Views From The Captain’s Chair! Episode Three: Genre- The five-lettered four-letter word

Captains ChairBlog

Ahoy, Mateys!

Welcome back aboard the Good Ship Jake! Today’s voyage will take you through a much maligned subject: genre!

I know, I know, it’s been talked about. There’s the whole Literary Vs. Genre war going on. Which, to me is bullshit. There is no war. Never has been. There have just been egos flailing and screaming and crying and…well, you get the picture.

Here’s the deal folks: Genre and Literary are the same thing. The only difference is where they are housed in the bookstore. And did you notice I said “bookstore” and not “library”? Yes, because librarians (or media specialists, as they are called today, and rightly so) are the fucking EXPERTS on books! Not bookstores, not colleges, not publishers or editors or professors or even writers. Librarians. And how do they classify books? Fiction and non-fiction.

It’s that simple. There are fiction books and non-fiction books. And within fiction there is only one distinction: the alphabetical listing of authors’ last names. When you walk into a library you don’t go to the horror section or the WWI  angst section. You go to fiction and look up the author’s name and find that row of shelves. Boom! Books found, books grabbed, books checked-out.

So simple, right? Sure, if you live your life in a card catalog. Uh, you do know what a card catalog is, right? Never mind. But we don’t live our lives in a world that is classified or defined by listings such as “F Bib”. We live in a messy world of opinions and double opinions and marketing and perception and inception and “Oh, you read that?” bullshit. We live in a world of egos.

Let me give you an example: My son is on the high school debate team and I was recently a judge at one of the away tournaments. I met some other parents that were judging and we started chatting. They learned I was a writer (I didn’t just blurt it out, I actually dodged the subject for a bit, but that’s for another post) when I said that my wife and I help my son edit his cases. This turned into a conversation about how editing by another person is essential to good writing (which it is). Then the subject changed, we were called to our next debates, and on the day went.

All peachy keen, right? Not so much. Later, when we got onto the bus to head back to Asheville, one of the parents asked what I write. I replied, “I write genre fiction. Horror, scifi, thrillers, adventure, pretty much whatever comes into my head and I can get a contract for.” Big smile on my face, ready to elaborate or not. The “or not” was quickly apparent as the parent’s face clouded over and she muttered, “oh” then turned around in her seat. WTF?

It was strange because we’d had some great conversations earlier. Now I was persona non grata because it was revealed I write that “genre” stuff. Now, it isn’t a case of misinterpreting the response. I had a feeling I would get that response by at least one parent because of the way Asheville is. It can be a bit snobby when it comes to literature. After all, Asheville was the birth place of, home of, and inspiration to Thomas Wolfe. Plus, it’s where O. Henry is buried and Carl Sandburg lived. It was also a temporary home to the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald (Zelda died here), Henry James, and Edith Wharton. Not to mention the area is currently the home to Charles Frazier (Cold Mountain), Sara Gruen (Water For Elephants), Gail Godwin (Father Melancholy’s Daughter), Ron Rash (Serena) as well as many acclaimed poets and essayists. That’s quite a pedigree for a small, southern city.

So that experience went around and around in my mind until I decided to write this post. Why? Because I want others interested in being genre writers to not worry about the negatives and focus on the positives. Such as the fact that the most successful writers of our day are genre writers.  Stephen King, James Patterson, JK Rowling, Stephanie Meyer, Danielle Steele, Dean Koontz, and many more! Some of you will scoff at that list, but that’s your problem. I would kill to be on that list! [For future reference, I am kidding about the killing. I’d never do that. Plus, I have an alibi.]

If you are a writer that wants to write the next “Great American Novel” then awesome! Bully for you! But, in this country, you already get validation. This also isn’t a post to validate current genre writers; y’all are already doing it and I applaud you! No, this post is for those writers that struggle with their true feelings and feel guilty for wanting to write stuff that’s not driven by an alcoholic protagonist depressed because he constantly gets a urinary infection after cheating on his wife. [Aside: Yes, that is an actual novel.]

Don’t get me wrong, I love me some literature that is all intellectualized and whatnot. If the story in your head is about a woman dealing with the struggles of childbirth in rural Indiana while also flashing back to the past and her failed dreams of being a corporate lawyer then go for it! I just lean towards her also being a psychopath that kills off her competition at the local community college.

And I could probably write a novel that has critics creaming in their corduroys, but that’s not me. I can’t spend years agonizing over my prose and worrying that my use of metaphor will be misunderstood. I write novels filled with explosions, blood, gore, guns, monsters, heroes, villains, zombies,  post-apocalyptic cannibals, and all that jazz! That’s what revs my engine and gets me sitting down in the ol’ captain’s chair!

And if that’s what you love, what makes you laugh or smile when you read it, makes you hide under the covers or jump into your spouse’s lap, then don’t ignore those feelings. In fact, embrace them and take that energy and put it on the page. Let that passion drive your words, drive your characters, drive your story!

Be the writer you are supposed to be, not the writer you think you’re supposed to be!

Don’t worry about what others think; ignore the turned up noses; walk away from the snide remarks, the condescending snorts, the pretentious falderal. If your muse comes equipped with an AK-47 or happens to see dead people then that’s what you should be writing. The worst thing a writer can do is hide from her muse or ignore her gut. You are the writer, it’s your story, it’s your career, and it’s already hard enough without second guessing yourself!

Don’t believe me? Then find an example you want to live up to. Neil Gaiman, Edgar Alan Poe, Dylan Thomas, Cormac McCarthy, Roald Dahl, Theodore Sturgeon, JG Ballard, Shirley Jackson and many more. I’m not saying you should emulate their lives since many of those writers had less than stellar endings. I am saying that you can aspire to be great and still be yourself.

Personally, for me, I have no ego when it comes to my writing. I know what I write, I love what I write, and I only give a shit if my fans and readers love what I write. I know not every novel I write will be for everyone, and not every novel will be great, but I write what I’m inspired by and I don’t look back.

So ignore the stigma that may come with “genre” writing. Give that shit the finger, a long raspberry, and show it some ass cheeks. At the end of the day all that matters is that you had fun writing what you wanted to and your readers had fun reading it. Write what you want and do what I do: don’t look back!


Disclaimer: Views From The Captain’s Chair are just that: views. These are not laws. These are not set in stone. I could be totally wrong. I could be off my rocker (shut up). I could be full of S-H-I-T. I could change my mind next week. All of that is possible. Who knows? But if even just a little of this helps you then I’m happy with that. If it just makes you stop and think then I’ve done my job. Which I really need to get back to. Blogging don’t pay for the bourbon! Oh, and the whole Captain’s Chair thing? Yeah, I write in a captain’s chair. It’s true, Mateys! Got a question? Need some one on one? Shoot me an email, a DM, a PM (no BMs) or comment below.

Jake Bible lives in Asheville, NC with his wife and two kids.

A professional writer since 2009, Jake has a proven record of innovation, invention and creativity. Novelist, short story writer, independent screenwriter, podcaster, and inventor of the Drabble Novel, Jake is able to switch between or mash-up genres with ease to create new and exciting storyscapes that have captivated and built an audience of thousands.

Posted on January 22, 2014, in Views From The Captain's Chair! and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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