Genre: A Screed (Or “You Got Superheroes in My Cancer Memoir!”)

Genre, man. What a total fucking bummer.

And I’m not talking about Sci-Fi, Horror, Romance, Mystery.

I’m not even talking about those hybrid mofos, super-intense-niche-genres like High Sci-Fantasy Alt History, where TechnoMage Winston Churchill battles Scion of Cthulhu Adolf Hitler. (Note to self: write this.)

Nope, I mean Literary Fiction vs. Commercial Fiction. (I’m using Commercial Fiction here because the other, more prevalent term, Genre Fiction, makes the whole talking about genre thing confusing.)

Vampires aren’t Horror. Robots aren’t Science Fiction. Magic Swords aren’t Fantasy, gumshoes aren’t Mystery, and ripped bodices aren’t Romance. Commercial Fiction isn’t defined by its tropes, it is defined, I think, by its emphasis on plot.

Cancer, abusive parents, failed love, socio-political commentary, and/or beautifully, terribly, devastatingly sad and graphic sex scenes aren’t Literary Fiction. Again, tropes don’t define the thing. In Lit Fic’s case, I’d argue that the emphasis on prose does.

So, if we look at it this way, Plot vs. Prose, well, then, doesn’t that make things a whole lot freer and fun? Since we all know I hate rhetorical questions in writing, let me answer that for you: yes, it very much does.

I want to point out that I in NO WAY mean to imply that prose is inconsequential to Commercial Fiction writers or that plot ain’t on the radar of the Literary Fiction crowd. It isn’t a Boolean, On/Off, Yes/No, 00|01 thing. It’s a matter of degrees.

This has suddenly become very important to me, beyond my love of superheroes and monsters and spaceships, because I’m starting a new novel. And this one is going to have what would be referred to as “genre elements” in it. However, my drive isn’t plot. Hell, outside of some very broad strokes, I don’t know what the plot is going to be. But I know what the story is about and what it’s about, at least in part, is superheroes. What they mean to those of us who picked up Claremont’s X-MEN, Giffen/DeMatteis’s JUSTICE LEAGUE, or any other four-color wonder at a tender, formative age and, inside its pages found what we were looking for. It’s not “about” superheroes or comic books at all, really—it’s about stories, what good they are, can be, should be.

And I sincerely do NOT need to be wrestling with whether what I’m writing will be “accepted” as LitFic while I’m busy figuring out how, exactly, to bring the feel of comics to prose (it’s been done before but not by me and we can watch someone ride a bike but have no real idea how to do it ourselves). So, do yourself a favor: if you’re a LitFic reader, try some of the fringe stuff (Vandermeer’s BORNE, recently out from FSG, is a good start). If you’re a Commercial Fiction reader, try something from the same fringe (BORNE will trip your triggers, too). That way, when my book comes out (in, like, 40 years), you (or, I guess, your grandkids) will be ready to read it.


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