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Entries in debate (1)

Thursday
Jul142011

The Beauty of Books: Why the Literary vs. Genre Debate Isn't Necessary

 Yesterday on my writing blog, I asked the question: How Fast Do You Have to Write to Build a Career? Well, the post sparked a comment from the lovely and talented Meghan Ward (who btw, is a kickass blogger as well) and the following exchange:

Meghan: "Wow. I'm kind of shocked by this post. I don't know any literary fiction writer who writes one book per year. That's fast, the kind of speed I thought was reserved for the Stephen Kings of the world. And honestly, I don't care how much money she makes, I have no interest in reading a book written by someone who writes 8-10 books per year. It takes time - at LEAST a year - to write a really good book. Keri Hulme took 14 years to write The Bone People, and it's an amazing book. I'd much rather read a book that the author took time to simmer on the stove for two or three years than one that was panfried in two months and slapped onto Amazon so the author can have a back list and quit his day job."

Me: I appreciate your perspective but I don't agree that amount of time=quality. Like I said in the post, I love Maya's books. They're well-written. And apparently others agree because she's a NYT bestselling author. 

Also, I would hate to think that just because it took me 7 months to write my book and not 7 years that people wouldn't automatically assume that my novel is crap. I worked hard on my book just like anyone else. It has gone through both an agent and an editor. It has been diligently revised. And from time I started writing it until time it's out is going to be about 2 years. So when I say Maya writes 8-10 books a year, it doesn't mean she's publishing all those in the same year. They are still going through editing and the traditional publishing process. Plus, she's writing stories for four different publishers and genre jumps so it's not 8 books in the same series.

And I also appreciate that writing is an art--it is. But I don't think there is any shame in thinking about writing with a business hat on as well. I love to write. I want to write. I also want to be able to feed my family and not have to have a day job to fund my writing. I don't have the luxury of being a starving artist who can slave over a book for ten years. If another author prefers to do it that way, that's fine. I just don't think it's necessary to throw daggers or insult the writing of those who may not choose to do it that way. Some people can write fast and do it really well. 

If I've learned anything in this writing world, it's that every writer is different. We all have different methods and strength, And what works for one person may not work for the other. But it doesn't make one way right and the other wrong. Just my opinion.

Thanks for sharing your view though. Always appreciate a good debate. : )

 

Meghan: I'm glad you're up for a good debate :) I'm not judging your writing, and it's true that more years put into a book doesn't necessarily equate with higher quality. It's great that you write fast, and that you have the time to crank out more than a book per year. More power to you. But being a New York Times bestseller doesn't mean a book is well written. It means it appeals to a lot of people, for whatever reason. It may have a great plot, great character, who knows what, but that doesn't make it great literature. I'm biased because I love literary fiction (and nonfiction and memoirs). Of course, we all dream of making it big. Who doesn't want to make $600k/year? I just hope that, during this shakedown of the publishing industry, all the great literary writers don't sell out and start writing zombie novels in order to pay the rent. It will be a huge loss to our culture if writers only think about making money. I hope there will continue to be many who will work day jobs (like teaching) and write on the side, or who will be willing to live on a modest salary, in order to produce something that will last.

 

Okay, so I was going to go ahead and comment back but realized I had more to say and thought it'd be a great topic for a blog post. So here's my opinion: This debate and division between the Literary with a capital L and genre fiction is not productive. This should not be a discussion of who should be considered a "real" writer of "real" books. Is the fact that someone writes a zombie novel automatically mean there book isn't worthy, that the writer is automatically a "sell out"? I'm sure Carrie Ryan who wrote The Forest of Hands and Teeth (which is has zombies in it) didn't pen her book thinking--ooh, this will make me the most money the fastest. Just like the rest of us, I'm sure she had characters whom she loved and a story in her heart that she wanted to tell.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle is the book that convinced me in 5th grade that reading was awesome and that I wanted to be a writer. I know it did the same for many. Well, that book was about time travel and witches. Judy Blume helped girls everywhere understand things about adolescence that maybe they were too afraid to ask. Her books were funny and entertaining and sold well--does that mean Judy Blume was a sell out?

Obviously, I don't believe that. I think the difference between literary and genre fiction is not a matter of quality, it's a matter of STYLE DIFFERENCE. Literary fiction is basically shh...a genre. My favorite definition was giving by Nathan Bransford: "In commercial fiction the plot tends to happen above the surface and in literary fiction the plot tends to happen beneath the surface." So in literary fiction, the big climax might be a simple decision made by a character after a big internal struggle. Whereas, in genre fiction, the climax won't be something you could miss. It doesn't make one type of book more important than the other.

The value and beauty of books is what they do for the reader. So if someone reads a literary memoir about the Holocaust and it makes them connect with the past and feel the anguish of what those people went through, that's a powerful thing. However, if a woman is reading a romance in a hospital while she cares for her sick child and is able to escape from the current sadness in her own world, that is just as powerful in my opinion.

We write because we want people to feel something when they read our books. I don't care if you write high brow books worthy of Oprah's Book Club or if you write science fiction about aliens--we all have that same goal. And none of us are in it thinking we're going to get rich. My goal for wanting to write faster is not because I think I'm going to be a millionaire. It's because I love to write, I want to tell my characters' stories and with that I want to make at least the same salary I was making when I was a social worker so that I can help support my family and be home with my son. That's it. I don't think that's selling out. I think that's being a woman following her dream.

So I hope we can all rise above this silly delineation between "them" and "us." A well-told story is a beautiful thing. No matter where it ends up shelved in the bookstore.

Write and read what stirs your heart and brings you joy.

Simple as that.

 

So what's your opinion--as a writer or a reader? And though I know people can get super passionate about this topic, let's all play nice in the comments. We are intelligent people having a healthy discussion. :) I'm glad for Meghan's comments on yesterday's post because it's a great topic to tackle and there are many who feel the same way she does.