My patrician friends read weighty, literary tomes. Or edgy, witty novels. Or sophisticated skewers of society. Years, maybe centuries ago, a friend and I went to a writers’ conference at a university. We signed up for different panels and classes, but both of us had the same experience. The guest writer started his lecture, asked the participants what they were working on, and informed each of us that writing for a genre was equivalent to writing trash. Three years later, we returned to the same university for a conference, and genres had come up in the world. One of the guest speakers wrote and sold lots of horror novels. Another wrote mysteries. A third wrote YA. The publishing world had changed. Really good writers, with masterful language skills, chose to write genre fiction.
Still, to this day, when I banter books with someone and that person is an afficiondo of literary novels while I’m discussing the latest urban fantasy, I feel outclassed. I feel like the plebeian of the reading and writing world. Literary might have fewer sales, but it has more clout. It’s sort of like being a Woody Allen fan. I love his movies, but I know better than to admit it to most of my friends. They just shake their heads. Even though I think anyone and everyone would fall in love with his latest, Midnight in Paris.
Anyway, the thing is, I read lots of classics in high school and college. I still read the odd literary now and then. But the truth is, I’m a genre junkie. I asked for and read two anthologies of short stories by Flannery O’Connor and Eudora Welty one Christmas, and I read every single story in each book. I loved the word choices, the rich imagery, the luscious language that just rolled off the tongue. But give me one of Ellen Datlow’s anthologies any day, and I’d whiz through it faster. I like plot. I like tension. Character studies are fine and all, but I want something to happen in my stories. Both southern writers are brilliant, but I like genre better.
The nice thing about genre is that when I pick it up, I know what I’m going to get. If I’m in the mood to add up clues and wrestle with the question “why?”– I buy a mystery. If I want a kick-ass heroine, I’ll spring for urban fantasy. If I’m into world building, I’ll crack open a fantasy. It’s not that these can’t be written with strong characters and wondrous phrases, those are the authors I keep buying. But there’s a meeting of expectations when I buy genre. And I like that.
So what about you? What’s your favorite genre and why?