I love the above cartoon. It so perfectly illustrates a brilliant response to the anxiety that many writers feel about genre fiction.
For some writers, trafficking in noir, horror, science-fiction, or romance is much like watching America’s Next Top Model while eating a whole bag of Oreos in one go: they enjoy the hell out of it but are afraid to admit their “shameful” proclivities to their peers. They’d much rather say they spent the night watching Nova and snacking on carrot sticks.
Yet for so many other writers, working with genre writing carries a freedom, or a jetpack if you will, to experiment with some heavy topics (see previous post) as well as some damn fun and interesting characters, plots, and worlds.
Take science fiction and fantasy. If you could explore distant galaxies on a spaceship and meet alien creatures, wouldn’t you? How about practicing magic, defeating monsters, or conversing with the Grim Reaper? Genre writing allows you to do all of these things and more.
Of course, there are folks that will tell you that that serious fiction can’t include genre elements like ghosts or time-travel. I’d like to refer these folks to Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (a Pulitzer Prize winner, ahem), or Octavia Butler’s Kindred. These works deal with serious issues like cultural identity and gender and race in modern and antebellum America. They also happen to be works of magical realism and science fiction that are widely (and wildy) acclaimed as two of the most darkly beautiful and heart-wrenching books ever written.
And regardless of any biases or doubts that tend flourish when it comes genre, we’d do well to keep in mind the point of writing in the first place: to transport ourselves and our readers to another experience (be that experience steeped in gritty realism or a Middle Earth of our own making), and to tell a story that will resonate, will remain with the reader long after they’ve put the magazine, book, or e-reader down.
Our job as writers is to figure out which stories we need to tell and how we can best tell them. And one of the most effective ways to see the plethora of storytelling avenues open to us is to read (and write) as widely as possible. So, if you haven’t tried horror, science-fiction, or noir in awhile (or ever), what’s stopping you?
I’ve got a jet-pack waiting for you right here.
*Interested in the possibilities of short fiction in both genre and literary writing? Join me (or one of Grub’s other fabulous instructors) this Winter!