Thursday, April 16, 2015

Genre Fiction

James O. Born

I have recently gotten serious about teaching writing and this Saturday will be at the University of Central Florida book Festival and in a month I will be at the South Carolina book Festival, and at each location I will be teaching a two-hour seminar on "How to Write a Novel."  I’ll refer to the blog and hope that if you are in the area can drop by.

Today kicks off a new series of blogs on writing.  We're going to talk about popular or "genre" fiction.  There are occasionally snarky comments tossed back between a few writers who identify themselves as, "literary" authors and those who identify themselves as a specific genre writers like a crime writer or science fiction author.  I have never gotten particularly involved in the spats.  I don't really care one way or the other as long as I'm writing a story I'm proud of and it's nice to have it published.

Stephen Marche of Esquire has an excellent piece on genre fiction here.  The article is titled How Genre Fiction Became More Important than Literary Fiction.  He makes excellent points about the needless distinction between the two.  Even the comments at the bottom of the page are pretty good.

In addition, here is a response from Lee Child from a British TV show which I have borrowed from : Kristy McDermott   

Last week I was in Britain and Ian McEwan’s Solar came out the same day, so there was this kind of “grudge match” thing going on —61 Hours by Lee Child vs Solar by Ian McEwan, you know, the Good Guy vs the Bad Guy, the Smart Guy vs the Thug — and I was asked about it constantly in interviews, and I made the point, and I think this is a serious point actually, that the rivalry does not come from us — why would I care about Ian McEwan? — the rivalry comes from them, and it is not necessarily about the sales, it’s about something else, it’s about this: that they know in their heart that we could write their books but they cannot write our books. That’s what it’s about. [emphasis mine]

When people ask me what I write I almost always reply, "crime fiction."  To me that most accurately describes the stories are generally write.  Some might be thrillers, some might be mysteries, but they all involve crime.  Even my two science fiction novels were essentially crime novels.  I won't even get into the distinction between thriller and mystery.  I find that I tend to read stories about the subject because I like to hear everyone's point of view.  For the purposes of the upcoming blogs it doesn't matter.  Just like it doesn't really matter in real life.  No one cares if you're a "literary" writer, "romance" writer or "mystery" writer.  As long as you're a good writer.  To quote Duke Ellington, “There are two kinds of music. Good music, and the other kind.”  The same can be applied to writing.

Over the next few weeks I will present guest blogs from respected writers who tend to focus on one area or "genre".  Then we can let the debate begin.  In the meantime, please make sure you read the Esquire article.   I will be checking it like homework later.

Have a great Thursday.


  1. Interesting article. I love the term "literary bigots." I've heard Lee Child speak on this issue before. His latest comment was milder than some I've read in the past, but all true.

  2. from Jacqueline: You have touched a subject that can really get my hackles up. When I give presentations, especially at events such as the Book Passage Mystery Writers' Conference, I make the point that some of the very best writing today comes under the banner of "mystery" or "crime" fiction. Not only that, but it is the literary vehicle that is currently most effective at touching universal truths about societal issues, how we see the past, how we recover from trauma - right along to what makes us laugh. I actually dislike the phrase, overused by reviewers, "transcends the genre." On the one hand, very nice if it's your book doing the transcending, but a sad reflection on the preconceived notion of what mystery fiction offers the reader. Great subject to get into, Jim. And I have heard Lee talk about this very subject - and quite passionate about it he was too, for a laid back kind of guy.

  3. James O. Born4/17/2015 6:21 AM

    Thanks, guys. I agree with the sentiment. If you like the writing the book is probably good. That's what matters.