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December 12, 2011 11:58 AM   Subscribe

Daniel Abraham's private letter from Genre to Mainstream. [Previously]
posted by Fizz (46 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
You take the best of me, my most glorious moments - Ursula LeGuin and Dashiell Hammet, Mary Shelly and Philip Dick - and you claim them for your own.

I saw someone reading a new printing of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep on the train the other day. The cover art, just abstract shapes and stuff, looks like it was designed by someone who was told that respectable people of means and reputation will be buying this Literature Novel and probably reading it in public too so no robots or anything like that.

This is in start contrast to the Harrison Ford/Sean Young-branded "BLADE RUNNER: THE BOOK BASED ON THE HIT MOVIE Also it might be called "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep" or something" covers that were so popular in the 1980s.
posted by griphus at 12:06 PM on December 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


You're all just jealous of my jetpack (about halfway down.)
posted by Zed at 12:09 PM on December 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


That was very enjoyable! This line is great: "...you skim away my cream and mock me for being only milk."
posted by gilrain at 12:12 PM on December 12, 2011


Something about this essay seems deeply misguided to me but I can't figure out what.
posted by silby at 12:19 PM on December 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Transcends Genre"?!? It WAS a Genre writer who is quoted saying "90% of everything is crap." That other 10% always has to transcend something.
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:22 PM on December 12, 2011


It doesn't seem misguided to me; only unnecessary. Having been a heavy SF reader in the 80s when it was very much not cool on almost any level to be such, it looks to me as though SF has won. Abraham touches on this in his letter but still looks for validation. Like a son who has surpassed his domineering father in important ways yet can't escape forever feeling like that child seeking approval that never comes.

The real victory comes not when Abraham finds what he is looking for but when he realizes he no longer needs it.

Also, I'm in the middle of Abraham's An Autumn War.
posted by Justinian at 12:28 PM on December 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


On reflection what I just said could indeed be summed up as "it is misguided". So yeah.
posted by Justinian at 12:29 PM on December 12, 2011


Nick Mamatas's open letter to Daniel Abraham:
This is what creative writers should be interested in doing. Writing their own best material. Not the most popular thing, or the most acclaimed... but that stuff that is unique to yourself and the complex of life experiences and interests and prior readings and environmental factors of which your writing is an emergent property. ...Abraham casts himself as GENRE. Not even as SF, but as ALL OF GENRE. And he writes a backhanded blow-off letter to all of MAINSTREAM—by which of course he doesn't even mean the mainstream (i.e., thrillers and thriller-romances) but literary fiction. In the US anyway, we may well ultimately identify literary fiction as those fictions most heavily subsidized by the state via grants, non-profit organizations, college teaching appointments in public and private universities that receive federal moneys, etc. And yet, all we can really shake our fist at is the notion that they're the cool kids?

People are routinely upset, and they don't even know what they are upset about, except that the anguish is social and shared and helps form one's readerly and, outrageously, writerly identity. We end up identifying not with our own selves, or even with what we actually like to read or write, but with list items on corporate spreadsheets.
posted by overglow at 12:30 PM on December 12, 2011 [10 favorites]


Certainly some areas to sympathize.

Book review sections make stars out of a few mainstream writers every year in way that they simply don't do for genre writers -- although this is far less important than it used to be before genre had the internet to promote itself.

Probably even more important is the academic job market. Hundreds of commercially-marginal literary writers make decent middle class livings as creative writing professors, jobs that are far less available to genre writers. Same thing for scholars: tenure track jobs for genre specialists are few and far between, and being a successful genre writer isn't nearly the plus factor for people with non-genre scholarly interests, that being a successful literary writer is a plus factor for scholars with the same non-genre scholarly interest.
posted by MattD at 12:47 PM on December 12, 2011


Overglow -- the disparity of permanent creative writing appointments I think is a bit more than jealously for cool kid. You have to be very close to the pinnacle of genre writing success (NY Times best-seller list, significant film and TV option sales) to surpass the economics of a marginal mid-list literary writer with such a job and its gold-plated benefits and 16 weeks of paid time off.
posted by MattD at 12:57 PM on December 12, 2011


If you want respectable people to treasure your books, then write respectable books.

