In Kyle Torke's short story "Travel Box," a scene on a Greyhound bus captures a young girl, traveling alone, reaching toward the tiny severed ears strung around the neck of a Vietnam vet seated next to her.
Later, at the bus stop, the vet offers the little girl a ride. They begin to walk, hand-in-hand to the vet's car, but before they leave the platform, the little girl's grandmother pulls up. Without ever knowing, the girl escapes certain trouble. The vet, like death, had snuck in unexpectedly, without raising suspicion.
The near-miss, eerie tone in the story ultimately about a grandfather dying of cancer is found throughout Torke's collection Tanning Season, which consists of a novella and four other recently written short stories.
The 42-year-old local author is used to combining disparate elements to create cohesive works. Tanning Season, his first published fiction, follows a nonfiction book about triathlons and two collections that include tender poems about his family.
"Writers today aren't really specialists," Torke says. "Many up-and-coming writers work across genres; writing essays, poetry, fiction, drama, screenplays."
He says one component of the mixed-genre trend stems from writers working in English departments, where they have to produce academic and creative work toward tenure and promotion. Torke knows the academic world; the father of two received his Ph.D. in creative writing from Denver University and ran the creative writing program at Elon College (now Elon University) in North Carolina until 2001, when he moved to the Springs.
In addition to regularly editing books for his publisher, World Audience Publishers, Torke now teaches creative writing and composition at the Air Force Academy and the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, as well as reading practicum at Colorado College.
Torke says a bigger component of crossing genres "must be the cultural shredding of boundaries, the sense that good writing knows no genre."
He says that once breaking with form (imagining new kinds of sonnets, including hypertext and spoken word) is accepted, then it becomes acceptable for poets to write stories.