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On Genre

My new edition of Writer’s Digest arrived and it’s all about genre. I’ve been hearing a lot about genre lately and it’s got me questioning my own categorical preferences. How do I want my own story to be classified?

I think of “Talulah Jones” as literary fiction. The stories that I love, and that have influenced me so far in my writing of this particular tale, are other works of literary fiction such as The Secret Life of Bees, A Thousand Acres, and Winter’s Bone.

Second to literary fiction comes magic realism – Jitterbug Perfume, House of the Spirits, the short stories of Gabriel García Márquez’s Leaf Storm. I find my self absolutely swept away by the whimsy of these works. I strive to incorporate subtle magic and almost-impossible angles into my own story because I love the dynamic they add.

Third, since my story takes place on a farm in the American southwest, the genre my story could be stuck into is (eep) western. I love GOOD westerns. My favorite book of all time is Lonesome Dove. The reason I dread the label of western is that most genre western, with the cowboys and the fainting women on the cover, are filled with tired cliches and predictable stories. Believe me, I know. When I first realized that my story is western-ish, I forced myself to read a bunch of the westerns from the rack of the supermarket. Ug. At least they taught me what not to write. While I guess I have to accept that on some basic levels my story is a western, there will be no whore with a heart of gold, no misunderstood Chinese man who saves the scarlet fever-stricken child with acupuncture, no tall, handsome stranger who rescues the town from El Guapo.

If I had to label my novel (in its current, uncompleted state) it would be “a work of literary fiction with touches of magic realism, set in the American Southwest.” When agents ask, I simply say “literary fiction.”

AWP

I just got back from the AWP writer’s conference, which was held this year in Denver. For three full days I went to panel after panel about publishing, writing, and making a living as a creative professional. At night I went with my friends to the AWP sponsored reception where folks let loose. If you’ve never seen a room full of writers dance their asses off, you’ve missed out on one the worlds most ridiculous and fun occurrences.

As much as I learned about the practical elements of writing (grant writing, cover letters, etc.) what I took away from the experience was how much I love the writing community, and how we as writers have to actively nurture it.

What we do is a solitary endeavor. We sit at our keyboards, typing furiously day after day, hoping to pay the bills while creating art, but with our heads down and our fingers tapping away, it’s easy to forget that there are so many of us out there doing the exact same thing.

What I come away from this conference really cherishing is the community that I am so privileged to be a part of. I am seriously lucky to work on the staff of a literary journal, have a kick ass writing group, and know other fun-loving writers who will not only give occasional feedback, but also celebrate with me when there is cause to.

I may not be any closer to finishing my novel then I was five days ago, but I’m loving being a writer, and somehow that makes the journey all the more fun.

Reading As A Writer

I recently received word that I have been accepted into the New York State Summer Writer’s Conference at Skidmore University in Saratoga Springs. The first thing I did, after accepting of course, was to go online and order the books written by the instructors I will be studying with.

I’m about half way through Netherland, by Joseph O’Neil. The New York Times Book Review called it “the wittiest, angriest, most exacting and most desolate work of fiction we’ve yet had about life in New York and London after the World Trade Center fell.”

The hardest part of reading this book so far has been not falling into it. I am trying to learn from it, but I keep getting swept away.

Right now, in my own writing, I am working on scene transitions. While reading O’Neil’s work I have to keep stopping. How did we get back into the apartment? I muse. I flip back a few pages and find that eloquent sentence that lifted me from the Hudson Valley and dropped me back into the main character’s Manhattan abode.

This, I’ve been told, is reading like a writer. It is both a blessing and curse. While I actually learn a lot from the books I read now, part of me misses the experience of just losing myself in a story.

Maybe when I get a little further along in my evolution as a fiction writer I will be able to occasionally put my analytical mind aside, but for now art is life, life is art. Every novel I pick up is both pleasure reading, and homework. I guess I wouldn’t have it any other way.