Let’s go back to an August a few years ago. Second day of my Junior year in college. It’s an evening Creative Writing workshop, a Tuesday & Thursday job, and we’re talking about what the professor will or will not accept in our fiction. And somewhere in the middle of this, this woman says:
“You know…The way I look at it, Literary Fiction is an art—like sculpture or oils—and Genre Fiction is just a…a craft. Like needlepoint.”
See, I’m not what some people would call a “Literary Writer,” and if you don’t really know what any of this means, let me back up and quantify it a little…
In academic and critical circles, there is a distinction made—sometimes rather forcefully—between “Literary” and “Genre” fiction. Literary Fiction is often distinctly realistic and high-brow, and while they often demonstrate a high level of technical polish I’ve often found most Literary work to be more in the business of exercise and metaphor than telling a story. And Genre Fiction? It’s everything else. It’s thrillers and dramas, westerns and horror stories, sci-fi and fantasy, inspirational fiction and erotica. It’s visible, readable, populist fiction, and if anything I’ve ever seen at all of the bookstores I’ve ever worked in or visited means anything…It makes up an easy ninety percent of all adult fiction sales.
As a system of classification it is efficient, if not tremendously simplistic, but it all falls down for me when it is used as an unimpeachable dividing line of quality—and it often is, sad as that is. And it is from that place of judgment that our girl from all those years ago spoke. I’ll leave you to supply the dismissive titter that she followed it up with, and the way that she popped her monocle back into place and went prowling for a platter of cucumber sandwiches.
And while I don’t begrudge the system in concept—I’m really very happy down here with my sewing circle, after all—I’d much rather that we did away with the labels and started looking at things in terms of whether or not it’s good writing. Because there’s more than enough of it on both sides of the fence to make everybody happy.