GENRE BEAUTY: November 28, 2015

What genre or tradition do you see yourself as being part of, and what is the beauty of that genre? What can it do that other traditions can't?

My work is very straightforward and does what it says on the can. When I started writing like this in 2007, it gained a degree of popularity because, I think, everything else was drenched in irony, or trying to be funny, or cynical, or surreal. Back then I struggled to get a book deal because there was no reference point for what I'd done, and of course now there are four or five other writers who are constantly referenced in the same breath as me. 
        I write very straightforward prose and poetry about love or life or myself or other people. It's surfs up against the edge of being saccharine and I'm aware of that, but I also think that when it succeeds, it succeeds in a way that only something said truly sincerely can. That would be the beauty in it, as far as I'm concerned. 
        ... I "would like" to think that's where I fall within the idea of genre. 
        Otherwise I just write very commercially successful, very accessible poetry, which is a cardinal sin in academic circles, as far as I can tell.

I write romances. Yes, that lightweight, fluffy stuff with hunky heroes with dangerous eyes, feisty heroines, a bit of nice sex and a happy ending. The genre that probably gets sneered at more than any other – I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been asked if I’d like to write a “proper” book.
        Er… No.
In a world where there are around six billion literate people, there’s probably room for every genre and interest.
        Oh, but they’re for women, aren’t they? Well, whoopee, well spotted. Yes, probably almost exclusively for women. That’s a bad thing? Women mostly work pretty hard, in the home and out of it, and they deserve a little escapism in the brief periods they get to put their feet up.
        One of my friends is a council solicitor, and as she says, “After a long day in court talking about sewers and drains, the last thing I want to read on the bus home is Solshenitsyn.”
        And another thing. When kids – especially girls – see their mothers reading, they’re more likely to want to do the same. Which can only be good.

I see my Sam McRae series as being part of the hardboiled mystery genre. I enjoy writing in that genre, because you can touch on social issues from the perspective of an outsider who acts according to his or her own set of rules. I think hardboiled mystery is particularly well-suited for exploring the values of the individual within an imperfect society.
        I also write in the young adult genre, which I like because the protagonists are struggling to come to grips with, not only society's expectations, but their own maturity. More than other genres, a teen's perspective on the world is unique. Teenagers have a kind of subculture, which is a fruitful source of stories.

Rachel Cohen

Rachel Cohen

I can't speak for all readers and writers, obviously, and I know next to nothing about the business of publishing, but my gut feeling about this kind of rigid categorization is that it is across-the-board unfortunate.  One would think that, when a book is easily categorized, it is not that good.  Not original, not challenging, not multifaceted, not rich.  Not like anybody would describe "Faust" as "paranormal horror," "War and Peace" as "historical romance," or "Lolita" as "erotica."  I suppose sci-fi could be an exception, because the setting is such a strong marker, but, again, nobody expects to find "1984," "Brave New World" or "Le Petit Prince" in the sci-fi section of the store.  
        "Literary fiction" is another genre because publishers say it is, and that's how bookstores sort it.  Everything can be filed under "miscellaneous."  
        But I do think it's kind of odd that "literary" has to be specified.  That's like saying "readable."  These books are readable and those books over there are crud, but hey, crud deserves its day in the sun and to each his own.  Isn't that strange?  
        However, I'd say the point is kind of moot.  If people want to read the predictable tropes of "genre," they can read "genre."  But if they want interesting and challenging books, they have their "literary," and that one is, exactly, a mixture.  Seems reasonable.   

My beautiful genre is science fiction. Because in it, you can write about anything. I can write whatever the hell I want to, so long as there's a spaceship.
        Untrustworthy examined otherness and sexuality -- people in this made-up species could be labeled with one sexuality or another, depending upon the fertility status of their offspring. You were judged for having children (or not), and then for having grandchildren, or not. People were harsh with each other.
        Last year's NaNo novel was about immigration and assimilating into the dominant culture. Aliens, real aliens, from off-Earth, would struggle with behaving like humans. And so would sentient robots. Sounds a bit like today, eh?
        This year's is about what it means to be intelligent, and to be compassionate. It's also got romance in there, between unexpected people. Because what the hell.
        All of these swings for the fences are done with ray guns and space travel and the occasional alien.
        Science fiction allows for this sort of freedom because you can talk about people without them really knowing about it. Preaching to people that they should be nice to Syrian refugees because most of them are good people in bad circumstances (and the chances of any of them being terrorists is incredibly small) -- it is easier and far more palatable for readers to see what happens to aliens in a nearly identical situation. It is a lot of work to make the 'other' sympathetic but, if you do, you're golden, and I think readers will be more receptive to your message and will not see it as being overly preachy. 

