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Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Half and Half

You know you're a writing nerd when reading for fun still manages to become an exercise in note-taking and craft reflection. But I'd be lying if I said I didn't like being so obsessive. I think writers have a responsibility to not merely maintain, but to strive always to be better, to set their sights too high, and risk falling, rather than be content to muddle through. Self-education is so important. Which is why even when I'm reading in my downtime, I select books from a variety of genres and try new authors, and even if I don't care for a book, I try to wring every drop of analysis from its pages.

This weekend, I read a book I did enjoy, thankfully, The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson.

Set in East Sussex in 1914, at the beginning of WWI, it follows a handful of characters throughout their small town daily lives. The novel is told with what I now think of as the standard English flair for grace, subtlety, and a word choice that manages to say as much with what is left out as with what is explicit on the page.

That's something I love so dearly about Austen's work, and something I've discussed with my brother at length - the way sometimes refraining from saying something is the boldest statement, or the cleverest. English literature, through the ages, has had a tendency toward the subtle, the sharp, and the resigned; its an echo of the culture that's seeped into the art.

I'm an English lit nerd, yes, but for me it's really important to read, study, understand, and then employ multiple narrative styles, in order to create a diverse, well-rounded book that manages to accomplish multiple things. I like using explicit language; I like bold, direct, brutal wording to make bold statements; but I like to use subtlety too.

There always seems to be this not-so-nice back-and-forth between genre fiction and literary fiction. Genre fiction accuses literary fiction of using "writing tricks," in place of plotting or story development. I'll be the first to admit that there are those rudderless books who spin off in tangents without direction. But I think it's a terrible mistake to write off literary fiction on an erroneous conclusion. Lit fic isn't about "tricks," but about finding creative, artistic, and aesthetically beautiful ways to describe characters and plot points in such a way that each scene becomes an art-piece all on its own. Sometimes a flower is just a flower, yes, but sometimes we want to sit a spell, and let our eyes trace every line of it.

At the end of the day, I think it's a dumb argument. Why can't a book be entertaining and beautiful? Why can't it be fun and touching? Why can't it be addictive and leisurely in its telling? I love genre fiction for its storytelling, its fun, its quirky character goodness. And I love literary fiction for its nuance. So when I write, I try to fuse the two. If I'm writing a frightening scene, I set it up like it's in a horror novel. Romantic scenes should feel romantic. Pastoral/world building scenes I always want to be literary. A touch of noir in those dead-of-night kitchen table scenes.

Because why the hell not?

I've got a foot in each camp. Half genre, half literary, zero apologies. Writing is art and it shouldn't be about strict labels and cliques.

Before I realized going indie was the absolute best decision, and I was still trying to get published via the traditional route, I pitched my novels as romance. Because in my mind, they were love stories, and that's where they fit. Not so, apparently. Everyone from agents, to editors, to RWA conference table-mates told me I wasn't writing romance. Because the story wasn't completely, tightly focused on just the couple and just their romantic development.

Well. Okay then.

I swapped to a "literary fiction" label and keep it to this day, because still, romance readers like to give me flak about not "focusing on the romance." Well...there's romance, yes. But sometimes we need to take a sec to appreciate Uncle Ablie's weapon collection. Or watch Ghost be everyone's exasperated dad.

I just think books should be fun, and heartbreaking, and rich, and real, and be full of love, and sex, and bad jokes, and quietly poignant character moments. I think they can be worlds unto themselves, and provide a variety of emotional experiences all in one place. I wish the writing world would quit worrying so much about page counts, and genre labels, and just worry about awesome stories. There are mountains of literature out there, and it's my job to read as much as I can, and learn how to be a better writer.

This has been my obnoxious writer moment of the day.

1 comment:

  1. I loved this!!

    And might I suggest a hulking slab of a book, And the Ladies of the Club by Helen Hooven Santmyer. It is a literary masterpiece, IMO. I've owned 4 copies and re-visit my friends every few years. I think you'd enjoy it!