I’m in the midst of an art marathon, but I read this article the other day and it has been swirling in my head since. The article on why science-fiction (and I’ll toss fantasy into the mix) writers can’t win respect (or literary prizes). And I hate to cast even the slightest negative shadow over Margaret Atwood, who I adore and respect for miles, but the article does seem to have a point.
Now can I give up my hope for the literary label?
7 thoughts on “No respect for you, missy. None at all.”
Woah! New pretty blog design! I really have been out of it.
Anyway, I am quite aware of the sf/fantasy ghetto. But I’m a ghetto girl.
And no matter that I went to a fine private college in the North East where I learned about fine literary novels and poetry and writing… well, you can’t take the ghetto out of the girl.
I’ve decided to live into the ghetto/SF identity and go with it, even though I do sometimes think of my professors and classmates in my writing program and wonder what they would think. When it comes down to it, I just have to let go of that prickly ego, and keep doing what i love.
You though, might be able to get away with calling yourself Magical Realism.
The simplest approach to take to the article you linked is to disagree with it as, say, one disagrees with a mosquito on a Summer’s evening. A more nuanced approach would be to look more closely into the writer’s credentials, wondering if, for instance, he were simply trying to write a “thought” piece or, equally suspect, were adherent of some conservative literary theory. Worst case could be his association with a religious and/or political group who undertook to feel threatened by science fiction or fantasy.
Going back to such ventures as “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” and “Tarzan on Mars,” moving forward to such works of Huxley as “Brave New World” and the splendid “After Many a Summer Dies the Swan,” pausing briefly to throw in Mr. Orwell’s “1984” before moving along to Heinlein’s “Stranger in a Strange Land,” and not to forget “A Wrinkle in Time,” nor indeed any of the work of Ursula K. Le Guin, she who but for a few coincidences might have followed in the footsteps of her anthropologist father, we are left to believe that such critics as the one who wrote the piece you linked
Lots of writers are doing this hyphenated-genre thing, like being Italian-American, or Irish-American, or African-American. They’re now LITERARY-horror writers, or literary-fantasy writers, or literary-insertgenrenamehere writers. I don’t know how this works, or how anyone’s defining “literary” in this context, so I won’t speak to that. But could this work for you?
I don’t know if the awards and things are snobbish sorts of pats on the back given from literati types only to themselves or what, but is that possible? Again, I speak only in questions and only from ignorance, so please disregard if I’m stupid.
In the end, how critical is the label? How important is it to be literary vs. commercial/genre/disrespected? I want to know because no one — even me — wants to shoot themselves in the foot, y’know?
I think it only matters if you care. Writers who are nominated and win the Booker achieve one kind of success: people who write “genre” novels that sell far more than Booker novels ever do, achieve another. The whole “who’s in the club and who’s out” stuff is just another attempt by human beings to box art up into tight definitions with fixed values that non-artists control. All these kinds of judgments and debates keep the focus on the chattering classes, when the focus should be on the work. Does Stephen King let it bother him that he’s a genre writer? Or Ray Bradbury? based on what I’ve read by them, no. As Dylan says, “you do what you must do, and you do it well,” and that’s good enough for me.
Was the literary label really that important to you? Somehow, I suspect that if it was, you’d be striving to stay withing the “literary guidelines.” As it is, you’re writing what you love, right? So perhaps the label isn’t as important to you as you’d let yourself believe?
Will be back later to deal more directly with the specific question. But I thought you might appreciate this if you haven’t seen it already: Moonrat tackles the “Do I really want to be published?” question.
I guess my only real thoughts about the main topic boil down to: just write what you need to write. Sure, you’ll have to declare a genre eventually (in queries), just like you have to declare a major in college. But you can also take as many electives as you like!
The point being:
(1) Readers need some way to find you, and most rely (after word of mouth) on shelving: “I tend to find books I like in Section X.” So you can’t really escape being slotted somewhere.
(2) Literary/Mainstream may be where the prestige is. But it’s not where most readers are. Again, it’s out of your control. The only thing you can control is the kind of book you’d like to write.
Also: SF does have to endure a lot of sneering, absurdly. But fantasy, wow — think of how many classics are fantasy. The Alice books, Mary Poppins, Midsummer Night’s Dream, fairy tales, Frankenstein, arguably all of mythology… Fantasy is especially well respected for YA readers; you could do a lot worse than to have Ms. Rowling’s readership AND reviews AND (no doubt) legacy.