STITCHED LIPS for Dragon Roost Press..
When not writing, Ken drives the bookmobile for his local library. He lives with his kids, two cats, and the ashes of his wife.
Ken can be found at the staggeringly egocentric-named website kenmacgregor.com.