Switching Horses

People can have surprisingly strong reactions to the category of literary fiction. Some I understand, some I feel are the result of being locked in a dryer by a tv-level-masochistic older brother who first taped his gamey socks in one’s mouth. Misdirected hostility starts wars, people.

I can’t say I completely changed horses with Avrilis – actually more than anything I’m discovering that it is more entrenched in that category (albeit in others, as well) than I first imagined. But being as it’s also sci-fi and steampunk to its own respective degrees, I think I can make that claim (that horse-switching claim…stay with me) – and say that doing so has changed all of my writing. (Because of it, I’m inactively revising the White Whale – that’s not the title but…you get what I’m saying…)

Here let’s add a sub-title: Whycome Genre Fiction Is Difficult To Write

Let’s start (and possibly end) with a question one doesn’t so much encounter in literary with which one will – do not kid yourself – invariably be confronted in genre fiction: “But…why?”

Take a classic example – and one that has been proved and critically acclaimed so that no one has the inclination to say, but that didn’t work! (I’ll give you the test results right now: Yes, it did. Beautifully.)

Sethe becomes obsessed with Beloved to the exclusion and tacit rejection of Denver.

Literary reader: *gasp* Marvelous. Oh, the richness.

Genre reader: Why?

LR: Why what?

GR: Why would Sethe treat Denver that way?

LR: O_o Well, it’s not about Denver, precisely, it’s more about Sethe and her history.

GR: You’re doing that thing.

LR: What thing?

GR: That thing where you make excuses outside of the text for what wasn’t clear in the text.

LR: Oh, it was clear. .. And I am not.

GR: Then why?

LR: Because. Beloved is the only child Sethe successfully spared by slaughtering and is therefore Sethe’s “best thing”. Can you imagine what her presence is stirring within Sethe?!



GR: I saw Sethe and Denver together. I have been convinced that they are the only family they have had for a long time. Why would Sethe emotionally abandon her daughter?

LR: …I just told you.

GR: I don’t believe it.

LR: How are you not overwhelmed by the subtle and poetic way in which Sethe’s internal wounds –

GR: Her heart hurts. Got it. Why? What happened between her and Denver?

LR: No, it’s moreso –

GR: Then why.

LR: You’re looking for a tangible, present tense conflict when there’s clearly –

GR: Show me.

LR: You have to encounter the literature and decipher the clues that –

GR: Show me.

LR: x_x

GR: *opens mouth*

LR: Show you, I got it.

Right. That should be offensive pretty much to both camps, so I think I did that just right. Literary readers are pretentious philosophers and genre readers are demanding and tactile to the point of dismissing all emotional context. The world according to Bethany.

But seriously, this has slapped me in the face with The Audience. Writing Avrilis, I mean. There is an audience that I really want to reach who are not afraid of things that literally happen and motivations that can be mapped within and out of that action. This perspective has completely disassembled the White Whale (elsewhere, in a blog comment, I referred to this as having dismembered her and how it stinks in there now – wherever I do revision surgery, I suppose) because I suddenly want to make sure the inciting event is thoroughly exposed. Will it be as strong as I think it is? (Can anything truly be? This is why I have that plaque that reads: You Cure No Diseases. Well, I mean, why I’ll eventually have such a plaque made.) I don’t know. But only so many people are going to jump headlong into a character portrait when they have no idea where it’s going. Aaaand reading literary fiction did *not* teach me that. 🙂

So. Writing YA has thus saved my life.

You deserve this.


13 thoughts on “Switching Horses

  1. I definitely identify with the wanting to have a clear and present reason for a specific conflict. But the text isn’t lost on me. I get it. I don’t need more explanation. I just don’t like parents who neglect one child over another because they are emotionally damaged themselves. And btw its kinda hard to type with gloves on. But it has gotten easier the longer I type here so I guess practice makes perfect. I think you can use that as an analogy for what you are talking about. Cumbersome at first but eventually you get it.


    • *slow clap* This is what happens when you force yourself to comment even when you don’t so much care about the discussion. And I heart you for that.

      Also, I totally oversimplified and read Beloved. O_O


  2. I read mostly mainstream fiction and mysteries. I suppose it’s no surprise that I THINK what I’m working on would be considered mainstream fiction.

    I must admit, the genre writing scares me off because the fans definitely seem more hardcore and, if not discerning, at least sure of what they expect from the genre.


  3. First of all, you throwin’ too many big words at me, and because I don’t understand them, I’m gonna take ’em as disrespect.

    Meet me at the bike racks after class.


  4. okay. Here I go.

    Usually I understand you and even your rambling post seem cohesive to me in a beautifully weird way.
    Today, I have no idea what you’re trying to say. Maybe it’s because I read everything–including drug-induced poetry (lol).

    If books had no titles or covers, I would only need to read the first chapter to tell you what kind of book it is. My expectations would arise from that. If the first chapter says “mystery”, I expect one AND a solution. If that promise of a mystery is broken at any point thereafter, I won’t finish the book.
    if that first chapter strongly suggests “literary”, my brain goes into that mode and my expectations adjust accordingly.
    Now. if the first chapter suggests literary fiercely, then the second, a mystery, then the third a romance, then the fourth, a thriller, then the fifth, horror, the sixth scifi…
    My brain needs to place and order things before I can think reasonably and logically. And I need to think reasonably before I can identify a work of genius, let alone enjoy it.

    Which is not to say that I won’t be fascinated by a mishmash of ideas if you warn me in advance. But you must warn me in the first chapter. Then I’m prepared for a crazy, one-of-a-kind ride and eager to see what’s at the end of that story.

    I think it’s not the category of literary fiction that bothers most people. “Literary fiction” can be a chimera with language and ideas crafted to confuse rather than enlighten.
    It’s the whole superior, emperor’s-new-clothes thing that annoys and alienates genre readers. If there’s something to see, they’ll see it. Just because a piece is dense doesn’t make it literary. Fortunately, Our girl Toni M knows how to do literary. So that was a bad example, lol. Beloved was easy to get, I think.

    TM is a true literary author. every word counts. images are clear and vivid like a picture in words. Even the emotions of the characters pierce you. Her books don’t need to be movies; you already have the movie in your head when you finish the book. Even strict genre readers like her work.


    • “Beloved is easy to get” is a statement heard as frequently as “I don’t get Beloved”. I don’t know how accurate it is to say that strict genre readers like her work because I’ve never discussed her with genre readers and when reading her work by assignment have only been so assigned in classes focused on the literary.

      The categorization comes after the work. Taking offense to its category is silly.

      Plenty of people do not want to think *that* hard when they read. It seems cryptic. They want it all on the page, which is only insulting if one has a preconceived hierarchy. If it took that kind of effort, I might not either – which is probably why I don’t read hard sci-fi. Not how my brain works.


  5. Aww, I’m glad you liked the excerpt. Made me smile this morning. And smiling at 6:30am is always a welcome thing. (I. Hate. Mornings.)

    Following your blog! Looking forward to reading more.


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