It is what it is

I spent the weekend re-reading one of my favorite Milne novels, Once on A Time. As you might guess from the title, it's a fairy tale. But it's a bit more than that. The characters, as silly and outlandish as any found in Bros. Grimm, also suffer from real emotions, inner turmoil, and just a hint of diabolical. Nothing particularly bad happens: even a major war injury is boiled down to a pair of missing whiskers.

Milne's introduction reveals to his readers that he never quite decided whether this fairy tale was written for adults or children. He concludes as any wise author must: "I am still finding it difficult to explain just what sort of book it is. Perhaps no explanation is necessary. Read in it what you like; read it to whomever you like; be of what age you like; it can only fall into one of the two classes. Either you will enjoy it, or you won't. It is that sort of book."

A recent Australian review of City of the Dead got me thinking about what "sort of book" I had written. The reviewer, although quite kind and insightful, feels that City fails as a horror novel. Now, even though I set the plot in a graveyard, and populated with more than one ghost, I never meant City to be a horror story. Or even a truly dark fantasy. Rather, during my ruminations on who exactly would be working in a magical graveyard in a very fantastical city, I started writing a girl who needed to decide where to go with her life, and the wizard that she keeps tripping over. At the end, the book is what it is. But what it isn't is horror.


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