I jumped into an authors’ forum where a poster asked if anyone else was writing Literary fiction and found the answers fascinating. Many people in the thread didn’t know what it was. Others gave their definitions and their compare/contrast to Genre fiction. The forum was for all writers, not specifically for those interested in Genre. But the sense I got was that barely anyone answering that post had any love for Literary. At all.
Why is that? They saw it as narrative where nothing happens but pretentious whining about angst and nothing. Nothing to keep anyone awake or turning the page. Nothing being the key word. Whereas Genre stories were about stuff happening. Fun stuff. Entertaining stuff. Stuff being the operative word.
Posters seemed to be in agreement with Wikipedias definition: “In other words, they are works that offer deliberate social commentary, political criticism, or focus on the individual to explore some part of the human condition.” Well, good. But what about Genre? It doesn’t do that? Ever?
Yes it does. Or, it can. Can’t it? What do you think? Think being the key word. The posters said Literary makes us think and Genre doesn’t. It entertains us instead. Isn’t thinking entertaining? Can’t they go hand in hand?
Thinking is not parroting what we read or hear from one source. It’s considering other, contradictory sources, and looking at where the funding comes from, who benefits from covering up the truth. Thinking is being able to love discovering we’re wrong and celebrate letting go of our false ideas and having the chance to embrace more accurate ones.
The difference, one person cleverly said on the forum, was between the amusement park ride and the museum. I think we all know which kind of fiction is which.
But the problem is, Literary fiction is very community oriented, and a small community at that, in which the writers are usually academics, and networking on social media, propping each other up with encouragement, sharing their publications, reading each other’s links whether they really feel like a short story or poem that day or not, because they care about their buddies, or they try to, because that way someone cares about their writing in kind.
They recommend each other for awards, publish each other, put each other on year end lists, review, interview, and guest post with each other. What about when someone says something controversial about the world, shares obscure information that might shatter the unity of belief among the Literary crowd if they dared read it?
What if someone disagrees with the Literary heroes and re-posting of what they hear on CNN? What if someone were, say, a Republican, for example? Guess what the key word becomes? OTHER. No longer any each other happening. Simply Other.
I’m not personally a Republican, though I learn as much useful information about the world from them as I do from members of other parties. If I were one straight up, I probably would not have been accepted by the large number of Literary folks I have. What does that say about the Literary group? It says some degree of political stance is OK in Literary fiction– but only if it’s 100 percent common ground with the perceived beliefs of the rest of the crowd. Otherwise, you’re outta here!
So people who have a different world-view that the unified bunch – where do they go with it? According to this forum, the non-Literary, (Genre) is not a safe haven either. Because readers don’t care. The implication is that they want to also parrot what they hear on the news without questioning its veracity. They want to accept cultural heroes as true heroes without looking beneath. They want to avoid taking the time to peer under the surface of our social structure, into challenging areas of a corrupt society that might need some bold reframing.
But is that really the case? I’d say probably it is, in some of the genres. I wouldn’t expect readers of steamy Romance novels about Catholic school girls to get out of the feel-good moment and contemplate the issues with propaganda and social engineering, or how, for example, Pope Francis allegedly trafficked 300,000 children of political prisoners through Vatican Catholic Charities. Many orphans were thrown in a Spanish mass grave.
How many readers settling in with hot cocoa and an addictive Cozy Mystery solved by a trusty CIA officer would want to consider how from the 1930’s to the 80’s the thousands of Duplessis Orphans in who were tormented and murdered as part of a CIA program with children knowingly given to them by Catholic orphanages?
But I would expect some readers of Psychological Thrillers to be interested in bad guys like those mentioned above, who use manipulation to create illusions to torture and hide the evidence by putting the surviving victims in mental institutions and gaslighting them. Yes, the fictional depictions reflecting such realist atrocities has to be done with fast paced action. And yes, nearly all the government, military, or Intelligence officers are the good guys in popular fiction, and if they aren’t, they’re rogue. Got to toe the party line!
There’s little chance of questioning those whole institutions as being dubious, with tainted histories of crime – and being sanctioned by the Big 6 publishers. And small press stay safely artistic these days, nestled in the unified world-view of Literary, unwilling to rock the boat with anything that could divide their already small audience.
But there are some authors who do successfully question the status quo, and look at the underbelly, at the real history, and some of them do have plenty of readers. They tend to be indie published, which is now more profitable than being traditionally published, so I expect outlier voices to become more loud year by year.
Lance and James Morcan’s Orphan Trilogy is a great example. It begins with The Ninth Orphan. “Fast-paced, totally fresh and original, filled with deep and complex characters, The Ninth Orphan is a controversial, high-octane thriller with an edge. Merging fact with fiction, it illuminates shadow organizations rumored to actually exist in our world. The novel explores a plethora of conspiracies involving real organizations like the CIA, MI6, and the UN, and public figures such as President Obama as well as the Clinton, Marcos and Bush families.
“Tackling genetic selection, mind control and secret societies, The Ninth Orphan exposes a global agenda designed to keep the power in the hands of a select few. The novel’s antagonists are members of a shadow government acting above and beyond the likes of the White House, the FBI, the Pentagon and the NSA. Could something like this ever take place? Or, is it already taking place right now?”
Ranked #1 in the Spy genre on Amazon.com and Amazon UK during Dec 2011-Jan 2012
So there. Certain people can enjoy thinking and challenging the status quo, and can enjoy the roller coaster ride of a great book in spite of the fact that it means they need to be thinkers who look below the surface of what newscasters, the CDC, and FDA are told to say by the CIA.
The Morcans run a Goodreads group called Underground Knowledge that is very interested in thinking rather than mimicking popular opinion based on hoaxes and falsified scientific results. They are regularly sharing their contradictory ideas about controversial questions to learn and analyze, polling and yet still accepting each other and discussing calmly in spite of differences.
There is hope for people who like their museums inside amusement parks. We like to see the funhouse mirrors reflect the maze of our society’s deceptions and misdirections. We are thrilled by good books that address such issues head on. Instead of having to put aside our awareness to be entertained, we can instead plunge into the enjoyment of the read more authentically when it acknowledges the reality so many people around us are afraid to uncover.