Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing, and Publishing ~

Tag Archives: Genre fiction

What Is “Literature”?


Defining “Literature” is a more slippery task than writing it…

What Is Literature?

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If you look to the root meanings of the word, you find it becoming a letter—written to the reader…

The best definition I’ve found is “well-written” and “dealing with universal ideas”…

Naturally, “well-written” does not mean written in a way that confuses the average reader—in spite of the opinions of various “literary ‘experts'”…

And, also naturally, “dealing with universal ideas” doesn’t mean the book isn’t exciting, gripping, and hard to put down…

Some folks would define literature as “not genre” (check out my past articles on genre); yet, I wrote, in one of those past posts:

“I’ve read ‘literary fiction’ that seemed to me to be insipid and tortuously self-contained—hardly wrestling with universal dilemmas; more like whining about over-valued pet peeves

“And, I’ve read ‘genre fiction’ that met every qualifier of that ‘definition’ of ‘literary fiction’.”

And, concerning “genre”, this comment, on the post I drew that quote from, by Jane Watson, is quite enlightening:

“I think that you nailed it when you commented on: ‘…how ‘issues’ can be created from ‘imagined’ ‘facts…’. Personally I think ‘genre’ of any kind, including ‘Literary Fiction’ is a marketing term used by publishers to ‘sell’ books to people, who they think can’t make up their mind on what to buy – but I believe readers are very smart and can tell if they like a book or not and usually judge and pick it, not on genre, but on whether it reads well for them in the first few pages or is described well in a review or a recommendation from a friend. I am hardly ever told by a friend recommending a book — ‘You’ll love this – it’s Chicklit’. — but am often told — ‘You’ll love this, it’s great!'”

So, shall we believe that “Literature” is in the eye (and heart) of the reader?

Then, perhaps, we could ask: “What does literature do for us, the readers, that other writing doesn’t do?”

One perspective on that question is explored in the article What Books Do for the Human Soul: The Four Psychological Functions of Great Literature:

  1. IT SAVES YOU TIME
  2. IT MAKES YOU NICER
  3. IT’S A CURE FOR LONELINESS
  4. IT PREPARES YOU FOR FAILURE

And, if those functions of Literature seem less than worthy determinants for such important writing, watch this video:


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Is “Literary Fiction” Just Another Genre?


I ran into a thorny patch of articles that speculate on why literary fiction authors don’t self-publish.

Self-Publishing Literary Fiction

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My first question was: Where are your statistics?

It’s so common for folks who write about books to draw their arguments from the straw pile of narrowly-focused opinions.

I’ll list 5 links to an intertwined set of articles discussing the supposed fear of “literary fiction” authors—they won’t ever be published because the Big Houses won’t pay them enough and they don’t dare self-publish

I don’t expect the readers of this blog to follow those links but I feel I need to have them as references, in case my own opinions in this post draw serious doubts.

First though, here’s a definition of “literary fiction” (don’t feel bad if it seems to not make much sense…):

Literary fiction is a term principally used for certain fictional works that are claimed to hold literary merit.

Despite the fact that all genres have works that are well written, those works are generally not considered literary fiction. To be considered literary, a work usually must be “critically acclaimed” and “serious”. In practice, works of literary fiction often are “complex, literate, multilayered novels that wrestle with universal dilemmas”.

Literary fiction is usually contrasted with paraliterary fiction (e.g., popular, commercial, or genre fiction). This contrast between these two subsets of fiction is highly controversial amongst critics and scholars who study literature.

Let’s not forget that the meaning of “Genre” is:

a kind of literary or artistic work

It seems to me that those critics and scholars want a type of fiction that rises above all other “kinds” of literary work because they have “acclaimed” it and judged it to be “serious”.

I’ve read “literary fiction” that seemed to me to be insipid and tortuously self-contained—hardly wrestling with universal dilemmas; more like whining about over-valued pet peeves

And, I’ve read “genre fiction” that met every qualifier of that “definition” of “literary fiction”.

