I was overjoyed last year when I had the opportunity to hear one of my favorite authors, Neil Gaiman, speak at Book Expo America. There was one thing in particular he said that resonated deeply with me: "I am fortunate to be one of very few authors whose audiences allow them to write in any genre they choose. And for that I am grateful. Not every writer is so lucky."
I heard these words at a time when I had just completed my novel, Myths of a Merciful God. This story is, to say the least, a notable departure from the themes and tenor of my previous books. Thinning the Herd, Unlucky Stiffs, and Weirdly Beloved were all lighthearted, irreverent observations on the stranger aspects of real life and human nature, and the often unfortunate randomness of dumb luck and a faulty gene pool.
Myths of a Merciful God is, first of all, a work of fiction, and secondly, a serious exploration of some rather difficult themes. Would the wonderful people who read and liked my other books accept that my "dark side" had a serious side? I wondered.
But I didn't worry. Every book eventually finds its own way into the right hearts.
Even as I wrote Myths of a Merciful God, I was acutely aware that this particular story had all the potential for becoming an unbearably sad read. For that reason, I tried very hard to tell it in a way that mirrors real life, but that never loses sight of hope, or our remarkable ability to access and claim our own resilience.
We humans are, to say the least, extraordinarily complex beings. Our choices and actions often defy all discernible logic: We can laugh through our tears. We search for—and fully expect to find—glimpses of light in the darkness. We can recognize and hold dear those bits of kindness and compassion offered to us in the most fleeting of encounters with complete strangers. These, I believe, are the things that most define our capacity to love, and our ability to make it from one day to the next without succumbing to despair in our darkest hours.
To be sure, no one ever emerges from tragedy and loss to resume life as it was before. We are changed every day, in big ways and small, by the events that transpire from one minute to the next, from one hour to another. Every decision we make between the dawn and the twilight of any ordinary day determines who we become—and shows us what we're really made of—in all the days that follow one extraordinary moment.
These were the themes I wanted to explore, the notions that were rattling around in my heart and mind, clamoring to be heard, when I wrote this novel.
As for sticking to a single genre, I would offer simply this: There's probably another wicked little book or two of dark humor simmering in that big black cauldron on my back burner. In the meantime, I still have a lot of exploring to do.