Rise & Decline – A Guest Post by Michael Waller


The Rise of Genre and the Decline of Story

By Michael Waller


When I was young I prowled the aisles of my local library unhindered by the fear of the unknowns of literature or the restrictions of genre. There were only two sections, fiction and non-fiction. Admittedly there were numerous subdivisions in the non-fiction side, but in fiction the shelves started at A and worked their inexorable way to Z. I was like a literate cow grazing a lush field and trying everything green in sight, grass, daisies, dandelions, all different, but all succulent.

Now however, I have to have my hand held for me, like some geriatric who’s meals are cooked by well meaning relatives and stored in labled containers, and be lead to the thoughtfully marked sections which have compartmentalised books to save me the onerous task of discovery. In seems that just as scientists now specialize in the minutiae of the darkest and most esoteric corners of their field, the writers of fiction are stifling their creativity by the need to write to the blueprinted instructions of the “genre”. And just as the search for the perceived perfect attributes in a particular dog has lead to congenital weaknesses, so a look into so many books now shows an absence of the writing stamina needed to produce robust and healthy stories.

Perhaps it is the rise of the numerous courses teaching “creative writing”, a contradiction in terms if ever there was one, or the ever present spectre of targeted marketing, but, with notable exceptions, the world of fiction seems to be divided into two camps. There are those books which hit all of the check boxes of what a particular genre needs, or those which appeal to the incestuous circle of author, critic and academic, books which so often seem to me as if they should be in the non-fiction section with the other treatises on psychology.

So how does genre reduce the quality of story? Let us take a generalised example; A man murders his neighbour over damage done to his car. The local police inspector is particularly bright and after a thrilling investigation gets his man. A clear cut example of a murder mystery. Make it two technicians terraforming a planet and it is science fiction. Then we could have two knights fighting in the land of Blorg and it is fantasy. This in and of itself is not a recipe for disaster, but as with all recipes it is not only the ingredients that are important but also how much of each you use. Take out the technical jargon, the invented words, and the easy problem solving of magic and more often than not the story and characters are thin at best.

            Cross genre authors are rare, and why is that? Is it because this is the age of the specialist, and the renaissance man is as outdated as the historical period referred to? Or is it because cross-genre writing requires real creative story telling ability. Poe writing his macabre phantasies thinks of crime and we have the Murders in the Rue Morgue. Robert Louis Stevenson puts his pen down from a horror story of medical research gone awry, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and then picks it up again to write Kidnapped, a Jacobean swashbuckler, takes a rest and comes up with a maritime adventure The Merry Men, not to mention his travelogues and poetry. It was all just writing exciting stories to him, and he had the creativity to do it because fortunately he did not have a degree in creative writing to teach him what he should be doing. Or how different can Dorian Gray be from The Importance of Being Earnest.

Memorable writers never have, nor never will, bind themselves to the template of genre.


Michael Waller (The Wizards Gift)

Michael was born in Middlesbrough in the North Riding of Yorkshire, UK in 1951 where he was soon creating havoc as a short trousered rebel. Fortunately as his mother was head cook at police headquarters his numerous run ins with the constabulary were dealt with in the privacy of the family home. A junior school run by nuns, and then an excellent grammar school under the watchful eye of Marist priests educated him to have a love of literature, music and science. Though they did nothing to curb his anti-authority streak.  An initial ramble through all manner of jobs finally came to a halt in the oil and chemical industry where his love of science and all things technical provided him with gainful employment for almost thirty years. Whilst working he spent several years in the Middle East with visits to India, and around Europe before landing in the USA where he has lived for the past twenty years. Retired now he writes, take photographs and restores vintage British motorcycles in upstate New York.


wizThe Wizard’s Gift

Add it to your Goodreads shelf / Amazon wishlist


The last of an ancient group of wizards leaves a gift to the newly arrived race of men. It is revered and cared for by a line of priests until it is stolen, and the high priest and his sovereign murdered by a king who believes himself destined to be a great wizard. But from ancient writings the high priest had discovered that the gift is not benevolent as was thought. This forces the son of the high priest, unexpectedly elevated to his father’s position, and the young prince who is equally suddenly king, into a race to find the gift before it can be used as that may cause the destruction of the world. Accompanied by the retired captain of the palace guard they hope to speed their journey by crossing the Wasteland, a seeming desert, which is fabled to be populated by monsters, and from which no visitor has ever returned. In the course of their adventures they are hunted by dog faced men and captured by slavers, but the young prince truly becomes a king, and the priest discovers that he has a destiny that goes beyond the bounds of his world.


Read Excerpt #1

“My Lord” he said, the words finally exploding from his lips.

“Stay and be easy” Caran Tuith said. “Tell us what happened to you. You were hurt in your boat and drifted out to sea?” he tried to help the man’s memory.

Once more a startled and worried look came onto his face. He stared for what seemed an age into the Prince’s eyes and then slowly began to shake his head.

 “No my Lord. I was injured before I reached the boat. I was wounded in the fighting.” His voice was steady but still weak and low.

At this revelation all of the men became attentive, even Janorin seemed to recall his thoughts to the present.

