Are there successful multi-genre authors?
November 10, 2008 2:31 AM   Subscribe

Are there any reasonably well-known (or even famous) writers who are truly multi-genre?

It's very easy to find authors whose writing is predominantly in a single genre - horror (King, Koontz), fantasy (Tolkien, Rowling), crime (Crumley, Christie), romance, and the like. But are there any famous (or at least semi-known) authors who jump between genres regularly?

Variety doesn't seem to be a remarkable attribute in musicians (Sting, for example), but while I can think of writers who straddle or work with two distinct genres (Ballard, Dahl), I cannot think of any who have produced significant works in, say, all of horror, crime, romance, and sci-fi - and I would like to look into the works of any who have.
posted by wackybrit to Media & Arts (54 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
H.G. Wells was not only the father of the modern science fiction genre, he was also a wildly popular historian of the day.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 2:52 AM on November 10, 2008

Georgette Heyer wrote detective fiction and romances, each distinct and not straddling genres.
posted by carbide at 3:19 AM on November 10, 2008

I don't know how you define fame, but Iain Banks and Iain M Banks are the same guy, but write in entirely different genres.
posted by The Monkey at 3:27 AM on November 10, 2008

Speaking historically: Edward Bulwer-Lytton (historical fiction, contemporary "silver fork" fiction, Newgate novels, horror, philosophical novels, history, cultural criticism, drama...).

Also Arthur Conan Doyle (detective fiction, SF, historical fiction, horror).
posted by thomas j wise at 3:29 AM on November 10, 2008

While Ken Follett is mostly known for his Cold War and suspense novels, he's also written two very good historical dramas set in 1100s and 1300s England.
posted by at 3:39 AM on November 10, 2008

Ian (M.) Banks
posted by The Carolingian at 3:47 AM on November 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Ah poo. Iain.
posted by The Carolingian at 3:47 AM on November 10, 2008

King has written fantasy, commercial and non-fiction as well as horror. Or are you looking for the authors to be equally well known in each area?
posted by the latin mouse at 4:02 AM on November 10, 2008

I don't know if you consider children's and adult fiction to be two separate genres, but if so there are number of examples of authors who have written successfully for each.

Roald Dahl immediately comes to mind: he wrote children's fiction and adult fiction (as well as screenplays and at least one play).

Sonya Hartnett, an Australian children's author, caused a fair bit of controversy a couple of years ago when she wrote something containing graphic sex (originally published under a pseudonym).

Arthur Ransome was an author and journalist who wrote the hugely popular Swallows and Amazons books.

Dodie Smith was a playwright and author who wrote several very popular children's books, including The Hundred and One Dalmatians.

I have to be off now, but you get the idea.
posted by badmoonrising at 4:25 AM on November 10, 2008

In nonfiction, Bill Bryson.
posted by Stylus Happenstance at 4:37 AM on November 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

James Rollins (potboilers/action-adventure) and James Clemens(fantasy) are the same person.
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 4:42 AM on November 10, 2008

King has written fantasy, commercial and non-fiction as well as horror. Or are you looking for the authors to be equally well known in each area?

Not equally well-known in each genre, as such, but at least to have had commercial success or some sort of acclaim in the alternate genre(s). King's On Writing was very successful, so I'd count him :-)
posted by wackybrit at 4:49 AM on November 10, 2008

Booker Prize-winner John Banville writes noirish crime fiction as Benjamin Black, the first of which was shortlisted for the Edgar Award.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 4:52 AM on November 10, 2008

Isaac Asimov, although best known for his science fiction, wrote vast numbers of books on a wide variety of subjects. However, whether different subjects of non-fiction are as genres to fiction is an interesting question.

(Asimov was one of the most prolific writers of all time, having written or edited more than 500 books and an estimated 9,000 letters and postcards[3]. His works have been published in nine of the ten major categories of the Dewey Decimal System (the sole exception being the 100s; philosophy and psychology).[4])
posted by aeschenkarnos at 5:10 AM on November 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Toby Litt has done it with each book published. David Mitchell is a fan of genre switcheroo, too.
posted by mippy at 5:46 AM on November 10, 2008

Dan Simmons writes SF, horror, and some straight contemporary fiction. And quite possibly other stuff I don't know about.