Life is filled with irony and hypocrites, and I am no exception. I always pictured myself writing fantasy novels because they're my favorite worlds to visit. Yet, I find myself choking whenever I try to pen one. Ironically for me, westerns are where I find my passion for writing.
        I wrote a western short for Dueling Librarians and was in absolute bliss. It was also one of my better-received stories. Growing up, I was surrounded by cowboys, chew, rodeos, and farm equipment. I hated every minute of it. Now I find myself as happy as a fat tabby in a field of catnip when I’m writing about the old west. You know, I don’t think I’ve ever even read a western. Oh, the irony.
        There are so many things I love about writing westerns. I love gender bending and breaking conventions: gay sheriffs, gun touting women who know how to throw a punch as well as take one, etc. There’s also something beautiful and terrifying about the old west. All that open space and solitude, unforgiving elements and wildlife. Having to know your shit or Mother Nature will surely take a mean bit out of your ass. There’s something pure and simple about it that I love.
        I could go on a whole rant about how most genre writing isn’t considered literature by critics and those who decide what get placed into the canon. There are snobs everywhere. Snobs who want to make sure their work is legitimized more than others. Sci-fi and historical fiction tend to be the exception to this, taking prizes over other genres that don’t take place in the here and now. It’s a shame that so many great works get overlooked or excluded from publication because they fall into the genre smear. So to answer your question, yes, by setting itself intentionally apart from all other writings, literary fiction becomes just another genre. An elitist genre, but a genre nonetheless.

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I'm mostly a science fiction and fantasy writer, and that's mainly what I read too. I think the main advantage of those genres is also their main trap: You can effectively do anything. So you have to start making up rules to prevent the story from concluding immediately: Why does the schlub hobbit have to destroy the ring when there are ancient, powerful wizards who could do it? Why doesn't Luke just use the Force to crush the Death Star like a ball of aluminum foil? 
        A good set of rules feels real; it adds depth and solidity to the story. The One Ring's ability to seduce wizards is dangerously near spackle for a plot hole: "Oh, well, it JUST SO HAPPENS that the good wizards can't go near it." But there's something natural about the idea that this is how power works, and Saruman serves as an object lesson in what Gandalf or Galadriel could have become, and so ultimately it feels like a way a world could be.
        The danger is when the rules come into the foreground -- when they start feeling like the purpose for the story, rather than an element that serves the story. [...] This draws from one of the core principles of good horror writing: Suggestion is more potent than description. This is not an insight that comes easily to the inveterate D&D gamer (I say from personal experience).
        You can, in theory, use the details of your magic system (or your tech, or your physics) as pivots for your plot. Gene Wolfe is a master at this. But you have to weigh up the value of what you're buying against the cost of the necessary exposition. If you're good at introducing it naturally, it may not be a problem. If you're the kind of writer who will pause literally in the middle of a killing spree to explain exactly how the assassin's magic works... 
        ... well, you'll probably go far in the genre, if the writer I'm thinking of is any indication. But, you know, at the end of your life it'll be just you and St. Peter at the pearly gates, and you're going to have to look him in the eye and explain yourself.

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Because I started out memorizing and acting my poems out dramatically, I saw myself as part of oral tradition (as a performance poet but not a slam poet.) I believe poetry publically shared is a spiritual experience grounded in ritual. Bards once traveled from town to town bringing legends, history, myths, the latest gossip. My own form was not as structured but I told my personal story within the context of traveling, observing my responses and those around me, and persona poems of women from other cultures in order to give them a voice.
        [...] What performance poetry can do is to connect intimately with your audience. I do not have a piece of paper in my hand; I look in people's eyes, move around the room, create an atmosphere with candles and ritual, invite participation. It can be very moving and profound for me and I think the audience as well. Poetry itself cracks open our hearts and lets the light in. It reaches us subconsciously and intuitively and viscerally.

My genre is supernatural/historical fiction though I have been told recently that the term ‘supernatural’ is out of date!! Tell the ghosts that! The beauty of my genre is the unknown aspect of it. What do we truly know of death and the life beyond?
        We have a fascination, a curiosity, a yearning to know, to learn, to be afeared to have the fright believing that we are truly safe in our world – not so. Having had too many experiences to tell since early childhood and talking to spirit regularly it gives me a different perspective on ‘the other world’. The beauty of it is that it helps me create characters based on real experiences, real ghosts and I think my readers can ‘feel’ the trueness of it.

I disagree that Literary Fiction is "just another genre". I almost believe it should be a little higher up in the hierarchy... Most fiction titles can easily slide into one genre or another. It's why we, as authors, sometimes have a hard time classifying our books for marketing purposes. For example, my latest novel is fantasy/ paranormal/mystery/suspense/police procedural/romance... but it is in ABSOLUTELY NO WAY literary fiction. I'll never write "seriously" enough to fit in with that crowd. 
        Literary fiction has been informally dubbed as "serious fiction" in a lot of writing circles. It often addresses social issues and hard topics... it also tends to use big words, and that's just not me. 

Not thinking in terms of genre helps stave off darkness for me [laughs]. I’m not well versed or well educated enough to attach myself to a camp, really.
        Remembering “Hey asshole, you’re a blogger with no kids,” is a fire escape sometimes too. “Calm down. You’re not that important.” 
        After a while you start to see that the real meaningful differences between writers don’t have to do with genre or talent or smarts or anything like that, they have to do with agenda, with each writer’s reasons for writing. And that usually has to do with the reasons for writing of the writers they’ve read/loved most.
        My stories might default dark because they’re me saying what I can’t say to my girlfriend, mother, shrink, or pastor, in a letter, drawing, podcast, speech, teleplay, or essay. My understanding is this is what fiction > stories are for.                                                    
-from an interview with Dueling Librarians

#: Gene Wolfe - Westerns - SciFi - Fantasy - Romance - Literary Fiction - Debbi Mack - performance poetry - genre fiction

 

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