Tuesday, May 31, 2011

To genre poopers

I always find it interesting how defensive writers get over their genre. In some ways, it almost reminds me of religion. Everyone is so convinced that their beliefs (or genre) is the only good thing out there, that they fail to see merit in what anyone else (other writers and readers) believes.

I’m a faithful genre fiction reader and writer (and agnostic, if anyone was wondering), though I’m also well-read in classics thanks to an English BA and three semesters of graduate school (which will do nothing to prevent typos in my blog posts more often than I care to admit). The effects have lingered, and Dante’s Inferno and a monstrous tomb of Shakespeare’s collected works sit in prominent places on my bookshelf. Over the years, I’ve also read a bit of YA, lots of fantasy, science fiction, a bit of urban fantasy, some mainstream, literary fiction, picture books (man, I LOVE Harry the Dirty Dog!), a few historicals and the occasional nonfiction (most recently about cannibals).

What I don’t get is why everyone seems to think there is a universal right or wrong when it comes to their favorite genre and the genres they don’t like. Sorry, but try as you might, no one can prove that anything sucks. We might think it sucks, but if someone else loves it, who is right? Who wins?

No one wins when people fight. And if this was an inquisition (what sells best wins because that means the most people are reading it and liking it), literary fiction would be the witches burned at the stake simple because they lack numbers. Does it mean the witches were wrong in their beliefs? Not really, because they believed it, so it was right to them. They just didn’t have the masses (sales) to stand up to the bigger kid on the school yard. But despite all the witches that were crispyfied in Salem and elsewhere, the culture and beliefs still exists today, though in a minority, and is very fulfilling to those who follow that faith (just like those who read and write literary fiction).

Haters gonna hate, but hating something doesn’t make you right. A good example would be the fact that the very thought of Twlight makes me cringe, and I will never read it. Ever. But clearly if so many other people read and enjoy it, there has to be some merit to what Stephenie Meyer has done. Good on her. Will I gain anything by putting her genre choice (YA paranormal) down and claiming mine is better (adult sci-fi/fantasy)? Uh...no.

Anyway, this article pretty much kicks ass and kind of gets to where I'm trying to go. So next time you want to hate on something with zombies in it, don’t assume its trash without giving it a read first. (In the interest of full disclosure, my manuscript has zombies in it.)

From said article: “Fantasy fans often note that the divide between popular and literary fiction was established relatively recently by the modernists, who favored hyperrealism over plot and narrative. Throughout history, pillars of the literary canon, from Homer, Dante, Milton and Shakespeare up through Jules Verne, Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker, blended natural and supernatural elements. The pendulum may now be swinging back, with literature that can be both popular and literary, realistic and fantastical.”

The classics paved the way for genre fiction many moons ago and those stories are still considered classics today, so we genre writers might want to remember our roots. And literary writers? All I have to say to you is Dracula.

Monday, May 2, 2011

One happy Aunt

My niece Isabell is now seven and reading chapter books. My heart flutters at all the possibilities. While I was home visiting, we went over to Barnes and Noble and I told her she could pick out any book she wanted and I’d buy it for her.

She picked one I’d never heard of at the same time I spotted a copy of Bunnicula. I pitched the vampire bunny with success, and told Isabell she could have them both. Then I started browsing as she went to pick out a picture book for her brother.

Julie of the Wolves. Indian in the Cupboard. The Witches. Island of the Blue Dolphins. Little House on the Prairie. Where the Red Fern Grows. The Hobbit (which my dad read to me). The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Mrs. Frisbee and the Rats of Nimh. And so, so many more - including ones like Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, which weren’t around when I was a kid.

I was pulling books of the shelves so fast, I had a pile I couldn’t carry in under two minutes. Then I had to wind back a bit, and try to think in terms of what a seven year old could actually read, and what books were just a smidge over her current reading level.

Then I remembered reading classics as a kid – small hardcover books of literary works abridged with pictures for young readers. When I found them, it started all over.

White Fang. Swiss Family Robison. King Author and the Knights of Camelot. Treasure Island. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

In the end, I couldn’t cull my stack smaller than eight books. In the car, I handed Isabell the Classic Starts version of Swiss Family Robison and she read the back cover. A few minutes later, she said, “This sounds so cool!”

We talked about how reading isn’t just for bedtime. She boasted about reading an entire chapter book, on her own, in just ten days. We talked about how many chapters she could read in a day. I asked her to call me every time she finished a new book.

We got home from the store, and she sat next to me on the couch, feet on my lap, and read four chapters of one of her new books.