As a kid I read a peculiar blend of teen-drama books, like Sweet Valley High and Lurlene McDaniel’s cancer sagas, and horror novels. I adored horror. If any genre brought me to Genre, capital G, it was horror, even though as an adult I have never written a true horror story. I started with Goosebumps (super excited for the movie, by the way) and worked my way up to R.L. Stine’s YA series and others of its ilk, before finally graduating to the master himself, Stephen King, when I was in eighth grade.
My love of horror novels translated to other media as well. Of particular interest to me was a Nickelodeon show called Are You Afraid of the Dark, in which teenagers gathered around a fire and told each other scary stories. My very first experience with telling a story to an audience was forming a Midnight Society of my own with my cousins. I was also fascinated by Tales from the Crypt, a show I knew of but never really got to watch because it was on HBO, which was scrambled static in my household for most of the year. However, I did watch the Saturday morning cartoon version. I would also regularly ride my bike down to the comic book shop near my house (as a kid, I grew up biking distance from a comic book shop, a Hastings, and a cemetery, which probably also explains why I am a genre writer) and flip through the Tales from the Crypt comics they had on display there.
What I loved most about horror was the transgressiveness; I’m the sort of person who doesn’t want to get in trouble and doesn’t like to make other people mad, and horror is all about creating a sense of discomfort in the reader. The authors of these stories were rebels in a way I could never imagine being, and so I lapped them up, relishing the negative emotions that would undo me in ordinary situations. But more than that, I also just loved the transgressiveness of the strange, of the unreal. Nothing pissed me off more than finding out it had been the park ranger or whatever all long (I refuse to watch Scooby Doo).
At the same time, though, I was reading the kid-lit version of “women’s fiction” (see the aforementioned Sweet Valley High) and literary fiction. In elementary school I always read every book that had been nominated for that year’s Newberry Award list, and old Newberry Award winners were my go-to books when I couldn’t find anything else that interested me. By high school I was reading Margaret Atwood and Kazuo Ishiguro for fun, and in college I was an English major, interested in modernist and post-modernist literature, particularly magic realism.
It was in college where my childhood reading tastes finally merged with my high school reading tastes. Gabriel Garcia Marquez was the first author I remember reading that combined the literary elements I’d grown to treasure with the transgressive strangeness that I’d loved as a kid. Others followed: writers like Kelly Link, Aimee Bender, Karen Russell; books like Carlos Fuentes’ Aura and Laura Kasishke’s The Life Before Her Eyes. I slowly became aware of a whole galaxy of writing that blended the best things about the books I’d loved as a kid, as an adolescent, and as an adult. These sorts of stories don’t easily fit into one genre. You can find some of them in the science fiction section of the bookstore and others in the literary fiction section. Sometimes they’ll be in the both places at once.
I made a decision, shortly after grad school, to market myself as a SFF writer, rather than a literary fiction one. My main reasons for this were the tons of SFF movies and television shows I’ve loved over the years, as well as my involvement in those fandoms. Still, “science fiction writer,” although accurate, is an identity that never quite feels like my real skin.
To learn more about Cassandra, visit her Faculty page.
She is teaching the upcoming 3-hour workshop How to Create A Great Antagonist (November 16, 6-9 pm). To learn more and register, click here.