Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Terminology I: literary versus genre writing

I'm cleverly titling this post "Terminology I" because I know it's not going to be exhaustive. I want to talk about some of the more common terms associated with shopping your work to potential publishers, but I know (gods willing) there will be future posts that deal with other terms. The first terms I should deal with are "literary" and "genre." For lack of a more useful definition, literary writing (either fiction, creative nonfiction, or poetry) is, well, serious; while "genre" writing describes work that fits into various categories like science fiction, western, romance, horror, and so forth.

The problem with these definitions is immediately obvious: they imply that genre writing isn't serious writing, but that's clearly not true. Science fiction writing, for example, is very often serious (leaving be the fact that serious itself is a slippery term). And, for that matter, literary fiction can involve science, it can be set in the West, it can involve romantic relationships, it can describe events that are horrific, and so forth.

Nevertheless, this blog will discuss placing literary writing -- just because that's the sort of writing I do, so that's what I'm familiar with in terms of trying to find outlets for it. But even if you're writing what you feel is genre material, I hope this blog can be helpful to you too. For one thing, there are issues that are universal when it comes to seeking places to publish your work. Also, there are many journals that embrace all kinds of writing, and they expressly state that they are wanting to read genre work as well as literary.

Another reason why this blog may be useful to you even if you're writing what seems to be "genre" pieces is that, while I say I write literary fiction, it doesn't always fit neatly into that category. Much of my work is historically based. My novel Men of Winter, for example, is set (maybe) in early twentieth-century Russia. My novella Weeping with an Ancient God, which I plan to bring out next year, is fictionalized biography based on the life of author Herman Melville and set in 1842 (I published an excerpt of the novella under the title "Melvill in the Marquesas" in The Final Draft). Another example is my short story "A Wintering Place", which is a sequel to Mary Shelley's gothic horror/science fiction novel Frankenstein, and the story appeared in the lit journal Eleven Eleven.

So, in short, I have experience placing pieces that blur the line between literary and genre.

That seems enough for now. Shortly we need to talk about where to search for outlets and how to determine fairly quickly if that outlet may be well suited to your style of writing.

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