My buddy John Rosenman just posted part II of his essay on Literary Racism today over at Storytellers Unplugged. I haven't seen a hooplah raised over there like this one caused in some time. The premise is simple…there is a general prejudice among academics, critics, and even publishers toward genre fiction. I don't know that I'd exactly call it a prejudice, but there is certainly a difference in the way different types of fiction are looked upon in general. Movie critics, the top literary critics, even people on the street, react in noticeable ways to the mention of things like horror, science fiction, and fantasy. The same can be said of Westerns, Romance, and even the more formulaic brands of mystery. It's not a new concept, and it's not an easy one to ignore; but here's the rub.
The question that surfaced most clearly in the discussion over John's essay was one of acceptance, denial, or rebellion. There were a lot of views on the subject. I think that you have to put some of it in perspective, so I've decided to try and do that here.
One thing is clear – this is not a new problem, if problem it is. Most of those of us who have started writing horror, science-fiction or fantasy over the past couple of decades came into the business knowing these limits, prejudices, and stereotypes existed. That means, in a way, it's sort of like moving in next to an airport and then complaining about the sound when too much uproar is raised. It isn't like we were singled out, and it isn't like we couldn't have written any type of fiction we chose to. In that respect, I can understand how and why many seem to feel it's just the way it is, and we should deal with it.
It was pointed out that there are exceptions. One that was mentioned was "The Historian," which garnered a huge advance and a lot of notice when it first surfaced. The usual names were trotted out and pointed at to show that genre fiction can get as good an advance as any other type of fiction, but this argument breaks down pretty quickly for me. I don't know how many times over the years I've seen a book written by some clever grad student receive huge praise, a big advance, and lead to a sudden, lucrative career in mainstream fiction. I can't remember ever seeing the same thing happen for a horror, SF, or Fantasy author. Dave Wolverton did pretty well for himself after winning the L. Ron Hubbard contest, but stories like that are few and far between.
Sure, some have made it by huge fan followings, or even by being in the right place at the right time, but these folks didn’t get any kind of boost from critics, they got it from fans. The critics in general hated the Harry Potter books. They were too full of purple prose. They were poorly edited. There were a lot of problems, according to the critics, but one problem the Harry Potter books do NOT have is finding readers. It's funny how many of those same critics who were dead set against this series at the beginning have jumped on the bandwagon now that the world, in general, has spoken. You go, Harry P…you ROQUE, man …and the same was true of Stephen King. God, how long has the K man been writing, and just recently the literati have reluctantly begun opening doors for him, though not without huge backlash and shaking of well-educated heads. Is it fair? Probably not, but the question remains – what do you do about it.
My own method has been to try and write to my own internal drummer. I haven't found that it's a particularly successful method, but it keeps me sane, and it leaves me proud of what I've accomplished. I don't really write to a genre most of the time. Sometimes I do – and when I do I know what to expect from the world. When I do something more personal, though, something more powerful with deeper thought behind it and maybe something to say that I consider important, it bothers me to see it pigeon-holed with my other work. It irritates me that the odds of getting a break-out book are even higher if that book resembles horror, SF, or fantasy, and that the odds get worse and worse the more you write in those genres, and the more the marketplace, and publishers stereotype you.
But again, I have to wonder if I really have much right to complain when I could see what I was getting into from the start. Maybe the complaint is with ourselves – those of us who are still bothered by writing in the ghetto. Maybe the problem is that – this is what I do. I say that I could have written anything, but it isn't true. If I was forced to write something that came less naturally to me, I'd burn out, quit, or hate the entire process. I'd be miserable. Now I'm poor – which CAN make you miserable – but I'm creating things that matter to me.
For myself, I'll keep talking, shouting, waving my virtual fists in the air and hoping for a day when the playing field is more equal, or that I find that breakout book in me, that magic moment when I'm right where I need to be at JUST the right moment…|
Who knows…"The Temptation of Blood" is about to be published down the street for Vatican City – maybe my moment of notoriety is just around the corner!
From the Ghetto…
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