4.10.2007

Your library card as therapy

Does a novel have any hope of getting published if it doesn't conform to any established genre? It seems every writer has a choice. They can write genre fiction that conforms to all the genre's rules and get published (provided it's competently written,) or they can write something original and maybe get discovered hundreds of years after their death. Tell me I'm wrong.

Sure, it seems that you can "add a new twist" to a style that already exists, attempt to breathe new life into it, and still fall within the horizon of expectation that people have, but what if I wanted to do everything differently? Is there hope?

Not that I'm any kind of accomplished writer or anything, but the idea of writing yet another goddamn story about magic fucking elves (or the like) makes my gums itch.


You're wrong.
Here, have a lozenge.

For proof just look at the work of JS Foer; Michael Chabon; Marjane Satrapi; and William Vollman. If you are unfamiliar with these names, your librarian is not. Hie thee there at once and get a grip on your grumpiness. It's turning your whine into vinegar.

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

Well, our librarian probably is unfamiliar with those names. I once heard a woman asking about a children's book that she couldn't remember the name of. It was about a girl named Ramona. Our librarian hemmed and hawed until I told the lady that it was a book by Beverly Cleary and there was a series...

Ahhh...rural Tennessee...

desert snarkling said...

Trying to competently conform to the rules is no guarantee of getting published, anyway. If it were that easy--find the formula, follow it--we'd all just do that.

Down the road, you'll start finding that competently written books that do nothing particularly either well or new get rejected with, "Although this is well written, I just didn't connect with the story ..."

sex scenes at starbucks said...

Having been a working artist (by commission), an editor, and a novelist, I'm always shocked when someone thinks that conforming to market standards will destroy their art.

If making art is enough for you, write whatever you damn well please. If you really want to sell your art, make it easy to sell. It won't be destroyed by a genre label; it just gives the poor bookstore a clue as to which shelf to put it on.

I got to say, though, I'm pretty sick of elves, too.

Matt said...

Chabon... the world's greatest living architect of sentences.

Anonymous said...

And many more, i.e., Mark Daneilewski. Take a look at "Only Revolutions", a National Book Award Finalist...

no quests, thanks! said...

If you're talking "magic fucking elves (or the like)", it sounds to me like you're looking at SF & Fantasy as your genre example. In which case, I might recommend you check out some authors ostensibly within the genre who are producing startlingly original and difficult-to-categorize work. No magic fucking elves here.

Jeff VanderMeer, Kelly Link, Hal Duncan, Catherynne M. Valente, K. J. Bishop...

an oregonian said...

Check out Neil Gaiman. First, the guy is a masterful writer. Second, I believe he's truly transcended the genre of fantasy... at my library anyway, he's shelved in with general fiction. But his book American Gods is fantasy in the best sense, with not an elf in sight. Also check out Gaiman's Anansi Boys. Gaiman's book Coraline, though ostensibly for children, was so wonderfully creepy I had to turn it off in places. The book on CD is narrated by Gaiman, with music by a friend of his. It's absolutely wonderful, completely imaginative and fantastic, and not an elf in sight.

Another resource I found lately on fantasy and sci fi is the preface to each year's copy of "The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror" edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling. While the book is officially a short story collection, the preface by Terri Windling is a terrific list of what's new and interesting for the year in the world of fantasy novels. If nothing else, it's a great reading list of interesting new authors, all for free from the library. Ellen Datlow's introduction is similar for horror writing (though horror isn't really my thing, it's there if you want it).

Miss Snark is right, get thine attitude in order.

Anonymous said...

I'd recommend not displaying overt contempt for the industry you're trying to break into, and the public you're trying to sell to.

Anonymous said...

Look at it another way. Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings to provide a history of loss, war and exile for languages he'd invented as a hobby; the books were first published in the early 50s, at a time when the dirty realism of the Angry Young Men was the dominant literary movement in Britain. The books went on to sell 100 million copies and *establish* a genre. If you have an obsession that looks insanely unfashionable, 100 million readers may be waiting.

Anonymous said...

Hey! I just wrote a novel about magic elves (albeit not, and I quote the letter above: "magic fucking elves").

William said...

[author of the snarky submission here]

I mentioned elves because my abiding interest is in world-creation, which at present includes either Sci-Fi or Fantasy. Fantasy in the minds of most people means some Tolkien derivative.

What shelf would you put the Wizard of Oz on if it weren't geared toward children? In Fantasy next to the Dragonlance series?

You're all right, I'm woefully underversed in what's available out there. (Though I did read House of Leaves and loved it.)
I guarantee I will put all the authors suggested here on my Amazon wishlist. Thanks to all of you and to Miss Snark for the helpful replies.

Twill said...

Read "Not to Mention the Dog". It's not exactly sci fi, not exactly mystery, not exactly humour, not exactly historical romance, nor philosophical dissertation, but it partakes of a unique mixture of these. And it won lots of blinking awards for it.

Swordswinger said...

Try Jasper Fforde, if you want something intelligent and with a sense of humour. And lay off the elves. It's not their fault if people write derivative rubbish about them...

Sophie said...

Oooh, and DEFINITELY read "Little, Big" by John Crowley. I've been reading books of all kinds since I was a foetus, 40-something years ago, and this book has absolutely blown me away - I really have never read anything like it. Am reading slowly as I don't want to finish it, and that's not me at all!

wonderer said...

To the OP: You're right that fantasy in the minds of most non-fantasy (and some fantasy) readers "means some Tolkien derivative". To find stuff that's different, look up "fantasy" or "science fiction" on Wikipedia to find a wonderful list of subgenres (with plenty of examples) for each. I guarantee it will be inspiring as well as enlightening, and you might just find your ideal writing niche. Check out recent winners of major awards in the genre, such as the Hugo and Nebula - writers don't win those by rehashing old material. Or just browse the fantasy shelves, skipping anything that looks like Tolkien. Fantasy can also sometimes be found in the "general fiction" shelves. And don't underestimate the possibilities in the YA area either.

There's a huge range of possibilities under the speculative fiction umbrella. If you're going to write it, it's important to be informed so you don't try to reinvent the wheel. Have fun!

me_oh_my said...

"Ahhh...rural Tennessee..."

Here, here.
This, I say from experience, is no lie.

I, too, am in the TN woods, and have had the following conversation:

Me: "We're going to a book club."
Person: "Oh. Huh. What do you do there?"
Me: "Uh, well, you uh, discuss books."
Person: "I read a book a long time ago. Does it have to be a certain one?"

Oy.

Erin said...

What wonderer said. And the reverse is true as well -- to a lot of genre-only readers, "literary fiction" means dry-as-dust stories written in bland prose in which nothing actually happens. It's a lazy mental shortcut.

And incidentally, if Fantasy/SF *is* the genre you're dancing around, OP, you'd do well to check out the authors mentioned upthread, as well as some of the old guard: Peake's Gormenghast, Delaney's Dhalgren, Wolfe's Book of the New Sun.

William said...

I did some wikipeding. It turns out the genre I'm interested in is called Xenofiction, like Watership Down.

The More You Know ----====☆

Greg said...

Twill, good rec, except it's "To Say Nothing of the Dog," by Connie Willis.

PicardyRose said...

"A Door Into Ocean" by Joan Slonczewski -- she wrote sequels, but this was the best by far.