Experience in genre

by Diana

I’ve been a member of a local literary society for a while, and, since I have a recent book release, I was invited to be the speaker for the August meeting. It’s a terrific group of people with a common love of books, and even though there’s no emphasis on genre, the group is completely accepting of all fiction and non-fiction, and very supportive of its members and local writers. (Plus, for a five dollar donation, they supply wine and snacks. Win!)

My plan had been to talk about Mark of the Demon, how I came up with the ideas behind the book, and urban fantasy in general. However, before the meeting started, one of the women in the group came up to me to tell me how much she’d enjoyed my book. (And, y’know, I’m totally cool with people telling me that!) But then she said something that left me momentarily speechless: She told me how impressed she’d been by the creative and unusual concept of alternate dimensions that I’d used in my book.

I nearly blurted out, “Are you serious? The use of an alternate dimension/sphere/plane of existence is one of the oldest tricks in SF/F!” (And I’m glad I managed to hold that back, because this person is a talented and award-winning author of literary fiction, and also a lovely, gracious, and genuinely nice person as well.) But it took me a couple of seconds to process the fact that she was completely unfamiliar with the established concepts used in science fiction and fantasy, and a few seconds more to recover from my surprise at that.

My surprise continued during my talk. Only one person there had ever heard the term “urban fantasy” before, and someone else asked me what the difference was between vampires and demons.  Five minutes into my talk, and I had to mentally rewrite it from scratch as I threw out anything that assumed familiarity with genre conventions and standards. I suppose I should have been prepared for that, since it’s not a genre group, but that was the first time I’d really understood just how wide the divide can be between “literary” and genre… and WHY the divide is so wide. This woman had purchased my book purely as a show of support for a local author and member of the group. (And I dearly love her for that!) But under normal circumstances she would most likely never venture into the sort of fiction that deal with alternate worlds, arcane powers, supernatural beings, and the like–which meant that she’d read my book with utterly fresh eyes, unaware of stereotypes, tropes, or concepts that have been explained in other genre books often enough that there’s no need to explain them again.

And now I finally understand why, when a literary author writes about something that we as genre readers consider to be a fairly well-worn trope, the literary world hails it as a bold and astonishingly new concept.  And why it drives genre readers bat-shit crazy when that happens.

4 Responses to “Experience in genre”

  1. August 23, 2009 at 3:05 pm


    Didn’t know the difference between…

    dimensions unique…


    I’m flabbergasted. How in the world did a reader, a real person with actual contact with books, not know about these things? No wonder the best seller list is so crappy right now!

    At least the people who read your book were genuinely honest and kind people who were willing to learn. You are so lucky to have intelligent and flexible readers. Now you can also start a campaign for introducing genre writing to literary readers everywhere.

  2. August 24, 2009 at 6:50 am

    Well, just think of the cross-pollination potential.

    Personally, I feel that most “literature” books could use a good dose of fantasy.

    Just look at the popularity of “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”.

    Um… or not. *grins*

    But seriously, I get really frustrated when I hear people say “Oh, I won’t read anything but XXX” type of books. Really? Why? There are so many amazing books out there, and if you don’t take a chance, how will you know?

    Several “non fantasy” books that I’ve taken a chance on lately have become true favorites.

    Playing with the Enemy (story of a young man drafted by professional baseball in November of 1941… just before Pearl Harbor)

    The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society (EXCELLENT book)

    The Thirteenth Tale (Wow… just wow…)

    If I had stayed in my usual Science Fiction section of library and bookstores, I never would have enjoyed these gems (and others).

    And my life would be the worse for it.

  3. 3 Sue
    August 24, 2009 at 4:43 pm

    How about reading (well-researched) historical fiction, such as the books by
    Eric Myers and Mary Read? They are set set in a world with far greataer differences from “ours” than Demon is.

    Doesn’t (almost) all fiction call–to a greater or lesser degree–for a suspension of disbelief?

  4. 4 Deb
    August 25, 2009 at 7:07 pm

    And now I finally understand why, when a literary author writes about something that we as genre readers consider to be a fairly well-worn trope, the literary world hails it as a bold and astonishingly new concept. And why it drives genre readers bat-shit crazy when that happens.

    Exactly. I don’t know how many times I have been told by people who don’t read sf/f when they learn I like time travel, that I have to read Timeline by Michael Crichton. I have read it, as I’m a sucker for time travel and it was a fun romp. But it was not innovative, and had a huge cliche which had me rolling my eyes, especially as I saw it coming as soon as the character was introduced. Now, there was one aspect which I found very fascinating, but it was thrown in there more to create a ‘ticking clock’ suspense. If you blinked you’d have missed an extremely disturbing and horrifying moment, as it was glossed over for the urgency issue rather than the moral one. But if he had elaborated on it, then the book would have been outside of ‘popular’ and been a rather harder book to understand and LIKE for the majority of people. *sigh*

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