“Fighting?” said the ship’s Captain “What was this, some seafront brawl. An argument over fish?”

Again the man shook his head. “No sir. Fighting with the soldiers who came into the city. We tried to defend ourselves but there were too many, and they came in complete surprise. “ Once more he raised his hand to the wound on his head. ”I thought that I was killed when I saw that sword swing at my head. Then I woke the next morning alive, I do not know what saved me, maybe the power of the Gift.” He looked over at Bataan, realising now who he was.

Caran Tuith was now on his knees next to the man, and the others had crowded in closer to him to hear his weak voice.

“The city was attacked, by whom? Where were the Palace Guard?” he looked quickly at Janorin and saw shock and disbelief in his sallow face.

“I do not know by whom my Lord” the man continued “They were short men with cruel eyes. They came as if by magic. No one saw them and then suddenly they were all around and inside the city. They seemed to want to kill everyone. During the day I was in fear of my life. I could hear yelling in some language I had never heard before. And screaming, I heard lots of screaming. I was so weak that I could not move from where I had fallen, but by the power of the Gift they did not see me. That night I managed to crawl along the back ways down to the harbour. There were fires everywhere. The invaders in their green tunics were looting the houses and shops. I thought once or twice that I saw our soldiers stop them, but they seemed to be with them, only different, taller men.

When I reached the harbour it was night and I thought that I would surely be seen, but there was no one on the quays that I could see, so I got down into the nearest boat and set it adrift. I knew that the tide was ebbing and that it would take me out into the open water. I had not thought beyond that. The last thing I saw as the cobble cleared the quays was the sun rising behind the city and smoke filling the sky everywhere. From the city and the palace.”

Read Excerpt #2

Hiding behind the trees they waited for the approach of the dogfaced men.  The defile was cut deeply into the hillside and was flanked by rocky crags that rose almost vertically to the top of the hill. Their pursuers would have no alternative but to follow them up the defile as the climb on either side of it would be almost impossible in the fury of the thunderstorm.

Carantor, crouching behind a tree was the nearest to the gap through which the dogfaced men would have to come in single file. His plan was to allow a small number of them through before he broke from cover to face the remainder as they tried to climb through the gap. Caran Tuith and Bataan stood a few yards back their swords drawn and ready to deal with those first few in the tight confines of the gully. In the flashes of lightning they could see down the rocky stairway with its steep sides, all the way to the bottom, and they were sure that in their present position they could not be caught unawares. Water ran over the slippery fragments of rock and between their feet before cascading over the tangle of exposed tree roots, much of it falling onto Carantor’s back. Oblivious to the cold water he waited, anxious and alert, for the arrival of the creatures that had pursued them for three days. He knew that there was no possibility of hearing their approach amid the noise of the storm, and although the lightning when it came illuminated the defile and its approach, the heavy rain and the pitch darkness between the flashes could hide their arrival until the very last moment.

All three strained their eyes and ears. Their fingers clenched and unclenched around the hilts of their swords. The rain had soaked them to the skin and though Caran Tuith and Bataan had been oblivious to how wet and cold they were during their flight, now, standing still and quiet, they began to shiver and feel the numbness growing in their toes.

Bataan thought that he saw something move to the right of the defile, a large figure silhouetted for a moment against the blinding white of the lightning. He turned to tell Caran Tuith that he thought the dogfaced men had succeeded in climbing the cliffs and were coming over the top of the hill when, in another flash of lightning, he saw in the young King’s face a sudden alertness as he moved away from Bataan as if readying himself for combat. Bataan did not need to ask what the lightning had revealed to his friend. He too readied himself, and turned his eyes back to the defile trying to discern any shape or movement in the darkness, the figure on the crest above forgotten.

For a moment the storm seemed to lessen a little, like a squall at sea that suddenly abates to give a moments quiet respite before returning with renewed force. In that lull they heard the sound of movement amongst the rocks as feet dislodged loose stones and sent them clattering downhill. As the wind and rain returned Bataan thought that he heard the sound of shouting voices. Then the whole sky flashed white with a tremendous sheet of lightning that lit the ground before them in stark black and white. In its glare the three stared in disbelief at the scene in the defile. The dogfaced men where there, but they were not climbing up to fight. They were struggling in the mesh of nets whose ends were held by large figures straining to keep their footing on the crest above. Once more all was plunged into darkness, and an immediate and deafening crash of thunder showed that the storm was directly overhead.

Although their faces were hidden in the dark, both Bataan and Caran Tuith’s wore the same bewildered expression. The strange tableau, cast into such stark relief by the lightning, was unexpected and confusing. Almost before they had time to have a second thought Carantor was with them.

“Run” he yelled over the noise of the storm.

About Misty

Your friendly neighborhood narcissist. I'm sarcastic, cynical and a bit cranky. I own a soap box so big that sometimes I have difficulty stepping down off of it, and I'm about 94% certain I have multiple personalities. I don't sleep enough, and I read more than any person should ever consider normal. I have anger management issues, especially when I'm stuck in traffic and I have an unhealthy obsession with my Kindle. I am a vampire lovin', zombie obsessed, book-in-hand, iPod freak. You either love me or hate me. You be the judge.