So, just before I list those links—the impassioned discussion about what I consider to be a non-issue—let me give you a few quotes from an article by Hugh HoweySelf-publishing will save literary fiction (I think Howey is using “literary” in the sense of “well-written” and dealing with “universal dilemmas”…):

“What goes unsaid but seems implied in the message that literary works will die without a publishers’ support or bookstores in which to shelve them is that we write literary works for the pleasure of publishers and bookstores.”

“Artists have relied on the largesse of patrons for centuries. Increasingly, those patrons will become the general public.”

“Soon (this is already true for many) self-publishing will be seen as the purer artform. No tampering with style or voice. No gatekeeper. No need even for monetization.”

So, here come those 5 links to the articles about why “literary fiction” authors don’t self-publish—please only read them if you want an education in how “issues” can be created from “imagined” “facts”—imagining that a few authors and a few critics can set some “standard” for what should be considered “literary”:

Genre lines: Why literary writers won’t self-publish

A re-post of the above article—interesting for it’s 63 comments

From bestseller to bust: is this the end of an author’s life?

UK publishing and those poor struggling writer people

Why Literary Writers Have Not Yet Made the Transition to Self-Publishing

Hoping for a few Comments, even if you’ve decided to not follow those 5 links :-)
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I Give Myself A Fantastic Writing Challenge . . .


It’s always interesting how seemingly isolated threads of activity can weave themselves into a new goal

First : I was contemplating the writing of one of the stories for the series, Behind The Scenes, and decided to purchase a deck of “Magic” cards to do a little research

Second : I gave a half-hearted attempt to learn how to play that card game and then just left the cards sitting on my writing desk

Third : I’d finished all the Behind The Scenes posts and faced the unrelieved desire to continue creating new stories each Friday

Fourth : A few days ago I spied the magic cards and playfully (randomly) drew-out five of them

Result: I had a Writing Prompt for a story and knew I’d begin a series of posts called Friday Fantasy

I’ll share, in a bit, a mind-map I created to evoke a plot for a fantasy story; but, first, here’s a graph from Visual Thesaurus for the word “fantasy”:

Post

And, here’s the Etymology of the word “fantasy”:

early 14c., “illusory appearance,” from Old French fantaisie (14c.) “vision, imagination,” from Latin phantasia, from Greek phantasia “appearance, image, perception, imagination,” from phantazesthai “picture to oneself,” from phantos “visible,” from phainesthai “appear,” in late Greek “to imagine, have visions,” related to phaos, phos “light,” phainein “to show, to bring to light” (see phantasm). Sense of “whimsical notion, illusion” is pre-1400, followed by that of “imagination,” which is first attested 1530s. Sense of “day-dream based on desires” is from 1926.

I’ve shared that info on “fantasy” because some of my regular readers might wonder why in the world I’m going to engage in genre writing—check out these past posts on genre—and, be aware, I fully intend to Bend the fantasy genre :-)

So, when I’d drawn those Magic cards, I got Merfolk, Enchantment-Immortality, Mountain, Forest, and Plain.

Here’s the mind map I created with Scapple as I contemplated the First Friday Fantasy

FirstFantasy

EDIT: Here’s the fantasy story I wrote the day after I wrote this post  :-)
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Select as many as you like:

Is Genre The Best Way To Pick A Book?


I’m going to feature an article from an intriguing publication in this post but, first, I’ll give you a few links to past posts on this blog that considered the Genre Question:

What Is A Genre & Should You Try To Write In One?

Genre, Genre, Who’s Got The Genre ? :-)

Genre Reconsidered ~ Reader-Driven Fiction

Genre or Literary? What’s The Difference?

