Over at Absolute Write Jenna Glatzer has interviewed Victoria Strauss (who writes fantasy, and is very active in the sf world). Here’s Victoria’s answer to a loaded question:
Have you encountered any “genre prejudice?” That is, I hear that some genre writers feel they don’t get as much respect as those who write “literary fiction,” whatever that may mean. Do you think that “literary” and “fantasy” are mutually exclusive genres?
Yes, I do encounter genre prejudice. I think every genre writer does. Many people assume that genre writers are not “serious” writers, or that the fiction they produce is by definition inferior, or that it’s somehow easier to write than “real” literature. There are also the people who are surprised when I tell them I research my novels, because they think that with fantasy you can just “make it all up.” It’s irksome not just on a personal level, but because it closes off potential audiences. For instance, I think that anyone who enjoys historical novels would enjoy my latest book, in which history, culture, and tradition is as important as magic and adventure. But most mainstream readers never go into the sf/fantasy section of the bookstore.
Well, I read across genres and I’m always looking for a good historical. Off to Village Books to order The Burning Land.
Link via Elizabeth Bear by way of Sillybean.
I’ve made the point before (and will make it again) that the distinction between literary fiction and genre fiction is artificial and has more to do with social and class issues than anything else. Literary fiction is just another genre, with its own set of expectations and history and intended audience. Some people would argue that the literary genre is inherently more worthwhile or better than the other genres, but I see those arguments as circular and self-serving.
My take on this whole thing in a nutshell: characterization is crucial, but so is story. That is, plot is not a four letter word. A really good novel will have great characterization, a compelling, well put together plot/story, and in bonus cases, beautiful prose. These three things are not mutually exclusive.
[asa book]0743277198[/asa] I am raising this topic because I just finished reading James Lee Burke’s newest novel, Crusader’s Cross
. I’m not going to do an indepth review, but I will say this: the man has all three crucial points covered: plot, characterization, prose.
There are some writers out there who are unapologetically not-literary-genre-focused and who are both commercially and critically successful. Burke is one of them. Elmore Leonard is another. Both of them write crime fiction, and both are very good at what they do. They deserve general praise and love and lots of readers. But I’m busy wondering how that happens. Why are some authors who write outside the literary genre spared the sneering of the crit-literati? Is it that some genres are lifted into the realm of literature over time? Think of the first big immigration waves from Ireland and Italy, and the discrimination those people had to deal with. Within a couple generations they were running city hall and giving fancy balls. With enough time they lifted themselves into the higher society and took their turns sneering at the new immigrants.
Is the crime genre like that? Has it been around so long that it’s been subsumed into literati land? Any ideas?
Anna Louise at LiveJournal provides hard facts. The tag on this post is “demystifying publishing” and indeed, it is a very very detailed and for many probably very sobering account of how advances are calculated and where all the money goes.
My take on all this: I don wanna. I won’t even read my royalty statements. I call up my agent and ask for a three sentence summary/bottom line, and then I let all that go. In my case, too much exposure to Numbers results in a shut down in the writing process.