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Faces of death



When you think of thriller novels, perhaps you don't normally think of them as literature. The latter is often described as examining the human condition — how we adapt to change, and how we live and shape our lives according to (or in spite of) our environment.

Of his writing, Canadian author Andrew Pyper says, "It's the same territory." But often, he says, his stories of haunted houses and haunted people get pigeonholed as something else.

"Some people check off certain boxes, and when they get to a specific number of them, say, 'There! It's genre fiction!'" he says. "But I think literature can contain demons, even of the supernatural kind."

Pyper's The Demonologist, due out in March, involves a Columbia University professor who specializes in John Milton's Paradise Lost and other works focused on a demonic underworld. When his 12-year-old daughter disappears, he must figure out how to save her from the very type of beings he's never accepted as real.

What you take from the tale — from social commentary to literary elements to simple thrills — is up to you.

"Some people will read a story and enjoy it as a story," he says, "while others will notice the characters and plot. I bring everything I have to my writing. There's no dumbing down."

As Pyper prepares to speak on Dec. 5 at Colorado College, as part of the institution's Visiting Writers Series, he's looking forward to discussing how he believes the lines separating commercial publishing genres are blurring and changing.

In general, Pyper says, reading practices tend to be shifting among adult markets. More people are reading young adult novels such as The Hunger Games. In fact, the popularity of YA fiction is such that some publishers and agents are calling for a genre called New Adult Fiction. "Is there still a high culture and a low culture?" asks Pyper. "The lines are blurring. Do we even need that hierarchy any more?"

It's a good question considering that the author has been likened to a blend between iconic mainstream horror writer Stephen King and literary grand dame Daphne du Maurier.

After completing law school (on top of a master's in English), Pyper decided to take a year off to write, and never looked back. The result, he said, was 1999's "legal-thriller-literary-ghost-story" Lost Girls, which became a New York Times best-seller. It was meant to be thrilling and sometimes scary, he says, "but where do you put these kinds of books?"

Years later, the truth is that it's mostly in marketing where genre labels continue to fall short. Crossover fiction itself is clearly becoming more and more common, which is fortuitous for a writer like him — The Demonologist will be his seventh published work.

"I'm lucky to be able to make a living writing. I know that," Pyper admits. He never set out to support himself this way, but was always obsessed with telling stories.

"In first grade I would write in the air with an air pencil. It annoyed my mother so much she started following me around with an air eraser," he says, laughing. "But I've landed here, and I like it here."

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