"...you skim away my cream and mock me for being only milk."

Eh. Lots of media refresh themselves by appropriating the stuff at the margins. Fashion does, music does. Except in music the cream and the milk go opposite ways.
posted by Sauce Trough at 1:24 PM on December 12, 2011


"90% of everything is crap." That other 10% always has to transcend something.

90% is awfully generous in this case.
posted by Stagger Lee at 1:34 PM on December 12, 2011


You take the best of me, my most glorious moments - Ursula LeGuin and Dashiell Hammet, Mary Shelly and Philip Dick - and you claim them for your own.

I don't get it. Isn't that what writers are supposed to do? But I'll confess to not getting any of the genre/non-genre beefs that (usually self-proclaimed genre) writers air so frequently. I suppose Abraham's complaints are largely tongue-in-cheek, and should be taken in that spirit, but his complaints really do sound like those of someone with a love/hate relationship with an imagined set of "cool kids".

to surpass the economics of a marginal mid-list literary writer with such a job and its gold-plated benefits and 16 weeks of paid time off.

Ha, ha.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:36 PM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]



I don't get it. Isn't that what writers are supposed to do? But I'll confess to not getting any of the genre/non-genre beefs that (usually self-proclaimed genre) writers air so frequently.


It's funny, because the markets for genre fiction seem to be much more robust these days, and reach wider appeal. Whether that lasts is debatable, but genre certainly isn't lacking fans or appreciation.

So what's the gripe? It can't possibly be that literary authors get paid better, so where does the angst and jealousy come from? Do genre writers want more literary awards? Cause they're already creeping into the lists and into previously blocked publications. (Where it's also worth note that there are plenty of widely read publications that accept only genre.) Inclusion in English classes? I'm pretty sure that I read The Veldt in English 10, and took entire courses on scifi in my undergrad.

What are these rants really railing against? It's not like there's some lofty elite of classically trained literary writers quaffing champagne and chortling at the peasants with their laser guns and dinosaurs. Most writers of all genres are in the same desperate straits of silence and poverty.

Is this just about who your neighbors are in the bookstore?
posted by Stagger Lee at 1:45 PM on December 12, 2011


Hundreds of commercially-marginal literary writers make decent middle class livings as creative writing professors, jobs that are far less available to genre writers.

Hundreds, you say? Hundreds of commercially-marginal literary writers living like middle-class kings, taking food from the mouths of starving genre writers? Why, that's practically criminal!

Or it might be if you weren't just making up shit.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:48 PM on December 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


Pointing at any class of fiction writer and claiming that they're living in luxury while the rest toil is utter nonsense.
posted by Stagger Lee at 1:51 PM on December 12, 2011


I think this letter isn't railing against a class of author so much as a trope. Lit Fic, it's called tvtropes warning. People who believe the books they read represent them spiritually take a holier-than-thou stance toward books they don't read.

It's the same thing with most holy wars, I think. vi/emacs, Pepsi/Coke, several political arguments using terms that might describe policy to describe philosophy.
posted by LogicalDash at 1:57 PM on December 12, 2011


It's weird for Abraham to represent "genre" as the author of this letter since genre is fractalized with the crazy arbitrary specificity you would expect in this internet age.

You have your Wiscon faction which is explicitly left-wing and more literary and academic; you have your Baen faction that David Drake and John Ringo publish to; you have your paranormal romance faction that is slipstreaming behind Stephanie Meyer and Laurel K. Hamilton; you have your greying Worldcon SMOFs who came up with Heinlein and Asimov; you have your next-gen Dragoncon/Norwescon crowd whose fandom and art is polymedia -- music, film, television, video games, comics, RPGs, fiction etc.