Paul Theroux alternates between writing fiction and non-fiction travel books.
posted by adamrice at 6:01 AM on November 10, 2008

E.B. White was a successful essayist and humorist, children's book author and the White of Strunk and White from the Elements of Style.
posted by mikaeledmonds at 6:10 AM on November 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

William Shakespeare: playwright / poet (standalone poems, e.g. The Sonnets)
Anton Chekhov: playwright / short-story writer (famous in his own time for both)
George Orwell: novelist / essayist
Joyce Carol Oats: novelist of many genres
Margaret Atwood: literary novelist / SF writer
posted by grumblebee at 6:38 AM on November 10, 2008

Doris Lessing has worked in both literary fiction and SF (though much of her SF is out of print).

Walter Mosley has had success in both mystery fiction and SF.
posted by Prospero at 6:48 AM on November 10, 2008

Neil Gaiman?
posted by misanthropicsarah at 6:49 AM on November 10, 2008

Clive Barker wrote a juvenile fantasy series I think. Does that count?
posted by ian1977 at 7:02 AM on November 10, 2008

Nora Roberts is very successful at romance and mystery (writing as JD Robb.)
Meg Cabot writes mainstream women's fiction, YA comedy and YA paranormal.
posted by headspace at 7:03 AM on November 10, 2008

John Updike has covered a lot of ground, from historical fiction, to contemporary fiction, to science fiction. I don't know that his genre experiments are considered successful though.
posted by prozach1576 at 7:22 AM on November 10, 2008

Susan Sontag comes to mind: made her name with critical essays, but also wrote film scripts and won the National Book Award for her novel, "In America."

She said: "There is a terrible, mean American resentment toward a writer who tries to do many things."
posted by Beardman at 7:23 AM on November 10, 2008

Judy Blume wrote the famous Fudge series along with the seriously trashy Wifey.
posted by mkb at 7:29 AM on November 10, 2008

A.S. Byatt's Possession is a literary feat because it spans multiple genres and voices within a single novel. On the surface, it's a modern romance/mystery that orbits two scholars as they research a love story between two Victorian literary figures. Byatt's Victorian poetry is so authentic that most critics assumed she'd dredged the lines from some dead, underrated poet of that era.
posted by zoomorphic at 7:48 AM on November 10, 2008

Italo Calvino. Many of his works are unclassifiable. He wrote a few realistic novels, a few philosophical novels and couple of collections of comic SF.

But I suspect "literary" authors like Calvino, Atwood and Sontag aren't what you're looking for. You're looking for real die-hard genre writers who successfully publish in multiple genres. The perfect person would be (shudder) Stephan King and Barbara Cartland fused into one writer. You're looking for, say, a writer who has a rabid following amongst Mystery fans and Western fans (or whatever). I can't think of anyone like that, though maybe Frederick Brown fits. I'm not a fan, and it's been years since I ready anything by him, but I think he wrote successfully as both a SF writer and a mystery writer. And he was a dime-store-type writer, not a literary figure like Updike or Oats.

There are a few middlebrow writers who dabble in many fields. Ira Levin comes to mind. He wrote mysteries, such as "A Kiss Before Dying" and "Deathtrap." He also wrote sci-fi novels such as "This Perfect Day" and "The Stepford Wives." And, of course, he wrote horror: "Rosemary's Baby."

Walter Tevis is a similar writer. He wrote both "The Hustler" (about pool sharks) and "The Man Who Fell To Earth."

The problem with Tevis and Levin is that they weren't very prolific. I do think they wrote whatever they wrote as good as -- often better than -- the so-called experts of the genres. But no one thinks of either as one of the top ten SF writers or whatever. They just didn't produce enough.
posted by grumblebee at 8:02 AM on November 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

I typically mark best answers, even if there are a few, but pretty much every answer here has been useful in some way - so to avoid washing the thread in a sea of blue, please all just accept my thanks and you have all provided best answers! Thanks! :)
posted by wackybrit at 8:39 AM on November 10, 2008

adamrice already mentioned him, but I want to put in a second plug for the oft-overlooked Dan Simmons, who works in SF (Hyperion, Hugo Award), horror (Carrion Comfort, Bram Stoker Award), fantasy (Song of Kali, World Fantasy Award), crime fiction (under the name Joe Kurtz, Hardcase), and historical fiction (The Crook Factory, The Terror).

