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.

24 comments:

scott g.f.bailey said...

Yeah, but Henry James' novel What Maisie Knew came out the same year as Stoker's Dracula, and totally kicks ass without any supernatural elements.

We already know that literary fiction is less popular than genre fiction. Genre fiction already sells by the boatload. What's sad about the WSJ article is how it shows that literary fiction is facing even more barriers to getting into print. That's not really a victory for genre so much as it's a loss for literature, which is already a marginalized form. So I got no hurrahs for this.

beth said...

Scott, I disagree wholeheartedly. You seem to think this is an us-versus-them thing--literary fiction vs. genre. That's not the point, in my opinion. I think the point is that some literary author are trying something new--in this case, genre--and how can that be a bad thing? If anything, this will perhaps garner MORE fans for literary authors. If a reader picks up a genre novel, likes, and then explores the authors other (literary) works, isn't that INCREASING literary readership?

I'm sorry, but I just don't see how authors exploring genres can be a bad thing--for EITHER literary OR genre.

The Screaming Guppy said...

Yeah, and after seeing your blog post, which came right before I posted, I'm not suprised at your comment.

/shrug

It's all opinions. Something can have fantasical elements and be a great book for a numbers of reasons. So you don't like fantastical elements. It doesn't mean that anything that has them isn't literature or that it's ruining things.

But you're kind of summing up exactly my problem with "genre wars." You hate it, so it must suck. What you like must be "1,000 times better than fucking {insert TITLE}" without even reading the TITLE.

What you're doing is the same as any "low brow" reader claiming literary fiction is lame because its hard to read, or because its set in real life, or whatever.

scott g.f.bailey said...

I don't want to fight, honestly. But you'll have to tell me how your "the very thought of Twlight makes me cringe, and I will never read it. Ever." is different from my "Graham Swift's Waterland. It's got no supernatural love interests, but it's really really good. I'll bet it's 1,000 times better than fucking Robopocalypse." I like what I like, you like what you like. I have my prejudices, and you have yours. Pot kettle black and all that.

I'm also not pushing an us/them thing; the WSJ article sets up the situation in those terms and I went with that. And my takeaway, because I like literary fiction, is that literary fiction's market share is shrinking while SF/F is growing and literary authors are forsaking literary fiction, which is what I like to read, so it's a personal loss for me because there is less of the type of stuff I like being published. So I don't see how I'm being reactionary.

I have doubts that readers will move on to an author's literary works after reading their genre work. I think publishers in the WSJ article also talka about that. But my project isn't to increase literary fiction's readership or to stop people from reading genre. I'm just sad that literary authors can't have careers writing literature.

Amanda Bonilla said...

I think the most infuriating part of this battle is that genre writers are considered "uneducated" or "lowly" or "intellectually lacking" in comparison to literary writers. And in the same vein, genre readers must be a few brain cells shy as well. It pisses me off. It's demeaning and completely invalid. I dare anyone to say that world-building isn't hard damn business and intellectually challenging. Seriously.

Bane of Anubis said...

Conflicted.

I am a genre reader/writer, but I also find it sad that 'literary' authors are swooning under pressure. Conforming is rarely a good thing, even if some authors might purportedly 'smart up' the genre world.

There tends to be (though not always) a greater superficiality to genre fiction that mirrors our evolving culture. Not sure whether this is a bad thing (it feels like it), but I also remember quite well how I despised some of the classics forced upon us in high school English b/c the deeper literary value never computed with me, and, in many ways, felt like mental masturbation.

Always conflicted, but, for me, in the end, it always has been and always will be to each his own.

The Screaming Guppy said...

I guess I feel like the difference is (as I clearly try and justify what I wrote lol) that I'm not claiming something is better than Twilight without reading it. What I was trying to say is that Twilight is not for me. But I guess neither of us is doing very well if you're using "fucking" and I'm saying "makes me cringe" so fair point. And to also be fair, I read your blog post and had it mind when I commented on this post - which, in a paragraph and the blog post title, sounded pretty reactionary and angry to me. So for those joining the comments:

Literary Authors Hungrily Pursue SF/F Dollars

According to this article, a lot of literary authors are successfully trying their hands at genre fiction. Which is all well and good, but what if you don't want to read about zombies and werewolves and magicians? What if you want to read about the real world? What if you want to read a grown up novel? My current book is Graham Swift's Waterland. It's got no supernatural love interests, but it's really really good. I'll bet it's 1,000 times better than fucking Robopocalypse.

Link here: http://scottgfbailey.blogspot.com/2011/05/literary-authors-hungrily-pursue-sff.html

And maybe I'm the minority, but after reading Atonement (after seeing the movie after it became mainstream), I went on to read books from Ian McEwan's backlist and picked up his new release. The WSJ article seemed to point out both to me. That there's a risk to both lose existing readers and the chance gain new ones. And an editor at the house who loved literary fiction, but she was sucked into a literary fiction novel with a werewolf main character.

Amanda’s point is what comes across in many of these kinds of debates, and it shows on both sides for sure. Literature itself isn’t being marginalized just because some literary fiction now has fantasy elements. I mean, look at your literary buddy Michelle. Part of what helped her get noticed by the small press was adding fantasy to her literature through self-publishing Cinders.

