Sunday, June 26, 2011

Love your genre

Pretty much every category in our literature has its detractors: Those who frown on literary fiction as being too obscure, or too depressing, or too open-ended. Readers who shun historical fiction, or romance, or science fiction, or true crime, or graphic novels, or poetry. Those who find YA fiction trivial (at one extreme) or corrupt (at the other).

And nobody has to like everything. I say: read what you want, although it doesn't hurt anyone to stretch a bit and try something new now and then. I believe that a person who has contempt for a genre ought not to take on a tone of expertise when writing publicly about it, but hey, I'm not suggesting that this be legislated. I love the First Amendment even when it gives me a noogie.

I do suggest that when a person writes in a certain genre, it's extremely helpful for the writer to love that genre and respect the audience. It's not essential. I know there are those who have written pieces solely for money, who hated every minute of the assignment. But for the most part, I think the books that receive the greatest love and attention are books that respect their audiences.

It's difficult to create suspension of disbelief if the author doesn't believe. It's hard for a reader to love characters that the author doesn't love. It's difficult to put the necessary sweat into sharpening prose and raising craft to the next level if one is secretly sure that the audience won't notice anyway. Writing takes energy and patience, the kind of energy and patience that are driven by a sort of love. (I suppose an artist could create a cult following out of expressing brazen contempt for an audience, but even then, there can be subtle flattery there, a coded message: I know that you, my cult following, are smart enough to get what I'm really doing here. You know why I'm spitting and cursing at you; you are the select few who GET it.)

Sometimes it takes a while for a writer to find a genre or form in which s/he feels at home. For anyone struggling with that, I would ask: What kind of writing do you love? It's the question that led me to YA myself.

It's much harder to fake it. And much less rewarding. So I'm not even being sentimental or artsy-fartsy when I say: Love your genre, love your audience. I'm being as hard-headed and practical as I can be, because we are only given a limited amount of time in this world.

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