Kelley Armstrong on Crossing Genres

Posted by October 16th, 2013

We are so excited to have #1 New York Times bestselling author Kelley Armstrong as our guest. While she’s famous for her Urban Fantasy Otherworld series, in her most recent book Kelley’s produced different fare: what she calls the “contemporary Gothic.” Read about her journey into genre, and about how crossing genres has played a part in her most recent literary brew, OMENS.


When I decided to wrap up the Otherworld series, the most obvious question was “What will I do next?” I was definitely going to launch another adult series. While I write YA and have recently launched a co-authored middle-grade trilogy, my first love is adult fiction, and I can’t imagine ever giving that up. The question then was “Which genre?” I knew the answer wasn’t urban fantasy. If I wanted to continue that, the Otherworld universe is vast enough that I could tell any story I wanted in it, from any narrative point of view. No, if I left the Otherworld, I was leaving the standard UF genre with it.omens by kelley armstrong

In addition to the Otherworld, I have a straight-up crime/mystery adult series with no fantasy elements. That’s the Nadia Stafford trilogy, wrapping up in November with WILD JUSTICE. I loved writing those books, though I’ll admit I missed the fantasy elements I include in all my other work. The answer seemed obvious then—I would start a series that combines the two. Less paranormal than urban fantasy, but still some element of fantasy, with mystery driving the main plot.

So is OMENS a mystery? Not entirely. I’ve never been good at sticking squarely to any genre. I read most of them, and I want to incorporate many different elements in my work. When I wrote BITTEN, the modern “urban fantasy” genre didn’t exist. There was UF, but the name was used to refer to any fantasy set in the contemporary world. BITTEN was called a supernatural thriller, then paranormal suspense, and finally urban fantasy.

When I wrote OMENS, then, I wasn’t concerned about fitting into a box. I’ve learned from experience that there’s a market for cross-genre work. While it helps to be able to categorize a book for shelving and marketing, it’s not essential. The Otherworld is found under fantasy, horror, mystery and even romance. As long as other UF books are in the same area, I trust new readers will find mine.

If I was to categorize OMENS, I’d call it a contemporary Gothic. It fits the basic mold of Gothic novels. A young woman is forced to flee her current circumstances and takes refuge in a strange place with supernatural overtones. There, she meets a mysterious man, who may not have her best interests in mind. That fits OMENS to a tee. What differentiates it from the old-school Gothics is the heroine. In classic Gothic literature, the young woman is usually swept along by her troubles, a pretty and powerless victim. That’s definitely not my kind of story. Olivia might be caught up in a very bad situation—having discovered her biological parents are convicted serial killers—but she takes charge of her destiny. She accepts the help of the “mysterious man” with great care, knowing he’s liable to turn on her. She accepts the hospitality of Cainsville, while keeping her eyes open, ready to unmask its secrets. So it’s contemporary Gothic. Which won’t help anyone trying to shelve the book, but it does give some idea of what to expect from the novel.

While OMENS isn’t a standard urban fantasy, it has all the elements that make it a “Kelley Armstrong novel.” I’ve just taken what I loved about my Otherworld and my Nadia books and played with the mixture to create something new. Now all I can do is sit back and hope readers will enjoy my new brew!

About Kelly Armstrong: 

author kelley armstrongKelley Armstrong has been telling stories since before she could write. If asked for a story about girls and dolls, hers would invariably feature undead girls and evil dolls, much to her teachers’ dismay. All efforts to make her produce “normal” stories failed. Today, she continues to spin tales of ghosts and demons and werewolves, while safely locked away in her basement writing dungeon. Kelley is also a #1 New York Times bestselling writer. Follow Kelley on Twitter @KelleyArmstrong and check out her website.

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