Confession from a former literary snob

Today — late last night, technically — I was over at We Heart YA talking about how YA, like Pinocchio, is a real boy, goshdarnit!

It all started with an email I received from a fellow writer. Once you read the WHYA post, you’ll see. Anyway, that was a year and a half ago, and I’ve come a long way in terms of how I view writing and genre and all that. Still, I was struck by my original response to that writer, and I thought I would share part of it here.

Admittedly, I still struggle with the genre thing, because I come from the viewpoint you do: literary fiction is king, and genre is like the court jester. Entertaining, but meaningless. That said, if I can bridge the two — if I can entertain without compromising quality of writing, without losing meaning — then I think I will have accomplished something. Something greater than just another book that Twilight-crazed girls will read, and something more than just another book that only other aspiring writers will read. (Gross exaggeration on both counts, but you get my drift.)

That’s actually why I stopped working on the paranormal YA story I brought in last night. Because as much fun as I was having, I wasn’t sure what the point was. Believe it or not, the “New Adult” web series I wrote? Had a point, at least for me. It was very much about being 20-something and wanting to be so much more. Being stuck in transition. And the “New Adult” book I’m working on now? Also has a point for me. I don’t want to do genre just for the sake of genre (which is sort of what last night’s YA story was) so now I’m trying to figure out how to take the best of both worlds and make them into something awesome.

A year and a half later, a lot has changed, but that’s still my mission. Produce Something Awesome.

Easier said than done, no?

Like this:



Bad girl


Before and After and scars


  1. Ray

    “Easier said than done, no?”

    Yes. Very much so. But well worth it, nevertheless.

    I love when people send me a manuscript along with a note saying that that book took them seven or nine or ten (or even more) years to write. I truly do.

    I believe also that good literature transcends genre. Blood Meridian is much more than a western. The Hitchhiker (by Roald Dahl) is more than a children’s story. Bladerunner is far more than science fiction story. House of Leaves, for all its innumerable flaws, is more than a horror story.

    If, in other words, the genre — whatever genre it may be — becomes the tail that wags the dog, that story is flawed.

    I think genres are overrated. Timeless themes can be conveyed through any one of them.

  2. Producing something awesome is, indeed, a tough challenge. I wrote on my blog a while back that there is a writing quality ceiling in genre fiction, so if the writing is too good in genre, it becomes literary fiction and moves out of genre. I still stand by that (even though just about everyone who responded to that post disagreed with me!).

  3. Hm, personally I just read what I liked, and sometimes that was literary and sometimes it was genre. So I guess I never had that “literary-or-bust” mindset. But I love what you say about writing something that’s meaningful to you. I think that’s key, and I have no doubt you will, indeed, Produce Something Awesome. :)

  4. I’ve never had any snobbery one way or the other. I have a degree in English Literature, but it didn’t affect my tastes and preferences in the least (it did get me to read a lot of things I never would have read on my own, so that was cool).

    I agree with Linda, I read what I like. At the moment I’m re-reading books by Henry James, Rex Stout, James Joyce, and Sarah Caudwell. They are all well-written, and that’s what matters.

    I learned that from my father. He would read good writing wherever he found it (movels and short stories in any “genre,” newspaper columns, etc.). I read Style Rookie despite having no interest in fashion, because Tavi Gevinson writes well.

  5. Ray-
    “I believe also that good literature transcends genre.” – So true. And your point about the tail wagging the dog is well taken. I think there has to be a balance between writing whatever you want, and knowing the “rules” of the genre and the desires of the market.

    I can see why you would say that, and I think you have a point, but I think there’s an additional element involved: time. Time can turn contemporary commercial fiction into Literature with a capital L.

    Thanks! Yes, like you, growing up I read whatever sounded good, never paid attention to genre at all. And you know, sometimes I wonder if it would be better if bookstores did away with the labels… It would upset a lot of people at first, but who knows. Maybe it’d be better.

    Sounds like you have a naturally open mind, which is fantastic. While I don’t think my college writing program *caused* my snobbery, it certainly didn’t work to combat it, and I feel like anyone that truly celebrates literature needs to be open to it in all its forms. So that’s definitely been part of my growth over the past few years, and it has, without a doubt, made me a better writer.

  6. Kristan, your point about time is very true. After all, Shakespeare was the popular entertainment of his day, one crowd-pleaser of many.

    It reminds me of the quote from Chinatown: “Of course I’m respectable. I’m old. Politicians, ugly buildings, and whores all get respectable if they last long enough.”

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