June 27, 2016

Switching Gears: a guest post by Robert Dunn, author of "Motorman"

Running from a night of humiliation and murder, Johnny Burris leaves his home in an urban junkyard fleeing into the Ozarks countryside. While he flees, mysterious streaks of blue light in the night sky drive him into a bit of nowhere lost in the hills. Johnny thinks he’s found home and good work in an odd little gas station from another time. The station isn’t the only thing strange and Johnny quickly gets pulled into a world where the cars aren't the only things all chromed out and everything seems touched with a little of the flying blue streaks that led Johnny there.
Enticed and torn between two sisters, one an outcast for her normality, Johnny becomes the pawn of their father. The old doctor is looking for a replacement and Johnny Burris is the man with just the right skills.
But Johnny doesn't want anything to do with the doctor's plans so he runs, taking one of the sisters with him. But the people, and the girl, turn out to be even more than he imagined. And his whole world becomes the one choice, live as a monster, making monsters or die like a man. If he chooses to die, who will he take with him?


Switching Gears
by Robert Dunn


It’s hard to change gears. And yes, I’m kind of a car guy but this isn’t about bad clutches or anything. This is more of a car metaphor so… Changing gears… I’ve been doing it a lot. Changing gears, changing lanes, even changing the races I run. My current release, the novella Motorman, is a horror story with monsters and people built up with machine parts. Leading up to its release and mixed in with some changes I made to it, were a series of revisions on another book. That book is something very, very different. While working on Motorman I was also revising a romance. Talk about a change of gears.
The romance I’d been working on is a romantic suspense, so some of the same elements are there, you have to create appealing characters and put them in danger. The larger differences are nuanced within the idea of danger. My romantic characters must also face emotional danger. That’s a huge shift. Especially since that book is releasing this year also.
After I had written the romance book and before I had the editor’s notes to begin my revisions, I was making changes on what I call an Ozarks noir mystery. It is not a romance but there was a time when it might have been. Quite a while back I wrote a book with romantic elements and sent it out to readers and then to some agents and publishers. The feedback that returned was that I had written a romance. It sold to a romance publisher. So this more recent book I wrote with a lot more sex and romance thinking it would be a good fit with the same publisher. It went to a new publisher who liked the mystery so the mushy stuff got the axe. That book is also coming this year. Shift.
Before all of that is a book I wrote and tinkered with for a while before placing it with the same publisher as Motorman. The Harrowing will also be coming out this year. It’s a thriller dressed in the shroud of horror. Mercenary biker goes to hell on a rescue mission. You know it goes horribly wrong.
So you see where I’m going with this? Or there are better questions, all directed at myself: do I see where I’m going, and, is it a good thing?
In the past year and for the foreseeable future I’m a car in several different races. Shift. Shift. Shi… Romance requires a happy ending. Horror doesn’t require, but works better with at least ambiguity, if not an ending outright terrible for the main characters. Thrillers need something in between but a solid resolution that puts all of the sticky parts back together. My head spins at it all. The worst thing is that while some can learn the tropes and rules by reading the books, I haven’t been able to. I can know it but not get it, not really. The truth is that I keep learning by doing it wrong, burning out my clutch so to speak. I like to think I get it eventually but I do that by writing it wrong and going back to fix things.
But I’m learning something else as I go along. The hard rules of genre are for the shelves at the local B&N. The books themselves are best served by a furious and liberal cross pollination. While it’s true a romance with a horror ending is going to be a tough sell, bringing a new layer of tension, a jolt of fear into the story can serve it well. Taking character expectations and types from one to another is also liberating. It’s easy to see with the growing influence of paranormal in romance and, I believe, a simmering resurgence of gothic in horror. Have you noticed a creeping rise in weird western titles? I have.
Books like my upcoming, The Harrowing, a mix of thriller, horror, and contemporary fantasy, are something that better writers than I are leading with. Jonathan Maberry is one of those authors forging the new hybrid genre, horror/thriller. His Joe Ledger series about a team of special operations agents that confront everything from genetically modified monsters to zombies and Lovecraftian elder things is the product of a lot of gear shifting. And it’s shaking things up. Not an earth quake shake up but something I notice when I browse at a book store. I’ve seen his wonderful Joe Ledger and Dez Fox books shelved as horror, as science fiction, and simply in the general literature heading. I picked up one of his latest, Kill Switch, at the library and it had a Suspense sticker on the spine identical to what was attached to the latest historical mystery from David Morrell.
Another author that’s doing the genre mix and making it work so well is Richard Kadrey. In the Sandman Slim series of books, Kadrey has succeeded in fusing horror fantasy with a hard boiled noir feel. It is a potent mix both with readers and the people who choose shelving position.
Maybe I’m just rationalizing my own lack of focus and short attention span. Or maybe I’m part of a larger trend of writers shifting our gears more often. I hope so. Not just to make myself feel better but because of the books. Writers and their work benefit from a broadness of experience. It works the other way as well. Writers who read widely bring different energies and viewpoints to their work. In all cases, it is books, and publishing, and book selling that benefit. That’s good for everyone.
I wish I could make it look easy like Jonathan Maberry does. I don’t know him. We’ve shared some posts on social media and I read his books. (I can’t imagine him reading one of mine). What I do imagine is him shifting easily, down into the curve and up on the long straight away taking the different bits and pieces of genre and melding them into his own smooth road. I’m getting better at it but the thing is, as I said and I slowly figured out, it’s not about the writer. It is about the books, the finished bits that stand for us in neat rows on the shelf or online display.
So even though it makes my head spin, and I don’t make any of it look easy, I’m going to keep shifting and jumping tracks to make my own road. It will feel so much better sharing it that way.
Don’t stop reading now this is important too. Let me tell you about Motorman my latest book from Necro Publications: http://www.necropublications.com/
Running from a night of humiliation and murder, Johnny Burris leaves the city and his junkyard home, fleeing into the Ozarks countryside. While on the road, mysterious streaks of blue light in the night sky drive him into a forgotten bit of nowhere lost in the hills. Johnny thinks he’s found home and good work in an odd little gas station from another time.
Johnny quickly gets pulled into a world where the cars aren't the only things all chromed out and everything seems touched with the energy of the flying blue streaks that led Johnny there. Enticed and torn between two sisters, one an outcast for her normality, the other a beautiful monster, Johnny becomes the pawn of their father. The old man is both the town's mechanic and its doctor. He's looking for a replacement and Johnny Burris is the man with just the right skills.

