Today, for the first time ever, we have a guest poster!
I was lucky enough to convince Craig Lancaster, talented author and writer, to share his thoughts on blending literary and genre standards, the difference between literary fiction and genre fiction, and “crap” sections at bookstores!
I am *very* excited to have Craig here and am so grateful to him for taking time out of his busy schedule to write a guest post for Reading, Writing, and the World of Words!
Craig Lancaster’s first novel, 600 Hours of Edward, was a 2009 Montana Honor Book and the 2010 High Plains Book Award winner for best first book.
And now, with no further ado, here is Craig’s wonderful guest post! Enjoy:
Just Give Me A Good Story
Standing in front of an entry-level creative-writing class recently, I struggled to explain the difference between literary fiction and genre fiction. It’s one of those distinctions that seem clear within the confines of one’s own cranium but come out in spits and sputters when put to words. (I’m similarly challenged any time I have to explain my love of Neil Diamond’s music, but that’s a confession for another essay.)
I stumbled around a bit before offering a woefully substandard rule of thumb: Literary fiction, I said, generally concerns itself with matters of character, while genre fiction tends to be driven by plot. In the absence of a dissertation-length explanation, that simple delineation holds up, but if you dig even a little bit below the surface, it comes up lacking.
These students wanted to dig.
“I read Stephen King,” one said. “He writes good characters.”
Well, yeah, that’s true, I acknowledged.
Someone else cited an undeniably literary novel – as God is my witness, I can’t remember now which one – and pointed out its plot elements. Again, I conceded the point.
The exchange put me in a mind of a discussion I regularly have with my book-loving friends, about how the stories many of us remember and love the most deftly blend literary and genre standards, giving us characters we love (or loathe) and can relate to and a story that keeps us eagerly turning the page. Many authors who are classified as either genre or literary manage to do this, and we’re all richer for their skill.
And yet, we’ve all read genre works that are masteries of craft and utterly devoid of art, or literary works that plod through 100,000 florid words without actually getting anywhere. I have a hard time imagining being satisfied with either.
My good friend Richard S. Wheeler, the great Western author, wrote the following in his autobiography, An Accidental Novelist. I think it should be required reading for anyone who loves books:
“There is no reason why a popular novel with a dramatic storyline cannot also be a novel that probes the human condition. There is no reason why a literary novel that delves deep into relationships or character cannot also have a storyline that hustles along and compels attention. These false distinctions should be thrown out.”
(This is where you, the book lover, should stand and applaud.)
Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Chabon, whose literary bonafides need no validation, sounded a similar theme in an interview with IO9 back in 2009:
“Personally I would prefer to see bookstores shelve all fiction together regardless of genre. Or maybe just have two sections, ‘Good Stuff’ and ‘Crap.’ Into Crap we will consign all novels regardless of genre or reputation that trade in cliche and dead language. If I ever own a bookstore I will do it that way. Only I will just leave out the Crap section.”
When Chabon opens that store, he’ll get all my business.
I want to thank Craig for being here today with us! Don’t forget to check out his website (here) and please comment to let him know your thoughts on his post!
What are the differences (as you see them) between literary fiction and genre fiction?
*Photo credit of Craig: Ashley Stevick*