"Genre" couldn't get its shit together to order a pizza, much less woo a sophisticated paramour.
posted by Sauce Trough at 1:58 PM on December 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Genre" still gets a bad rap though, same as "Hip Hop" does.
posted by LogicalDash at 2:02 PM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm not a professional fiction writer of any stripe, but my personal experience with this was that it felt like it mattered a whole lot in high school and college, and then immediately stopped afterwards. There were plenty of young, bright kids who would scoff at you for reading or writing science fiction using the same arguments mentioned in the article--I had a roommate who ended a discussion about whether Vonnegut wrote science fiction by saying that he didn't because "what he writes is good." There was a lot of trying to come up with a canon of Serious Work that might have genre elements, but wasn't actually that because it said something important about the human condition. But once you get out of college if people read fiction at all, very few care about its classification.

I actually feel like we've had a lot of very visible crossover fiction lately, people like Jonathan Lethem, who writes science fiction in a traditionally "literary" style while still being very cognizant of the history of the genre, or William Gibson, who writes "literary" topics in the style of science fiction. The only thing that still peeves me is literary authors writing science fictional stories without any understanding of what's come before in the genre (and therefore often rehashing ideas that have been going around for ages without adding anything particularly new.)
posted by Tubalcain at 2:05 PM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Genre" still gets a bad rap though, same as "Hip Hop" does.

Yes, both are profitable, widely and avidly consumed, and pretty much the life-blood of twenty-first century American culture.
posted by octobersurprise at 2:12 PM on December 12, 2011


Of course all of his novels have the words, "dragon," "king," or "shadow," in their titles, so this could be a more personal gripe than he's letting on.
posted by Stagger Lee at 2:22 PM on December 12, 2011


MattD, fair point about creative writing appointments. And about newspaper book reviewers. I would be very interested in reading some kind of institutional/economic analysis of the ways in which certain types of fiction are treated differently.

That's not what Daniel Abraham's private letter is though.

Don't get me wrong--my personal reaction is more mixed than the one I linked by Mamatas. As a long-term nerd, I feel the emotional appeal of a lot of it. And I wholeheartedly agree with moments like this--

I think, that if we were to compare our projects honestly -- my best to yours, my mediocrities to yours, our failures lumped together -- this division between us would vanish

--but then the next beat you skim away my cream and mock me for being only milk, I'm less sure about that. I mean, I get that it's annoying the double standard that gets applied--"if it's good it can't be science fiction!" But it just seems weird to me to say, in one breath, "deep down, there's no difference between us" and in the next to say, "but you keep stealing my good stuff!"

(And, the line But they are my people, and I love them as they love me sounds quasi-religious to me, like Genre is some kind of saint or messiah.)

I mean, the letter seems to reinforce the very binary that it claims to be trying to undo. And doing things like saying I have Kelly Link is also weird to me. Kelly Link is basically my favorite writer, and I think it's fair to say that she is influenced both by "literary fiction" and by "speculative fiction" and she certainly seems to be appreciated by people who identify with both camps. She's pretty much the poster child for writing that is a blend of literary and speculative.

Ultimately, I want to be like, dude, the future you're pining for is already here! Okay, maybe it's not evenly distributed. But you're not seeing that you're as much an obstacle to the union you seek as "the other side" is. And, honestly, I feel like Genre with a capital G is going to continue to tell the same old story of a secret love affair, of endlessly being disrespected. But at this point I'm a lot more interested in what the hybrid, illegitimate children of Genre and Literature have to say. Because they're already here and they're telling stories, and lots of them are really new and bold and interesting.
posted by overglow at 2:47 PM on December 12, 2011


Overglow, I think that the most valuable way to push back against that would be with publishers and to a lesser degree bookstores. That's where the hard lines are drawn, and as with television I think that the conservative attitudes often come from the deep pockets that pay us, not from the writers or the readers.
posted by Stagger Lee at 2:57 PM on December 12, 2011


(okay so, the pockets don't seem very deep when they're doing the paying.)
posted by Stagger Lee at 2:57 PM on December 12, 2011


Literature is elevated because it's about middle-class people relating to each other...that's kind of the point. There's nothing more important than middle-class people relating to each other (it can be a positive portrayal or a negative portrayal, it doesn't really matter, as long as that's where the attention is). Literature is a form of class propaganda - it advances the interests and the world-view of the bourgeoisie while ignoring everything else.

