Thursday, November 15, 2007

Genre Fiction

I've written before about genre fiction. Here, for example. And here. To sum up: I think that great quantities of rubbish are published by genre publishers (Romance, Science Fiction and Fantasy, Mystery) because they fit the template and readers will apparently buy anything that fits the desired template. This trend is good for getting published, but is bad for fiction in general. And it gives genre fiction a really bad name that it doesn't entirely deserve. There's some really wonderful, exciting, emergent writing going on in genre fiction, especially in SF&F, that's obscured from general readership by its association with the piles of dragon dung. At the core, good writing is good writing, and I'm the sort of reader who appreciates good writing, regardless of genre.

What I might not have shared before is that I've actually done a bit of genre writing, as well.

The first short story I wrote all by myself (without my mother writing the words down for me) was a fantasy story. I was in first grade, and I illustrated the story and taped the audiobook too; I was a jill-of-all-trades. As an adult, the first short story that I was really proud of, that I still think might have been published somewhere if I'd tried a little bit, was sort of a fantasy story as well. It doesn't fit a modern fantasy template, though, and is more Gregory Maquire than Anne McCaffrey.

And my first, failed, novel - to which I still intend to return at some point - was a mystery. I love good mysteries, and have about a dozen of them in my head; I just haven't found the voice yet in which to write them.

What's more surprising, it seems, to those who know me, is that I once thought about writing romances. The fall of my senior year in college was an interesting time for me. I decided that I really needed to break up with the guy I'd been dating since high school graduation before we ended up married. Around the same time, I decided that I'd been on the wrong life path since I was 9 years old. I realized, all at once and with no warning, that I really didn't want to be a doctor after all.

What now?!!

I thought about what I loved to do, and the answer was easy, even then: I love to write. Even when I wanted to be a doctor, I was secretly hoping to be Michael Crichton, publishing popular fiction rather than peer-reviewed studies.

But I have always been plagued by self-doubt, and I didn't think that I could do it. I knew for sure that I couldn't support myself and pay off my student loans by embarking upon a career as a novelist. But, I read up a little on Harlequin romances, and I decided that I could do that and make enough money to live. I just needed to learn the pattern, I figured, so I joined the Harlequin readers club and received my 4 books plus a complimentary gift each month.

I quickly realized that romance writing is not for me (this is that part that's not surprising to those who know me, or who have read any of my writing) but I kept my membership until I had a full set of wine glasses, and those are still the wine glasses we use today as, apparently, we failed to register for any at our wedding.

They're bright green, and they do make a wonderful conversation piece.


  1. I have the plum colored glasses and had (before the box marked fragile got dropped on the ground) the Norman Rockwell series of glasses, all from Harlequin. In Romance there are subgenres, one of which is the category romance. They are very formula because people subscribe to them and expect the same type of story. I'm not much for mystery and have difficulty getting into literary fiction. I'm sure everyone has heard the write what you know mantra, but I think write what you read should be added to that. If you don't read mysteries or westerns because they don't interest you, I would think it would be really difficult to write one. Just my two pence.

  2. Amanda, when I read "plum colored glasses," for a moment before I realized that you just had a similar set of stemware, I thought you were making a reference to "rose colored glasses" and happy endings in romance novels, which is funny and also quite appropriate!

    I think it's hard for an author to write convincingly about something s/he doesn't really care about; so it makes sense that most of us write the sorts of stories that we like to read.

    On the other hand, I really don't write very happy endings. There's always a little darkness, which is sort of a bummer but it seems that there's nothing I can do about it.

  3. I've found that the genre has moved away from flowery phrases for body parts. No more swords or manhoods. I find it hard to decide on which words to use. There are a lot of authors who are bending the formulas in romance. The only thing that is a given is the happily ever after which now doesn't mean married with baby on the way or even engaged. As long as they are committed to the relationship that's the new hea.

  4. Your post really struck a chord for me. I am a deeply frustrated writer who has never really written because ... well ... I don't have the confidence. Everyone in my life tells me I should write, that I'd be great at it. But I'm so blocked from it that I can't even begin to figure out how to start. Feh. Reading your post was helpful and heart-warming. Thanks.