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Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Why do you write genre fiction?


I grew up in a house full of books. I never realized that this was unusual. My parents were both teachers. My Dad, I think, was a frustrated historian turned basketball coach, because public school boards find winning basketball coaches much more valuable than history teachers, while I know my Mom had had some minor success as a poet. She’d belonged to a literary sorority in college and had stayed in touch with her sorority sisters well into the 1970s, inviting them over for social gatherings all the time. I know that at least one of her sorority sisters went on to become a mystery writer of some note, because I remember her giving me a signed hardcover of one of her books which I’ve long since lost, but for the life of me I can’t remember her name now.

The point is, I grew up in a house full of books, including the attic. Magazines, too: Life, Look, The Saturday Evening Post, National Geographic. I think the only part of the house that didn’t have at least one bookcase and a stack of magazines was the basement, and that was only because being right on the bluff overlooking Lake Michigan our house was remarkably damp, and any paper product stored down in the basement quickly turned to mildew and silverfish food.

As a child, I was surrounded by readers, and I learned to read early, constantly, and omnivorously. Again, I never recognized this as being unusual. What was unusual, so far as my parents were concerned, was that with everything I had to choose from, I preferred to read science fiction. I was a cerebral sponge, absorbing Jules Verne, Edgar Allan Poe, H. G. Wells, Andre Norton, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein, Ray Bradbury…

Later, as an adult, when I wrote fiction, that’s mostly what came back out: fantastic and science fiction, filtered through what I’d seen and what I’d learned. I certainly didn’t set out to become a science fiction writer, and have sold more than a few things outside of the genre. My Mom, who adored Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, and Erle Stanley Gardner, kept hoping it was just a phase I was going through, and when I sold a story to Hitchcock’s she was ecstatic, because she thought I’d finally seen the light.

The question has continued to haunt me all my adult life. As one of my less tactful co-workers once put it, “You’re a pretty good writer. Why do you write this sci-fi crap when you could be writing real literature?’

I think I know what my answer is, but before I say it, I’d really like to hear your answer.

Why, given all the possible kinds of fiction you could be writing, have you chosen to write fantastic fiction? 

Over to you,
~brb

3 comments:

Invictus said...

Wait, you can choose to write something else?!? Damn it, now you tell me...

Ultimately, I write this stuff because that's what fits my perspective and how I think about the universe at large. It's not the only type of material I write, but it's definitely my default. I tried other flavors of fiction, especially while I was steaming through my graduate work, but when it comes to fiction, the fantastic feels natural to me.

Arisia said...

My first reaction to this question is, "Define fantastic." Which wouldn't do any good because genre definitions are changing so fast I can't keep up. Unless you're using the word fantastic as meaning extra good.

The first thing everybody wants to know about a writer is their genre, but they all intend to use that info in different ways. Publishers want to know how to market your book. Agents want to know which publishers to pitch it to. Brick and mortar stores want to know which shelf to put it on. Online stores want to know what category to put it in. Amazon doesn't bother asking what genre a book is. They assign it several different genres according to I have no idea what.

What I'm writing has too many genres in it. When I decide it's ready to publish, either the situation will be different, or I'll have to go Indie. Or stick it in a virtual drawer and start on another book.

GuyStewart said...

As a kid, I was unhappy with my life (for a dizzying number of reasons). I escaped into books when I hit adolescence (which exacerbated most of the reasons...) into science fiction which seemed to be way more positive than the books my teachers were having me read: OLD YELLER (the dog is shot); THE OUTSIDERS (everyone is alienated...I hated that because I was ALREADY alienated and why would I want to read about OTHER people who were alienated); SHANE (a rancher tries to bully people out of his way -- and is scary and threatening...I was NOT scary and threatening...I was pudgy and weak); there were others, but that seemed to be the kinds of books I had to read. Science Fiction, (disreputable in the late sixties and early seventies -- at least for junior high kids!) offered HOPE mediated via technology. While I wasn't a technogeek (or a cyberpunk), I was handy with the tech of the time! I could MAYBE do something to escape. Maybe be smart and then become an astronaut. EDUCATION as a "superpower" seemed to override guns. Which meant that I had a chance! HAVE SPACESUIT, WILL TRAVEL; THE ZERO STONE; OPERATION: TIME SEARCH along with STAR TREK (there was no The Original Series...it was The ONLY Series!) I read SF and eventually wrote it because it offered me a chance to be free of the me I loathed...