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« Righties, Lefties, Art and Pleasure | Main | Public Art--for the Public? »

October 30, 2002

Tacit Knowledge -- Genre Writers vs. Literary Writers

MIchael Blowhard writes:

Dear Friedrich --

Another entry in our ongoing attempt to put into words the things people know but that don't make it into the official sources...

In a general sense, there are real group differences between American literary-fiction writers and American writers of genre fiction (horror, romance, mysteries, erotica, graphic novels, etc).

It breaks down this way: Literary writers tend to feel that what they do is a vocation -- ie., a religious calling. Genre writers tend to view what they do as something that's fun -- which doesn't mean that they aren't committed to what they do, or don't fundamentally take it seriously.

Lit-fict writers tend to feel harshly conflicted (a word we New Yorkers love) about money and careers. How could they not? Trust funds make people feel guilty, jobs take up too much time. Everyone hopes to be touched by the magic wand -- to win the respect of the bigtime, and to earn enough money from the writing to pay the bills. Yet nearly everyone winds up next-to-unread, and chasing academic jobs and grants. And isn't it kind of anti-artistic to fret over money and prestige anyway? So pretences and rivalries abound.

Genre writers tend to experience no conflicts at all about money and career. Most seem to know that writing fiction-between-covers is an absurd field, but hope to win readers and make money at it anyway. They're straightforwardly happy when and if they do.

Self-serious creatures on an artistic crusade, dependent on a sense of mission and destiny that's forever in need of recharging, lit-fict writers tend to be serious and touchy people -- and difficult on the personal level, to say the least. (Depression, jealousy and resentment are common ailments.) Lugging around egos that are both big and fragile, they make high-maintenance friends and acquaintances.

Genre-fict writers tend on the personal level to be easy friends and colleagues. They've got a sense of perspective -- they're doing the absurd thing they do because they dig it, after all. They wish each other well; when someone in the field succeeds, it makes the others happy.

American lit-fict writers: monks and nuns of art, intent on overcoming suffering and achieving redemption through art. American genre-fict writers: on the one hand, happy amateurs, like kids in a garage band; on the other, cheerful professionals who get a kick out of their loony field.

Amazing numbers of exceptions allowed for, of course -- I've found that southern lit-fict writers are often quite cheery and companionable, for example.



posted by Michael at October 30, 2002


That must be why so much "literary fiction" is basically no fun to read. I know that sounds shallow (and my minor is in the Creative Writing field, so it's not like I don't know anything about this). But the stories in the book we used for my last writing class were almost uniformly depressing; reading them was like putting on a hair shirt. Still, I discovered I can write literary fiction, and even enjoy writing it. But I prefer genre -- paradoxically, genre fields (some of them, anyway, like science fiction) seem to give their writers _more_ freedom, or maybe they don't have that "serious writer" albatross hanging from their necks...

Posted by: Andrea Harris on November 7, 2002 1:42 AM

Andrea, I think you're exactly right. Genre writers seem to enjoy themselves more, and that does seem to come across in their work. I do feel for the lit-fict crowd sometimes. They don't have much of an audience, and they're desperate for respect, so they almost can't help getting bitter and pretentious. But I still wish they'd loosen up some.

What were your creative-writing classes like? What sorts of stories did they have you reading? What kind of storytelling -- oops, sorry, that implies plot -- let's say fiction-making were they urging on you?

Thanks for stopping by,


Posted by: Michael on November 7, 2002 9:51 PM

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