A couple weeks ago I decided that it was time for me to find a writing group in the area. I live in Oakland and work in San Francisco, so basically anywhere in the California Bay Area. I just wanted the opportunity to be surrounded by other writers and to receive meaningful feedback about my stories, old and new alike. I found a couple which looked interesting, one of which was being lead by a former Rolling Stone magazine editor. The group’s description was right-on with the kind of environment I wanted. Except for one catch.
At the end, it said ‘genre writers need not apply.’
Double-you. Tea. Fudgesticks.
It was like reading about a great deal which would give me a round-trip to the Bahamas for two with three free days at the spa, all for fifty bucks and then at the bottom finding out it expired a week ago. But, of course, this group couldn’t mean people like me, right? I’m a serious writer, and I care about the craft deeply. Surely they were only trying to weed out writers who only write to churn out cheesy novel after cheesy novel and could care about character depth as much as R.L. Stine (sorry, Stine, I still love you!).
So I emailed the leader, explaining my interest in the group, detailed my writing background, and admitted that I do, indeed, write horror and fantasy. I made sure to make clear that, despite my preferred subject matter, I want my writing to resonate with readers as much as any well-respected works. I was even naively confident that I’d be a shoe-in.
You can probably guess the outcome from the tone of this post. The leader of the group (I make them sound like a cult….) replied and simply said that me being a genre writer just doesn’t align with the interests of the group. And I’m sitting here wondering: why not? Why frickin not?
All of us writers would well know by now that ‘literary’ fiction is held to a higher regard in the world of the written, but I often find it confusing on what delineates it so much from ‘genre’ It is not solely on the quality of the book, as you can find many a novel in the ‘literature’ section which sucks. And twelve aisles down, in the horror section, you can find novels which will make you think more than Inception. It seems to me that writing should more be grouped by quality and not by content, but certain subject matter just won’t be taken seriously. D you really think that if Stephen King wrote an extraordinary version of Cujo that it would make it in to high school English courses of the future?
Here’s something I find interesting: old writing has an automatic in to the high-class category. The Castle of Otranto sucked major gothic ass, but the writing world wasn’t nearly as saturated back then, allowing even a mediocre piece of work to have a significant impact. In 100 years, will Harry Potter be as significant? Maybe, maybe not. But it is interesting to explore this idea of saturation. With the number of novels printed per year these days, plus the added traffic of self-publishing, books are now divided in to many categories. Maybe literary fiction is valued simply for its refusal to fit in to these ‘sections’. Ghost stories, mysteries, werewolf novels, and romantic tear-jerkers are all a dime a dozen, and maybe only an author writing something I like to call ‘weird as ****’ (like the Brief and Wonderful Life of Oscar Wao‘) can truly earn respect.
Still, must writers who write ‘weird as ****’ mingle only with other ‘weird as ****’ writers in the five-star hotel suite while the genre writers mull around in the stables? Can a mystery writer not learn about the importance of the craft from someone trying to recreate the human spirit and vice versa? Look at The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Good book. Solid characters. Decent writing. If it was written the same and the main character just happened to turn in to a rabbit-eating beast at the stroke of midnight, does the author automatically have nothing to offer to the aspiring ‘serious literary writer?’
I look forward to the day when the lines between genre and literary fiction are demolished. Make it more about the quality, and less about the subject matter. And I’m sure literary writers wouldn’t have qualms with genre writers improving the art of their craft, but isolating them won’t do it!
On a side note, I found a diverse writing group of many different types! They’re ready to be scared and I’m willing to learn.