Categorising works into genres is commodification. Conspicuous consumption values certain genres over others as signifiers of status, in the same manner as any other consumer purchase. Being a fan of 'literature' indicates high status. But these distinctions are meaningless - the value of any individual work is not reliant on the qualities of others. But by recognising these artificial distinctions and being seen to conform to the values attached to them signals both an understanding of social status indicators and the perception that these rules are important.
posted by chrisgregory at 3:21 PM on December 12, 2011


It's surprising to see so many people here disagreeing with what Abraham says, because it's patently true that genre fiction is still frowned upon and is still not considered by most to be true "literature." I mean, maybe Metafilter is the wrong group of people to be judging this, since we are probably a much more genre-reading group than most. But look -- if you go into a bookstore, or read the NYT Book Review, or look at the winners of major book awards and the Nobel prize in literature, you're going to see pretty much only non-genre fiction. In fact, this comment above:

Of course all of his novels have the words, "dragon," "king," or "shadow," in their titles, so this could be a more personal gripe than he's letting on.

--is exactly what he's talking about! Daniel Abraham is one of the finest authors working today, in genre or out of it. His fiction has deep and compelling characters and is extraordinarily well-written. But oops! He also has magic in his stories, which means people will dismiss his books in favor of the newest eye-glazing masterwork by whatever eat-your-vegetables literary author du jour. I'll take 1 Daniel Abraham, Gene Wolfe, Peter Watts, or Thomas Ligotti over 100,000 Updikes or Roths, kthx.

In fact, I think Abraham has it somewhat wrong -- he hasn't stated the case strongly enough. Non-genre fiction, with its bloodless emphasis on realism over anything remotely approaching enjoyable reading, has had its day in the sun. Genre fiction is what matters now.
posted by Frobenius Twist at 4:52 PM on December 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


yes, octobersurprise, and overeducated white men like to shit on both.
posted by LogicalDash at 5:23 PM on December 12, 2011


Daniel Abraham is one of the finest authors working today, in genre or out of it.

Yeah, he really is a wonderful writer.
posted by Danila at 5:41 PM on December 12, 2011


it's patently true that genre fiction is still frowned upon and is still not considered by most to be true "literature." ..... Non-genre fiction, with its bloodless emphasis on realism over anything remotely approaching enjoyable reading, has had its day in the sun.

If their literature is so meaningless then why does their rejection cut so deeply?

Genre fiction is what matters now.

I suspect that neither "genre" and "non-genre" fiction will cease to exist any time soon.
posted by Sauce Trough at 5:58 PM on December 12, 2011


because it's patently true that genre fiction is still frowned upon and is still not considered by most to be true "literature."

So the real complaint here is that enough—or the right—people don't regard "genre" fiction—however "genre fiction" is defined—as a "high" cultural product? Are the producers of a medium that is more popular, more profitable, and more influential in the wider culture than any NBA or Booker Prize winner ever is, just angry that they are, somehow, somewhere, being disrespected? Because, honestly, that seems both like a very old-fashioned view of culture and also very weird. Weird in a this-is-no-longer-about-cultural-artifacts-and-now-about-the-esteem-of-specific-writers weird.

overeducated white men like to shit on both.

"Overeducated" is an interesting choice of words here because it suggests to me that there is a point beyond which one is not merely educated, but over- educated, that is, too educated. Now, maybe you disagree, but I happen to believe that no one can ever be too educated, that the notion that someone is ever overeducated, educated, I guess, beyond her station in life, or beyond the degree to which she should be educated, is just the wrongest kind of wrongness.

