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How to Write a Mashup Novel

BY PAUL CICCHINI Mashups seem to be one of the hip, ‘in vogue’ things these days, although in actuality the idea is not new at all. For the uninitiated, a ‘mashup’ novel is ...

My fiction novel, Godsmacked, has been described by reviewers as the world’s first Christian mashup novel. Even though that is not specifically what I set out to do, I certainly welcome that analogy because, well, I like to fool myself into believing that I’m hip.

And mashups seem to be one of the hip, ‘in vogue’ things these days, although in actuality the idea is not new at all.

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This guest post is by Paul Cicchini. Cicchini is a nationally-certified school psychologist, humorist, sports journalist, coach, and specialist in character education. He was inspired to write while convalescing from being Godsmacked with kidney stones in the summer of 2009. Under the influence of major prescription painkillers and exposure to too many badly-coiffed televangelists on daytime cable TV fueled his already robust, imagination and over-torqued sense of humor to yield this work of farcical fiction, a humorous vehicle for spreading his message of integrity, responsibility, and hope.

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For the uninitiated, a ‘mashup’ is when you take two or more established styles of anything and mix them together to make something completely new and unique. The popularity of the mashup really exploded onto the American cultural scene a few years ago with the television show Glee. On the show they may mix a ‘70’s era rock song with, say, a ‘90’s pop song to come up with a surprisingly fresh sound. Here’s the real surprise though: creative artists of all kinds have been doing mashups for quite some time. Ever hear of fusion cuisine? Fusion Jazz? Yep, they’re mashups. Heck, even my son has been a mashup artist since the age of 8; especially when he’s at the local convenience store soft drink fountain: two splashes of Mountain Dew, three of Orange Fanta, a dash of blue whatever…violà, nasty mashup Slurpee.

In writing, however, the concept is still fairly new. A mashup novel is when you get two or more different literary genres and mix them up for a fresh, entertaining story. Seth Grahame-Smith pioneered the style with novels like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and the wildly popular Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter which was just made into a major motion picture. Even if you are into writing non-fiction, two story lines that intertwine can be also be in this genre. One of my all-time favorite books that I consider a mashup is Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. The chapters ingeniously alternate between the story of how the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair was built, and the true-life story of a sociopathic killer who used the Fair to prey on victims.

[Learn 5 Tools for Building Conflict in Your Novel]

I had never even heard of Grahame-Smith’s novels when I started writing Godsmacked,  but I knew that I wanted to write the way I thought, and the way I think is a lot like the way Robin Williams does comedy. He jumps hilariously from one topic to the next on stage, and a big part of his standup routine is built around throwing very different characters together in silly, improbable ways. Grahame-Smith mashed historical characters with horror to come up with page-turning thrillers. For my novel, I happened to mash up Greek Mythology characters with Sci-fi fantasy, popular culture, and even lessons from Christianity, to come up with a satire that hopefully makes you laugh and sparks your imagination while it also inspires you to think about moral dilemmas.

If this style sounds intriguing to you, then good! I can tell you that I had a lot of fun with it and I think you can, too. It makes the writing go faster, and it actually made me *gasp* look forward to the revision and editing process, because I was constantly looking for ways to make more and more plot connections between these very, very different constructs.

So, how do you write a mashup? Well, it helps to start with two genres or two topics that you love. For example let’s take, oh… stamp collecting and police dramas. Put them together and you have a story about a serial-killing philatelist. Tag line: He makes stamp glue from his victims!! Okay, that may not be a best-seller, but you get the idea. If you don’t have two pet subjects that mesh together well, then find two that you are at least dying to research.

[Learn important writing lessons from these first-time novelists.]

With this genre, research is key. Examine your topics exhaustively until you are almost an expert in them. You should do this not only because your readers deserve good, reliable information (they do), but also because when you do the investigating you may be surprised at how much the subjects are truly interrelated.

Because you want to give your readers your best, I recommend that you go the extra mile in fact checking, too. Don’t be lazy. Use several reliable sources, and don’t just limit your background reading and research to the Internet.

Finally, read other books and novels for inspiration. Read a lot. If you want people to love reading your book, you have to love reading books, too.

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Brian A. Klems is the online editor of Writer's Digest and author of the popular gift bookOh Boy, You're Having a Girl: A Dad's Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.

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