Since I strongly believe that research and teaching are antinomous sides of the same coin, I pursue both these interests actively. The balance between teaching and research is very important for me. Were I to limit my interests to teaching, I would be unable to remain current with the latest thinking in my disciplines. I would miss the proactive interaction from colleagues at various journals and conferences. If I did not publish actively, I would be no more than a parasite, constantly drawing from the knowledge pools, so to speak, but never replenishing them. Conversely, were I to let research become too pre-eminent, my students would suffer from a professor who attended too many conferences, who limited access to students too much, and who was always at the library or on the Internet. Neither of these are good scenarios.
Contributing to the fields of American Literature and Popular Culture are important parts of my professional development. Popular Culture is more to me than a light-weight way to involve students; it is more than just a “popular” but facile way to involve students. Popular Culture helps students make sense of the culture in which we live, the origin of the values we as a community claim, and also adds depth and breadth to students’ understanding of the past as well as of much literature. After all, what is now canonical, for example, Edgar Allan Poe’s work, was at one time light weight literature. Literary critics now study Dracula in terms of feminist and cultural studies aspects. But at the time of publication, as Barbara Belford notes sardonically, the novel was dismissed as “a ripping good, blood-curdling novel, perfect reading on the train for a paralyzed century.” The equivalent, in other words, of airport or beach reading.
My major research interests lie in genre studies, particularly horror and detective fiction. I am interested in how genres work and what expectations readers bring to them. These genres, often dismissed as popular fiction are often the types of books real people read; quite frequently, they provide a sharp and cutting view of American culture. My book, As American As Mom, Baseball, and Apple Pie: Constructing Community in Contemporary American Horror Fiction, for example, looks at how communities are often constructed and what horror fiction reflects about the importance of community in American culture. My other work frequently examines genre fiction in terms of a certain critical approach that sheds new light on the text at hand. For example, I use Bakhtin’s idea of carnival to examine Stephen King’s The Shining as well as the carnivalized role of alcohol in American society. I look at two early twentieth century horror short stories in terms of an eco-critical reading – how does horror fiction use the liminalities between wild and cultivated and man and nature? Where does horror reside and what makes a place horrible? In yet another article, I examine the connections between witches and bluestockings in certain nineteenth century American short stories. The connection is two-fold: both witches and bluestockings are transgressive women who “know things.” Recently, I have branched out into examining the role of ballads in Sharyn McCrumb’s fiction, as well as articles on teaching horror fiction, pedagogical Toni Morrison’s Beloved, cross generic strategies in Stephen King’s Bag of Bone sand the role of the supernatural in James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux detective series. As one can see, the interplay between text and culture, genre and theory are major areas of interest for me.
My next major research project, still in the very seminal stages, will look at genre fictions which create reading tension in terms of reader expectation. For example, a consistent reader of detective novels, or fantasy novels, or adventure novels knows the generic codes and conventions. That reader may not be able to list them, but the familiar constant reader knows what to expect and where genre-bending adds interest. This same reader will also recognize a genre that is at loggerheads with the dominant genre. I am interested in applying reader response/reception theory to genre fictions which have a conflicting road map, so to speak. I would like to explore the tension created when conflicting genres set up reading tensions in the reader. What, for example, is the effect on an experienced reader of detective fictions when the supernatural intrudes into a narrative which is based on rationality? What happens when realpolitik intrudes into the good-and-bad, black-and-white world of high fantasy? How does an experienced reader deal with stumbling blocks in familiar fiction?
I find that active research makes me a better and more engaged teacher. Participating in conferences enables me to attend workshop and panels and garner innovative teaching methods; writing books and articles provides me with the intellectual stimulation so necessary to continue being an active member of the Academy.