But, anyway, I've spent a lot of my life among educated people, people that, maybe, you'd consider overeducated—a lot of them were white, too—and I can say that in my experience at least, far from shitting on either hip hop or genre fiction, they were some of its biggest fans.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:21 PM on December 12, 2011


Probably even more important is the academic job market. Hundreds of commercially-marginal literary writers make decent middle class livings as creative writing professors, jobs that are far less available to genre writers. Same thing for scholars: tenure track jobs for genre specialists are few and far between, and being a successful genre writer isn't nearly the plus factor for people with non-genre scholarly interests, that being a successful literary writer is a plus factor for scholars with the same non-genre scholarly interest.

Problem is that there are few jobs for those newly minted, bookless MFAs these days anyway. I really don't know if it's any better for the litfic folks, except, I guess, you need more instructors for those MFA programs that are making universities so much money these days.

I have a lot to say about this stuff sometimes, but mostly it just makes me feel tired. I should probably go take my MFA in poetry and go work on my robot book instead. . . . nah, fuck it.

If their literature is so meaningless then why does their rejection cut so deeply?

Because they're dicks about it.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:04 PM on December 12, 2011


Who could be mad at this? It's so sweet! Oh right, I'm on metafilter.

Well anyway - This isn't about money, it's about respect and affection. "Let us stand by one another as we should have all along." Them's not fightin' words.

My wife writes romance novels and many of our friends are authors in other genres. They will tell you that it sucks not to be able to proudly go to your favorite prof and show them your multiple published books because you know they'll sniff about it being "popular fiction", or just to know that no matter how dedicated you are to your craft you'll only ever get a NY Times review as a third of the monthly column dedicated to your respective genre. Is that the end of the world? Nope. But it's a bummer if, because you're a writer and care deeply about writing, you love and appreciate literary fiction while writing in a genre.
posted by smartyboots at 11:17 PM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


They will tell you that it sucks not to be able to proudly go to your favorite prof and show them your multiple published books because you know they'll sniff about it being "popular fiction"

What isn't to be proud of if you've written something honestly and to the best of your talent? It isn't as if writing "literary" fiction is a guarantee of love and respect, either. In the modern era, at least, artists have always chosen to follow their talents in spite of the disapproval of their peers. There was a time that artists were proud of doing that, when risking public disapproval was what it meant to be an artist.

But so often in these genre/non-genre beefs—frequently conducted without reference to specific books or authors suffering neglect, so they always feel weirdly personal—it feels like there's a presumption of entitlement to the esteem of some imagined set of mandarins. What I hear is that it isn't enough to be a writer, to work, to publish, to sell, and to have readers; the imprimatur of some cultural elite is deserved as well.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:51 AM on December 13, 2011


I don't think you're approaching the reality with sufficient empathy, octobersurprise.

Genre writers in normal undergraduate college classrooms typically have to face significant prejudice stated by their professors and enforced by their classmates that the work they're doing is worthless, meaningless, hollow, bad, a joke . . . this comes before readers. Literary writers have a near-monopoly on the education of young writers, and most of us who write genre wouldn't have a problem with this if they used that power only to teach aspects of craft. Contrary to common belief, genre writers love craft. They want to talk about thematics, prose, characters, plotting, pacing. But you wouldn't know that if you talk to literary writers.

Instead, literary writers often seem to view themselves as arbiters of good taste.

The fiction professors in my MFA program, and the teaching assistants they instructed, would state flat-out that genre works were not only not permitted in their classrooms but also so foreign to them to be outside their sphere of expertise. They were told to include statements in syllabi to the effect of: "I am not qualified to comment on genre works. Stories with swords, lasers, or aliens are not permitted for assignments." "Genre" was openly derided. I took some independent studies with a faculty member who had written science fiction; she was told by the creative writing faculty that, unlike many other similarly qualified professors, she couldn't teach a workshop because "science fiction doesn't exist for us." Whatever that means.

I know this stuff because I came to my program specifically wanting to take fiction workshops in addition to poetry workshops and was told, explicitly, that I wouldn't be able to do so if I planned on writing genre fiction. I wanted to learn how to write fiction well. I also wanted to, say, explore issues of identity in otherworldly settings. No dice. It was one or the other.

