Posted in Freelancing, writing

Picking sides in the fiction wars

Blue Train Books Literary Fiction in hard cover
(Photo credit: Blue Train Books)

Last night I attended a really interesting Society of Editors dinner meeting. I could even say it was the most interesting Society of Editors meeting I’ve ever attended, which wouldn’t be a lie, but would be slightly misleading. It was also the first I’ve ever attended.

Either way, it was an interesting night – theoretically all about the writer and editor coexisting and how to work as an editor when all you want to do is write. I say theoretically, because to my mind it turned into a discussion about how terrible genre fiction is and how wonderful it is to write true literary fiction that perhaps nobody will read. Perhaps I’ve oversimplified but really, that was what it felt like.

At one point, genre writers were described as writing with their heads while literary fiction writers wrote with their hearts, which makes genre writers sound quite heartless and slightly manipulative really. Perhaps there is a formula and less of an impetus to confuse readers and push boundaries – nothing wrong with that at all – but I bristled at the idea that the stories I want to tell come only from my head.

I have nothing against either side – I used to read more genre fiction than literary fiction but that balance has changed a bit more as my reading preferences have matured – but I find the snobbery so frustrating. Why is there a line? Why are the Jonathan Franzens of the world so elitist about their ‘art’ when it’s just a different sort of art to genre? By their definition, Stephen King would be a heartless, money-grabbing genre writer, without a soul, sitting in his study laughing gleefully over a formula while they sit sobbing in their garrets making ‘art’. I really hate this divide.  Yes, the mass market is driven more and more by sales and marketing than by real innovation and there are people out there churning out books to a formula but hey, they’re still writing and still getting that buzz from publication. The same buzz those literary fiction writers get.  There’s no difference except that literary fiction writer is eligible for awards and is allowed to feel superior.

And then there was even some derision for those ‘lit fic’ writers – the ones who are writing literary fiction that conforms to a style, that doesn’t push boundaries and make readers scratch their heads. They’re apparently betraying their true literary fiction roots and should be snorted at.

Now, there is a chance that I read this all wrong but I stand up proudly as a genre writer and proclaim loudly – I am not ashamed! I will read widely but write what my head AND my heart tells me. Perhaps I don’t push boundaries but you know what? That’s okay. There’s an audience out there for my ‘safe’ work and I’ll write for them and for myself.


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Writer, editor, wife, mother. I snatch moments to myself to read between nappy changes, work and chasing a toddler who is determined to destroy ALL THE THINGS. Welcome.

3 thoughts on “Picking sides in the fiction wars

  1. I can never understand the divide. I too think that Literary Fiction is just another genre and should be treated as such. Personally I love my SF and fantasy and if everyone wrote just literary fiction, I would never end up reading as much as I do.

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