When I was eight years old I wrote poorly-reasoned mystery stories featuring characters named after my friends. This was quite confusing because two of my friends had the same name, which doesn’t really work in fiction, but I’ll let myself off the hook because commercial success wasn’t high on my list. When I was fourteen years old I wrote an enormous chunk of an epic fantasy featuring castles and dragons. I had recently read a lot of Robert Jordan and Raymond E. Feist. At seventeen, I planned and wrote an entire television series, a sort of gay-British-Buffy. It featured a lot of my friends, only this time I changed my name.
Then I went to university and studied literature and creative writing. Here I started my first novel, a literary coming-of-age novel that was referred to (a bit reductively) by myself, my friends and my lecturers as ‘the gay Lovely Bones.’ Somewhere around this time I picked up the habit of thinking that genre fiction was something I should probably leave behind, and so I read and wrote almost exclusively outside of that area.
I’ve never stopped writing since then, but last year was probably my biggest year, professionally speaking. I made my first big-time professional sale, a queer horror short story to Nightmare’s Queers Destroy Horror. That year I also published a bunch of other stories: a sci-fi story about futuristic drag queens, an erotica story about the larger male, a tricksy little story with a painful twist, a young-adult romance story, a sweet gay meet-cute romance story, and a bizarre metafictional piece of spec fic that I can’t label. I finished one novel, a tongue-in-cheek steampunk mystery novel, and sold another novella, an experimental straight-romance. This year was also the launch of my editing career: I put out two anthologies, a steamy erotica anthology (that managed to snatch the only starred review from Publishers Weekly my publisher has ever gotten for porn!) and a dark queer fantasy anthology. My next three anthologies are erotica, historical and fantastical.
I’m not saying all of this to boast (well, maybe a little). I’m saying this because when someone asks me, ‘oh, and what kind of books do you write,’ I have absolutely no bloody clue how to answer this.
I recently received a submission to an anthology from someone who said they’d read my horror story, and were then delighted to discover my chub-erotica story. The idea that someone’s exposure to my output was these two stories made me laugh. And then I decided I didn’t care. In fact, I quite like the idea that if someone does recognise my name they will have no idea what kind of story it’s going to be.
I’ve talked to a few of my fellow writers about how they feel over developing a ‘brand’. The received wisdom seems to be that you should write very roughly in the same area, otherwise you can never build a readership, but that’s never appealed to me. My mentor, Steve Berman, firmly ascribes to the same theory and has done precisely the same thing, writing all over the genre shop. I know some writers who specifically divide up their fiction under different pseudonyms—one name for erotica, one for fiction, for example. I’ve thought about this. I understand the logic. Commercially it makes sense, and personally… well, there’s still a bit of a sneer aimed at someone who writes erotica (or romance, which I generally don’t…) over something else, but I firmly think they should all sod right off. I’m more than happy to put the same name to a story to an erotica story* as on a horror story, or a science fiction story. Turning someone on with writing takes just as much skill as scaring someone, or making them laugh, or anything else.
None of this makes it any easier to answer that question though. Generally I just say, “You’d best read and find out.”
(* I have one exception I’m sure you’ll allow me, and that is at Christmas with my ageing Christian mother. When she asks what my stories are about, I just mumble ‘airships’.)
Matthew Bright is a writer, editor and designer. His fiction has appeared recently in Nightmare’s Queers Destroy Horror, Manchester Revolutions, The Biggest Lover, Men In Love, Queen Mob’s Teahouse and Harlot Media. He is the editor of the anthologies The Myriad Carnival and Threesome, the latter of which marked him as ‘an editor to watch’ by Publishers Weekly. He is also the editor of the upcoming anthologies Gents, A Scandal In Gomorrah and Clockwork Cairo. He pays the bills as a book and cover designer, and lives in Manchester, England with his partner and a dog that eats valuable hardback books.