The status of genre writers in the academy isn't just a kind of Rodney Dangerfield-esque, "Can't get no respect" sort of thing. It's instead an openly hostile environment. I can't help but think back to the statements from one of the editors of Tin House a few years ago:
I think you know genre fiction when you read it. My personal definition goes something like this: fiction that almost purposefully avoids the literary, in hopes of keeping the reader (or the writer, for that matter) from having to “work” too hard. It also tends to employ some stock tricks, like ending very short chapters with cliffhangers, often hopping predictably from one POV to another. Characters tend to be one-dimensional, with the kind of awkward and false-sounding dialog you’d expect.
The funny thing is, the literary world often act in ignorance of how wrong--uneducated and poorly read--such statements make them sound. It's true, they tell you, and then cite the least artistically ambitious genre works as evidence.

The irony is that most genre writers I know openly embrace literary writing. I recently attended a genre-focused workshop and not only did I have professors encouraging me to send my work out to mainstream markets, but I also finally found the intense focus on craft that I'd been seeking since 2007 when I got my MFA. There was no sneering, no derision, no strictly enforced division. Why should there be? Stories are stories, whether they're about laser guns or graduate professors. If I wrote a mainstream story, I have no doubt that the faculty at that workshop would be proud of me. I'm not so sure about the MFA faculty I spent two years among, now that I've sold a book about a spaceship.

It's normal to want to reach out to one's teachers when you've done well, to share that success. Is it silly to want their approval? Sure, a little, maybe. But it's kind of like growing up queer and wanting your homophobic parents to get over it. We want love from the people who played a part in the formative years in our lives. We don't want to be told--again--that we're worthless.

And we love story. We love story just as much as they do. We care about characters, prose, plotting, philosophy, pushing boundaries, craft. They tell us we don't because of the tropes we choose to seed into our work, and it hurts. It hurts to be rejected by people you respect. It hurts more to know that those same people are--right now, as we speak--teaching young, impressionable students that you, as a genre writer, have done fiction wrong all along.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:24 AM on December 13, 2011 [6 favorites]


All that said, sometimes I do think that genre should stop trying to reach out to the literati. They don't want us, and it only makes us look desperate for their approval--which gives them even more power than they already have.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:39 AM on December 13, 2011


Some of the comments on that post with other entities responding to Genre are pretty funny.
posted by Zed at 11:08 AM on December 13, 2011


PhoBWanKenobi, that sucks. It's sad to hear about influential people holding such prejudices.

But congratulations on selling your spaceship book! The bastards could not keep you down.
posted by Sauce Trough at 11:29 AM on December 13, 2011


I'm kind of shocked how personal this issue seems to be.

I've gleefully leaped between genres for most of my life, and most people I've known as an adult aren't judgmental about it. From my own feeble attempts at publishing it seems that genre fiction has broader and more accepting markets than literary, and I ran into both in academic settings.

I quite honestly had no idea that people's feelings still got so hurt about this. So I apologize for some low-key trolling earlier in the thread, I didn't intend to catch so much.

We could all probably stand to take criticism better, and learn to be more accepting and open. This discussion shouldn't need to be so damn entrenched and emotional. These really are just labels that marketers use to decide what shelf to put books on.
posted by Stagger Lee at 12:31 PM on December 13, 2011


These really are just labels that marketers use to decide what shelf to put books on.

Maybe you know that and I know that, but for a lot of people the label on the spine is an important shibboleth. Which I wouldn't care about, but a lot of them are the same people that decide what books get reviewed or included in lists of notable books for the year. And that has an actual dollars and cents impact. I don't care about mainstream respect, just its correlate, publicity and exposure.
posted by Zed at 12:51 PM on December 13, 2011


Overeducation is not any particular number of hours spent on education. It is education out of proportion with the amount of material you produce, for whatever's considered "material" in your field. If you go your whole life just reading up on other people's work then failing to produce any of your own suggests it isn't really penetrating like it should.
posted by LogicalDash at 4:04 PM on December 13, 2011


