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Drawn to Genre

January 9, 2012

Even one year ago, if you asked me what I wanted to write, I would have said, “literary fiction.” Now I’m not so sure. Because here’s the thing: I don’t really enjoy reading it.

That’s not entirely true, of course: I enjoy Raymond Carver, I enjoy George Saunders, I enjoy Haruki Murakami, I enjoy Jonathan Lethem. But anyone can already see the problem here, plain as day: I love the writers who blend genres, who aren’t stuck on one specific mode of thought, the ones who are experimenting on the fringes of “good taste”. I realized I don’t particularly enjoy straight science fiction or fantasy, the big, bold, stereotypical (or not) kind, but I also don’t like reading literary fiction.

Who I like are the Quentin Tarantino’s of literature, the guys who are informed by the master stylists of “real” literature but who inform this with their love of the camp, the genre. I can’t count the times I’ve loved a literary writer’s style but didn’t care what he was talking about. I love John Cheever’s prose, but I don’t want to write stories about a man deciding to swim across the country as a metaphor for financial ruin, for being out of touch. That’s not interesting to me to read beyond the bare bones of its craft. I, as you can probably tell, do not possess a writing style anywhere near as glorious as Cheever, as Carver, and so why would I want to read my own writing?

Becoming a decent writer, in my book, is about identifying what makes you talented. Identifying the things you do better than most other people, the areas where you are the 99%. What do I do well? I write good dialog–I sometimes have trouble with it, sure, but I can do it better than most writers because I’ve read so many goddamn Raymond Carver stories. I’ve gotten good at description, especially after I edit; on first drafts I tend to overwrite, but one I realize that I can cut it down to good levels. I’m good at creating atmosphere, because I only read atmospheric writers. I’ve picked up some tricks.

I’m not good, though, at thinking deep thoughts about the human condition. That’s not me. When push comes to shove I’m an accceptable plotter but I tend to miss very important things. The real trick, though, is that my attempts at literary fiction aren’t very good. They’re not because I don’t have a lot of adversity in my life that I use in my writing: it’s hard for me to put myself on the page, because I really don’t have too much to complain about. I live a happy life, surrounded by friends, good entertainment, and have people who love me. I’m worried about money, but not extensively.

Genre, therefore, is interesting because it lets me writer characters completely alien to my experience. It lets me have my protagonists, most of whom are boring, get involved in exciting adventures. It’s what I want with my own life, really, and that, more than the old axiom that “All writers write themselves into characters”, is truth: all writers write about things they’d be interested to see happen to themselves. Maybe they don’t want to get cancer and die, but they want to be in that role, embody it: they want to feel what it’s like to be someone in that position, to learn the lessons that can be taught that way. Of course, it’s hard to imagine anything like that: much easier to imagine some sort of super plague, a zombie apocalypse, or a nuclear post-apocalypse. It’s easier and it’s more fun and, honestly, it’d probably sell better.

I mean, I’m writing three stories at this very moment. One’s an adaptation of Kafka’s Metamorphosis that will probably be published on here (because I don’t think I’d want to publish it anywhere else, because it’s a silly parody). The second is an oddball magical realism/lit fiction piece about a very obscure internet society. The third is a literary piece about a church party. The first two are much more fun to write, and I think they’d be a lot more fun to read, primarily because they’re playing to my strengths as a writer, to my love of genre.

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