Tuesday, December 11, 2007

In Praise of Genre Fiction

If you read genre fiction, you've probably heard the laundry-list of complaints about it from readers of "serious" literature: formulaic, cliche, tawdry, unoriginal, and--worst of all--popular. Genre Haters seem to think any novel shelved by plot or content is, by definition, a lesser species of fiction.

But that's a load of bullshit. If bookstores started shelving "Sprawling, multi-generational family dramas" together, you'd find The Godfather, The Corrections and Love in the Time of Cholera in the same section as the oeuvre of the late-yet-still-writing VC Andrews. Would proximity to the late Ms. Andrews make the first three books any less worthy? Would it make Flowers in the Attic any less addictively terrible?

Genre haters have a tendency to compare the worst of genre fiction with the best of literary fiction, and then acting like it's a foregone conclusion that "literature" would come out on top. And, worse yet, if a bit of genre or popular fiction is particularly good, they start calling it literature. By subject matter and structure, Jane Austen's stories are romances, but, somehow, because they're so very good, they're literature. Likewise, the insanely popular, often maudlin and always melodramatic works of Charles Dickens transcend the author's immense popularity and often trite subject matter (Oliver Twist, anyone?) and wildly popular roots to become "literature".

The way I see it, there are only so many plots and themes out there, and, depending on historical era and geographical location, some of those plots and themes are more popular than others. So what if genre fiction works with a predetermined set of known elements--so does opera. Does musicians and music-lovers hate on opera for all those tales of doomed, stupid lovers? Nope. Opera lovers love the music. The subject matter is just a framework.

That's kind of how I feel about genre fiction. Genre is a framework around which I can let my imagination run wild. If you pick up a murder mystery, you know somebody gonna get killed, and the crime is gonna get solved. But the how, where, when, and why of it--oh, those are some fabulous details. If you pick up a romance, you know folks are going to fall in love, and no matter what kind of crazy shit happens between the words "Chapter One" and "The End" those folks are gonna have some kind of a happy ending.

One reason I like writing romance is that it incorporates elements from every other genre. Absolutely anything can happen between Chapter One and the End--mystery, adventure, intrigue, emotional drama. Romance novels can be contemporary, historical, futuristic, speculative, magical. Romance offers an incredible latitude of possibilities built around the simple, easily accessible framework of a romantic relationship.

The other reason I like writing romance? The happy ending.