Curator is a curious publication—a wide mix of writing styles plus coverage of Humanity, Literature, Film and Television, Music and Performing Arts, Visual Art, and Poetry.curatorLOGObanner

The article from Curator I’m focusing on is called, Like a Cork Out of a Bottle, and has quite a unique writing style—so unique it’s hard to pull out a paragraph or two to share

So, I’ll pull out some of the most interesting sentences to give the flavor of the piece and urge you to take that link and experience it yourself :-)

“If these genre conventions had flesh and blood, I would fight them with swords.”

“If a book is not neat and square and laid out in rows, the market won’t have it.”

“How does a person with a muse get by in a world of grids and rigid logic and instant categorization?”

“When I publish a 70,000-word paean to the recklessness of divine love, the book will ‘compete’ alongside subway reading about vampires and sexual deviants.”

“I understand that we need content cues, a sort of lexical and visual shorthand for what we’ll find in a book or on a website. But I can’t figure out this particular communication ritual, this here branding thing.”

“This culture is not ready for what I have to say, for the surgery I must perform.”

Hopefully, those sentences captured a bit of the flavor of the writer’s mind but a full read is necessary to capture his message

You might also want to visit this writer’s blog: G.T. Anders ~ ramblings for the hopeful lost.

Because of its topic and Mr. Anders style, I’d love Your thoughts and/or feelings on the article in the Comments
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Which Genre of Fiction Do You Prefer? ~ How About Literary Fiction?


I can hear some readers saying, “Literary fiction isn’t a genre!”.

Hmmm

“Genre” is a term used to divide fiction up into classes or “treatments” or boxes.

“Literary” can be used that way, too—as well as a modifier—literary mysteries, literary romances, etc.

Still, some folks want to keep “literary” and “genre” well-separated

Some might even tell you that literary fiction is the kind that doesn’t sell as well as genre.

Might be good to grab a definition for “literary fiction”—best one I’ve found is: “complex, literate, multilayered novels that wrestle with universal dilemmas”.

Yet, what’s to stop a “genre” writer from making their book “literary”—perhaps, only the desire to not have it become harder to sell?

The Millions magazine has an article by Kim Wright (an author) called, Why Are So Many Literary Writers Shifting into Genre?

She says:

“Once upon a time, genre was treated as almost a different industry from literary fiction, ignored by critics, sneered at by literary writers, relegated by publishers to imprint ghettos. But the dirty little and not-particularly-well-kept secret was that, thanks to the loyalty of their fans and the relatively rapid production of their authors, these genre books were the ones who kept the entire operation in business. All those snobbish literary writers had better have hoped like hell that their publishers had enough genre moneymakers in house to finance the advance for their latest beautifully rendered and experimentally structured observation of upper class angst.”

Blogger and critic Porter Anderson recently threw out some new terms: “I’ve been toying lately with new hashtags #seriouswriting and #legitlit to distinguish this from formulaic entertainment pabulum…”—“serious fiction”.

Jennie Coughlin weighs in on this on her blog post, Serious Fiction and #LegitLit: Creating a Hybrid Home:

“For me, telling a layered story with strong characters is key. When a friend recommended Doris Lessing’s books to me recently, he said she’s one of his favorite authors because, ‘She’s one of those authors that makes me not want to read another book for a long time because there’s always a lot to absorb and reflect upon.’. While my books don’t belong in the same breath as Lessing’s, that idea of providing a lot for a reader to absorb and reflect upon is probably the best expression I’ve heard for what I try to do when I tell stories. And I think it’s maybe the best way I can think of to define Porter’s concept of ‘serious fiction’.”

My short novel, Notes from An Alien, has these words in the Prologue:

“…this book is a story told in ‘notes’. Even though some readers may think it is a novel or a history, its form is difficult to classify in what are called genres.”

After publication, my best friend called it a Documentary Novel, which I feel fits it well

Here are a few other posts from this blog that consider “genre”:

Genre or Literary? What’s The Difference?

Genre Reconsidered ~ Reader-Driven Fiction

Genre, Genre, Who’s Got The Genre ? :-)

What Is A Genre & Should You Try To Write In One?

What are your thoughts and feelings about “genre” and “literary” fiction?
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