Guest Post: Michael Mammay on Reading Outside the Genre

Stephen King said, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” I don’t know many pro writers who disagree with him. We might debate how much reading is enough, and I think a lot of us struggle to find time for writing, reading, and the myriad other things we have to do to live. To me, that competition for time makes the time that I do have to read more important.

I’m a science fiction writer. Right now, I write military sci-fi thrillers. My debut novel, PLANETSIDE, came out in 2018 and the sequel, SPACESIDE, released in late August. I think it surprises people when I tell them that the biggest influence on PLANETSIDE was GONE GIRL, by Gillian Flynn. If you happened to have read both, you’re probably thinking to yourself…but wait…PLANETSIDE is nothing like GONE GIRL.

Of course it isn’t. Yet, here we are.

It was late 2014 and I’d just given up on a fairly bland fantasy novel I’d written in third person from three different points of view. It wasn’t exactly *bad* but it definitely wasn’t good enough. I’d had a kernel of an idea for this science fiction book in my head since I got back from Afghanistan—just a few notes that I’d jotted to myself while deployed—but I had no real plan to do anything with it. I was a bit burned out and had taken a few weeks off from writing. As I often do, I used that time to read. A critique partner of mine had just read GONE GIRL and recommended it. I read one chapter and I was hooked…the voice just exploded off the page.

That was it. That story idea in my head…it needed to be told in first person, and it needed a lot of voice. I sat down that night and wrote a short first chapter (that has subsequently been deleted) and sent it off to my most trusted readers. They loved it. They wanted more. Fast forward nine weeks and I had a first draft.

The influence didn’t stop there.

I didn’t start out to write what I did. In my mind, PLANETSIDE was going to be military science fiction. It’s set in a military science fiction world, and that’s how we market it (mostly), but I was as surprised as anyone when it turned into more of a mystery. I’ve come to love my twists. My hope when you sit down to read one of my novels is that I throw something at you that you don’t see coming. And who does that better than Gillian Flynn? Maybe Nelson Demille in THE GENERAL’S DAUGHTER, which was another influence.

Even the voice of my main character owes some of its origin to mystery, taking a big cue from noir. I love Kristen Lepionka’s mysteries…I think we employ similar voice. I don’t think a reader has to be a noir fan to enjoy it, but I think taking elements that are fairly standard in one genre and translating them into another can feel fresh. We know a lot of the tropes of the genres we read most…and we love them…that’s why we read the genre. I think sometimes flipping the script on those tropes can be interesting too.

I’m not saying to avoid reading in your own genre. Not by a long shot. I probably read three books in sci-fi or fantasy for each one I read outside. But there are writers doing great things in every genre. By branching out, you might find something for your writer kit bag that you can use in a new way. It just might be the thing that makes your book stand out.

About the author: Michael Mammay is a science fiction writer. He is a retired army officer and a graduate of the United States Military Academy. He has a master’s degree in military history, and he currently teaches American literature. He is a veteran of Desert Storm, Somalia, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. His debut novel, Planetside came out in July, 2018, and was selected as a Library Journal best book of 2018. The audio book, narrated by RC Bray, was nominated for an Audie award. The sequel, Spaceside, hit the shelves on August 27th, 2019. Michael lives with his wife in Georgia. You can find him on twitter (at)Michaelmammay or you can visit his website (note: website is michaelmammay dot com…don’t want to include a link in the email for risk of it going to spam)

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About Cat Rambo

I am a science fiction and fantasy writer and editor. My three collections of short stories are THE SURGEON'S TALE AND OTHER STORIES (with Jeff VanderMeer), EYES LIKE SKY AND COAL AND MOONLIGHT, and NEAR + FAR (forthcoming this September).
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