Bane makes some good points as well. There’s good and bad in every genre and every genre mashup. And to each their own is, of course, always a wise creed.

beth said...

Oh! Scott, I apologize, I misunderstood your comment. But I still disagree with you :) You seem to imply that literary authors are only writing genre fiction for the money--but couldn't it just as much be for the love of the genre?

Amanda Bonilla said...

Since when is genre fiction not "grown up?" I find that offensive, as I write about adults in adult situations dealing with "grown up" emotions and choices. The fact that they're not entirely human is a moot point. A poor choice of words, IMO.

scott g.f.bailey said...

Amanda, I can see where you think I've implied that genre fiction is not "grown up." That wasn't my intent. I was thinking of how everyone seems to be writing YA novels these days, and how a lot of literary fiction authors are now writing YA. I don't want to read YA books; I want to read grown up books. YA is--by definition--not grown up, isn't it? And I have every right to want to read something not YA, don't I?

scott g.f.bailey said...

beth, I thought that the WSJ article was about literary authors who were writing SF/F primarily for money. Couldn't make a living doing what they did, so they looked to the hot market. Perhaps I read it wrong?

The Screaming Guppy said...

I didn't read anything in that article that talked about these literary authors writing YA. It was all adult - "grown up" - fiction that the article discussed.

That's likey why Amanda took that statement the way she did. I took it the same way, to be honest.

Amanda Bonilla said...

Scott, thanks for clarifying. :) I love a lively discussion! LOL

The Screaming Guppy said...

Haha! Lively indeed!

And downside to writers' blogs and commenting on writers'blogs?

EVERY WORD YOU SAY WILL FALL UNDER INTENSE SCRUNTINY!

Because, you know, we're writers. At least I fixed those typos in my blog post. Hopefully before any of you writers saw them. >.>

scott g.f.bailey said...

EVERY WORD YOU SAY WILL FALL UNDER INTENSE SCRUNTINY!

That's very droll, Ms Guppy.

Here's the thing. I write literary fiction. I have two novels out on submission, and I know that it's increasingly hard for a debut lit fic author to get picked up by a publisher. So I read articles like the WSJ one and I get sad, because it seems to just say that folks like me are in for progressivley harder times. So while Robopocalypse might be a romp of a rollicking good time of a book, the trend being discussed doesn't make me want to sit up and cheer. All about me.

The Screaming Guppy said...

It was a joke. Mr. Bailey, as much poking at myself and my foot-in- mouth in my original post that you pointed out as much as anything else anyone ever says on the internet.

And everyone who's ever read your blog knows what you read and write.

But you came to a genre writer's blog to lament about how times are harder for you when they might be better for me because what I happen to like writing about is doing well right now...

I'm not sure what you expected?

Sorry times are tough for you, but the point I was trying to argue in my orignal post is that one genre isn't superior to another. They're simply different strokes for different folks. And that's what bothers me about genre poopers - and it doesn't matter if they're pooping on sci-fi or literary or whatever else.

scott g.f.bailey said...

No, I got that it was a joke. My "very droll" comment was about your misspelling of "scrutiny," which I thought was deliberate. And yes, I can see that my saying that what might be good for you might be bad for me so I can't say Yay with you is probably not only blindly egotistical but also more than a little rude. So you are right to chide me and really, sincerely, I apologize for being an ass. I didn't come to your blog to pee on your parade today, honest. And just as I am glad for my pal Michelle's success with her genre novels, every word I've said in support of your efforts to get "Hound" published have been sincere.

The Screaming Guppy said...

The true irony? That was a typo and not on purpose. Stealth humor - so funny I didn't even get my own joke!

/facepalm

Apology accepted and thanks,as always, for the well wishes on Hound. No hard feelings. :)

Eric said...

Okay, after coming late to the discussion, the only thing I can add is that it's too bad that anyone considers this a battle at all. I will never seriously disparage anyone's opinion regarding what they like to read and/or write. While some types of literature will never appeal to me, I consider it a plus every time a book is written and/or read. Beth hit it on the head, trying a new thing is never a bad thing if it gets someone to read a book. We're only making ourselves look bad when we decide to take a stance and defend one genre over another because all that displays is an inability to accept the subjective nature of literature. Whether we like a given style of writing or a given genre, you can bet that someone else out there will. And that's the point, isn't it? We want people reading and writing, not devolving into arguments over which genre is the best.

Domey Malasarn said...
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Domey Malasarn said...
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The Screaming Guppy said...

@Davin

See, I stopped really taking you seriously when you came to my blog and trashed writing about zombies when my book has zombies in it.

But I guess I'm just being stupid?

The Screaming Guppy said...

To continue on that concept, its kind of like the one author that talked about how you make a choice if you decided to continue to review novels on your blog, and post negative reviews, you run the risk of burning bridges.

Writers are human beings with feeling - all of us now matter what we write about. So coming to "my house" and shitting what I do? Don't expect me to be thrilled that you're visiting.

You're being fucking rude.

Domey Malasarn said...
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