He's probably best known for his science fiction (Hyperion and its sequels constitute some of the smartest & most entertaining space opera ever penned, IMO, and will inspire even lazy readers like me to dig out our Canterbury Tales and collected verse of John Keats in order to catch all the references), but he's an equally confident writer across genres, and even his worst work is better than 90% of whatever genre its shelved with.

He also hosts an excellent website where he frequently responds to his readers via forums and posts essays about writing well and about writing genre fiction.

posted by BitterOldPunk at 8:45 AM on November 10, 2008

Jimmy Buffett : one of only seven authors who have had #1 bestsellers on the NY Times Fiction and Non-Fiction lists. The others were Steinbeck, Hemingway, Albom, Styron, Irving Wallace, and Dr. Seuss.

Not to mention his cross-genre success in Country and Pop music.

Or his cross-genre success in Music, Writing, and Restaurants.

and Tequila.
posted by cameradv at 8:51 AM on November 10, 2008

Patrick Lane.
posted by klanawa at 8:57 AM on November 10, 2008

George R. R. Martin is mostly known for his epic fantasy series, but he has been involved with horror and sci-fi: as an editor and contributor to the long-running Wild Card series, his latest book Hunter's Run is sci-fi, and he wrote teleplays for The Twilight Zone.
posted by CKmtl at 8:57 AM on November 10, 2008

Seconding Joyce Carol Oates. In novels/short stories alone, she's done gothic, horror, suspense, mystery/crime, romance, historical, fantasy, realism, surrealism -- often in various combinations. Not to mention her nonfiction work and poetry and plays. She also writes under two different pseudonyms.
posted by archimago at 9:07 AM on November 10, 2008

The insanely prolific Jerome Charyn has genre-hopped more than any writer I know. Crime novels, postmodern-ish literary fiction, a few graphic novels (including one about a psychic KGB agent), non-fiction books about New York and Ping Pong (among other things). He teaches film theory in Paris, and in the past year has released a historical novel about the American Revolution and a book about Marilyn Monroe.
posted by neroli at 9:16 AM on November 10, 2008

Raymond Carver - poet, probably one of the seminal voices in the American short story form; screenwriter, essayist.

Pretty much a rad dude, all around.
posted by jivadravya at 9:18 AM on November 10, 2008

You might be surprised to learn that Arthur Conan Doyle was prouder of his historical novels than he was the Sherlock Holmes stories. He also wrote some sci fi, as well as a play and some non-fiction historical pamphlets.

Also, he's not as famous, but check out David Markson-- he's written brilliantly in almost every genre, with a fantastic self-consciousness about how they work.
posted by dizziest at 9:19 AM on November 10, 2008

Raymond Carver - poet, probably one of the seminal voices in the American short story form; screenwriter, essayist.

Carver wrote a screenplay?
posted by grumblebee at 9:34 AM on November 10, 2008

M. T. Anderson: science fiction, dense literary historical fiction, mystery/parody, contemporary teen humor, fantasy,paranormal horror/humor, and my favorite, old-fashioned sea shanty-style rhyming picture books.

Big awards and best-seller lists sprinkled among the genres for this guy.
posted by lampoil at 9:38 AM on November 10, 2008

Anne Rice: Horror (Interview with a Vampire, etc.), historical fiction (Feast of All Saints, Cry to Heaven), erotica (as Anne Rampling and A. N. Roquelaure - Belinda, Exit to Eden, the Beauty books), religious fiction (Christ the Lord). All share her same overwrought style (well, I haven't read the Christ books, but I think I can safely assume), but are different genres.
posted by faunafrailty at 9:58 AM on November 10, 2008

Thomas M Disch was successful as a science fiction author, horror novelist, poet, and children's author.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:01 AM on November 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think that Roald Dahl's children's books like Matilda, James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Twits represent a significantly different genre from his adult short fiction.
posted by peacheater at 11:06 AM on November 10, 2008

Georgette Heyer wrote both romance novels and historical fiction as well as mysteries. She was a much better romance author than a mystery writer but the mysteries are perfectly readable. Also several of her historicals did not involve a romantic plot as such. Perhaps her most ambitious was an unfinished work My Lord John (which I really wish she had managed to finish since it's absolutely fascinating).
posted by peacheater at 11:11 AM on November 10, 2008

Ian Fleming wrote Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and the James Bond books.
posted by kirkaracha at 11:23 AM on November 10, 2008

Poet James Dickey also wrote the novel, Deliverance, upon which the film is based. He has a cameo in the film, BTW.

