Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Genre Writing vs. Literary Fiction

Having recently published a fantasy novel, I scroll through the covers of the titles that amazon groups with mine. Some sell well, some not so much, but they all have covers whose sense of style is a bit 1970s. Their covers also tell a lot of story. Mine is reserved. I realize it probably won't grab the fantasy nerds who might browse here for titles. As I look at the many genres and sub genres of fantasy, I have to use wikipedia to figure out what mine is- you've got urban fantasy, high fantasy, paranormal, epic fantasy, young adult, and sword and sorcery. Turns out my lil' opus is young adult high fantasy with a dash of urban.

These readers are voracious (since I graduated college I have not read so much). They are willing, to satisfy their appetite, to risk buying, and reading, what could by nothing but the blather of some egotist. I do not read this way. I wait on recommendations from friends, or, the NY Times Book Section. I figure a book is an investment of three to ten hours, and I'm not wasting time on risk. What it all comes down to is that I've just written a novel in a genre that I don't know the ins and outs of, like I know literary fiction.

Why write fantasy and science-fiction, mystery, and paranormal when plain old literary fiction is the genre of masters? James Joyce and Virginnia Woolf stayed away from dragons and spaceships. My favorite living authors are Marilynne Robinson, who may not know of the existence of genre fiction, Cormac McCarthy, who writes only literary fiction.

One thing that has always made novels worthwhile to me is the story-telling. Story telling, going back to Homer, has two prized social purposes. One, after a long day, it gives you something to enjoy while drinking your evening beverage of choice. Story-telling doesn't lie, it reduces life to the essential moments, the moments out of which defeat and triumph grow- and this magical reduction makes it better than life, while still being life.

Secondly, story telling instructs. It gives meaning to life. Now, story-telling is a popularly beloved art. Shakespeare and Homer shared this appeal with J. K. Rowling. Some authors that I love and admire now write for a small portion of our population. Marilynne Robinson is not read by anyone not an intellectual. I always believed that great books could be for everybody. That's not completely true, but it is something authors can work toward. Genre writing does tell stories. It doesn't let art overrun the entertainment value of the work.

That's why I'm writing genre stuff.

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