(Also, it was a David Foster Wallace quote, so FYAD.)
posted by LogicalDash at 4:04 PM on December 13, 2011


Genre writers in normal undergraduate college classrooms typically have to face significant prejudice stated by their professors and enforced by their classmates that the work they're doing is worthless, meaningless, hollow, bad, a joke

FWIW, I don't think that fiction which incorporates fantastic or genre elements is inferior to some kind of fiction that doesn't. American writers have a long and brilliant history of doing both. MFA programs may not wish to recognize this, but that's the worse for MFA programs. I also don't think that drawing a bold line between "genre" and "literary" fiction is a useful or helpful way of either understanding or writing fiction. So I'm a bit at a loss to understand why writers would wish to limit their work by defining themselves solely as "genre" writers; or why writers who do insist on self-identifying that narrowly (and by identify, I mean identify: Abraham imagines the kinds of fiction he doesn't write in terms of romantic scorn, above complaints dismiss any fiction that isn't "genre" as the complainer understands it as having "had its day in the sun" and "shit on by overeducated white men") then complain about being marginalized? Not to dismiss the disrespect that some writers have encountered, but there seems to be more than just a little self-marginalization going on here, too.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:35 AM on December 14, 2011


o I'm a bit at a loss to understand why writers would wish to limit their work by defining themselves solely as "genre" writers;

The wonderful, supportive, and inclusive community of writers likely has quite a bit to do with it. Personally, I like playing with genre tropes; I know that the litfic world won't have me. So why not go where I'm wanted and appreciated?

Think of it this way: back in high school, if you were a geek, you could either continue to try and court the cool kids who dissed you to your face--or you could have gone and hung out with the other geeks, who actually liked you, and, hey, shared your interests, too. Is that self-marginalization? I don't know. I don't think that hanging out with the geeks is intrinsically less-than. I think they're good people and talented artists. It's the cool kids who seem to have a problem with us.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:56 AM on December 14, 2011


The nice thing about saying something like "overeducated white men like to shit on hip hop and popular fiction" is that you can always find some pompous ass somewhere to point to. But as a general observation of culture in a century where hip hop and popular fiction are both immensely popular and immensely profitable, it just isn't very accurate.

Overeducation is not any particular number of hours spent on education. It is education out of proportion with the amount of material you produce, for whatever's considered "material" in your field.

This is absurd because A) "amount of material you produce" is so vague as to be meaningless, and B) because, if the truth were known, not many people can show a lot of tangible, material products which are the direct result of their education (widgets, maybe, but proportionally, not many books or paintings or symphonies). Do you have a sufficient amount of "material" to show for your 15 or more years of education? Railing against the "overeducated" just makes you sound like a meathead. It's like railing against the "overhealthy."

Think of it this way: back in high school, if you were a geek, you could either continue to try and court the cool kids who dissed you to your face--or you could have gone and hung out with the other geeks, who actually liked you, and, hey, shared your interests, too.

Except that writing isn't high school? I mean, I'm not knocking that as a choice. I don't think that hanging out with geeks is less-than, either. But that's less of a writing strategy than a social strategy. As a writing strategy I should think that writers would want to be more open to all kinds of genres (in the broadest sense of the word). Everything else is just literary politics.
posted by octobersurprise at 8:36 AM on December 14, 2011


Except that writing isn't high school? I mean, I'm not knocking that as a choice. I don't think that hanging out with geeks is less-than, either. But that's less of a writing strategy than a social strategy. As a writing strategy I should think that writers would want to be more open to all kinds of genres (in the broadest sense of the word). Everything else is just literary politics.

Honestly, in my interactions with writers, I've learned that the community building/networking components are very much like high school. And also are very important to fostering career.

I honestly don't think there's anything wrong with limiting oneself to a genre, and I'm a bit at a loss as to why you think there is. Some people's tastes and abilities lend themselves better to one type of writing or another. Identifying as a writer of a certain genre can help focus and hone those abilities in a way that a more broad approach might not.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:40 AM on December 14, 2011


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