Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Table Talk: Label Me This

This week, New Pulp authors Barry Reese, Bobby Nash and Mike Bullock return to the table to discuss labels and untapped genres.

Question (Bobby): I was recently on a panel at a convention with several writers. Each of them introduced themselves as “a dark urban fantasy author” or “a hard science fiction writer” or “a pulp writer.” This got me wondering about how we as writers present ourselves to readers. How do you introduce yourself on a panel at a convention, for instance? What type of label do you attach to yourself as a writer? Or do you attach a label?

Mike: I change it up for every appearance, but usually say something like “I’m Mike Bullock and I make stuff up for a living.” It’s easy enough to be pigeon-holed as a sub-sub-genre writer who can only write in one particular sub-sub-genre, so I don’t see any value in slapping labels on myself that advocate self-inflicted pigeon-holing. I write kids fantasy, young adult adventure, action comics, heroic adventure, pulp fiction, sports journalism, poetry, science fiction, Christian OP Ed, PR and so much more that it seems incomplete at best to simply say “I write (insert sub-genre here).” But, there are those I’ve known who are perfectly content to only write in one tight corner. I’m just not that guy.

Barry: It varies for me and often depends on the setting. For instance, if I’m at Dragon*Con, I typically say that I’m a writer who is best known for my pulp adventure stories but I’ve also dabbled in horror, sci-fi and other genres. But if I’m at something like Pulp Ark, I just dive straight into a genre label. I try not to define myself as “just* any kind of writer but when the majority of your work is in a particular genre, it’s hard to avoid it.

Bobby: I generally just refer to myself as a writer first. Then I mention some of the types of writing I do. I flirted with the idea of referring to myself as an author or novelist, but neither felt as natural as writer.

Bobby: What are the pros and cons of affixing this type of label to writers? Do you think it is it better to specialize and stick with writing one type of story only or to diversify into as many genres and types of story as possible?

Mike: I think it’s all about being true to who you are and how God made you. As I said above, some are meant to only do one thing and do it exceedingly well. And, they love doing that. But, that isn’t for me. I’d go crazy and most likely stop writing if I could only work in one small sub-genre. I flourished when I was working on Phantom one day, a press release the next, Timothy and the Transgalactic Towel the day after and then covering a variety of football teams for a sports site the day after. Variety is the spice of life, as the saying goes, and I love me some spice. [laughs] I’m actually researching my first ever foray into Steam Punk right now and while it isn’t a genre I’d ever really considered before, I’m very excited to delve into it.

Barry: Well, a label can help you with certain groups. You become identified with a certain type of story and the fans of that kind of work will easily recognize you and tend to adopt you. But it can sometimes make it hard when you want to do something different. When I did Rabbit Heart, I feared that some people might be turned off by the work because they were expecting me to do something more like The Rook or Ki-Gor. I do think it’s important as a writer to try and stretch your comfort zone, though. Even when I stay in the pulp field, I will often take on a character that I don’t really know or a sub-genre I’m not comfortable with, just to test myself.

Bobby: “Variety is the spice of life, as the saying goes, and I love me some spice.” This might just be my new favorite quote, Mike.

Barry brings up a great point about testing yourself creatively. One of the great joys of writing smaller piece for anthologies is being able to scratch certain creative itches. In my case it was writing a western and sci fi, two genres I’m not often asked to write. That leads to one final question for this week. Are there any genres out there you’d like to tackle at least once, but haven’t had the opportunity as yet? For me it would be a drama without the trappings of killers and those trying to capture them. I even have a plot laid out in my head. All I have to do now is make time in my schedule to write the darn thing. As you both know that’s easier said than done sometimes. heh.

Barry: You know, just for the challenge of it, I might be up for writing some sort of romance. It would be hard for me to write something without blowing stuff up or killing someone, so it might be a real stretch! Also, I’ve mostly stayed away from the real sci-fi kind of stuff so far, so maybe something along those lines, too.

Mike: Steampunk. I’d never really gotten into it before, but since I’m now researching a new project that’s in that genre, I’m getting pretty jazzed up about it (if you hadn't noticed already). Particularly because of a book called Writing Steampunk by Beth Daniels. I can’t wait to get my feet firmly planted, as I really want to do a merge and start writing some “SteamPulp”.


  1. Excellent points, as always, chaps.

  2. It's hard to get away from labeling because that's a large part of how society works. You meet somebody for the first time and the second or third question they're going to ask you is: "And what do you do?" because your answer determines what label that person is going to slap on you.

    What type of writer I am depends on what person/group I'm talking to and how familiar they are with me and my work. For 90% of the population I'm an action/adventure writer and I need go no more deeper than that.


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