Dramatist Arthur Miller also wrote one novel, Focus.

Hemingway wrote a non-fiction account of bullfighting called Death in the Afternoon.
posted by wheat at 12:38 PM on November 10, 2008

Charlain Harris: Vampires (The Sookie Stackhouse stuff now on HBO as True Blood), Mysteries (Aurora Teagarden and the Shakespeare stuff)

Lois McMasters Bujold: Military Sci Fi and High Fantasy

Michael Z Williamson: Sci Fi and Modern Military Fiction

Mike Resnick: High fantasy, military sci fi, and other sci fi genres
posted by legotech at 1:29 PM on November 10, 2008

I just have to add a second for Dan Simmons, one of my favorite writers. He began as a successful horror writer, everything from baby-snatching cultists to mind vampires to whatever it is that stephen king normally does. Then it was a variety of short stories and novellas that I couldn't begin to categorize. Then one of the best sci-fi series, the Hyperion books.

He has since written a series of "hard-boiled" detective novels, historical fiction about Hemingway and Dickens, an action movie in book form, and a sci-fi version of the Odyssey.
posted by mad bomber what bombs at midnight at 2:11 PM on November 10, 2008

John Birmingham has written comedies and speculative fiction, but also history and political science.
posted by pompomtom at 2:16 PM on November 10, 2008

Henry James wrote intense literary fiction and intense and playful horror. Graham Greene also wrote intense literary fiction and playful "entertainments".
posted by tiny crocodile at 2:30 PM on November 10, 2008

Well he is a fairly new author but how about Neil Stephenson?

Cryptonomicon / The Baroque cycle vs Snow Crash / Diamond age.

Extremely in depth Historical fiction vs cyber punk.
posted by Black_Umbrella at 6:22 PM on November 10, 2008

Paul Linebarger wrote what many consider to be one of the classic text books on warfare, entitled "Psychological Warfare". He also wrote science fiction under the pen name of Cordwainer Smith (Norstrilia, The Rediscovery of Man are 2 of his sci fi works). He wrote a political thriller "Atomsk" under another pen name of Carmichael Smith.

I've read Norstrilia and Rediscovery of Man and highly recommend them.
posted by pushing paper and bottoming chairs at 6:45 PM on November 10, 2008

Every single author but Rowling you mentioned in your post has written in more than one genre. King has written in all kinds of genres, Koontz first got attention as a science fiction author, Tolkien didn't just write high fantasy (e.g. Leaf by Niggle), Crumley didn't just write crime fiction and Agatha Christie wrote a bunch of non-detective novels.

That said, I can think of one author who hasn't been mentioned who's had bestsellers in different fields. Tove Jansson is gained fame as the creator of the Moomin series of children's fiction but she's also had great success as a writer of fiction for grown-ups. The Summer Book and The Winter Book have both had great success.
posted by Kattullus at 9:33 PM on November 11, 2008

Iain Banks is a good example, as mentioned above. Not only does he explicitly split his fiction into SF (M) and non-SF (no M) but his non-SF is pretty varied: horror, thrillers, family dramas, political novels.

Peter Carey has written romance (Oscar & Lucinda), historical pastiche (Jack Maggs), magical realism (Bliss), Western (The True History Of The Kelly Gang), contemporary fiction (Theft). Basically every book is different. Toby Litt - again mentioned above - is another example of this.

they are both interesting examples because neither would usually be recognised as a genre writer; this might be one reason why you aren't seeing the variety that you see in music despite the fact that most contemporary fiction writers have a pretty varied output.
posted by ninebelow at 6:35 AM on November 12, 2008

Oof, I forgot about David and Leigh Eddings. He and his wife are famous for their fantasy novels, but there are three novels that are not: High Hunt, The Losers ,both by David alone; and the more recent Regina's Song.
posted by mkb at 10:53 AM on November 12, 2008

Elmore Leonard began his career writing westerns (several of which were adapted into films) although he is best known for writing crime novels that are adapted into films...
posted by cinemafiend at 12:42 PM on November 28, 2008

« Older It's pretty much never a nice day for a white...   |   How do I find my Polish grandfather Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.