Friday, January 29, 2010
A distinction without a difference ...
Tell us how you feel about genre vs. literary.
I was sitting in a mall in Iowa, drinking stale coffee and hawking my first crime novel. A lady walked up and asked:
"Do you write literary fiction? Or genre?"
She blinked confusion.
Then asked me where the bathrooms were.
I wasn't trying to confuse her, or make her want to tinkle. I was quite serious: genre is literary. Good writing is good writing, period. The rest is marketing, PR, fairy dust, and labels created to allow one group of writers to look down on another group of writers and thus feel better about itself. America doesn't have royals, so we insist on creating them ourselves.
It's a particularly silly distinction, anyway, literary vs. genre. Most real people can't tell the difference. Don't believe me? Then take my "Is It Is or Is It Ain't?" quiz and find out!
1. "This is a valley of ashes—a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens; where ashes take the forms of houses and chimneys and rising smoke and, finally, with a transcendent effort, of men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air."
How about this:
2. “The house looked oddly like a skull, with its glassless windows gaping out at the snowscape. Pink fiberglass insulation was everywhere, sticking out of the house, blowing across the snow, hung up in the bare birch branches like obscene fleshy hair.”
3. "The sky above us was the color of ever-changing violet, and towards it the lamps of the street lifted their feeble lanterns."
4. "It was cold, bleak, biting weather. He could hear the people in the court outside go wheezing up and down, beating their hands upon their breasts, and stamping their feet upon the pavement stones to warm them."
Or, finally, this:
5. "He stood in front of a curtain of pine trees crusted with snow lumps, which steamed in the cold rain. His fur was a mottled brown, turning gray near the rump. White tufts spackled his ears, throat, and snout. His nose was the blue-black of engine oil; his antlers large and airy. Each branched into a chandelier of tips that twinkled amber in the vapor lamp standing lonely sentry over the exit."
1. Literary: F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby.
2. Genre: John Sandford, Rules of Prey
3. Literary: James Joyce, Araby
4. Literary: Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
4. Genre: Hey, that's me, in Torn Apart
But it's all good writing! So the labels are meaningless and silly and we're all better off drinking Scotch and smoking cigarettes in ivory holders and talking about turns of phrase so goddamn brilliant they tingle your skin and catch your hair on fire.