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Posts Tagged ‘genre’

So I got a pretty nice pep talk (ok fine, if you want to share in it too, I can be generous) from Darcy in this post about writing in a genre.   While I had been complaining about preconceived ideas of lighthearted fiction, I was making my own judgments on writing in a genre.

 

Hmmm.

 

The reality is that I love those little details that (usually) push a book out of the mainstream shelves.  Those touches of the impossible which let you wander into a “world of pure imagination” to borrow a lyric that just floated into my head and now won’t leave (thank you Gene Wilder in the best scene of “Willie Wonka.”  I think it’s world.  Maybe it’s land.  Really, this isn’t the point).

 

A long time ago, I read a book on writing which said that you should write what you love to read.  The author (I would credit her if only I could remember her name), said that everyone wants to write the Great American Novel, but very few of those people, when asked, actually read the various versions of the Great American Novel.

 

I came to terms with that fantasy a while ago (though not as soon as I should have after reading that advice).  So where was the big leap from writing something I enjoyed every soul-sucking moment of writing to realizing that I’d done exactly what that book had told me to do, all those years ago?

 

Writing is about telling the truth, whether it comes from aliens, school teachers, or succubae (can’t get that query for Hell’s Belles out of my brain).  I just happened to find my truth after I finished the book. 

 

As an aside, and in the spirit of truth, I would like to state for the record I would never deny my geekdom.  Not that anyone suggested otherwise, but I wanted to clarify.  It’s been disguised over the years (one of my friends still giggles every time I mention that I was in a sorority in college), but my ambivalence over genre wasn’t the fear that I’d be outed (my geekiness is kind of obvious, anyway).  It was just good, old-fashioned snobbishness, as stated above.

 

I would hate for geeks anywhere to feel maligned, and thus I feel that I must state in the affirmative:  I am a geek, I have always been a geek, and I am very likely to remain a geek in perpetuity. 

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So over the weekend, I pondered the advice given to me by Darcy in the comment under “Literary Broccoli.”  I began with the very first question: “What is your genre?”  This question cut straight to the very heart of my problem.

 

I’ve kind of been in denial that perhaps, my story could be described as a (gasp) genre novel.  You know.  Genre.  That scary thing that all those agents say not to bother pitching.  But it’s not really about that element, I tell myself, utterly unconvincingly.  My book is about the characters, not the one little device that just happens to set the story in motion.

 

My brother was relentless after reading the manuscript a while ago. 

 

“It’s science fiction,” he told me.  My brother should know, he’s read nearly every science fiction author out there (that is not hyperbole.  He can finish a book in under two hours.  He’d definitely win the competitive reading contest at Coney Island, if only they had one).

 

“It’s not science fiction,” I said, “because it’s not about that element.  It’s about the characters.”

 

“It’s science fiction,” he repeated, just to annoy me, because that is what brothers do.

 

And then there was my father.  “Science fiction,” he pronounced for the millionth time we discussed it.

 

“But it isn’t really.” 

 

My father, who does not like to annoy me, kept silent.   And then there was my mother.

 

“It’s science fiction,” she said. 

 

“Not really,” I said, “not totally.”

 

With that one simple question posed in a string of useful tips, I returned to my well of denial and grabbed the rope.  What on earth was I fighting?  Many of my favorite writers are classified as science fiction, or were, until they were bumped over to literature.  Kurt Vonnegut, for example.  In fact, I met him once (I know, it was like the most exciting moment of my life, I could barely speak, and suddenly those pictures of girls screaming over the Beatles made sense), and in my one allotted question (I cheated, I asked two, and they practically had to drag me away so the line could move, it might have been a little embarrassing) I asked him if he considered himself to be a science fiction writer.  In that sardonic way, with that little smile, he looked me dead in the eye and said, “I write about science because that’s what I know, so they call that science fiction,” or thereabouts.  What a delightfully perfect answer.

 

But it’s not only Vonnegut.  Margaret Atwood, Jasper Fforde, Douglas Adams, Audrey Niffenegger.  What on earth was my problem?  The catalyst for my protagonist’s growth was unquestionably borne of science fiction.  So what?

 

I called my brother early on Saturday morning, hoping to wake him, but with no such luck.

 

“Hey,” he said.

 

“Ok,” I said, “It’s science fiction.”

 

“Told you,” he said, and then took the moment to laugh with a gloat perfected over a lifetime. 

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