When Johnny learns the truth behind the doctor's plans, he runs, taking the "normal" sister with him. But the town, and the girl, turn out to be even more than he imagined. And his whole world becomes the one choice, live as a monster, making monsters or die like a man. If he chooses to die, who will he take with him?

Robert Dunn was an Army brat born in Alabama and finally settled in Nixa, Missouri. A graduate of Drury College with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Communications/Film he also earned a second major in Philosophy with a minor in Religion and carried an emphasis in Theatre. This course of study left him qualified only to be a televangelist.
An award-winning film/video producer and writer, he has written scripts for or directed every kind of production from local 30-second television commercial spots to documentary productions and travelogues.
A writer of blognovels and contributor to various fiction websites his work has also included the book length prose poem, Uncle Sam, the collection of short stories, Motorman and Other Stories and novels Behind the Darkness  and The Red Highway.
Mr. Dunn now resides in Kansas City where he continues to write genre fiction and experiment with mixed media art projects using hand drawn and painted elements combined through digital paint and compositing.

Praise for Robert Dunn
The Red Highway is not one of the best books that I’ve read so far this year, or that I’ve read in a long time…it’s one of the best books that I’ve ever read!  It was an incredible read, one that has so many layers that I was completely enthralled with the story. 5+++ stars!” -2 Book Lovers Reviews
“A thoroughly gripping read. Dunn is a writer with guts and the chops to grab his readers by the eyeballs and dare them to look away.”
–Hunter Shea, Author of Tortures of the Damned and The Dover Demon
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